Category Archives: Book Review

I Love You Leo A

leo

I Love You Leo A
By Rosa Aneiros
Small Stations Press

     And stay close to groups of women unless you want to spend the whole journey being          ogled like a piece of merchandise! Discretion has never been their strong point!

Part travelogue, part resolute reflection on the human condition, I Love You Leo A is a harmless and enjoyable enough read; but once you’ve reached the end, that’s essentially it. You’ve reached the end.

There’s no literary after thought. Nothing that fundamentally lingers in the mind. Nothing that compels one to re-visit the varying travels and thoughts our protagonist Leo has embarked on; which is okay, although I personally rather enjoy being touched or moved by what I’ve just read.

To be sure, the two main things I came away with having read these 263 pages, was: who was responsible for daubing ”I love You Leo A” on the various walls and flyovers amid Leo’s travels, and, perhaps more interestingly, a brave and altogether vivid portrayal of Istanbul towards the latter part of the book:

”This is the real Istanbul. The Istanbul of contradictions. A combination, sometimes tense, sometimes so natural it’s strange, of modern and ancient. Decadence and technology meet and sometimes give way to conflict[…]. They can’t help feeling nostalgic for their sultans and their leadership of the Eastern Mediterranean, and yet they want to be a real bridge between Asia and Europe. Tradition weighs down too heavily for them to advance, and yet they don’t want to do away with their own history and customs so they can be accepted as another group of Europeans.”

Having lived in a predominantly Turkish neighbourhood of Berlin, I can honestly vouch that all of the above is resoundingly true. Turks do not ”want to do away with their own history and customs.” As such – well in Berlin at least – they’re absolutely not ”accepted as another group of Europeans.”

That said, what truly jumped out of this book, was authoress, Rosa Aneiros, coming totally clean with the following (with regards to Istanbul): ”The black market is too lucrative a business for policemen and officials to pass up. Blackmail and corruption are an everyday occurrence.”

So there you have it: only read this book if you (really) want to know what makes Istanbul tick. Other than that, you’ll probably find I Love You Leo A somewhat forgettable.

David Marx

 

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Shakespeare’s Italy and Italy’s Shakespeare

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Shakespeare’s Italy and Italy’s Shakespeare –
Place, ”Race,” Politics
By Shaul Bassi
Palgrave Macmillan 

It is certain that, without Machiavelli, Shakespeare’s tragic theatre would not have been the same.

          (‘Neocon and Theoprog: The New Machiavellian Moment’)

We should continue to insist that race is less a property of an individual or group than a cultural and political process with no basis in science (pace the current obsession with genetics). As a consequence, there is no contradiction in dropping”race” as a noun while keeping all its morphological variants that point to it as a process and a relation: racism, racist, racial, racialization, and raciology. Concurrently, to investigate human difference in Shakespeare, we may start making a better use of the less compromised and more nuanced category of ethnicity.

          (‘Iago’s Race, Shakespeare’s Ethnicities’)

William Shakespeare has always been relevant, and this occasionally hard hitting book ensures that perhaps now, today, more than ever. Reason being, I’m hard pressed to think of a particular era in my lifetime, where racism was so devoutly entrenched at the forefront of the everyday. Especially within the wide-open expanse of such varying and inflammatory portals where social media – which, lest it be said, we all partake in on an almost daily basis – plays such a resolute part.

A medium, where let’s face it, there can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever, that an entire array of Iagos’ await to condemn and criticize; way beyond any reasonable doubt where racism, is jut as ugly and festering a cancer today, as it has ever been. One need only behold the prime influential cancer growth that is Donald Trump – the President of the United States of America no less – who, for whatever vile and vindictive implication, remains as openly and acutely racist, as it is humanely possible to be.

In all, we live in profoundly dangerous, incendiary times, of which Trump (very closely followed by his many mortals in crime) is doing his up-most-best, to further instil and promote an already volatile society. A society, where the afore quoted ”racism, racist, racial, racialization and raciology” appears to be flourishing un-checked to such a worrying degree, that it is nigh out of control. And if it isn’t out of control, it’s dire, deplorable trajectory appears to have most certainly been (fully) embraced by Britain’s purveyors of Brexit; which, given the full title of this book, triggers the thinking as to where William Shakespeare might have stood on the fiasco that is Brexit.

