Book Review: Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

Hopscotch (1966) by Julio Cortázar is my Around the World for a Good Book selection for Argentina. It’s also a very complex novel following in a trend started by Gate of the Sun and Billiards at Half-Past Nine. I need to start reading pulp novels and mind candy from around the world. Hopscotch is particularly challenging in that it is the ultimate hypertext in that you can read it straight through chapters 1-59 (discarding the expendable chapters) , read it in a jumbled order of chapters prescribed by the author, or in any order the reader likes. I tried the second method until my innate need for linearity took over and I read 1-59 “with a clean conscience”.

The novel follows Horacio Oliveira as he wanders around Paris obsessing over his lover La Maga. Horacio and his friends have deep philosophical conversations about love, art, jazz, and literature. Many chapters are pure dialog and philosophical meandering. There’s lots of random sex and misery and one point a child dies tragically. Horacio returns to Buenos Aires and works a series of odd jobs including a circus and mental institution. Horacio falls for a woman who is a double for La Maga and slowly goes mad himself.

That’s the basic gist, but wow is this a complex novel. It’s beautiful and thoughtfully written but I just don’t get it.

Author: Cortázar, Julio.
Title: Hopscotch. Translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa.
Publication: Info. New York, Pantheon Books [1966]
Description: 564 p. 22 cm.

Book Review: Lee Miller’s War by Lee Miller, edited by Anthony Penrose

Lee Miller is a fascinating woman. She was a model and muse to photographers like Man Ray and took up surrealist photography herself among other talents. Following the Normandy invasion, Miller got herself credentialed as a war correspondent. She followed the progress of the American armed forces and the liberation of France, Luxembourg, and Germany for Vogue magazine of all publications (apparently her grim photographs of the war dead ran pages after typical fashion advice articles). Miller’s son Anthony Penrose says that his mother didn’t speak much of the war. In Lee Miller’s War (1992) Penrose collects the dispatches, letters, telegrams, and most importantly the evocative photographs of Lee Miller’s war experience.

Compared to Ernie Pyle, these stories have something of a women’s touch. Granted, Miller was often restricted from the frontlines against her wishes, although on one occasion she found herself in the heart of battle. More typically Miller is left to cover the fashion of Paris and how Parisians “dressed up” as an act of defiance against the occupying Germans. There’s even photos and descriptions of Paris’ first fashion show post-occupation. Miller also hobnobs with celebrities of the time like Picasso, Cocteau, and Collette which is interesting in that I never stopped to think that these well known people lived under German occupation. A similar novelty is the liberation of Luxembourg. It’s rare to hear about the war from the point of view of Luxembourg and its people.

Don’t be misunderstood though. Lee Miller confronts the war in all it’s grim and gritty nature. Her visceral distaste for the German POW’s and civilians lends an immediacy to the war correspondence. Her photos of liberated concentration camps capture all the horror while lending dignity to the survivors. She also ended up staying in Hitler’s Munich apartment where she was famously photographed in the bathtub.

This is a fascinating book to read and study. As always, MetaFilter has a couple of good posts with links relating to Lee Miller’s life and work.

Author: Miller, Lee, 1907-1977.
Title: Lee Miller’s war : photographer and correspondent with the Allies in Europe, 1944-45 / foreword by David E. Scherman ; edited by Antony Penrose.
Publication: Info. Boston : Little, Brown, c1992.
Edition: 1st North American ed.
Description: 208 p. : ill. ; 29 cm.

Boston By Foot Tour of the Month – The Greenway and Beyond 2008

This month’s Tour of the Month is a reprise of The Greenway and Beyond focusing on what has replaced the elevated Central Artery since the Big Dig and what’s still to come. I wrote about the tour in detail when it was offered last August so I won’t repeat that here. But I do want to mention a few quick things:

Avenir, a residential-commercial development by North Station was just a fence last summer. Now there is a frame for a multi-story building.

Last summer, the North End Park was still being paved. Now children can play in it’s fountains.

Less than a year ago the Wharf District Parks were a construction zone, now they are lush and lovely.

Beer Review: Aventinus

Beer: Aventinus Weizsenstarkbier
Brewer: Schneider-Weisse
Source: Draught
Rating: ***** (9.0 of 10)

Comments: After a long walking tour I stopped into Jacob Wirth’s to refresh myself. Once again, the beer I asked for was not on tap and the bartender offered something else. That something else was really something else, a dark wheat beer called Aventinus.

Granted I was predisposed to like Aventinus as German wheat beers are one of my favorite styles of beers alongside Irish stouts and English Real Ales. But Aventinus knocked my socks off. It looked good with a dark golden tone and a thick head, it smelt good with that characteristic wheaty smell, and it tasted divine. I felt like I was back in Munich. Apparently, the alcohol content is pretty high too because it went straight to my head so that’s something to watch out for if you’re also a lightweight.

