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Re: Holiday reading list

Holiday reading list
December 22, 2011 01:35PM
After reading Christopher Coake's We're In Trouble (a set of short stories thematically united by the focus on death and its effect on relationships of all types) over the last couple of days, I've decided to ignore the stack of books by my bed and the 5-6 titles backlogged on my Kindle and revisit either Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy or Blood Meridian over the upcoming 4-day weekend. What could be more festive?

This time, however, I decided to pick up some sort of helpful guide to aid me with some of the more challenging historical and/or linguistic aspects. And look what I found:

Re: Holiday reading list
December 22, 2011 02:05PM
Ah, Christmas with Glanton & the Judge. A merry time will be had by all!
Re: Holiday reading list
December 22, 2011 04:20PM
- Ry Cooder "L.A. Stories," all set in the 1940s, like his last few albums.

- A boxed set of Harlem Renaissance novels looks pretty intriguing.

Anyone gonna check out the dude from the Decemberists literary effort?
Re: Holiday reading list
December 22, 2011 07:22PM
I'd really like to read Wildwood, actually. It's a young adult novel, but it looks intriguing. Some of the best work in fantasy is being done in that arena these days.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 22, 2011 10:40PM
I spent a few minutes considering Wildwood for my 10-year old nephew at the book store a few hours ago. Then I decided on a subscription to Runner's World (he's the rare 5th grade distance runner). The wife pointed out that some of the content in that publication isn't super kid-friendly...I guess I'd never noticed.

So, now it's an Sports Illustrated for Kids subscription. It's really hard to buy for kids between 9-13.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 22, 2011 11:37PM
Jermoe, I've been thinking about carving out some time to re-read McCarthy as well. . . If I can get a span of a few days to do some non-research-oriented reading. I've really wanted to dig back into the Crossing--there's fathoms to consider in that middle book.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 23, 2011 03:14AM
I guess Blood Meridian will be getting the short shrift this weekend.

Erik, I have yet to read your official commentary on any of this, but I have to ask what you feel you missed with The Crossing previously?
Re: Holiday reading list
December 23, 2011 12:20PM
"but I have to ask what you feel you missed with The Crossing previously?"

I think the Crossing is one of those works--like Moby-Dick; King Lear; Absolom, Absolom; and, well, Blood Meridian--that you can pick it up every few years and enjoy it anew and uncover new perspectives. He really plumbs the metaphysical and ontological depths in some of those seemingly digressive conversations. (The last portion of the Cities of the Plain is like that as well.) I also just love the amazing use of the language, obviously; I often pick it up just to read the opening passages about the wolves romping around in the snow. I could probably muse about McCarthy for the rest of my life--and the writing of the companion was such that I needed to limit myself to a few thousand words on each book. But it was great to have an excuse to immerse myself in those works for over a year.

Post Edited (12-23-11 08:21)
Re: Challenge for Erik
December 24, 2011 12:17PM
Okay, Erik. We now have roughly 360 days left until Jesus & Quetzalcoatl come riding a comet back to Earth to free the Midgard Serpent and screw us all. What are the ten American novels (or short story collections) we owe it to ourselves to have read before the Mayans get to laugh and say "told ya so"?
Re: Challenge for Erik
December 24, 2011 05:07PM
I'll take up that challenge.

False Memory - by Dean Koontz

Watchers - by Dean Koontz

Cold Fire - by Dean Koontz

Mr. Murder - By Dean Koontz

The Servants of Twilight - by Dean Koontz

Demon Seed - by Dean Koontz

Icebound - by Dean Koontz

Lightning- by Dean Koontz

Fear Nothing - by Dean Koontz

Hideaway - by Dean Koontz
Re: Challenge for Erik
December 24, 2011 05:15PM
Hoip's on to something there.

I take up this challenge, Brad. But I have to puzz my puzzler over it for a bit. A warning: There will be no Twain and Salinger on my list (despite having lived yards from the former's burial place during an early teaching gig).