Furthermore, were one to hurl the likes of Italy’s Niccolo Machiavelli into the equation – which this most simmering of an evocative book does more than handsomely – one ought to indelibly know that one is in for one hell of a literary read.

To be sure, as such is already made abundantly clear in the ‘Introduction: Country Dispositions’ where Shaul Bassi writes: ”This experimental set of readings aims to ask what special relations might obtain between the Italy of Shakespeare and the Italy of a certain line of modern thought, as mediated above all by the work of Machiavelli. Capitalizing on these critical orientations, Shakespeare’s Italy and Italy’s Shakespeare examine aspects that have remained largely unexplored, arguing that the productive dialogue between the early modern and the postmodern […] can be usefully supplemented by a consideration of key moments of the long pre- and post-independence history of Italy, a country that at the time of Shakespeare was a mosaic of disparate political entities and that only in the nineteenth century, when Shakespeare was first imported into Italian culture, became a unified state.”

Shakespeare’s Italy and Italy’s Shakespeare – Place, ”Race,” Politics, is a totally clear-cut analyses of that which its title purports to; although it does need to be stressed that it is the most timely pertinence with which it has been written, which fundamentally accounts for its rather unfortunate, albeit current relevance: ”[…] in contemporary Europe, a continent that is increasingly multiethnic but also socially deteriorating and fragile, where the foreigner, especially if her religion or skin colour is different from the majority, is liable to become a convenient scapegoat”’ (‘Fixed Figures: The Other Moors Of Venice’) – my italics.

The whole idea of the ‘scapegoat,’ is what surely describes today’s (predominantly) Western society at best, that, if noting else, is just one of the many, many reasons these 201 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Bibliography and Index) warrant both reading and embracing.

David Marx

 

A History of Modern French Literature

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A History of Modern French Literature –
From the Sixteenth Century to the Twentieth Century
Edited by Christopher Prendergast
Princeton University Press – £41.95

”In Shakespeare’s time ”century” didn’t mean a hundred years; it meant a hundred of anything […]. As for the French term siecle, this didn’t originally mean a hundred years either.”

               (‘Introduction 1’)

There is a certain irony in the fact that Jean-Jacques Rousseau is celebrated as the inventor of modern autobiography. Like many Enlightenment thinkers, Rousseau was obsessed with origins, and he offered in his Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inegalite parmi les hommes (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men) one of the most influential accounts of natural man ever written.

               (‘Rousseau’s First Person’)

To describe this book as an exceedingly well analysed and tantalizing tomb of French induced, literary depth, might initially appear as something of a detriment to not only the book, but also the vast complexity of French literature itself. Reason being, it is so much more than that which the title might initially suggest. As it’s also a historical, as well as philosophical analyses on the subject; which, in and of itself, has more of a complex trajectory than one would ever care to fully comprehend.

As Michael Wood, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University has since been noted as saying: ”This is a tremendous achievement, bringing into a single volume much of the best writing and thinking on French literature that is currently available anywhere.”

Can’t really argue with that, as most of its 652 pages (excluding a List of Contributors, Acknowledgements and Index) are a quintessential revelation in themselves; just as the book’s editor, Christopher Prendergast, nigh substantiates in Introduction (I): ”I have already used the word ”glimpse” in connection with one of the contributions. The term could be generalised to encompass the whole book as a collection of glimpses, angled and partial snapshots (which, with variations of scale, is all history can ever be). On the other hand, it is not just an assortment of self-framing windows onto the French literary-historical world. It’s unfolding describes, if in patchwork and fragmentary form, the arc of a story centered on the nexus of language, nation and modernity.”

A History of Modern French Literature – From the Sixteenth Century to the Twentieth Century is a book which one can obviously read from beginning to end; but it’s also a book that can be dipped into at random – as if a most inviting reference work.

