Smashing things up in John Boorman’s 1987 *Hope and Glory*

We watched John Boorman’s wonderful 1987 Hope and Glory, which I somehow had never managed to see. Based on Boorman’s experiences as a kid during the Blitz in London, it’s about 8 y.o Bill Rowan and his family, mostly told from Bill’s POV. Dad goes off to war in 1939, leaving mom at home with Bill and his younger and older sister, dodging bombs & shrapnel, constantly having to wake up in the middle of the night to cower in the bomb shelter, but managing to have quite a lot of fun.

Pauline Kael commented of the film, “It’s hard to believe that a great comedy could be made of the Blitz but John Boorman has done it.” It’s filled with amazingly vivid, funny depictions of the young kids running riot amid the rubble of their neighborhood. A group of the younger boys, unsupervised, form a gang dedicated to smashing whatever has been left undestroyed. This scene shows Bill’s induction (he has to utter the phrase, “Bugger off you bloody sod”).  At 3:10 in this clip the cherubic gang leader tells Bill, “OK, you’re in… Let’s smash things up!” Cut to joyful jazz music as they go nuts in the incredibly dangerous-looking ruins of a house they’ve adopted as headquarters. Talk about free-range kids. (Kael observes of the film, “the war has its horrors, but it also destroys much of what the genteel poor like Grace Rowan (Sarah Miles) have barely been able to acknowledge they wanted destroyed.”)

In its representation of anarchic kids’ exuberant destruction, this reminds me of the incredible Holloween scene in Meet Me in St. Louis. Also of Deputy and the other rock-throwing “hideous small boys,” who “don’t have an object,” in The Mystery of Edwin Drood:

Durdles and Jasper …are also addressed by some half-dozen other hideous small boys—whether twopenny lodgers or followers or hangers-on of such, who knows!—who, as if attracted by some carrion-scent of Deputy in the air, start into the moonlight, as vultures might gather in the desert, and instantly fall to stoning him and one another.

‘Stop, you young brutes,’ cries Jasper angrily, ‘and let us go by!’

This remonstrance being received with yells and flying stones, according to a custom of late years comfortably established among the police regulations of our English communities, where Christians are stoned on all sides, as if the days of Saint Stephen were revived, Durdles remarks of the young savages, with some point, that ‘they haven’t got an object,’ and leads the way down the lane.

Maggie Nelson on the Pleasure of Walking Out

I’m enjoying Maggie Nelson’s smart, probing The Art of Cruelty. Here’s one passage:

[I]n my own life, I know I generally feel very alive and emancipated when I choose to walk out on something. After all, you walk out when you realize that whatever it is you’re watching, for whatever reason, simply isn’t working. Walking out reminds you that while submission can at times be a pleasure, a risk worth taking, you don’t have to manufacture consent whenever or wherever it is nominally in demand…. The fact that the exit door isn’t barred, the feel of the fresh air on your face when you open it — all this serves to remind you of how good it feels to angle the full force of your body and attention toward that which seems to you a good use of your short time on the planet, and to practice aversion towards that which does not. These are freedoms that life does not always grant…

This brings to mind a trip with friends years ago to see a play, a student production almost an hour out of town. I thought I might be the only one hating it, and certainly wasn’t going to ask anyone else to leave at intermission, but thought I owed it to myself at least to hint vaguely at the possibility of cutting our losses and leaving. Seconds later we were all on our way out. Yes, “the feel of the fresh air on your face” when you walk out of that theater– she really captures it.

This also reminds me why I found so silly the premise of this recent piece– here it is, “Finish That Book! You suffer when you quit a story midway through—and so does literature.” Nope, completely wrong, the freedom to toss a book aside — even if capriciously, even if for no good reason — is basic to the pleasure of reading.

The 10 Saddest Sentences in Donald Antrim’s *The Emerald Light in the Air*

(Although I could have chosen alternatives.) I liked this book, a collection of stories, quite a bit but did find it somewhat devastating in overall effect.  It is also sometimes quite funny, however.  “Another Manhattan,” which I also remember reading in The New Yorker at the Western Skateland roller rink a year or two ago as my kids skated, is probably my favorite.

