MIchael Moorcock: The Anti-Tolkein

Passing on this article from the New Yorker

A couple of quotes:

Moorcock’s first editorial in New Worlds.

“More and more people are turning away from the fast-stagnating pool of the conventional novel — and they are turning to science fiction (or speculative fantasy). This is a sign, among others, that a popular literary renaissance is around the corner. Together, we can accelerate that renaissance.”

“In 1978, Moorcock did a more thorough takedown in an essay called “Epic Pooh,” in which he compares Tolkien and his hobbits to A. A. Milne and his bear.”

RIP Robert M. Pirsig

ZatAMM meant a whole lot to me.  I still haven’t figured out how well the philosophy holds up, but it inspired me when I became a teacher–even though I read it at a time when I would not have become a teacher if you had threatened that Donald Trump was going to be president of the country I lived in, if I didn’t–and the idea of quality is powerful in so many parts of my life.  I love it more for the fact that my son read it and lives out many of the principles that Pirsig espouses.

This is the cover that will always live in my memory, even though the book fell apart some time ago.

New York Times Obituary
The Guardian obituary
Original New York Times review by Edward Abbey


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the FallWhat first drew me to Noah Hawley’s current novel was the fact that the first two seasons of FX’s Fargo were some of the tensest, tightest, most strikingly filmed television programmes ever. Hawley is the show runner for the show, he writes a majority of the episodes and directs some of them.  To take someone else’s vision and remake it while keeping a sense of the original takes guts and skill. Noah Hawley

Before the Fall is all Hawley’s own work.  A private plane crashes in the Atlantic on the way from Martha’s Vineyard to New York.  On board are David Bateman, the founder and CEO of a Fox News type network, Ben Kipling, a  financier–“a blue-eyed shark in a tailored button-down shirt,” and Scott Burroughs, an artist.  The wealthy men have wives–Maggie is present in the story,  but the Ben’s wife is barely there.  Also on the plane are the crew and the Batemans’ children.  Only two of the characters survive, but everyone’s story is told.  The narrative moves forward with as Hawley looks back at the lives of most of the characters. As the book proceeds, and more of the story happens in the present, the back stories are still there.

While creating a mystery, Hawley manages to develop empathy for the crooked, the troubled and the heroic–not equally but enough to have woven a human tapestry from characters whose connection is the plane crash brought in later are treasury agents investigating financial misdeeds, the National Transport Safety Board the FCC, the FBI. Some of these agents become characters in the story.

Hawley examines how the media respond to the accident that killed on of their own and it becomes clear that the story takes over from the truth.  Some of the media are actively working that way, especially Bateman’s leading anchor, Bill Cunningham, others are just following the sensationalist’s lead.

But at the centre of the story are the two survivors and their bond even as the harsh world of finance, tabloid media and excessive world circle around them.

I came to the book from good TV, and went away with questions about TV and found a good book.Fargo Logo

The Guardian review of the book

George Saunders – By the Book

george-saunders-by-the-bookSomething makes me trust GS, and now I want to read: Things I already wanted to read; Moonglow, Swing Time,The Attention Merchants, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and things I now want to read: Good Clean Fun (Nick Offerman), Words Without Music (Philip Glass), Resurrection (Tolstoy), and a slew of short stories.

I love that what most moves him are “depictions of goodness that are not fraudulent or sentimental.”

Soft City by Pushwagner

soft-city-coverOn a screen everything is the same size and the same texture with the same frame. The New York Review Books publication of Soft City is a significant challenge to the saming of culture. It’s 9.7 x 0.9 x 13.6 inches and 3.4 lbs.

It’s a big book, and it took a long time for it to be published in 2008, after Pushwagner finished it in 1975. Chris Ware in the introduction writes that, “The whole seems drawn entirely from the need to realize a consuming vision, a writer ruminating (“Where is the mind when the body is here?”) while his artist half looks on in horror. For Ware, the book falls into neither, “the fine arts [nor] the underground comics” camp, “ultimately its tone feels dire and experimental; it wows visually but gets under one’s skin in an unfamiliar, uncompanionable manner introducing the awkward revelations of 1960s experimental film, writing and poetry to a medium at that point was more popularly associated with superheroes.

Hariton Pushwgner (Terje Brofos) begins with two blank, black pages before the third page, still black has the words “Good morning everybody.” The next page, still mostly black, says, “look…” but the bottom fifth of the page is a white strip with hundreds of small rough squares with what look like TV aerials on top. Then we get closer, and the white strip fills more of the page, “here comes…” and finally the page is white, the building fills most of the page and “the sun” peers above the building. The baby is awake. His is head huge.  As you move through the larger spreads, the family leaves the private world of their home and heads to the massive uniform worlds of the father’s workplace and the mother’s shopping day. The word “soft” appears on many of the pages.  The father reads the “Soft Times”; he works at “Soft Inc.;” the parents take a “soft pill” when they wake up.  When the father steps out of his front door, as far as you can see into the fold of the pages, identical men and one woman step into the corridor, pack into the lift,and rows and rows of mothers and babies wave from the stacked windows of the tower block. The crowd grows as he drives to work into Soft City.