For instance, Wes Williams’ third chapter ‘Marguerite de Navarre – Renaissance Woman‘ opens with enough inviting and informative information, one is simply enticed to want to read more: ”Sometimes described as the ”first modern woman,” Marguerite de Navarre occupies an extraordinary place in French Renaissance culture. Commonly referred to simply as ”Marguerite,” in part because of the secondary meaning of the name as ”pearl,” she was, as well as sister to King Francois I, a skilled political operator in her own right, working to effect change within the French court and on the wider European stage.”

Likewise, Christopher Braider’s seventh chapter ‘Moliere, Theater, and Modernity,’ which begins: ”The classical tragedians of seventeenth-century France are routinely said to have invented the modern stage. A key element was the three ”unities” extrapolated from Aristotle’s Poetics, demanding that a play’s action unfold within a single natural day; be confined to a single, readily identifiable place; and exhibit the logical consistency required to convey an air of internal natural necessity and coherence.”

To be sure, almost all of the book’s thirty chapters begin and intrigue with that of a similar persuasion; which, to once again quote Princeton’s Michael Wood, accounts for A History of Modern French Literature being ”highly readable and full of energetically pursued arguments […], it will last for a long time, precisely because its notions of history are so flexible and imaginative.”

Indeed, if nothing else, this book almost underlines the fact that the history of literature, can only benefit from disciplined speculation with regards the possibilities of the past.

Once again, Christopher Prendergast reasserts as much mid-way through ‘Aims, Methods, Stories,’ when he writes: ”[…] the loss of the historical sense as that which demands that we try to understand and appreciate the past (here the literary past) on its terms rather than our own, while remaining aware that we can never fully see the past from the point of view of the past. On the other hand, if the past is another country, it is not another planet, nor are its literary and other idioms, for us, an unintelligible babble.”

The book commences in the sixteenth century with the formation of a modern national literary consciousness, and ends in the late twentieth century with the idea of the national coming increasingly into question; especially with regards both the inadvertent as well as the inherited meaning of what being French actually means, beyond the geographical border(s) of mainland France itself.

As such, A History of Modern French Literature is as compelling, engaging and uncompromising as that of a lot of the actual subject matter itself.

David Marx

 

Sticky Fingers

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Sticky Fingers –
The Life and Times of Jann Wenner
By Joe Hagan
Canongate – £25.00

As your company was failing (again) and as a special favour (Two Virgins was first), I gave you an interview, which was to run one time only, with all rights belonging to me. You saw fit to publish a book of my work, without my consent – in fact, against my wishes, having told you many times on the phone, and in writing, that I did not want a book, an album or anything else made from it.

               John Lennon (‘Temptation Eyes’)

It was so clear, and he didn’t care at all what kind of attention he got. He didn’t care if it was negative or positive, as long as he got attention.

                Jane Kenner (‘Atlantis’).

I have to absolutely embark on this review by initially giving full marks to Joe Hagan for his top-notch, soaring honesty.

In Sticky Fingers – The Life and Times of Jann Wenner, he really has done an outstanding job in researching, writing and accounting for an (astoundingly) open thesis on someone, who, for all intents and egotistical purposes, really doesn’t sound like a particularly nice fella.

There again, much, if not most of the music industry is essentially riddled with unpleasant people. And that, to be sure, is putting it mildly.

I could, like John Lennon, describe the music industry as being full of cunts – but one does like to keep ones option(s) somewhat open by not tarnishing every smug and self-serving, totally dishonest and free-loading Judas with the same sacrosanct brush as Simon Cowell – or any array of others, who between them, have triggered irreparable, cancer induced damage into popular music.
Popular music as we once knew (and revered it) that is.
But that’s another story.

Amid these 511 pages (excluding Notes, Selected Biography and Notes), Hagan tells the annoying, semi-saccharine, yet highly exasperating story of how Jann Wenner became the infamous editor of Rolling Stone.

A man for whom the term the good, the bad and the ugly was surely devised.

