Revenge of the Lawn

revenge-of-the-lawnRevenge of the Lawn, Richard Brautigan

I adore Richard Brautigan.  There’s something about his writing that I just want to sink into and reread again and again.  Somehow, his books can create a picture with just a few short words.  With stories that are surreal and playful and don’t always make sense in a logical way, they nonetheless feel real.  His descriptions are short and unique, I doubt anyone else would write the way he does.  Yet they are so evocative of time and place- late 60s/early 70s and the Pacific northwest-that I can smell pine trees and ocean spray and feel moss and loam under my feet when I read his books.

I suppose the proper description of Revenge of the Lawn is a collection of short stories, although that’s not quite right, primarily about his life in San Francisco.  It’s so odd that his work is divided up into his poetry and his novels and short story collections.  Because his prose is still poetry–his sentences are meaningless, all that is important is the rhythm and sound of the words and how they roll around on your tongue or in your mind.  And even if we are to classify the writing as prose, “stories” is a strong word.  Snippets is more like it. Most of the stories are no more than 2 pages.  Some are much shorter. Here is the entirety of one of them, “The Scarlatti Tilt”:

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.”  That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

This portrait is perfect in its way.  After all, what more needs to be said?  Other snippets involve a woman who buys liver and lives with bees, drinking coffee, Ernest Hemingway’s typist, and the problem’s that occur when you replace all of your pipes with poetry.  Unsurprisingly, it poses a lot of problems.

I encourage everyone to read at least one Brautigan book in their life.  It’s important because you’re not going to read anyone else like Brautigan, there’s just him.  Words work differently for him.  The order that the words go together and the picture they paint don’t seem that they would make sense, and they wouldn’t if you or I wrote them, but for Brautigan they do.  I don’t know why a story of people forever trying to bury their lion (who accepts in stoically) is a good story to read, but it is.  His descriptions are brilliant, such as describing a woman “adorned in yellow and jewelry and a language I don’t understand,” and he pulls you into the countercultural life of California at the time while blending the real and unreal.

Brautigan is delightful and original and he taps into something true somehow in everything he writes.  And unlike some surreal writers, there’s no struggle to understand.  The words are just there for you to pick up or not, as you will.  And if you do pick them up, I promise, they’re quite a treat.

 

 

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Selected Poetry and Prose

Selected Poetrypoetry and prose and Prose, William Blake

I haven’t written any reviews in a while because I’ve been putting of this one in particular.  I wrote it already, you see, long hand in a notebook intending to type it out into WordPress at a later time.  And then I lost the notebook! Argh!  At first I was just stubbornly insisting to myself that I would certainly find it, and so I put off the search, and then I was angry at losing it and just thought it was terribly unfair that I would have to write the review again.  But such is life, I suppose.  In the grand scheme of things, it is, I suppose, a minor injustice.

Well.  Onto the review.

When I was young-I’m not sure exactly how old, I think 4th or 5th grade-my mom gave me a book of William Blake poetry for Christmas.  The book was one of those Dover classics that I don’t see around much anymore, but made up a large portion of my childhood bookshelf.  They usually cost about $1 each.  And were as close to the original publication as possible.  The book of Blake poetry contained “The Tyger”, and the illustrations that had gone along with the original poems.  I’m not sure how much I understood, but I loved the way the poems sounded and felt and read the book several times.

Since then, I haven’t read much Blake poetry, but I’ve read about him several times.  I read a lot about Catholicism, modernism, and Christianity in general in Europe and the United States, and so Blake seems to be hovering around the edges of many other books I’ve read.  It seemed like a good idea to read some actual Blake poetry again, and so I picked this book up at-you guessed it-the library book sale, my own personal Disney Land.

This particular edition was not the best idea for me to grab.  It’s clearly meant for academic use.  This isn’t a problem in and of itself, except that this compendium is probably best if you’re familiar with Blake already and just want a good selection hand for reference.  Of if you need a wide variety for a literature class and you don’t much care if the students grow to love Blake.

The reason I say that is that this had many excerpts, not just full poems or prose. The way they were put together didn’t seem to flow to me from a literary point of view, and they were occasionally grouped by topic, not by time or which book they were placed in, despite the fact that Blake likely published poems together that were intended to be read together.  My biggest problem with the book, though, is that it had no pictures!

A lack of pictures may seem like an odd complaint for an adult book.  However, the illustrations are a key part of Blake’s poetry.  In the introduction to this compendium, it even discusses in great detail how Blake had thought that he had hit upon a new art-form of illustrated poetry.  He worked as an engraver for books, and dreamt of books where the illustrations and poems were both created together and intended to support one another.  After exploring in depth Blake’s dedication to this art, and in trying to persuade others of its import, it is extremely strange to read a collection of Blake’s work that includes poetry, prose, but no visual art.  And it seems a disservice to anyone really trying to understand and appreciate Blake’s work not to provide that key part of it.