And thank you for including short story collections in your criteria (John Cheever, with a bullet).
Re: Holiday reading list
May 26, 2013 11:08PM
Knocked off Blood Meridian over the weekend, fucking pounding tale.
Got the idea to finally have a dash at it after reading Meyer's The Son. Meyer gets a lot of Steinbeck comparisons but it's more McCarthy-like to me.
Re: Holiday reading list
May 27, 2013 01:31PM
Glad you enjoyed it, Aitch. I recently gave it a re-reading when asked to write a piece for the Literary Encyclopedia. For those curious/interested, here it is. (It's behind a paywall, so please forgive the massive copy and paste.):

Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West
by Erik Hage

Cormac McCarthy has staked a formidable name on a long list of literary achievements, but his novel Blood Meridian (1985) remains regarded as his masterpiece. How, exactly, does one categorize it, though? A fair enough question without a single answer, for it is at once an historical novel, a striking grotesque, and a heaving and ambitious American book of enormous scope; moreover, it is a heightened rumination on the violence that McCarthy sees as potential in any gathering of human beings, be it an entire civilization or a ragtag, multicultural band of commissioned scalpers, such as Blood Meridian’s Glanton Gang, who gallop across a blood-soaked, nightmare vision of the American Southwest and Mexico during the period just after the Mexican-American War, encountering and contributing to a phantasmagoria of massacres, maiming, and general ungodly mayhem.

Civilizations come and go, but what is held out as eternal and inevitable in Blood Meridian is violence and extinction. “This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages”, the remarkable and terrible Judge Holden orates near a long-extinguished Anasazi settlement, “do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons” (147). And, therefore, violent acts become the foremost aspect of McCarthy’s novel, from a tree ornamented with dead infants to the riotous slaughter and defilement unleashed on a small army unit in a barren desert. In the latter, scene McCarthy depicts the Comanche warriors

passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals, some of the savages so slathered up with the gore they might have rolled in it like dogs and some who fell upon the dying and sodomized them with loud cries to their fellows. (54)

The New York Times review, reacting to the seemingly over-the-top displays, noted how those images distanced the reader “not only from the historical past, not only from our cowboy-and-Indian images of it, but also from revisionist theories that make white men the villains and Indians the victims. All men are unremittingly bloodthirsty here, poised at a peak of violence” (James, 31). All of this adds up to an uncanny narrative that sets Blood Meridian alone—completely deconstructing any idea of what a “western” should be, whether it be romantic ideal, historical novel, or even revisionist rendering. The New York Times review ultimately came up ambivalent, deciding that if the book was “ultimately a failure” it was an “ambitious, sophisticated one” (James, 31). The Washington Post was not as optimistic, noting, “A bunch of men ride around for a while. . .they philosophize for a while, the kill for a while. It’s all in a day’s work, but it sure makes for a slow day” (Yardley, B2).

Even eminent American critic Harold Bloom—who ventured that “No other living novelist… has given us a book as strong and memorable as Blood Meridian” (pp. 254)—admitted to not being able to see past the “overwhelming carnage” during earliest readings (255). Ultimately, however, Bloom would come to place Blood Meridian in the lineage of America’s greatest novels: “The fulfilled renown of Moby-Dick and of As I Lay Dying is augmented by Blood Meridian, since McCarthy is the worthy disciple of both [Herman] Melville and [William] Faulkner”, he wrote in 2000’s How to Read and Why (254). Similarly, Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion (2010), by the author of this encyclopedia entry, declared that “McCarthy’s characterizations also placed him in the lineage of great books. Blood Meridian’s Judge Holden, for example, an enormous, malevolent man of great intellect, eloquent oratory, and terrifyingly violent intent, is as complex, terrible, and fascinating as Melville’s Ahab, Shakespeare’s Iago, and Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz” (Hage, 3).