Reason being, does Hagan ever regale as much- or what?
Already in the Prologue, he writes: ”[…] at its base, Rolling Stone was an expression of Wenner’s pursuit of fame and power. He reinvented celebrity around youth culture, which equated confession and frank sexuality with integrity and authenticity. The post 1960s vision of celebrity meant that every printed word of John Lennon’s unhappiness and everything Bob Dylan said or did now had the news primacy of a State of the Union address. It meant that Hunter Thompson could make every story he ever wrote, in essence, about himself. It also meant that climbing into bed with Mick Jagger was only worth doing if you had a Nikon handy. Self-image was the new aphrodisiac.”

One cannot help but wonder how Wenner himself might actually feel about (a lot of) what’s written herein being published. One can only surmise that he has some kind of rawhide skin, that is surely thicker than that of the likes of Stalin.
Or that which ought to be allowed…
For instance, how might he feel upon reading the following, which was said by Bill Graham – ”the thick-browed Holocaust refugee turned rock promoter who was regularly demonized as a ”profiteer” in Wenner’s newspaper” – to Rolling Stone writer Tim Cahill, ‘: ”Let me tell you something about the dishonest, slimy little paper you work for, mister, and that…evil…slimy little cunt, your editor. There are only a few people I’d like to take out to the street and kick the shit out of […].”

Having met Bill Graham whilst living in New York, I do have to say he struck me as a very reasonable sort of fellow. Opinionated maybe, and never short of a word or two; but quintessentially fair-minded and bullshit free. So I am inclined to wonder what, other than the profiteering quip, Wenner might have done to warrant such wrath.

Suffice to say, one beckons for things to resolutely be told as they’re resolutely meant to be told; and so far as Sticky Fingers is concerned, there really is no beating about any literary bush. None whatsoever.

If the above opening quote – which is an actual letter Lennon wrote to Wenner – isn’t enough to endeavour coming to terms with (let alone live down), then how about the following, which surely substantiates Lennon’s anger: ”Before the Lennon interview was published, Wenner told Alan Rinzler that ”Lennon Remembers” might make a great book and that Rinzler should ”put it up for bids” once the interview was published. But there was one little problem: John Lennon had specifically said he didn’t want the interview published anywhere but Rolling Stone. In fact, Lennon told Wenner that he owned the interview. And Wenner had agreed. Rinzler waved away the promise, unmoved by Wenner’s handshake deal. He told Wenner that the book was a surefire moneymaker for the 1971 holiday season, mentioning a publisher that would offer big money for the book rights.”

As the late great Kurt Vonnegut used to say: ”and so it goes.,” on and on and on and on, throughout all twenty-four chapters (spread across Books I, II and III) of dire discrepancy and rock’n’roll revelation.

A certain facet of revelation, which, if you really think about it, makes for terrific, tittle-tattle type reading on the one hand; although profoundly disturbing reading on the other.

Either way, compliments to the author.

David Marx

So Here It Is

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So Here It Is – The Autobiography
By Dave Hill
Unbound – £20.00

There’s something exquisitely humbling about this book.
Tender even, which in all honesty, I found somewhat surprising.

Reason being, when one thinks of Slade’s idiosyncratically incongruous guitar player, Dave Hill, one cannot help but think of he with the rather elongated, beaming smile. He with the ludicrous outfits – all colourfully fraught and undeniably flippant – replete with a seemingly inadvertent ideology which subscribed to that of water off a duck’s back.

So to read about Hill’s recent struggles with depression, not to mention the altogether poignant openness with which he writes about his mother, is both endearing and commendable.
Endearing and commendable for all the right reasons might I add.
Primarily, that of the degree to which he doesn’t hold back throughout So Here It Is – The Autobiography, the following being a prime example: ”Looking back on it, it seems to me that she was controlled by guilt, and anything that disturbed her life, however trivial it might have been, she saw as a punishment. It was like the world only existed to get her back. She didn’t feel as if she could enjoy anything because she felt she didn’t deserve it.”

Such words, really aren’t the sort one would expect to read by someone who regularly shook their arse in front of millions of viewers on TV. Could you imagine Sting being anywhere near as frank or as open?

