Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category


Catching Up (sort of…)

November 14, 2008

Greetings all.

It’s been a long time since I posted here due in large part to the fact that in the few, rare moments when I’ve had time to read, I’ve been book-hopping like a sonofabitch.
Thanks to lots of music blog related work (including an upcoming internet radio show), sick kids, various and sundry parental/household responsibilities and a ton of other shit (including a near crippling case of political angst) reading time has – as I said – been at a premium.
I’m one of those folks that can’t read when I’m fatigued. I’ll prop myself up in bed with my book light, and before long, after I’ve dropped my book six or seven times, I pack it in and succumb to sleep.
When last we met, I had begun to read a collection of stories by the 19th century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. I read four or five of them – which I was enjoying – when I had to get back to some non-recreational reading, and Gogol fell by the wayside (albeit temporarily).
Then, following the whitewater section of my stream of consciousness, I discovered, ordered, received, and then struggled with Jack London’s ‘The Iron Heel’.
I was shocked when I saw the book on a list of dystopian novels (I’d never heard of it before), and after seeing a synopsis I got myself a copy. While the subject matter is incredibly compelling, and both prescient and relevant, London’s style in ‘The Iron Heel’ was a little hard to wade through, and I fought valiantly with it until I completed it a few weeks later.
By that point I had already stockpiled a few other books (some new from the store, some passed along by my always thoughtful and generous in-laws and some left over from days of yore). Fortunately, one of these was a short story anthology, entitled ‘Wastelands’, which collected tales with an apocalyptic (pre/post and during) theme. I was just starting that one when I heard that the mighty John Leonard had passed away.
I watched Leonard for years in his capacity as a cultural critic on CBS Sunday Morning, as well as following his TV writing in New York Magazine. Leonard was possessed of a singular, towering intellect and I admired him greatly.
When I saw his obituary, I wondered why I had never sought out any collections of his essays and criticisms. I remedied the situation immediately and am currently deep into the 1997 collection ‘Smoke and Mirrors: Violence, Television, and Other American Cultures’. Reading John Leonard is like strapping yourself (or at least your brain) into a pop-cult roller coaster. What separates Leonard from so many brilliant – yet boring – thinkers, is an ability to embrace popular culture in an unironic way with an incredibly broad frame of reference that makes reading the thoughts he has applied to paper genuinely exciting.
So, that’s where I’m at.
I suspect that when I complete this Leonard anthology (I have another one on the way) I’ll post a full review.
Until then….


Last of the Mohicans

July 20, 2008


The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

Greetings all.

I return to you in the midst of a nasty heatwave to hep you all to the fact that I have gone into the squared circle (the metaphorical, literary one) grappled with a classic and come away victorious.
Well, ‘victorious’ isn’t really an appropriate word, but more on that in a moment.
I try, once or twice a year, when I think I am possessed of the intellectual power (and free time) to do so, I like to get a hold of an acknowledged literary classic, one that I might have avoided out of fear of boredom (or that I might discover myself ill suited to the task), and give it the old college try. Nine times out of ten this has proven to be rewarding, as in the past few years when I worked my way through ‘Ulysses’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, and ‘Moby Dick’.
This summer, I decided that I was finally going after James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘The Last of the Mohicans’.
I grabbed an old copy off the shelf – which I believe was a relic of my wife’s high school English class – and started to read. I was actually enjoying it, until the pages started to fall out of the binding. This wasn’t so bad when it was a random leaf, but when every single page began to drop out of the binding, I decided to temporarily move on o something else until I could get to the book store and get a fresh copy.
Fortunately, having long since passed into the public domain – it was published initially in 1826 – ‘Last of the Mohicans’ was available in a number of paperback editions. One of these was a very inexpensive ($5.95) one published directly by Barnes and Noble (one of a large series of such classics they print in budget editions). As “budget” printings go it was pretty nice, with an excellent, scholarly introduction and explanatory notes.
So, I dug in yet again, and guess what? I loved it!
I was fully expecting to struggle with all manner of archaic language, but what I got instead was a fast paced adventure novel.
‘Last of the Mohicans’ was one of the first popular American novels, and it’s not hard to understand why. In his lead characters of Hawkeye, Uncas and Chingachgook, Cooper has created memorable heroes. The setting of upstate New York during the French and Indian Wars (using some actual incidents as source material) is interesting in and of itself, and Cooper managed (even in the context of the 1820s) to endow his Indian characters with much more than the stereotypical idea of the “noble savage”.
I was surprised to see that the two Mohicans are more prominent characters than Hawkeye, who almost operates in the background. Though there are certain important details in his personal history that are stated early and often, Hawkeye (or Natty Bumppo, or La Longue Carabine, or Leatherstocking all names applied to the same character through a series of novels) is a man of few words. I’ll be very interested to see how the character is presented in the other Leatherstocking books, which I plan to read as soon as possible.
So, I guess the lesson here is not to assume anything about a novel because of its age (unless, like both ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Moby Dick’ they are rightly rumored to be difficult and occasionally impenetrable), which, although rewarding, they were).
Also, if you’ve seen the 1992 movie, but haven’t read the book you’ll be in for a shock as the writers of the film (presumptuous, arrogant Hollywood douchebags one and all) apparently had little regard for Cooper’s novel, which makes you wonder why they wanted to adapt it at all.

Now reading – Mainspring by Jay Lake