Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Reads of 2011

It's been a little over three years since I started Slimbo's Shelf. I never really gave any thought to how long it would last when I started this blog. This, of course, was a time when blogs were relevant. Now, amid the constant flurry of ever-changing interweb social media, blogs seem to have gone the way of the cassette tape or fax machine.

Yet I carry on. The only alternative to writing on this blog is to continually write in my notebooks. I have a stack of these spiral notebooks in my closet. One might mistaken them for artifacts of my old school days, but oh no, sir. These are the ramblings of a contemporary suburban madman. I don't remember what's been written in half of them, but they are densely packed with my words. Occasionally, I'll mine out an idea from these dusty tomes, perhaps to transpose into an idea I'll work through here, on this blog where it goes unread amid the ocean of unread blogs that now populate our fair planet.

Ah, fuck it. Let's talk about what Slimbo read in 2011.

Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart. Written between 2006-2009, this story portrays a New York riddled with materialistic protagonists obsessed with their hand held devices trying to understand love amid a New York severed by income inequality protests while the US Government defaults on its debt. This work is oddly prophetic of our current lives, as we pretend to be amused by Occupy's theatrics, all the while commandeered by whatever devices Apple tells us we must possess on cue.

At Madame Swann's - Marcel Proust. As noted before, I am continuing my lifelong quest to read all of Proust's work. In this installment, young Marcel finds love with Gilberte, loses his love for Gilbert and eventually transitions into his love of Albertine. In the midst of all this, he spends WAY too much time obsessing on dresses and flowers. Just sayin', sports fans. Sometimes, I read Proust believing I'm ingesting the greatest writing ever executed in any language. Sometimes I want to smack him. I'd like to think you, my imaginary readership, feel the same about me.

The Bishop - Anton Chekhov. Free on Kindle - download it now! This story chronicles the last thoughts of a bishop marooned in a country parish as he lives out his final days. Death comes to him suddenly. Palm Sunday, he is fine but by Easter he will be dead. His terrible and beautiful musings are juxtapositioned against the rituals and mystical comforts of Holy Week. The Bishop is one of the most moving stories I've ever read. It is a simple, albeit heavily Russian, exploration of life's meaning written as Chekhov himself was dying.

Yondering - Louis L'Amour. I picked this up in Utah and it seemed fitting to read rugged old school man-fiction while I was out there absorbing the mysterious power of those towering Rockies and windswept plains. For an East Coast guy, being there was exhilarating (Wow, I think I grew a few hairs on my chest just writing that - call it Slimbo reaching out to Red State readers). I've got a soft spot for L'Amour. He toiled in the WPA Writers Project with Jim Thompson, whom I hold in enormously high regard. I over-idealize men like these two. I'm too ready to romanticize about the obstacles they faced as they were maligned as Reds by the years that followed WW2 as the Red Scare choked off the oxygen to the gray matter of our national intelligence. In reality, these were just two guys looking to make a buck, any which way they could. Thompson never made the bucks he should have, but L'Amour tapped into the post-war machismo volcano that yearned for his Westerns - validations of American manliness, once the M-1 rifles went silent in 1945.

Yondering is not typical L'Amour, though. These are short stories of varying settings, but all adventures pitting strong hard men against indomitable odds, scoffing at death. Each story is a homage to Hemingway and/or Jack London. Each story avoids the need to explain the existential meaningless of violence and each story veers ever so gently to some formulaic articulation of American exceptionalism and red/white/blue righteousness. Ah shit, who am I to judge? Reading this made me want to go back in time and be 19 again. These stories made me want to piss away all the plastic conventions and scour planet Earth inch by every nasty inch.

Conquest of the Useless - Werner Herzog. This is a painstakingly detailed account of the filming of Fitzcaraldo, as gleaned from the journals of German director Werner Herzog. The Shelf offered a slice of Conquest's offerings in this post. To complete Herzog's unbelievable vision for Fitzcaraldo, wherein he executed the impossible feat of towing a ship over a mountain, Herzog had to navigate the "obscenity of the jungle" while also manage the departure of his initial leading man, Jason Robards for the blessed, yet cursed presence of Robard's replacement, the ever insane Klaus Kinski.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know about Herzog's book, and it is now going on top of everything else. The title alone, spoken in Herzog's voice ("Conkwist of da Uzeliss") wins me over.