I Put the Book Down

I’m on vacation. A much needed vacation. Much needed for my wife who bared the brunt of the unpacking, decorating, and taking care of the baby, while I was in Malaysia.

Yesterday she went hiking with her friend, so me and the baby had the day to ourselves. I decided a trip to B&N followed by In’N’Out would keep us entertained. It doesn’t take much to keep her entertained.

I like B&N. I like all of the big corporate bookstores. I like them more than small, dirty, dusty, hipster bookstores filled with snobby douche bags who often have poor taste. It was after all a hipster chick employee that gushingly recommended The Name of the Wind, the shittiest fantasy novel I’ve ever forced myself to finish.

I like getting coffee, walking around a large clean store, looking at things, picking up books, thumbing through coffee table art and gardening magazines, buying cookbooks. It’s all pleasantly middle class.

When I was in high school and had a car I used to ditch school a lot. I would wake up in the morning, get dressed, say goodbye to my family, and drive towards school. A few blocks from school I would take a hard right and drive to the beautiful two storied Borders Books. I would get some coffee and spend the day on the second floor reading, sometimes for eight or nine hours straight. My senior year I must have read over one hundred books. I got a F in English.

So yesterday I was thumbing through the Literature section, on the second floor of B&N. My usual bookstore leisurely pace was somewhat hampered by having to entertain an inquisitive ten month old, but it was a good time.

One of the employees came by to meet my baby, young girl, really nice. She brought her a cute fox book and asked me if I was looking for anything in particular. I told her I was looking for short story collections. I just finished Airships and wanted more litfic shorts.

She brought me a book by a writer I haven’t heard of. The cover looked really interesting, I actually noticed it on the shelf myself and meant to take a look at it earlier but got distracted. I thanked her and threw the book on the pile of stuff I was planning on buying.

Because I’ve never heard of the author before I decided to look her up. I immediately made the mistake of searching her name and clicking on the Twitter link that popped up. Every one of her posts were deranged anti Trump nonsense. I put the book back on the shelf.

An author being liberal isn’t shocking, it’s actually about as original as putting ketchup on your hot dog. Completely bland. I read liberal writers, I read conservative ones, dead ones, living ones, and everything in between. But I’m so tired of the hysterical nonsense that I can’t take anyone who continues to rage serious. It’s 2019, Trump has been our president for almost three years. He will be re-elected and will run the country for another four. Grow the fuck up.

The liberal aesthetic has dominated the literary and art world so much that it’s become completely boring. It’s cliche. I want a different viewpoint, a different perspective. I’m sick of the same cliches over and over.

Barbarian Book Club: 5 May 2019

I read a lot of books. This past week I read one novel, one memoir, and two short story collections. Before starting this post I bought eight books.

Every time I finish a book I tell myself that I’m going to sit down and write an in depth, detailed, well written review. A review worthy of a glossy literature magazine, something insightful that will make you run out and get whatever book, read it, and drive to where I am so you can sit around drinking espresso, smoking cigarettes, and discussing the literary merits of said book with me.

I never do.

So instead of writing critiques worthy of Harold Bloom I’m just going to let list a few of the things I’ve read recently and particularly recommend them. I’m also going to link to Amazon using my affiliate link. Why? Because this site costs me money to keep add free. 

Some Recently Read

Fight Club by Chuck Palaniuk. I saw the movie when it first came out. I was in high school and my brother and I came across it one day on cable. It blew our mind. One of my close friends became a Palahniuk super fan, guy read every one of his books numerous times, owned signed copies, convinced me to try one of the books. I borrowed Choke from my girlfriend and read it real quick. Didn’t like it. Too edgy in that try hard kind of way. It didn’t click with early twenties me so I passed on Palaniuk. Fiveteen years later I’m at the gym listening to the Bret Easton Ellis podcast and Chuck Palaniuk is one of the guests. Before he comes on B.E.E. talks about Fight Club, book and movie, and my peaks my interest. I loved the movie, maybe I should give the book a try. I did and don’t regret it. It’s well written, exceptionally creative, and quick paced. It captures that late 90’s hatred and nihilism that seemed to permeate everything. From a writers perspective chapter six is outstanding, a piece of prose with interrupting beets that reads like a charged punk song. Each scene is prefaced and interrupted by one of the “Rules of Fight Club,” the book is worth it for this chapter alone.

Airships by Barry Hannah. A few days ago I hit up all my homies on Twitter asking for litfic recommendation. I wanted something good, something meaty, something that read like the second pack Marlboro Reds washed down with cheap beer after a night of disappointment. My boy Neal delivered by recommending Hannah. Airships is a short story collection that blends the civil war with Vietnam, adds a dash of New York lit snobbery and flavors it with a dash of Southern Gothic. Hannah is a must read. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of him before. This is what litfic should be. No cat lady victimology knitting circles here.

The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Anthony Beevor. One of the best history books I’ve ever read. A brutal account of one of most intriguing and overlooked conflicts of the 20th century. The Spanish Civil war was a war where the losers wrote the history. It was the first massively propagandized war and so much of it is misunderstood or even deliberately misconstrued. The early sections describing the build up, the escalating hatred between countrymen towards each other is chilling, specifically in the light of our current political climate where the centrist position is losing ground to extremism from both sides. I highly recommend this book, not just for history buffs but for everyone.

