Tuesday, December 30, 2008

John van de Ruit, Spud

John van de Ruit's Spud feels like something of a throwback. It's the story -- in the form of a diary -- of a 14 year old boy's first year at boarding school in South Africa. It's not particularly brutal, but hardly wistful or overly-romanticized. It's just fun. Familiar -- even to those like myself who never went to boarding school (though perhaps I did just enough summer camps away to connect) -- without being cringe-inducing or uncomfortable.

There is the requisite death (without dwelling on it or maudlin drama; these are 14 year old boys, after all, not 50 year old men channelling 14 year old boys), a grand drama (the school is staging a production of "Oliver"), lots of farting, barfing (not so much connected to the...), drinking (the majority being done by the adults), madness, and sex, sex, sex. Or rather talk about sex. The sex that is had, if it is actually had, happens off-stage.

Like much of the life of a 14 year old boy.

Good fun, on the whole.

Though now, I suppose, I really ought to turn my attention back to "serious" South African literature. And we all know what that means (though someday I do wish someone would explain to me why): buggery. Lots and lots of buggery...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Edmund White, Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel

Rimbaud was something of a shit. Much more of a shit in his early years than the latter (such as they were -- dying at 37) but something of a shit through and through.

At least, such would Edmund White's Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel lead us to believe. And I have no reason to doubt. The double life, of course, refers to Rimbaud's (very) early attention to poetry (or rather, the "poetic" life & poetry -- the latter marking a sea-change in French verse; the former marked by his acting the part of a mammoth shit) and his subsequent turn away from poetry and, after fits and starts and plenty of dead-ends, refashioning himself as a trader in the Horn of Africa primarily.

I do wish there were more on those last years. White covers them but spends the bulk of this slim volume on those early years, as a poet, as a shit, as master of the poet Verlaine (no cuddly love muffin himself, I might add), and as terror and brute towards just about all others (as well -- for he was a terror and brute to Verlaine).

The book itself is put out by Atlas & Company, which has seemed to come out of nowhere to start publishing beautiful little books that, if nothing more, look fantastic. There were a few typos in this volume which I'm sure one of the editors read and thought, dear god!! I wish they weren't there. But they are.

Next up, Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia. Not immediately, but soon enough. I'm just rather happy to be free of Rimbaud.

Did I mention he was something of a shit?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Graham Greene, The Third Man & The Fallen Idol

It's been awhile since I've read any Graham Greene. A long while. And the Greene I've read in the last 10 years has been Norman Sherry's massive biography, Gloria Emerson Loving Graham Greene, and... oh, there was a slight little volume of his Kurtzian trip up the Congo.

I picked up the bundling of two of his novellas -- The Third Man & The Fallen Idol -- for a dollar and set it aside for the trip home. Disappointing? No. But they are no The Power and the Glory. Nor am I the same -- boy? man? -- that read Power and The Comedians and Our Man in Havana and... I kind of miss that boy. Not wholly, but for the way things sang in me.

And it's rather odd, let me tell you, to be reading Graham Greene and thinking about Joan Didion. The narrative trope of Greene's "The Third Man" -- the reconstruction of events from notes, testimony, personal recollection, files -- reminds me so much of Didion's novels. Don't ask me which ones, I'm not home with my library. Not Play It As It Lays but maybe The Last Thing He Wanted? Democracy? A Book of Common Prayer?

I love Didion. I loved Greene. I love my memory of Greene (which is vague and dreamy and wrapped up with crossing myself in European cathedrals).

Because now, of course, different things sing. Which is why I keep reading. And which is why I'm looking forward to finishing up Sherry and reading Greene's selected letters. And why, one day, I am sure I'll reread The Power and the Glory and ache and wonder why. Again. It's just, now, I'm not expecting an answer.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Charles Bukowski, Come On In! New Poems

Unlike the last Bukowski I read, Come On In! did take hold of me. Not for the usual reasons, though (such as they are).

This is the first collection where Bukowski was showing his age. Showing his age and, at times, almost a maudlin side. And an increasingly self-deprecating humor and playfulness. The latter being, to me, and my passing familiarity with his work, the most striking.
unconcerned with
petty argument
we have floated free...
giant macho soaring

"gender benders" (247)

It just rings and sings and laughs unlike anything else of Bukowski's that I can remember.

The end of the collection collapses into ruminations on aging, marking -- and accepting -- as old and dying everything that once simply was, and perhaps was run hard. The poems "old poem", "older", "everything hurts", "husk", "cancer", and the collection closing "mind and heart" -- among so many others -- present an almost gentle man, so at odds with the image evoked in the mythology and so much of his poetry.

It's intriguing. A little startling too. And part of me wants my tough guy back.