“Christopher… confided in a whisper that he had never been anything but a goddamn disappointment to his family, and that no matter how hard he tried, he’d never escaped or really ever understood his role as a clown, as a fool, but that he’d finally made up his mind that it didn’t matter, that their opinion of him wasn’t going to bother him forever.”  (“Solace.”)

“They had lied to each other so many times, over so many years, that deceptions between them had become commonplace, practically repetitive” (“Another Manhattan”).

“Back when he was in the hospital — in the past six months, there had been three emergency-room visits and two locked-ward admissions — he had spent day after day lying on a mattress, crying.” (“Another Manhattan”).

“On the mattress, shattered and sobbing over Kate and their messed-up love, he’d lain crushed.” (“Another Manhattan”).

“Margaret, one of the night nurses, met him on the ward.  She said, ‘Hello, Mr. Davis. You’re back with us again, I see.’ Then she showed him to a room of his own.” (“Another Manhattan”).

“She’d be afraid of him pulling her back, afraid of going childless all her life and winding up a widow, like her mother, running from place to place and never stopping.” (“He Knew.”)

“He’d felt it in his temple.  It was, somehow, both imaginary and real, a beckoning, an itch, a need for a bullet.” (“The Emerald Light in the Air.”)

“He remembered how the misery had bowed him over: He’d gone everywhere, in those days, with his head down, barreling rigidly forward, compounding the pain by moving at all; but when he touched himself to find where the pain was coming from he couldn’t find the spot.” (“The Emerald Light in the Air.”)

p.s. Here’s a beautiful profile of Antrim in the NYT Magazine by the great John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Early-1970s craziness of Manchette’s *The Mad and the Bad*

MadAndManchette_AF

Jean-Patrick Manchette’s bloody 1972 French thriller The Mad and the Bad is a recent release from the great New York Review Books Classics series. It’s quite crazy. I had that experience with it where I read half of it and got distracted for a few days, and then when I picked it up I’d lost track of a few of the plot points, which didn’t really matter much but added to the sense of sheer unmotivated perverse carnage.  In brief, a corrupt architect wants to get rid of his young nephew, who has fallen into his care.  He hires Julie, a young woman who has spent five years in a mental hospital, to take care of the boy, and then hires a brutal hit man with a bad ulcer, Thomson, to kill them both.  (I may have missed something here.)  The attempted execution goes wrong, Julie and the boy escape, and the rest of the book describes their attempt to elude the hit man and his fellow thugs.  The edition’s introduction explains that “for Manchette the world is a giant marketplace in which gangs of thugs — be they leftist, reactionary, terrorist, police, or politicians — compete relentlessly.”  There’s maybe a touch of R.D. Laing-style 1970s anti-psychiatry sentiment in the way the unstable Julie is the book’s only sympathetic character… But she’s pretty crazy, and not that sympathetic.  Society itself is a madhouse, as best exemplified, maybe, by an extended scene that could only be filmed by Quentin Tarentino in which the thugs shoot up an entire busy supermarket trying to kill Julie and Peter:

With stunning speed the store was transformed into a madhouse. More and more people started to run. A wake of detritus marked Julie’s trajectory through the aisles… Above the hullabaloo, by way of background, floated the sweet yet cannonading tones of an old Joan Baez hit, piped through speakers. The place was a bear garden…. Thomson could no longer see either Julie or Peter. He bounded down an aisle, knocking over an old woman who began to wail in terror. He trotted by Boys Apparel, his mouth full of bile…. This is exciting, I am enjoying this, Thomson told himself as he spat gastric juice onto the ground… Mothers were shielding their children by covering them with their bodies. The whole mass was shrieking. Thomson was doubled over with laughter.

I was imagining Mick and Keith reading this during the recording of Exile on Main Street in Keith’s villa outside Nice, although I guess the timing’s not quite right (recording was in 1971).  Still, this has early-1970s-craziness written all over it in a very specific way.