Meme: The Art of Manliness 100 Must-Read Books

Recently, The Art of Manliness published 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library which is getting a lot of attention in library and book-reading circles. Pop Goes the Library turned this list into a meme. I’m a man and I like to read so I’ll go through the list and see how manly I am. I will bold the titles I’ve read and italicize the titles I own (bolded and italicized I’ve read AND own). I’ll also place an * before books I’d like to read:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
1984 by George Orwell
The Republic by Plato
Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
* The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer (read portions of each)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Walden by Henry David Thoreau (read portions)
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Master and Margarita by by Mikhail Bulgakov
Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
White Noise by Don Delillo
* Ulysses by James Joyce
The Young Man’s Guide by William Alcott
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond by Denis Johnson
Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry by Christine De Pizan
The Art of Warfare by Sun Tzu
* Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (I’ve read The Inferno)
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
The Thin Red Line by James Jones
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Politics by Aristotle
First Edition of the The Boy Scout Handbook
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
The Crisis by Winston Churchill
The Naked and The Dead by Norman Mailer
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Beyond Good and Evil by Freidrich Nietzsche
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Essential Manners for Men by Peter Post
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
Hamlet by Shakespeare
The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
American Boys’ Handy Book
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A River Runs Through It by Norman F. Maclean
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Malcolm X: The Autobiography
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
All Quiet on The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarq
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch
The Strenuous Life by Theodore Roosevelt
The Bible (read portions)
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Histories by Herodotus
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
* The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (started this twice and finally gave up)
Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

So I’ve read 30 books on the list, portions of four others, and intentions to read four more. How manly does this make me? As far as making a library, I only own two books on the list although at one time I’ve pretty much owned every book on the list that I’ve read or my wife owns them. Which begs the question, why is this a man’s library. With the exception of the oddities like the Boy Scout Hanbook this looks like a list of good recommendations for a human library.
Of course if you don’t feel so limiting there are always 1001 Book You Must Read Before You Die.

Beer Review: Ipswich Oatmeal Stout

Beer: Ipswich Oatmeal Stout
Brewer: Mercury Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz bottle
Rating: ** (6.8 of 10)

Comments: This isn’t the beer I wanted but the waitress at Bukowski’s offered it as an alternate.  It turned out okay, even for a bottle beer (I try to stick to draughts when I’m at a saloon).  Stouts run from brown to black and this is the blackest of blacks.  It offers sweet chocolately scent, but the taste is more bittersweet.  Wispy Brussels lace line the glass but the beer doesn’t really please the pallet too much.

As a fan of wheat beers and stouts, I don’t think I did too well this night overall.

Beer Review: Southern Tier Heavy*Weizen

Beer: Southern Tier Heavy*Weizen
Brewer:Southern Tier Brewing Company
Source: Draught
Rating: * (5.4 of 10)

Comments: This imperial unfiltered wheat ale from Lakewood, NY pours out with a thick head and has an attractive red gold color. Unfortunately it gives of more than a whiff of acidic aroma. Worse the taste of the beer is rather bitter, and not good beer bitter neither, just bitter. I didn’t like it much but it is a wheat beer so it has that going for it if your in a pinch for a beer., Library Thing, and Twitter updates

Here’s how I’m using my social networking tools these days.

When I first registered for I imported all the bookmarks from my browser and then didn’t use it for a year.  I didn’t really need all those bookmarks so I cleaned things up by deleting them all.  I also cleaned up and consolidated misspelled tags.  I went back to all the links I’ve posted over the past 6 months and added the name of the source (newspaper, website or blog name) as a tag in hopes I can look back and see which sources I can recommend as reliable, or at least interesting. I may go back and retroactively add in all the articles from the many link-of-the-day posts in this blog.

Library Thing

In the process of entering (almost) every book I’ve ever read. I don’t actually own many books but I’ve kept lists of what I read for the past 18 years.  I also hope to use it to rank my favorite books of all time.  I may also try cataloging my son’s collection of children’s books just for kicks.


Some strangers asked to follow me right off the bat, so I followed them back  which was fun for a day or so.  Then I was overwhelmed by the minutiae of their daily lives.  I’m eagerly seeking to use this as a professional development tool by following librarians who tweet about ideas and activities in their jobs and libraries. So from now on I plan only to follow librarians as well as non-librarian folks I already know.

I’m also using Facebook to play lots of games of Scrabulous, WordTwist, and Scramble which I guess proves that Facebook is a valuable social networking tool for wasting time with your friends.

Book Review: All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka

All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well (2008) by Tod Wodicka builds on the premise of an aging medieval reenactor named Bert Hecker who liquidates all his property to buy a one-way ticket to Europe in search of his estranged son. While Wodicka gets some laughs out of the man born 700 years too late motif, this novel is really the story of an dysfunctional family that falls to pieces after the death of Bert’s wife Kittie to cancer. Son Tristan, daughter June and mother-in-law Anna all play a part in this family’s strange life.

Wodicka excels at turning a clever phrase, equally adept at prompting a laugh or wrenching out some painful emotions. The novel is best at plumbing the depths of familial pain. Unfortunately, the narrative isn’t that gripping (litcrit code word for “Booooooring”). I guess I’m just “comme si, comme sa” on this book although it was a good enough read. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but I won’t stop anyone from reading it either.

Postscript: In one of those odd coincidences, I heard someone on a podcast utter the title of this book in a completely unrelated fashion.  The title is a quote from medieval mystic Julian of Norwich.

Pub Sing

Last night the wife, son, and I went to the Revels’ Pub Sing at Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica Plain. I just have to say that a pub sing is one of the greatest things ever. What could be better than gathering in a bar and belting out songs while swigging down beers? I’ve been to three Revels’ Pub Sings including the one at Doyle’s a year ago this month. The Revels sponsor pub sings quarterly – as well as their Christmas and Summer Revels and other events (see my previous post on the Revels) – so you should really check it out.

Really though I think this is a concept that could be built on. What if a pub sponsored weekly pub sings? I think it would be a great attraction and draw a lot of people. Better than karaoke at least since no one person is on the spot as we all sing together. Besides, one thing I’ve learned from living in Boston for 10 years is that people in Boston LOVE sing-a-longs. From the Revels to Club Passim to major concerts to my church, people will join in singing in at the drop of a hat, something I’ve never heard anywhere else. And Bostonians tend to sing well too, with all the harmonies and such.

So I think pub singing needs to be the next big thing. All we need is a pub, some songbooks and someone to kick it off.