A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia's founding, by Robert Hughes

This was a book I kept seeing on certain kinds of bookshelves: there was one on the Commerce Street apartment of Rosen's grandmother, for instance. I bet Helen Stevens' dad had a copy. Finally a trip to Australia coincided with coming across a chance mention of it in SDB's writings so I read it.

My favorite kind of book: books where the thesis is "history is absurd," some amazing fact on every page, and the author writes like he's had one or two before sitting down at his typewriter. You've heard that Australia was settled by convicts, but the details of England deciding to transport boatloads of people, basically treated like human garbage, onto a distant place nobody knew the slightest thing about keeps getting more incredible.

England was filling up with criminals - people who'd, say, stolen some cheese or a shirt. It seemed too much to hang these folks, so they kept them on leaky hulks in the river. There was a vague plan to send them to America, but then the Revolution happened. The ships kept filling up. There was an idea to dump them in West Africa and let them fight it out with the locals, but that was scraped, finally, in favor of sending them to Australia, which had been visited like three times.

To the busy FunFriend I can't recommend a 605 page book about Australia, so share in my joy vicariously through these highlights.

- "At the lower end [of poor London circa 1788] were occupations now not only lost but barely recorded: that of the "Pure-finders," for instance, old women who collected dog-turds which they sold to tanneries for a few pence a bucket.

- one guy who got transported was "an impecunious young actor" named Mansfield Silverthorpe who stole a trunk.

- of the first night the convicts were allowed on land in Australia: "as the couples rutted between the rocks, guts burning form the harsh Brazilian aguardiente, their clothes slimy with red clay, the sexual history of colonial Australia may fairly be said to have begun."

- sometimes people would have a heavy iron put on their leg. "Months later, when the weight was removed for the voyage, the prisoner's right leg would jerk up uncontrollably as he walked."

- "Davey marked his arrival in Hobart Town in February of 1813 by lurching to the ship's gangway, casting an owlish look at his new domain and emptying a bottle of port over his wife's hat."

- runaway convicts were called "China travelers," because they thought they could maybe run all the way to China. Instead they'd starve in the bush or be bitten by snakes or killed by aborigines.

Anyway, if you like floggings and sadism, there's lots of that in this book, on average a flogging per page.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I, Claudius (1934), by Robert Graves

1. Know going in that the book is about Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula, and not really about Claudius as Emperor.

2. If you want to know more about Roman history, this is a great book. He personalizes all these figures into the "horny Stalin" types they really were. I feel like I know how the whole Imperial Rome thing worked now, and why Caligula was a bad guy (or at least, the few remaining historical sources make him out to be such a bad guy.)

3. As a "novel," it's a bit of a slog as you get very few scenes where Claudius talks to people. He's mostly talking about other people's lives and historical events.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blue Blood, by Edward Conlon

Blue Blood is the cop memoir ("copoir") by Edward Conlon '87, who went to Regis, wrote for the Lampoon, and became a beat cop in the South Bronx. The book is an extremely detailed account of the years before Conlon became a detective. If some sections feel repetitive and mundane, I think that's intentional; Conlon seems to want to show just how repetitive and mundane police work can be. Even so, I was never even remotely bored; I actually found the book hard to put down.

As an added bonus, it's fun to imagine literally anybody else from the Lampoon in literally any one of the scenarios he describes. (Klein interrogating a crack dealer; Vali asking, very seriously, if there are any guns in the apartment; Dubbin using the word "skell," etc.)

Have any FFs had the chance to meet Conlon?

Wanted (2010)

I wanted to hate this movie, but instead I found it mildly entertaining.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Appointment in Samarra (1934)

In the last 3.5 years, I've read 53 novels chronologically from 1900 to 1934. John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra likely marks the point where American novels get cynical, dark, and creepy — like the 1930s' equivalent of Bret Easton Ellis. The main character is completely loathsome, and there's no real moral center of the book.

That being said, it's a brutally honest portrait of small-town Pennsylvania of that time, and pretty easy to read. Not sure that there is truly any literary value but perhaps historical. John O'Hara's star has fallen from the literary pantheon, but it's interesting to know that this guy was huge at some point. 

Also if you want to write about anti-semitism in pre-WWII American novels, the characters spend their days bashing Jews the entire time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

I thought this book sucked! Did anybody else read it? I loved The White Album, and there was stuff in Slouching Towards Bethlehem that blew my head open. HATED Where I Was From.

Is this a safe space to discuss the wild unevenness of Joan Didion? Most of TYOMT seems to be about which hotels Joan Didion stayed at.