And it is that character of Holden, the supernatural whirlpool around which the entire text turns, that continues to fascinate—a seven-foot, hairless creature of massive intellect and terrible deeds who becomes civilizational violence incarnate. The judge orates and philosophizes, murders and molests, and paradoxically represents all that signifies high culture: he is multilingual, socially gracious, musically talented, a fine dancer, and a scholar. He is also the mouthpiece for McCarthy’s most deliberate meditations regarding the “degeneracy of mankind”: “The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and to die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day” (146, 147). This is the central idea and image in the book (the “blood meridian”), explored through an historical epoch in which American civilization “advances” west, a height of civilizational progress marked by extreme bloodshed and slaughter. This noon of achievement becomes simultaneously a low point (or dark night), a paradox embodied by the judge, who is simultaneously the most refined and cultured of the novel’s characters and the most degenerate.

To express this, McCarthy chose to use an actual historical account as his jumping off point: My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue, by Samuel Chamberlain, onetime member of the real-life Glanton Gang, who were hired by the Mexican state of Chihuahua to eliminate the Apache in the region—the scalps serving as gruesome receipts for payment. Chamberlain remembers the motley, violent gang being comprised of “Sonorans, Cherokee and Delaware Indians, French Canadians, Texans, Irishmen, a Negro and a full-blooded Comanche” (Chamberlain, 268). The parallel here to McCarthy’s favorite novel, Moby-Dick, is significant, for as one critic put it, both Melville’s masterpiece and Blood Meridian boast narratives in which “a ragtag group of men made up of many races and creeds becomes involved in a hunt led by a madman” (Rebein, 118).

Other affinities to Melville surface: Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness of the West echoes the syntax of the whale book’s title (and that of numerous nineteenth-century novels): Moby-Dick: Or; The White Whale. Additionally, Melville’s description of Captain Ahab as “a grand, ungodly, god-like man” who had “been in colleges, as well as ‘mong the cannibals” (chapter 16), contains the same paradoxical merging of savagery and refinement that characterizes Judge Holden. Nevertheless, McCarthy has a tendency to transmute, complicate, and blur his influences, and Holden, as Bloom has argued, also echoes the white whale itself, in his immensity, in his whiteness, in his terribleness, and in his supernatural aspects. In a dream experienced by the Ishmael-like central witness and protagonist, the kid, he rises like Melville’s water-bound leviathan: “A great shambling mutant, silent and serene. Whatever his antecedents he was something wholly other than their sum…Whoever would seek out his history…must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void” (309, 310). But in McCarthy’s rendering, the judge embodies and blurs all: Ahab, the whale, and the mindless enterprise itself.

It is easy to forget, though, amid all of Judge Holden’s striking attributes, that the kid (just “the kid”—no appellation, no capitalization) is indeed the protagonist of the narrative, which traces his epic-scale, peripatetic travels out of Tennessee and throughout McCarthy’s phantasmagoric West. This is established in the novel’s stirring opening lines: “See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. . . He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence” (3). Like Ishmael there is a peculiar “telescoping effect” to the kid, in which the focus will pull away from him to a larger view of the Glanton Gang and in which he will seem to disappear from the narrative completely—only to return once nearly forgotten. Unlike Ishmael, however, the kid is never a first-person narrator, is barely articulate, and—as is common in the McCarthy vein, with the exception of No Country for Old Men (2005­)—his psychological depths are never explored (except through dreams, a device McCarthy often uses to paint abstractions or impressions of his characters’ psychological life). The reader comes to know the kid mostly by the flatness of his actions and the occasional obtuse smattering of dialogue. As described in Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion:

Blood Meridian is a bildungsroman—of sorts. We do see the evolution of the central character, what Bloom has termed the kid’s “long, slow development” and “moral maturation”. . .but there is no clear arc. First, because of the telescoping effect of the narrative, wherein the kid often disappears or blends into the scenery for long stretches (in effect becoming an extra in a story where he is often posited as the lead), the reader is not always sure to what extent the kid participates in some of the more brutal and senseless violence, or how committed he is to the enterprise (Hage, 101).

