Friday, September 15, 2017

Report from France Part 2

I may not have Internet on Sunday so here's a post to keep the streak going. These are pictures of and at Shakespeare and Company, a very old bookstore in Paris that catered to the Beats. I didn't get a picture of Aggie the bookstore cat,  but I got to pet her and got my cat fix.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Report from France Part 1

I have limited Blogger capability here in France because I only have my cell phone but here's a little report from Paris to keep my streak going.

On Wednesday in Paris we found The Beat Hotel at 9 Git-le-Coeur (now the Relais du Vieux Paris). Below are some pictures. I'd read that they don't appreciate tourists traipsing inside but the desk clerk was very nice. I told him I was a Beat fan and asked if I could take pictures. He said oui. I asked him how often people like me visit and he said "every day for 50 years."

There are various framed pics of Beat figures in the lobby. I didn't presume to go farther than the lobby and we had a time commitment (meeting our Paris guide, Wan).

More soon....

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace Part 2

Well, I'm in the club -- yesterday I finished Infinite Jest, including the many Notes and Errata at the end. Everything I said in my comments on August 21 still holds true, plus I have an additional revelation or two.

First -- and this is a major revelation -- the book doesn't have an ending. It just stops. It's as if Wallace got tired of writing (after 1,079 pages) and just said, "Fuck it. I'm done." I'm sorry, but after slogging through an over 1,000 page novel, one expects an ending. Wrap some shit up, for heaven's sake!

Second -- and this is really just a refinement of what I said in my earlier post -- Wallace must have been some messed up dude to come up with some of the stuff in this book, both the content and the gory details of said content. (I know, he committed suicide so there's that, but I'm making this judgment just on his writing). SPOILER ALERT FOR NEXT SENTENCE! The final scene -- a torture scene and one that is actually a character remembering a long-ago event (that frustratingly leaves you wondering if the character will live through his current dilemma) -- is hideously disgusting (e.g., drug addicts on a such a bender that they are pissing and shitting themselves, one ending up with his eyelids sewn open).

Third -- and this is my own pettiness coming through -- Wallace reminds me of someone who needs to prove how smart he is over and over and over again. It becomes quite tedious. I quit looking up arcane vocabulary words about halfway through because it was so frequent as to totally interrupt my train of thought. His prose is so obtuse at times that I didn't know what I was reading. That is, I literally couldn't bring comprehension to some lengthy passages.

But I read them all, hoping for a payoff which never came. I didn't find out what happened to major characters, what happened regarding the deadly film, what happened regarding the Canada-U.S. conflict, etc. My greatest reward came not from reading Infinite Jest but from being able to return it to the library without the guilt of quitting. I persevered. Somehow.

I don't recommend Infinite Jest unless you want a significant and lengthy challenge. Should it be considered a literary classic? In some ways, I can understand arguments for that point-of-view. I certainly understand why it has obtained cult status. For me, it was all about the challenge. I think it's the longest book I've ever read. And perhaps the most perplexing.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Breaking the Kerouacian streak?

On Monday we leave for Europe and will be gone for about 3 weeks. We are only taking our phones for Internet access and can't predict how well they are going to work for us. Hence, I may end up unwillingly breaking the streak of weekly blogging which I started as a Kerouac-olution in December 2015, motivated by Kathleen Thompson's book, The Project-Driven Life (which you can buy on Amazon -- and should).

So, I'll likely post on Sunday, but after that all bets are off. That is, if you don't see a post here for most of September, don't worry -- I'm gallivanting about France and Italy.*

Oh, and I finished Infinite Jest yesterday. Perhaps I'll post about that on Sunday as a follow-up to my previous piece on it.

Peace out....

*We have a house/cat-sitter for those worried about Karma or those with nefarious intent. Thanks, Jared.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What is the 27th sentence of the 27th Kerouac book on YOUR shelf?

In honor of it being August 27, I decided to open the 27th book on my Kerouac shelves and find the 27th sentence, mostly because I am fresh out of much to say today, but also because numerology casts a certain spell on me at times.

So, the 27th book on my shelf? Tristessa. (I have no particular order beyond a blunt grouping of books by Jack, books about Jack, books by other Beats, books about other Beats, peripherals such as books Jack had read, etc.)

The 27th sentence?
She [the hen] wants to come up near me and rub illimitably against my pant leg, but I dont [sic] give her encouragement, in fact havent [sic] noticed her yet and it's like the dream of the vast mad father of the wild barn in howling Nova Scotia with the floodwaters of the sea about to engulf the town and surrounding pine countrysides in the endless north--It was Tristessa, Cruz on the bed, El Indio, the cock, the dove on the mantelpiece top (never a sound except occasional wing flap practice), the cat, the hen, and the bloody howling woman dog blacky Espana Chihuahua pooch bitch (Penguin, 1992, pp. 13-14).

Now, you may be saying there were two sentences there, and I get why (because of the capitalization of It after north--). But my self-imposed rule was that a sentence was clearly delineated at the end by either a period or a new paragraph. Similarly, my rule was that a sentence was clearly delineated at the beginning by either the start of a new paragraph or an immediately preceding period.

And even with all of that, I may have misapplied my own rules and that's not even the 27th sentence from the 27th book on my Kerouac shelf no matter which way you cut it. I may have even counted the books incorrectly the way my brain has been acting lately.

No matter because it's a bunch of words slung together by the master wordsmith himself, and how can you go wrong with that? Unless of course someone accuses me of plagiarism, in which case I will successfully invoke the fair use doctrine and that's all there'd be to that.

Happy Sunday....

