Thursday, November 26, 2009

60's & 70's NOVELS

Sorry I'm really late for this post---I was trying to sell a car. Why do people kick the tires? The old Mercury Sable was hanging around the yard for months, and my wife intimated that old things hanging around should be gotten rid of, quickly. I was certainly hoping that she was referring to the car and not me, so I put my selling skills---which I have none---into high gear. I sold it at a ridiculously low price within the week. But I really liked that car and hated to see it go. Sometimes old things should do just that: hang around. This bit of sage wisdom I imparted to my wife as I passed over the meager sum I obtained for my entrepreneurial skills. She wasn't amused.

Anyway, I think what I was trying to say in my last post where I became digressive and meandering was that these years(60's and 70's) were my real awakening to the power and the delightfulness of the novel. I have to clarify that all these books and authors I will mention didn't write or even publish these books in the years mentioned, but these were the years I had discovered them, or they were required reading at that time for their meaningful message or entertainment.

I'll get right to it or else I'll wander again.

It was important to read Kurt Vonnegut because he seemed to capture the aura of the age. And he was so funny, and so dry, and so right. He was my favourite and still is, actually. I covered Vonnegut in an earlier post, so won't rehash it here. Best books by him are: SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, DEADEYE DICK. By the way, I have his whole collection of novels, and I have a secret wish regarding him. I would LOVE to have a signed copy of one of his books(first edition, of course). I know you can buy them online, but I don't have the money, and I wonder about authenticity---I don't know how to go about it. I would walk backwards to Halifax if I could get such a prize.

Other required novels one had to read way back then: BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley, also HEAVEN AND HELL and THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION by him. The latter being the book for, let's say, hippies with their acid or mescaline fixation. These books were amazing. I still have them packed away in a box somewhere.
1984, and ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell. I remember I was so enthralled with 1984. It still is a very powerful novel. There was a great movie made from this book, in the 80's I think staring William Hurt. I thought they did a decent job of capturing the mood of this great novel---eat your heart out, Margaret Atwood.
ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac. Also THE DARMA BUMS. There not much more I can add about ON THE ROAD that hasn't already been written. This book blew me away. I tried to emulate the characters and the life style, and even carried it around wherever I went---as did so many others. Excellent book.
THE CASTLE, THE TRIAL, by Franz Kafka. This was strange, disturbing literature, but I loved it. What kind of mind did this author have? Fascinating stuff.
Others were Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. And of course, Tom Wolfe's ELECTRIC KOOL-ADE ACID TEST. This book was an absolutely exhilarating trip across America with Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in the old VW bus. It set a new tone to writing and reporting. It was so much fun.
And, of course, Carlos Castaneda. Some books are: THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A YAQUI WAY OF KNOWLEDGE, A SEPARATE REALITY, JOURNEY TO IXTLAN. These taught me that there just may be an alternate reality visited only by those who have mastered the ancient skill of transmigration. Endlessly fascinating and entertaining. Castaneda was never one to proclaim himself publicly---he would never appear on Oprah. And after his books ended he just vanished into the ether, I suppose. Strange occurrences, indeed. I wonder if anyone is reading him now. I have all his books---packed away somewhere.
Norman Mailer AMERICAN DREAM(covered in an earlier post), John Updike RABBIT RUN(Covered in an earlier post), John Irving's THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. God, I loved this book. It was absolutely excellent! A great novel. The movie version just didn't make it, I thought. Robin Williams was good, and the movie wasn't that bad, but it just didn't capture the "feel" of the novel. Movies are seldom as good as the novels.

Anyway, I'll pick this up later, I have to get snow tires on the new car---I miss my old clunker. It's gone from the yard, so sad.

(note to BR: long gone? broke free? no return?)

A PS: I have hundreds of books that I want to sell: excellent condition, first editions. I have no idea how to do that. Any suggestions?

Next: Hermann Hesse

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NOVELS OF THE 60's & 70's

You know, when I thought about covering this topic, I initially considered that the whole enterprise would be quite simple to execute and easy to chart. It isn't. It was a different time, and I was a different person---kind of. There was a sense of great excitement, urgency, impressiveness, and a sense of awe at nearly everything new. Quite amazing.

All of that seemed to have abated or at least became qualified over the years as I aged. One notices a great amount of redundancy, cheapness, self-aggrandizing, and puffed up egos in most things man-made. I find very little today that's manufactured, conceived, written, spoken, yelled, performed or negated by mankind that's the least bit awe-inspiring. However, that being said, I must make an exception with technology---some of it, anyway. Remember, I was brought up during my impressionable years with only a crackling radio and a telephone you had to scream into. Things have changed, and I am amazed to see it all. But with all these instant communication devices, we can only think of telling each other off, or breaking up with your sweetheart by texting her. That's amazing. Bringing people together by this technology has caused a whole new array of problems. But I won't get into that.