Ultimately, however, Blood Meridian represents McCarthy’s first turn toward the Southwest as a seemingly inexhaustible canvas for his meditations on violence. (His work had dwelled in Appalachia prior to this, and the movement of McCarthy’s muse reflects his own move from his native Tennessee to El Paso, Texas.) In fact, the novel serves as a prequel of sorts to the Border Trilogy that would transform him from a cult writer appreciated by critics to a widely known, bestselling author. In all of these works and beyond, however, his primary thematic preoccupation will remain civilizational violence. “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed”, the author asserted in one of his rare interviews, and of his peers and predecessors, he has said that he only considers great those writers who directly “deal with issues of life and death” (Woodward). As such, as Dana Phillips wisely suggested that Blood Meridian’s “moral or political worldview is bound to be disturbing to readers who…expect novels to offer an imaginary solution to individual or social ills” (452).

Much like Judge Holden, who proselytizes that God “speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things” (116) to a captivated gathering of men only to laugh at them and call them fools when they take him seriously, Blood Meridian, notes Dana Phillips, like much of McCarthy’s work, “seems designed to elude interpretation, especially interpretation that would translate it into some supposedly more essential language” (434). It is a work of historical violence, meaningless violence, and continual violence, as the narrative’s introductory newspaper clipping of a “300,000-year old fossil skull” that “shows evidence of having been scalped” indicates (1). Phillips adds that in McCarthy’s work, “violence tends to be just that; it is not a sign or symbol of something else” (435). David Evans, writing in 2008, similarly noted that Blood Meridian “is such that it tends to shred any critical container one attempts to put it in” (864). But thorny issues of interpretation aside, it is undoubtedly also an important and distinctly American novel that stands with the best of Melville and Faulkner—Blood Meridian is brilliant, big, terrible, and beautiful. It resides in a rare stratosphere of American literature.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. How to Read and Why. New York: Scribner, 2000.
Chamberlain, Samuel. My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
Evans, David. “The West of the Story.” Modern Fiction Studies, volume 54, number 4, winter 2008, pp. 862-869.
Hage, Erik. Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2010.
James, Caryn. “Is Everybody Dead Around Here?” The New York Times Book Review, April 28, 1985, p. 31.
McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West. New York: Random House, 1985; first Vintage International edition, 1992.
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick: Or; The White Whale. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851.
Phillips, Dana. “History and the Ugly Facts of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.” American Literature, volume 68, number 2, June 1996, pp. 433-460.
Woodward, Richard B. “Cormac McCarthy’s Venomous Fiction.” The New York Times, April 19, 1992. [www.nytimes.com].
Yardley, Jonathan. “In All Its Gory.” The Washington Post, March 13, 1985, section B, page 2.

Hage , Erik . "Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 26 March 2013
Re: Holiday reading list
May 27, 2013 11:13PM
Thanks for that, Erik. Nice piece.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 27, 2011 02:22PM
I had to put aside The Border Trilogy after receiving Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding for Christmas. I'm about 450 pages in, and enjoying it quite a bit–there's a good deal of Melville stuff in it, too.

Now, to throw my Koontzless hat in the ring (in no particular order after #1):

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Without Feathers – Woody Allen

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger

Cities of the Plain – Cormac McCarthy

Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon

Charlotte's Web – E.B. White

Collected Stories – Raymond Carver (this may be considered a cheat, but I couldn't pick one of his collections without feeling like something was getting omitted)

The Southpaw – Mark Harris

White Noise – Don DeLillo

Rabbit, Run – John Updike

Nothing before the 1950s? I guess not. They may not be the very best of the best (no Flannery O'Connor, no Saul Bellow, no Herman Melville, no Toni Morrison, no Thomas Pynchon, no Philip Roth, no F. Scott Fitzgerald, no John Steinbeck, no John Barth), but each of these books knocked me for a loop within the first 10 pages and they've stuck with me for years.
Re: Holiday reading list
January 11, 2012 11:23PM
Just past the halfway point of Jack Grisham's An American Demon and it's pretty fucking annoying, actually.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 23, 2011 01:54AM
I've got a copy of Herodotus I've been meaning to get through.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 24, 2011 09:33PM
I'm not Erik (allowing for a margin of error), and "ten American novels (or short story collections) we owe it to ourselves to have read" is a different list then, say, "10 Best English-language" or "hey you gotta check this out". And assuming "American" precludes Marquez, Flaubert, Celine, Dumas and Forster, here's a list of classics that I immediately thought of and proffer:
GREAT GATSBY - F. Scott Fitzgerald
ON THE ROAD - Jack Kerouac
AUGIE MARCH (or RAIN KING if you prefer)- Saul Bellow
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE (or pick Breakfast of Champions, etc.) - Vonnegut
SOUND AND FURY (or ABSALOM! ; you get to pick) - Faulkner
IRONWEED - William Kennedy