White Rajah: A Biography of Sir James Brooke by Nigel Barely. I’ve always had a fascination with the South Pacific in the 19th century. I love the opium trade, jungles, China Clippers, trade companies, and all of the adventure that goes along with the great men behind the history. My favorite novel is Tai Pan and Hong Kong and its history is one of my favorite places I’ve visited. So a few month ago work decided to send me to the jungles of Sarawak, what used to be the Kingdom of Sarawak founded by the British adventurer James Brooke. Sarawak was ruled by the White Rajahs for three generations, well into the 20th century, and the last of the Rajahs was buried in Kuching in 2013. While the book itself isn’t that great, with a strange focus on Brooke’s homosexuality, I read it the first few days I was in Sarawak and it was cool seeing all of the places built by Brooke in person during my free time.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky The greatest novel ever written. Make sure you read this translation.

Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes. A comprehensive and intriguing cultural history starting with Peter the Great’s founding of St. Petersburg through the death of Stalin. The focus of the book is mostly on the cultural and civil life of Russians in the 19th century going into detail about Russian art, music, ballet, and the fascination and dual nature between the enlightenment of Western Europe and the Orthodox nationalism of the peasant. Some of the most interesting and painful to read chapters were about the plight of the artistic revolutionaries after the Soviet Revolution. Soviet true believer committees that turned art and literature into propaganda for Stalin only to be denounced later and sent to the death camps themselves.

I read a lot more, but this should do for now. A few of the books I’ve read deserve more in depth reviews, specifically White by Bret Easton Ellis. Other books were too historically technical, obscure, or instructive to merit a recommendation.

23,803 Miles, Sarawak, and Home Again

It’s exactly 6 AM and I’ve been wide awake for almost two hours. The sun isn’t up and I’m already on my second cup of coffee. Since I’ve returned I’ve been waking up earlier than usual so I might as well be productive. I’m starting to like the morning.

View from my hotel room. Kuching, Malaysia.

My last transmission was on the 4th of March. I was across the Pacific in Okinawa, Japan. I was living in a bare barracks room with horrible internet and hideous decor. I spent most of my free time smoking cigars, drinking beer, and getting reacquainted with Dostoevsky. It rained a lot. That warm, humid, Japanese rain. Miserable.

In the past three months I’ve flown 23,303 miles. First moving from Japan to California. Then being sent back to Japan for work for a few weeks. After that I spent a bit over one month in Kuching, State of Sarawak, Malaysia. Now I’m finally home.

Moving my entire life across the Pacific is a surreal experience. Leaving a place, an entire country, an entire culture, and way of life is jarring and hard to describe.

In February I flew my family to our new home in California. I only stayed with them for two weeks then back to Okinawa to catch up with my coworkers so I could go on a project in Malaysia. It’s been weird coming home because when I arrived back in California what I’m calling home is more foreign to me than Sarawak. After all I only lived in my current house for a few days but spent the better part of two months living in a hotel room in Kuching.

Land of the White Rajahs

When I was out in the jungle my coworkers would talk about back home. It was strange because I didn’t really know anything about back home except what my wife described to me.

I got back on the 14th of April. Catching up, carving out my place, getting acquainted with the furniture. I have a new desk. New couches, new bed. Bought a grill, some patio furniture, domestic stuff so we can enjoy the California summer.

The weather in California is nice. Growing up here I took it for granted until we lived in Japan. California weather is just right, a bland nice. After the 95 degree 90% humidity of Sarawak I like the niceness. But I do miss the jungle.

This past Thursday was my 36th birthday. I was born in 1983. Off the top of my head Ronald Reagan was president, David Bowie and Phil Collins ruled the radio and everyone wore hideous clothes. Of course I had no idea because I was just born and living behind the Iron Curtain. It was a good birthday.

I’m reading Barry Hanna, my coffee is cold, and my battery is low.

Above all, don’t lie to yourself.

Last night I started reading The Brothers Karamazov. The last time I read Dostoevsky’s masterpiece was two decades ago when I was a teenager in high school and it had a tremendous impact on me. Ever since I considered it my favorite book and the greatest novel ever written. So, I decided that being in my mid-thirties, a husband, and father, I should revisit it from a more mature point in my life.

Right away I was struck by the narrator’s voice is a lot more comical and light-hearted than I remembered. The book is framed in a typical 19th-century fashion where the assumption is that the narrator is telling the reader a true story and every fact and detail is through the lens of an unnamed speaker recollecting the events to the best of his ability and also injecting a fair amount of his own personal commentary. The opening chapters that lay out the background of the story contain a lot of historical and literary references that I appreciate a lot more now that I’m much better educated on 19th century European and Russian history and politics.

But it was in Book II Chapter 2 where the novel really begins and I immediately re-discovered why it’s considered a masterpiece.

The section is titled An Inappropriate Gathering and takes place at the local monastery. The Karamazov family agrees to discuss the matter of Dimitry’s inheritance while the elder Father Zosima acts as the mediator between the father and son. Upon arrival at the elder’s chamber, the horrendously boorish and offensive Fydor begins running his mouth, insulting the people around him, and playing the fool. He turns to Father Zosima and in a mocking fake victimhood he asks “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Father Zosima’s response is fantastic.

Father Zossima, lifting his eyes, looked at him, and said with a smile:

“You have known for a long time what you must do. You have sense enough: don’t give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech; don’t give way to sensual lust; and, above all, to the love of money. And close your taverns. If you can’t close all, at least two or three. And, above all- don’t lie.”

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.

The above passage is outstanding. Like our modern day outrage hunters, Fyodor Karamazov is an opportunist who seeks to defraud and take advantage of others.

I believe lying to oneself is one of the main problems underlying our current cultural malaise. We tell ourselves fantasies about who we are, what we can achieve, what is good, what is moral, and react negatively when faced with the truth. We force lies onto others and act indignantly when they refuse to acknowledge our fantasies. We take actions that were considered foolish a century ago and are crushed when the predictable results harm us.

So much of the current cultural and political climate would be improved if everyone followed Father Zosima’s teaching.