Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
(Elyn Saks, 352pp -- stopped after 150p)
A unique internal account of the experience of schizophrenia, written by a woman with great academic powers (valedictorian in college, Marshall scholar to Oxford, Yale Law School). Her brain started going haywire when she was quite young, and she could easily have been mis-diagnosed as anorexic. Her academic powerhouse skills in part required a familiar structure to be expressed. Each school shift did trigger a serious outbreak, but eventually, she managed to receive sufficient support to motor through. I stopped reading after the Yale Law School episode, since it seemed clear she would always have psychotic episodes, voices and premonitions, and each outbreak resembled the earlier ones. Instead of finishing the book, I read Jay Neugeboren's NYRB discussion of the book, which arrived while I was just finishing the first half. He quotes the anecdote her asking "Will aliens be attending the reception?", and her partner's kind answer. Although Neugeboren reads her story as a vindication of psychoanalysis, that goes beyond the evidence: Saks clearly shows how valuable it can be to talk to someone every day. In England, psychoanalyst she visited charged only $6/hour (in the early 1980s). Perhaps people could benefit more if analysis were not so expensive in the US (which must be due to its medicalization here).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tree of Smoke
(Denis Johnson, 23:05)
Amazing tour of the tunnels of Vietnam, from the time that Kennedy was shot, the Tet offensive, and times following. Johnson is the heir to Delillo, with his acute ear for dialog and fascinating quirks of the Psy-Ops world. I don't exactly understand how the book ended, although I found some of the earlier endings inside the massive novel to be quite rewarding. On the day I wrapped this up, I discovered that Gary Shteyngart judged TOS in a tournament hosted by Powells against a book I've been neglecting (Then we came to the end). But since he judged TOS to be vanquished by the other title, I'll try to track this down.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lake of the Woods
(Tim O'Brien, 306pp read about 1/2)
This book has been highly praised in some circles, and I was tricked by the extensive wikipedia page it has. Had I thought for any length of time, the lengthy wiki homage would be a tip that this is a book for puzzle fans, rather than literary types. The book is an unsolved mystery, with "evidence" deposed from various characters. But the author heavy-handedly footnotes his own inability to solve the mystery, both at the beginning and end of the book.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Captain Blood
(Rafael Sabatini, 12:30)
I read this novel by Sabatini as a further path toward understanding Don Barthelme. DB frequently mentioned in interviews that his style borrows from Sabatini, and he even has a short story titled Captain Blood. The heroic Irish captain, Peter Blood, overcomes numerous injustices that forced him into slavery in the Caribbean. Blood's style, cool and ironic, is well drawn, and the range of his adventures includes Irish depressions and drunken despondency. I look forward to reading more Sabatini with my sons, since the writing style is quite good, and the adventures will surely rivet a young boy's attention.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Boswell's Life of Johnson
(James Boswell, unabridged, 36 hours)
I had listened to a different version 10 years ago, and it sparked a radical deep dive into Johnsoniana. I bought this from 5 years ago, but couldn't mobilize for the big listen. During a migraine, I fell in, and ended up listening to over 80% of this. Since there's several editions that Boswell published, this version sounded like a later, more comprehensive ball, with specific attacks on Mrs. Thrale as evidence that Boswell was positioning his life as superior to her recollections.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
(Dan Ariely, 304 pp)
Great tour of the experiments that Ariely has done, with some interesting remarks about his own personal experience, in particular, the accident that caused burns over 70% of his body.