 

The divorced women’s Maus: Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel

I really loved Anya Ulinich’s new graphic novel Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel.

I read it basically as memoir… Only now reflecting do I realize that it’s a novel.  Still, my guess is that it’s largely autobiographical (most of it seems to match up with the author’s life) — but I don’t actually know that.

You might especially enjoy it if:

  • you like Gary Shteyngart’s work and/or have an interest in contemporary Russia (the protagonist flies there for a visit early on) or in the generation of Soviet Jews who immigrated to the U.S. in the 70s following the loosening of the USSR’s emigration policies. “Evoking Louis C.K.’s humor and Amy Winehouse’s longing and anguish” says the jacket copy — hmm, that latter seems a strain, and I almost get the feeling that the copywriter was desperately trying to avoid mentioning Lena Dunham.  (I prefer Etgar Keret’s blurb: “the divorced women’s Maus.”)  But yes, she is quite hilarious, and recalls Shteyngart a bit in Little Failure in the way they both self-deprecatingly narrate their floundering attempts to de-Sovietize and to enter mainstream American life.  (And come to think of it, Lena’s visit to St. Petersburg functions in the narrative somewhat comparably to Shteyngart’s return back to Russia in Little Failure.)
  • you’ve done a lot of online dating in your late 30s or 40s or following a divorce.  The main plot of the book involves our narrator, divorced from her second husband Josh (the first was a quickie marriage basically for a green card), tip-toeing into the dating pool, having by age 37 had a grand total of three lovers to date.  Ulinich is hilarious on the parade of grim, weird, unattractive, misguided men Lena encounters.  She has earlier characterized the students in her adult-education creative writing classes as falling primarily into the five (sometimes overlapping) categories of the Brilliant, the Insane, the Illiterate, the Angry and Ambitious, and the Jerk-0ff:Photo on 8-10-14 at 1.44 PM
    [all images taken from the book w/o permission, all rights belong to the author]

    Her taxonomy of the guys she dates is comparable.  Here’s her overview of the photos men post on the dating sites:Photo on 8-10-14 at 1.41 PM

    Among her rules, she won’t date any guy posing in a photo “with little, mercilessly objectified third world children;”  nor a guy offering the photographer a beer, a cocktail, or a dead fish, “not to mention a guy in a chainmail helmet… that he’d made himself.” She eventually finds an apparent keeper, a moody bohemian 45 year-old she dubs the Orphan.  I won’t give away how things play out with him, as this is the main business of the last part of the book…

  • …but I will add that those who have endured a devastatingly painful breakup will probably find a lot to empathize with in Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel.
  • you are a fan of Chekhov’s “the Darling” or Bernard Malamud’s “The Magic Barrel.”  The latter especially (as the book’s title suggests) plays a central role; the Orphan is reading it on a bus when our protagonist meets him, and she is struck by the coincidences:Photo on 8-10-14 at 1.56 PMI actually have not read Malamud’s story, but I get the sense that parallels run fairly deeply.
  • You are or have been a struggling writer or artist (especially in Brooklyn): she’s excellent on this.  Also good on parenting and being a single mother to two girls while trying to date.

But most of all, it’s very smart & rich, funny and poignant both, and works really well visually/aesthetically as a graphic novel, with a somewhat rough-hewn, sketchy style of drawing that employs different modes and visual looks to evoke different parts of the memoir; for example, when Lena is recounting a story from the past, it’s often in what seem to be lined notebook pages, with an exaggerated, cartoon-y style, as contrasted with the more moody realism of the present moment.

Here’s a neat cartoon/ graphic review of the book in Slate (one that veers off into the author’s own hilarious-awful dating anecdotes).  Here are the two excellent reviews of the book in the NYT.

Finally I’d like to say that Lena Finkle comes across as very likable and relatable throughout. As a protagonist should.

Bloomington’s Little Free Libraries (2)

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are two more Little Free Libraries on or just off Davis Ave. a little to the West of Bryan Park.