So, in conclusion.  If you’re a Blake scholar and need a handy reference for when you’re writing papers and don’t know how to pull up things on the internet, this is probably a useful book.  If you’re looking for a good introduction, you probably want something else.

Library Book Sale!

library-book-sale

Last weekend was the fall Library Book Sale.  It’s tied with the Spring Library Book Sale and Christmas as the best event of the year.  Below is my haul.  I bought all of these for $20.50, and I can’t wait to dig in.  If I ever get my to-be-read book list down to less than three shelves again I can justify going to the book sale on half price day for twice the books.  This is my reading goal before the Spring sale.  🙂
The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olson.  I hadn’t heard of this book before, but from a brief perusal it seems it right up my alley.  Absurdist, humorous crime drama?  Yes, please.

Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver.  Let’s be honest, with a few rare exceptions, Kingsolver writes a variation on the same book over and over.  Smart woman feels like an outsider, is doubted by others, eventually finds belonging in a rural area where she least expected it.  I don’t care, I love her writing and will read that book over and over.  This is a sequel to her novel The Bean Trees, which was beautiful, so I look forward to continuing it.  And it was $.50, so it’s not like I had a choice.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre.  I’ve read other Le Carre books, but never this classic.  I feel like I’ve come across it when reading about tons of other books and in other reviews, though, where books are often compared to The Spy Who Came In… as a classic.  So it’s probably about time I read it, and as I’m generally a fan I think it was a good choice.

This Is a Book, Demetri Martin.  I expect this was a fun choice, and it’s probably good for me to pick up something light hearted every now and again.  Martin is one of my favorite comics (comics named Martin seem to be very talented) and not least because all of his comedy is just a bit unusual.  I am not expecting to be surprised by this book, but I think it’ll generally be a fun read for someone who likes Martin anyway.

Guadalajara, Quim Monzo.  Most of this year’s book purchases were books that I’ve heard of or by authors I’m familiar with.  There weren’t nearly as many leap-of-faith purchases as I sometimes have.  This was one of the few.  It’s a short story collection by a Catalan author, Quim Monzo, who I hadn’t heard of before.  The short stories are reimaginings of other classics, such as The Iliad and Metamorphosis, and I was intrigued.  Plus, I just read two other excellent short story collections, so I suppose I’m hoping this is as good as those.

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon.  One description I read of this book called it “exciting and accessible”, the latter not usually the word I land on when describing Pynchon.  But why not?  After all, Crying of Lot 49 is fun if you don’t always demand your books make sense.

My Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs.  I was actually in the religion section looking for Year of Biblical Womanhood, which I’ve been wanting to read forever.  But I remembered that this was a book that had struck my fancy years ago as well.  As a regular church goer, and also fascinated by religion in general, I had wanted to check this book out.  I’m a little nervous it’s going to be too superficial for my tastes, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

Genome, Matt Ridley.  My budget for the book sale is a fairly strick $20 (except for that the Kingsolver book was $.50 so I grabbed it) and so I put back a Mary Roach book to grab this one.  I hope I made the right choice.  But, genomics is incredibly interesting, and I feel like I need a better base of knowledge to figure out what’s real and what isn’t when I read the latest breaking news about CRISPR or other genetic breakthroughs.  Here’s hoping this book was what I’m looking for.

Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks.  What is there to say?  This is an Oliver Sacks book, and I haven’t read it yet.  What choice did I have?  I love Oliver Sacks–and if you haven’t read him yet, you absolutely should.  Even if the book doesn’t initially look like it’s up your alley, I guarantee you’ll love it.  He’s an amazing writer, and all of his stories are fascinating.  I feel pretty good about this one.

Planets, Dava Sobel.  Sobel is another really wonderful science writer.  I’ve read Galileo’s Daughter, which was a very insightful and informative background into the truth of Galileo’s dispute with the Church, and Longitude, which was a fantastic book about the search for a way to measure longitude and how it ties into understandings of time.  I hadn’t heard of this one, but when I saw her name on the shelf I snatched it up.

The Creation, E.O. Wilson.  One of my favorite environmental books is The Future of Life on Earth by Wilson, a truly gifted writer and brilliant biologist.  The Creation, addressed to Christians and other people of faith, as an appeal to religion to save creation, is a book I’d heard of but had forgotten about it.  It’s a slim volume, but I look forward to beautiful language and hopefully some new insights.

And that’s it for this haul.  Now I need to dig in to these books.  Happy Reading!