The likes of Shane McGowan would undoubtedly be as open out of sheer necessity. As would the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave. But these are all terrific songwriters. Songwriters, with a story to tell.

But Dave Hill? The Super Yob?
Surely not?

Surely indeed.
Each of these twenty-two chapters are written in such a way that one cannot help but want to delve further and continue reading; a facet, which, so far as rock’n’roll (auto)biographies are concerned, is exceedingly slim on the ground.

For instance, I found Rod Stewart’s Rod – The Autobiography (2012) embarrassingly heinous. Other than inexorable bravado, it contained nothing along such regal lines as: ”Just as my life has been a journey that’s unfolded in these pages, so writing this book was a journey of its own. I approached it by wanting to answer a few questions I had about my life, my parents, my health, Slade, about how I got where I am now. What was the real story of my mom and dad?Why were Slade such a huge success and why didn’t we emulate that in the States? Where did my depression come from, and how did I survive that and my stroke? Those were all things I wanted to think more deeply about and, in doing that, in researching, in talking to people who have been involved in my life along the way, things have become clearer. As you’ll have discovered by reading this book, I haven’t got all the answers – I don’t think anybody ever has – but a lot of things have come into sharper focus for me” (‘So Far, So Good’).

He’s right, in that nobody ever has all the answers – unless of course, you’re Bono – which, when aligned with much of Dave Hill’s reflection throughout these 253 pages (excluding a Foreword by Noddy Holder, Acknowledgements, Index and a List of Supporters), accounts for So Here It Is – The Autobiography being such a candid and top-quality read.

David Marx

The Rub Of Time

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The Rub Of Time
By Martin Amis
Jonathan Cape – £20.00

”We should bear in mind, I think, that the phrase ‘power corrupts’ isn’t just a metaphor.”

(‘Politics -1’)

”The imagination has its ‘eternal naivete’ – and that is something the writer cannot afford to lose.”

(‘Twin Peaks – 2’)

”It is Jane Austen’s world, in a sense; but the invigorating intelligence is gone, to be supplanted by a simper of ingratiation. Here, the upper crust is playing cute. Dilemmas and entanglements are not admitted to Four Weddings. Nothing weighs anything at all.”

(‘Jane Austen and the Dream Factory’)

As with so much of the provocative and tantalisingly tempestuous writing throughout Martin Amis’s The Rub Of Time, its 340 pages (excluding Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements and Index), invariably bequeath the reader with an ever widening gambit of both occasionally perplexing and philosophical preponderance.

To be sure, he leaves one gasping for literary breath, which to my mind, can only ever be good thing.

But in order to fully comprehend all of where he’s coming from, might I suggest reading The Rub Of Time in stages. Reason being, the more one reads, the more ones’ own (occasionally) complicated compass will inevitably need to re-adjust; if not re-align itself with ones’ own pre-ordained knowledge. That said, when Martin Amis hits his mark – which he so gloriously does again and again and again amid this book’s fourteen chapters – he truly hits the mark in such a way that is nigh beyond compare.

His writing on the death of Princess Diana, perhaps being the most pristine example herein: ”Above all else will be remembered as a phenomenon of pure stardom. Her death was a terrible symbol of that condition. She takes her place among the broken glass and crushed metal, in the iconography of the car crash, alongside James Dean, Albert Camus, Jayne Mansfield, and Princess Grace. These other victims died unpursued. They weren’t fleeing the pointed end of their own renown: men on motorcycles with computerized cameras and satellite-linked mobile phones. The paparazzi are the high-tech dogs of fame. But it must be admitted that we sent them into the tunnel, to nourish our own mysterious needs” (‘The House Of Windsor’).

How excorciatingly sad; but hey, true.
And I for one, am so very grateful that someone has finally come out and admitted as much.