Here’s the one on Davis.  When it’s closed, it’s not at all clear what the green wooden box is — it almost has the look of a green electrical box — which may be a disadvantage, although I also kind of like the suspense in opening the latched box and finding out what’s inside.

photo 1

 

Right now its contents are hit or miss.  7 Habits of Highly Effective People, How to be a Success, the Boomer Burden.  Also a Barnes & Noble edition of Vanity Fair, Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation, and an old edition of a Horatio Alger novel. I didn’t take anything.

The box has a lovely situation next to a brook, with a bench, and in the middle of a series of gardening boxes (you can see some lettuce in the foreground of this photo).

photo 2

 

Right around the corner, by the corner of Davis and Franklin, is this neat tree-mounted Little Free Library:

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Since I was last there a day or two ago, it seems that someone has added several old-school 60s-70s male literary novelists: John Fowles’ A Maggot (just checked, actually 1985), Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business (everyone in my family was reading that some summer when I was 12 or so– I barely remember it but recall thinking it was great), John Barth’s The Floating Opera.

Also, this stern note: Wed. May 28- I Wonder Why Someone Took All the Books?  Uncool, folks!  Take one or maybe two and try to come back to replace them!

photo 4

Bloomington’s Little Free Libraries

The Little Free Library movement apparently began in 2009 in a town called Hudson, Wisconsin, and has spread like wildfire.

What is a Little Free Library?

It’s a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share. You can, too!

[The founders] were inspired by many different ideas:

  • Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries around the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
  • The heroic achievements of Miss Lutie Stearns, a librarian who brought books to nearly 1400 locations in Wisconsin through “traveling little libraries” between 1895 and 1914.
  • “Take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public spaces.
  • Neighborhood kiosks, TimeBanking and community gift-sharing networks
  • Grassroots empowerment movements in Sri Lanka, India and other countries worldwide.

The group’s original goal was “to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries—as many as Andrew Carnegie—and keep going.”  But “this goal was reached in August of 2012, a year and a half before our original target date. By January of 2014, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries in the world was conservatively estimated to be nearly 15,000, with thousands more being built.”

I was delighted to come across one of these a few weeks ago near Bryan Park in Bloomington– it’s on E. Davis street, about a block and a half or so West of the park.  This one is a metal [actually painted green wood] box, if I recall correctly, with a door that shuts with a latch.  I took a book from it, although I am already forgetting what it was.  I owe them a book!

Then, the other day, I was walking home and came across this magnificent new one on the corner of First street and Highland Ave.  It has a glass door, so you can see the spines of the books from the sidewalk, enticing you to stop to look more closely; and as you can see, it has an extra bottom shelf for some guardians of the library, and a sort of visitors’ notebook.

Image

The collection of books was excellent, and I snagged the recent (published March 2014!) Philip Marlow re-boot, Benjamin Black (aka John Banville)’s The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel.  Not too shabby!  Today I took a dog walk back to the box and delivered what I think was a fair trade for that prize, an extra copy of Don DeLillo’s Underworld that I’ve had for ages– which you can see here.  This is clearly a pretty highbrow/ high-quality L.F.L.  There’s a copy of Wonder by R.J. Palacio, one of my kids’ favorite novels.

The proprietor of the box were doing some landscaping work around it when I showed up, and I learned that her L.F.L. is not part of Bloomington’s developing system (which the Monroe County Public Library is organizing, with help from a grant), but is a free agent. She also told me that there’s another box around the corner from the one I’ve seen on E. Davis, this one attached to a tree, like a bird house.

Here’s also a video about the Little Free Library story:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/72957294″>Little Free Library Story</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user13666567″>Beargrass Media</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The whole idea could be accused of having a whiff of Portlandia-style preciosity or twee-ness to it.  But I’m a fan.  I can definitely never pass one of these without checking out its contents, and it’s fun to think about how each book got there, and where it may end up.

I will be on the lookout for the new L.F.L’s in town that should be cropping up.  Check them out!

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