Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I just came across this bit of reportage in, of all places, Christopher Buckley's commencement speech at Yale. It is especially funny if Yeltsin is voiced in traditional Russian accent. Please add the sad trombone sound to the ending:
John Major, former prime minister of Great Britain, found himself one day in a green room with Boris Yeltsin, then president of Russia. They were about to give a joint press conference.
Major said, “Boris, if you had to describe the state of Russia in one word, what would you say?”
Yeltsin thought for a moment and said, “Good.”
Major said, “What if you had two words to describe it?”
Yeltsin said, “Not good.”
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Number 9 on Modern Library's Best hundred English language novels of the 20th century, Darkness at Noon is another bleak Russian prisoner book, albeit an extremely good one. The book begins with Rubashov waiting to be arrested, the eventual fate of every revolutionary as the revolution moves on without them. He is taken to prison, almost relieved that the wait is over, and left to ponder of what he will be accused. Then through the inner workings of the prison, of which he is intimately familiar, we learn of his history as a leader in the revolution, right up to the point where he is inevitably cast aside as the revolution moves in another direction.
Of the many books written as veiled critiques of Soviet policy, this has to be the least allegorical. No communist pigs or trolley riding vodka swilling cats, just an old man being broken by the system he helped create. There is no Stalin, just "Number 1," nor is there Russia, just "Over there," but it is made perfectly clear what we're talking about.
It is amazing how many issues Koestler touches upon in such a short book. Torture, capital punishment, guilt, idealism, power, isolation, politics... We get to see logic as defined by "the party" being distorted to its most perverse forms. But most of all we get a concise treatise on the abuse of power, how easy it is to lapse into groupthink and not ask questions. Overall, an interesting read that notches the surface of philosophy and leaves a lot to think about.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I loved New York Trilogy as much as anyone, but in occasionally reading Auster's books since then, all I have learned is that it was a fluke. They are usually not terrible, but never once has he come close since his first collection of novellas. Man in the Dark is more of the same, but possibly not as good. It is a completely rambling tale that reads like a rough draft of a few different ideas crammed together.
A man suffering from insomnia lies in bed making up stories to get himself to sleep, unsuccessfully, though it worked wonders on me. From time to time he drifts out of sleep to think about his daughter, living upstairs, or his granddaughter who is also living upstairs. They have all three recently lost their spouses, though all completely separate from one another, and are living in a sorry state together in one house. It sputters to a conclusion, and you can almost see Auster lose enthusiasm as he was writing.
Suffice it to say that the book is appropriately morose, yet somehow lacks depth, glossing over important details while lingering in mediocrity. If someone handed it to me on the street and I read it knowing no details, I would assume it was a creative writing assignment penned by someone who will probably switch majors.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The Big Oyster is a book every New Yorker, amateur historian, and oyster lover should want to read. It will not let them down, but I do wonder what the small set of people who fall outside these groups will think. The history of New York is fascinating, interspersed with colorful characters and anecdotes that make history so entertaining. There is probably too great an importance placed on oysters, but what the hell, I'll bite.
Novices will probably find the many simple and complex oyster recipes a bit tedious, but then again, they might produce some converts. I am one of those who believes the best oyster recipe is also the simplest: Shuck and eat. Sure a splash of tabasco or lemon is great, horseradish and wasabi add a nice bite, grilled and roasted oysters have a certain character to them, and fried oysters are delicious, but nothing beats a freshly shucked briny oyster swallowed whole from the shell.
By the end, you definitely get the point: New York is an oyster town that destroyed its capacity for oysters through polution and gluttony. The book though, suffers the same fate as most books like it that explore history through one small prism, it gets repetitive. There are lots of moments like this:
And do you know what was at the bottom of the civil war? Thats right...OYSTERS!
All in all, a very entertaining read, highly recommended for people who love the subjects and a little less so for those who don't.