Later we cut to the mother’s day, and “the Boss” watching his workers. In a spread of the boss’ office, the artist tells us “What a funny freedom untouched by human hands.” The boss thinks “Soft love is a 100% bonne affair” and “Atomize is de trix”.  His thoughts about the workers: “They are asleep.” Then he tells them, “120! Understand? Oracle filter.” The pictures make a more direct statement of humanity commodified and undifferentiated on a treadmill put in boxes.

This is a magnificent, unsettling work that maybe makes a statement that has been derived from Kafka and developed by Orwell and so many others.  And yet, it’s its own work, and an important piece of art in a world where our devices use software to softly steal our attention without us realising it is even gone. Work such as Pushwagner’s wakes us up.


Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati

I have developed a habit of writing these reviews as a reminder of why I read and of what I have read.  Recently the habit has been graphic novels, partly because I can have a full sense of them with all the other reading that I have to do.  And because they are worth it themselves.

Graphic fiction is a slow film.  A filmed play with incredible visual possibilities that go perhaps further than movies, because a film has a requirement to create a believable world, reality or  virtual reality; it has to somehow be habitable. A graphic artist can push the shape and shade even further than a cinematographer can.  With any book you can take the story at your speed given what the author gives you.  You can read it where you want to read it.  You can stretch out in whatever position your prefer and have that tea or beer by your side.

This book is a Fellini film, a Toulouse-Lautrec poster and a Greek myth rolled together.  Orfi who sees his beloved Eura walk into the strange house on Via Saterna, which inspires all sorts of dark stories from the neighbours. Orfi is a rock star from a noble family who sings raunchy songs accompanied here by Buzzati’s voluptuous drawings.

He goes to try to find Eura in the strange house, and it turns out to lead to the underworld.  Buzzatti’s underworld is a brothel with full of naked bodies, but few echoes of earthly life’s desires. Orfi is immune to temptation, however, focused on his search for Eura.  He sings song after song of death after death, until he realises that in death the dead no longer need the god they needed in life. He is finally granted 24 hours in the underworld to find Eura.  He eventually finds her after searching for most of his time through a Kafkaesque labyrinth.  When he finally finds his love, she is reluctant to leave with him, “Your songs are not enough.  Here the great law decides.  Don’t believe those old myths.” Eventually, she refuses to leave with him

It is fantastic that NYRB Books are republishing these older graphic works bringing them into our world where the visual is so powerful and where a whole art form is bursting with vigour and creativity.

The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper

Aaron Falk, now a Federal agentthe-dry-cover in the big city, in Melbourne, returns to his home town, Kiewarra, a drought-wracked, small country town, for the funeral of his close friend Luke Hadler, who has seemingly murdered his wife and son and then killed himself.  This is a mystery, so nothing is that straight-forward, and the new local cop draws Aaron into the investigation. Many local characters resist his involvement. Partly because he moved away and partly because they believe that years before he was involved in the death of a teenage girl that Luke gave him a questionable alibi for. Much as the mystery and the characters draw the reader in, this is a vital novel for big city readers to encounter a vivid, contemporary examination of how hard life can be in the country–the land and weather don’t cooperate, the local authorities seem far away, and the urban centres don’t even notice or understand.

The Big Kahn

51vaeis2tvl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Rabbi Who Wasn’t Jewish

by Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani

When Rabbi David Kahn  dies, his brother turns up at the funeral.  No great surprise in most cases, except no one knew that he had a brother.  A further shock: Roy Dobbs isn’t Jewish.  He claims his brother wasn’t either, but that they had been a pair of small time con men. Avi Kahn, David’s son, is poised to take over the congregation, but through the mourning and the doubts raised by the revelations, he is not sure he can.  Donnie (David) and Roy had been running a grift at a bar mitzvah, when Donnie met Rachel and fell for her.  He had to keep up the pretence that the brothers had used to get into the bar mitzvah that he was Jewish.

The novel is about how the three children cope with their new story of their father’s life. Lea hits the town and doesn’t want to go home; young Eli gets into fights at school while gambling, and Avi becomes involved with Lea’s room mate.

As things go on, Lea visits a Jewish women’s class, Avi applies for a new job.  The central irony of the book is that a con led to a man living the best life he could building a temple from scratch and fathering a happy family, despite the lie that is central to his life.  Kleid takes this right up to last moment, and Cinquegrani’s dark lines and gray washes are a straightforward medium for the tale.