P.S. Feel free to report in the Comments on the 27th sentence of the 27th Kerouac book on your own shelf. If you don't have that many Kerouac books, what's the 27th sentence of the last Kerouac book on your shelf? If they're in piles and not on their ends in library style, just figure out a coherent and consistent way to count (always bottom up, then left to right, whatever). Oh, and you really should own at least 27 Kerouac books (I counted 48 authored by him on my shelves, and there are others strewn about the house). But it's not a contest. Just go with the flow and have fun....

P.S.S. Finally learned how to use my laptop's webcam to take pictures!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace Part 1

I am 647 pages into David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, a tome of 1,079 pages. I thought I'd post about it now and perhaps again when I'm finished since it's so freaking long and I am about 60% of the way finished. I don't know if I will be able to finish it in 2 weeks before we leave for Europe, and I am definitely not hauling it around with me because of its sheer size plus it's a library borrow. I could buy it on Kindle and continue reading it on my phone, a much easier physical feat.

People seem to either hate or love this book. Friends report having failed at reading it, some having had multiple failures. One friend suggested reading something worthwhile instead -- like the dictionary. I must admit that I run hot and cold depending on what Wallace happens to be riffing about at any particular moment. I say "riffing" because Infinite Jest has a spontaneous feel a lot of the time, not unlike Jack Kerouac, and as someone else on-line pointed out, Wallace definitely has a quite unique style -- something not all authors can claim.

Wallace's powers of description are mighty, both of the environment and of the many quirky characters in the book. He employs numerous pet devices (e.g., abbreviations like w/r/t and R.H.I.P and Q.v.), unusual words you have to look up (too many to pick just one as an example and I think he makes some of them up), strange - and sometimes quite entertaining -- grammatical construction (e.g., "So and but then he like really decided to ...), and is seemingly fixated on certain topics (in particular, vomit). There are times when Wallace sucks me into his world (e.g., when describing life at the halfway house) and other times when I am totally lost and reading just to get to the next engaging part (e.g., the meeting between Steeply and Marathe outside Tucson -- what the Hell are they talking about? -- and the whole dystopian-future world in general). Sometimes Wallace takes pages and pages to describe an event for which it seems a paragraph would suffice. But that is his "thing," I guess, or at least one of them: extremely detailed and free-flowing narrative and description.

The Notes and Errata at the end -- comprising almost 100 pages across 388 entries -- are particularly annoying. They vary from the 8-page fake filmography of a movie producer character to trivial side comments to obviously important backstory. No matter what, you get the sense that you can't skip them for fear of missing something important, and it's a pain-in-the-ass to go back there (often multiple times a page) especially with a hard copy. I ended up using two bookmarks so I could get back-and-forth more efficiently.

The setting -- a dystopian world in the future focused around a tennis academy, a nearby halfway house, and a movie ("Infinite Jest") so addictive that anyone who sees it loses all desire to do anything but watch it -- is certainly not typical or tropish. I could care less about tennis so the over-descriptions of  life at the Enfield Tennis Academy in Massachusetts are a drudge for me. Like I mentioned above, life at the halfway house captures my attention for some reason -- perhaps the over-the-top characters.

To sum, there are some obstacles to reading Infinite Jest -- and I suspect those vary from reader to reader -- but certainly the sheer length is one of them. Add to that Wallace's writing quirks plus the exceedingly strange world he creates and it's easy to understand why many people give up. There are times when I think he wrote the book as a giant dare (as in "I dare you to read this entire thing."). It's also easy to understand why this novel has a cult-like following. It is at various times mesmerizing, funny, entertaining, engaging, and thought-provoking. And it's different in both writing (you have to experience it) and content (there can't be too many novels in which a main character commits suicide by putting his head in a microwave oven).

I'm not recommending Infinite Jest . . . yet. Let's see what I think after 400 more pages. I assume I am nowhere near the climax of the novel let alone the denouement (if there is one), but I am determined to get there. Stay tuned for future thoughts, most likely not until after we get back from Europe.

P.S. What does this have to do with Jack Kerouac? See paragraph #2 above.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Beat Hotel in Paris: Here We Come

That awesome background is my workbench

I own and have used three of Bill Morgan's excellent guides: The Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America, The Beat Generation in New York: A Walking Tour of Jack Kerouac's City, and The Beat Generation in San Francisco: A Literary Tour.

Now I'm happy to say I own The Beats Abroad: A Global Guide to the Beat Generation, and I'm even happier to say that I am going to get a chance to use it since we are winging our way to France in less than three weeks. Our first stop is Paris, and of course one of our objectives will be to visit The Beat Hotel (9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur), now known as Relais Hôtel du Vieux Paris. Many Beat writers stayed there over the years (with the exception of our boy, Jack). In fact, we have a private walking tour scheduled and The Beat Hotel is where we are meeting our guide.

Morgan cites a number of specific street addresses in Paris where the likes of Corso, Burroughs, and Ginsberg stayed in Paris, and we may saunter by some of them during our perambulations. Of interest to me is famed bookstore Shakespeare and Company, which in the Beat heyday hosted many Beat writers overnight or for readings.

Jack Kerouac has his own entry for Paris and number of addresses where he either visited or stayed, so there's that to consider. We'll definitely visit the Louvre, where Van Gogh's paintings hit Jack with "'an explosion of light -- of bright gold and daylight'" (p. 31).

This is a vacation, though, and not a Beat history tour, so don't expect a lot of structure. We'll also be in Lyon and Servagette, France, and Venice and Amalfi, Italy. Venice has a few entries in Morgan's book, and Amalfi has one (but no address). We'll see what we see.

I guess what I really need to do is get out Satori in Paris and re-read it before we leave!