Moreover, there are numerous examples of such pin-point, social accuracy throughout this book; surely the most strident and highly entertaining being that towards the end of chapter twelve’s ‘Literature – 3,’ where the author so beguilingly writes: ”About eighteen months ago (in the summer of 1996) I went to see Four Weddings and a Funeral) at a North London cineplex. Very soon I was filled with a yearning to be doing something else (for example, standing at a bus stop in the rain); and under normal circumstances I would have walked out after ten or fifteen minutes. But these weren’t normal circumstances. Beside me sat Salman Rushdie. For various reasons – various security reasons – we had to stay. Thus the Ayatollah Khomeini had condemned me to sit through Four Weddings and a Funeral; and no Iranian torturer could have elicited a greater variety of winces and flinches, of pleadings and whimperings. So one was obliged to submit, and absorb a few social issues […].
‘Well,’ I said, when it was over, ‘that was bottomlessly horrible. Why is it so popular?’
‘Because,’said Salman,’ the world has bad taste. Didn’t you know that?’ (‘Jane Austen and the Dream Factory’).

The world, or the UK at least, does indeed have bad, if not excruciatingly bad taste.
One need look no further than the almost unwatchable and utterly irrational televised vomit that is Ant and Dec. In fact, I’d be highly curious to hear what Amis might have to say about those two hugely popular, custard filled egos; who really are about as entertaining as year old cement.

Perhaps less so – at least year old cement isn’t obsequiously annoying.

Alas, the world is condemned to be forever blighted by horrific taste; which is why The Rub Of Time (Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta,Trump And Other Pieces, 1994-2016), makes for such compelling, wonderfully intelligent and what’s more, contagiously amusing writing as that cited above.

Anxiously awaiting the next instalment.

David Marx

Devotion

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Devotion
By Patti Smith
Yale University Press – £12.99

I lay there replaying a slow pan of the banished human chain winding through a relentless flurry of white petals. Chrysanthemums. Yes! Branches of them and the wretched train of life blurring past. Yet returning to the same bit of film I had viewed earlier, I find no such scene.

          (How the Mind Works)

She lived only for skating, she told herself; there was no room for anything else. Not love, school, or scraping the walls of memory. Negotiating a bouquet of confusion, the lace on her skate broke in her hand. She quickly knotted it, then unfastened the skirt of her new coat and stepped onto the ice.
– I am Eugenia, she said, to no one in particular.

          (Devotion)

Amid the current tirade of so much terrible, terrible writing – seems just one appearance on the deplorable I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here entitles one to a publishing deal so’s to (try) and write of feeble, over-blown self-importance – it is something of a moral, as well as literary catharsis, to be reminded that writing of this calibre still exists.

Is still being reached for.
Is still being pondered over.

Damn it, is still being written; it kinda takes your breath away.
And then some.

There again, we are talking about Patti Smith, authoress of astounding visionary prowess; who, has often stood alone (down the years). Alone amid the sheer sparkling resonance of having raised the literary bar to such an unequivocal extent, it’s hard to think of a current writer who comes anywhere near close (the terrific Canadian poet, Bruce McRae perhaps).

Close that is, on such a regularly unforeseen basis:

Only the relics of consumption
wrapped in the silk of existence

          (Ashford)

Devotion, the title story, has to be one of the most soaringly beautiful short stories I have ever read. It encapsulates and embraces the imagination like nothing else this side of W. H. Auden. It is so tender, yet simultaneously dark in equal measure, it nigh defies description.

To be sure, any form of description and evaluation would not do it justice.
It cries out to be read.

As part of the ‘Why I Write’ series, Smith writes in concordance with both her heart and a surrender to the knowledge of her vast and most honest experience; a quality she makes devastatingly clear in ‘A Dream Is Not a Dream’ where she writes:
”What is the task? To compose a work that communicates on several levels, as in a parable, devoid of the stain of cleverness.
What is the dream? To write something fine, that would be better than I am, and what would justify my trials and indiscretions. To offer proof, through a scramble of words, that God exists.
Why do I write? My finger, as a stylus, traces the question in the blank air. A familiar riddle posed since youth, girded with words, a beat outside.
Why do we write? A chorus erupts.
Because we cannot simply live.”

Indeed, we cannot simply live.
And this all too powerful, and overtly reflective book is a stark reminder of such: ”[…]. And Christ? Perhaps he did not dream, yet knew all there was to dream, every combination, until the end of time.”

David Marx