Thursday, July 30, 2015

Two efforts with books, and then as a complete surprise "Carsick"

Over the last couple of weeks book reading here has been disjointed and not entirely successful. After the recently commented on "Ghettocide", the next choice was "Bernard Baruch, the adventures of a Wall Street Legend" by James Grant.  After reading a little more that half of that interesting book, it was put down.  At least now there is a good grasp here of who Bernard Baruch was, his financial and civic acumen, his role in negotiations after both World Wars, his privileged lifestyle, and more. Grant is one hell of a thorough writer, at times bordering on repetitive and tedious.  He loves what he is writing about, maybe more than most readers.  The book can always be returned to the top of the reading table, but I needed to drink too much tea to keep on with it.

Then came "My Struggle, Book Four" by Karl Ove Knausgaard.  Some weeks ago a two issue profile of the writer in "The New York Times Sunday Magazine" was commented on here, and reading his latest book, a first try at his work, was looked forward to somewhat eagerly, if eagerly can be applied to anything that is done here now.  The revelation was that this is an autobiography in process, intended to be a completely true account of one portion of the writer's life.  It covers the author's early adolescence into his late teens, and is full of stories that most people would prefer to keep to themselves.  Self deprecating is a description that is too mild.  It rings true, but after 80% of the book was read, interest here flagged, as in ended.  I was exhausted by trying to care about this guy.  Given the huge popularity of the book series, one perhaps could assume that the translation from Norwegian to English did not have the nuance and literary flair of the original text.  At the same time, Ove Knausgaard himself refers to the six book, so far, series as discussing the banalities and humiliations of his existence.  Those Scandinavians.  The book can always be finished.  Several days ago did not seem like the time.  The effort had been made.

Then a few days ago I picked up "Carsick, John Waters Hitchhikes Across America".  Never having been remotely a John Waters' aficionado, the book still seemed interesting as a brief review was read somewhere. The book has four parts --- A Prologue, then a novella written before the trip giving a best version of the proposed trip, then a second novella about the worst that could happen, and finally followed by "The Real Thing".

I cheated, in my schoolboy mind of the past, although books can be read anyway one chooses.  The Prologue was read and then "The Real Thing".  Going too far into Waters' mind with the novellas did not seem necessary. Those two parts of the book were completely entertaining.  His hitchhiking goes in fits and starts. There are periods of great luck in getting rides and times when he stands by the side of an exit ramp for six hours at a time in rain or stifling heat.  Ultimately, being recognized as the celebrity that he is helped lead to his success.  It would have meant nothing here as going to Wiki was necessary for me to see a picture. As one of his secretaries in Baltimore told him after the trip, if you weren't who you are you would still be standing at a roadside in West Virginia.  Nevertheless, his trip could not be called easy.

Among the men who pick him up, he is taken by the fact that most of them like to talk about the success of their marriages and how their wives have been instrumental in whatever success, stability, or sobriety that they have had.  In a comment at one point he notes.  "Like every man that has picked me  up so far, he hates freeloaders."  At another point when he puts up with a woman who is scolding him abusively as he stands by the road until she realizes who he is, and then opens the door and enthusiastically welcomes him and he accepts, he notes "when you are hitchhiking, your usual value system collapses."

As Waters goes from Comfort Inn to Days Inn to other budget highway hotels, he observes the unattractive free breakfast offerings at each place and those people who are eating them.  One example, "I go into the breakfast room for my complimentary meal, hoping some cross country driver will see me and offer me a ride.  But no.  It's a hideously lit area with a TV blaring.  The six or seven grizzled men inside don't make eye contact with one another, much less me.  They look stunned by the grim routine of their lives.  I feel the unfriendly vibes immediately, and with one look at the pitiful breakfast choices this place offers--- white bread, packaged donuts--- not even instant bad scrambled eggs or micro-waved greasy bacon--- I lose my appetite..."

This is a well written book, and unexpectedly one that was thoughtful, charitable in his thoughts about the many different people that he meets, and devoid of any trace of some of the explicit or trashy behavior in some of his more unusual films.


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