Trimalchio (Fitzgerald)

I did not know this early version of The Great Gatsby was available until recently, and when I learned of its existence, I was intrigued enough to want to try it. I’m sure a Fitzgerald scholar could go through it with you line-by-line to show you all of the changes and discuss their significance. I certainly noticed plenty and found most of them to be worth a pause or two for the purposes of contemplation. Mostly, though, I once again got swept up in the story.

I am glad this book exists. I fear that with the computer age, we are losing first drafts and any evidence of the revision process. I enjoy such things and suspect I am not alone. They are certainly great teaching tools.


Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy (McCabe)

I have bookmarks in far too many things right now (and I rarely admit that), so it’s been a challenge to actually finish anything. After enjoying the movie Stan & Ollie, I picked this up and was enjoying it and was on my way to finishing it when, and I’m not kidding here, the dog ate my book. I probably would have been more annoyed by that fact, but I imagined that it could have become a gag in a Laurel & Hardy film.

In any event, McCabe makes his motives clear in the subtitle for this book when he calls it “An affectionate biography of Laurel & Hardy.” Relying mostly on conversations with Laurel (Hardy was apparently not very interested in discussing comedy and trusted Laurel to represent them both), McCabe explores the arc of their career. And I’m going to use the singular there because it really was one career. Near the end of it, they even made that a legal fact – one contract for the pair of them.

There’s a fair amount of time spent discussing what made them successful and, more specifically, what made them so funny. The only factor that I merited more discussion was Laurel’s involvement in pretty much every aspect of production. He was the ultimate hyphenate before that term was even invented.

I’ll probably watch a few of their movies now. I’m not sure I’ll find them funny, but I will appreciate them more. I am probably more inclined to the direction Chaplin – once in the same troupe as Laurel (can you imagine that?!?) went, a direction referred to here as ‘social comedy.’

I enjoyed the movie, though some of its elements were, I know now, distorted.

a randomly selected clip – short enough that you might actually watch it and whoever posted it likes it a lot

A Letter from Manus Island (Boochani)

If you haven’t already heard, Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian writer, won two of Australia’s biggest literary prizes for his new book, No Friend But the Mountains. He is a detained asylum seeker who is not allowed into Australia and had to deliver his acceptance speech remotely. The new book is not available yet, so I found his first, more a book than a manifesto. And it is both powerful and poetic. It’s also a reminder that the US is not the only place mangling the process of integrating asylum seekers. I am glad that the news of the awards brought Boochani to my attention. I am certainly curious about the newer book which was apparently composed entirely of text messages. But this one, and the actions Boochani describes in this slim text, they give me hope.

The Poet X (Acevedo)

This is a novel-in-verse. Occasionally, the plot sparkles and sometimes, the words do. Both come together in the end and I admit I got the goose bumps that come with a happy ending. Overall, it might be a bit long, but it’s worth persevering. And if students will read it, then I’m all for it. I do like that Acevedo is unafraid of difficult topics and she is also great at leaving the Spanish in Spanish. Not everything needs to be translated. Not everything should be translated. This one’s not for teaching, but I would put it in the right student’s hands.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Garcia Marquez)

I liked it – a quick kind of mystery story. I’m just not sure I get it, at least not enough to teach it. His writing is always delightfully off-balance and vivid. Maybe if I tried to teach it I would learn as I go. Certainly, it’s short which makes it appealing for the classroom. His characters always spring to life with just a few brush strokes. I got the sense that there might be some issues of ethnic tension. But it didn’t sing to me, so I don’t think I’m going to try to teach it.

Road to Rust (Perelman)

I didn’t mean to, but apparently I picked up the sequel. Perelman’s first book, Steel, details the rise of the steel and iron industry in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. This is the story of the fall. It centers on the labor wars but does not neglect the choices that the industry made (such as not investing in new technology or at least being very late to do so) that helped it bury itself. Though Perelman comes down on the side of labor, he does not let labor off the hook for the way its greed became the final nails in the industry’s coffin or the way that its racism kept it from developing the kind of coalition that might have made it more effective.

Perelman’s attention to detail is terrific. Though certain characters rise (Judge Gary, John L. Lewis) sometimes take center stage, this is truly the story on ground level. I had no idea of the kind of violence that took place. I always knew about workers not being able to get into factories, but trying to air drop food to workers who couldn’t get out?

The book, complete with photographs and the occasional political cartoon, is very insightful. Perelman keeps his account moving well and it is engaging enough that you will feel like you’ll want to go back into one of the board meetings he describes or a union rally and make an adjustment so that the story ends better. So much of it seems like it was so avoidable. And that’s what makes it a tragedy.

In the Distance (Diaz)

I’d never heard of Diaz, much less that this was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, but a reader I trust recommended it and. . . wow! This has to be one of the most gripping and tightly-written novels I’ve read in a long time. It was very difficult to put down. Diaz’s precise detail and meticulous sentences reminded me of the first time I read Cormac McCarthy. Even the layout of the cover – which irked me for a time – ends up making vivid and beautiful sense.

Sit in the bookstore or library and read Chapter 20. It’s a masterwork all by itself.

The book, which is strong from the beginning, only gets better as it goes. As in Chapter 20, Diaz’s depictions of time are absolutely incredible.

And I just discovered that this is his first novel. Absolutely magnificent.