Also, there are very few(if any) people out there right now who inspire me or give me a sense of admiration. People like Einstein, Darwin, Shakespeare, Martha Steward were always my ideals. I'm just kidding about Martha Steward. But you wonder about a person who built a whole successful career(and lots of money) around compulsive trivia. And after a messy divorce, being jailed for a period of time, and hated by so many people, she just keeps on going. That's admirable, indeed.

I asked my wife who she admires today. This was an interesting conversation, so I'll transcribe it here. It went this way:

Bernie: Who do you really admire today?
Wife: This is a trick question, right?
B: No. Who do you see today as an admirable person? An inspiration? A great person?
W: You mean, alive in the world today?
B: Yes. It's not too difficult a question. Who is your hero.
W: Heroine, maybe.
B: Oh, of course. Woman or man.
W: Clarify further.
B: Well...someone maybe close by...I mean, not remote or far fetched...someone you admire.
W: Well, there's that Canadian female astronaut...what's her name?
B: Dr. Roberta Bondar. She doesn't count.
W: Why is that now?
B: She's an astronaut.
W: Oh. And that's not counting because......
B: Too remote.
W: Oooo K. Let's see now... someone close by, not too remote, admirable, great. Hmmmmm.
B: Too difficult?
W: No. I think I have it.
B: Oh good. Who?
W: You, Darling. Why didn't it come to me earlier? Strange.
B: Really!? Is that a fact? I'm honored. I had no idea....
W: Yep, It's definitely you.
B: Thank you for that! But what specifically would make you pick me as the most admirable?
W: Let's not push it, shall we? Let's leave it at that. You're the cat's meow, my Darling.
B: Well! Thanks! I didn't realize.... Where are you going?
W: Out in the garden to get some fresh air...clear my head. You know, sinuses.

So there you have it. This subject is exceedingly subjective.

I want to talk about the many authors I read and relished and revered during the 60's and 70's---and still do today, I suppose. Authors like: Vonnegut, Huxley, Camus, Kesey, Kafka, Updike, Hermann Hesse.....and so on. These will be my next post.

Monday, November 9, 2009


The Giller prize is Canada's literary award for those novels deemed worthy enough to be singled out as great. It's not as prodigious nor as auspicious as the Booker in England or the Pulitzer in the US, but it will garner much revenue for the winner as well as others on the short list. I'm not too keen on these awards, and the Giller has such a reputation of blatantly missing the most important books published in any given year that it has become a wonder in itself. This year's picks, it seems, has fallen into that old pattern.

The five novels on the short list are as follows:
(Mind you, I have not read any of these---I doubt I will)
THE DISAPPEARED by Kim Echlin. This is a romance story, and a travel guide on Cambodia 35 years ago. An odd mix, for sure, and one I'll pass on. Notice the word "romance" and not "love"---there's a difference.
THE FALL by Colin McAdam. This is a story of a private school where a loner is being picked on and falls in line with a popular kid and falls in love with his girlfriend whose name is Fall. Does this sound familiar? I wouldn't fall for this; I use to fall for novels like this, but I won't fall for this now. I might fall for something else, but I'll not fall for this.
THE GOLDEN MEAN by Annabel Lyon. This is a book about Aristotle---the Greek philosopher, not the Ari we all knew way back in the 60's. I'm not sure what the MEAN means, but I think this novel is a kind of a domestic, non-intellectual effort. I wonder what my philosophy professor would think. I'll pass.
THE WINTER VAULT by Anne Michaels. From what I can gather, this is not a story per se, but a meditation on progress and the cost of thereof. What progress? I missed that.
THE BISHOP'S MAN by Linden MacIntyre. Ominous title. I'm glad it's not the Bishop's Boy considering all that's happened lately in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Early reviews say that this novel is quite readable, and well written for the most part. There are references to it rambling, but most Cape Breton novels do that---I don't know what that is. I think this is quite mild in execution, and wonder why. It's as if Atlantic writers don't want to offend.

Just a note: I really think that since Alistair MacLeod (NO GREAT MISCHIEF) is one of the judges on the Giller panel, he championed MacIntyre's book. That's OK, I guess. We Maritimers pull together.
By the way, A. MacLeod's NO GREAT MISCHIEF was just named the number 1 Atlantic novel in over 100 listed. I reread it because I wondered if I had missed something when reading it years ago. No. I didn't miss anything. Overall, it's a good novel. MacLeod managed to bind a family's history together over a few generations, cementing their ties with Cape Breton and their Scottish clan. But this novel does ramble, and ramble it does.

Next: 60's novels