NP: Ween - White Pepper
Nick Cave - Henry's Dream

Post Edited (12-24-11 17:35)
Brad Has Thrown Down the Gauntlet. . .
December 25, 2011 01:38AM
I thought my list would be unique in that I would include Augie March and Ironweed--but here comes Paganizer before me with the good stuff. William Kennedy actually lives down the road from me, and my wife has worked with his son a lot. It's a small rural community outside of Albany, but to see a Pulitzer Prize winner pawing through the tomatoes at the Grocery or getting gas at the bread and butter shop kind of keeps one's ego in check. Besides those two books, I also agree with Paganizer's Gatsby choice and the Faulkner choices. (It's always a toss-up between the two.)

Here's mine:

1) Moby-Dick (there's worlds to consider in these pages)
2) Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
3) Absolom, Absolom / or Sound and the Fury
4) The Short Stories of John Cheever
5) Ironweed, by William Kennedy
6) The Sun Also Rises
7) Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo
8) The Great Gatsby
9) The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow
10) Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Post Edited (12-24-11 21:40)
Re: Brad Has Thrown Down the Gauntlet. . .
December 25, 2011 03:04AM
Thanks Erik! I've read exactly half of those (Moby Dick, Blood Meridian, Sound and the Fury, Gatsby and Sun Also Rises), so now the other five are at the top of my reading list for the coming year.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 25, 2011 08:38PM
the question is, which couple of choices did you struggle with?

I considered Moby Dick and also Bukowski (thus filling the SS req).

Conspicuously missing: Heller and Steinbeck (But I personally find the Steinbeck/Hemingway style tedious). I respect Moby Dick more than I think I enjoy it but have read Gatsby 3 times. Catch-22 is arguable but to me it just casts an unpleasant pall of nastiness - sort of like Ginger Man - not that classics have to be a fun read necessarily (friends have learned not to mention/tease Ulysses sorta like REM/U2). edit:: oops, I thought Brave New World was written in the States - guess not.

What say you about:
Cancer v. Capricorn
Lolita (written in America, anyway)
Ellison - Invisible Man
Gone w/Wind
Sun v. Farewell
As I Lay Dying v. (the others)
Nobody's Fool v. Empire Falls
Sawyer v. Huck

Post Edited (12-25-11 17:57)
Re: Holiday reading list
December 26, 2011 02:58AM
Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
Dos Passos - 42nd Parallel
James Farrell - Studs Lonigan
Hemingway - The Short Stories
Warren - All The Kings Men
Philip Roth - Portnoys Complaint
Re: Holiday reading list
December 26, 2011 04:53PM

Sawyer v. Huck


Sawyer is to Huck Finn as The Hobbit is to Lord of the Rings.


4 out of 5 dentists who favour Beefheart over Zappa recommend The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for their patients who chew Mark Twain novels.

Re: Holiday reading list
December 26, 2011 11:31PM
Also Dos Passos. Re-reading the USA Trilogy. Not the orig., with the illustrations, but the all-in-one Lib. of Congress edition.
Re: Holiday reading list
December 27, 2011 12:43PM
Paganizer, It's a subjective list, and I did struggle a bit with Heller, but chose to give David Foster Wallace the nod instead. Sinclair Lewis and Edward Abbey also crossed my mind before exiting.

As to the others. . .

Cancer v. Capricorn [I just don't like Henry Miller]

Lolita (written in America, anyway) [Didn't think of it as American]

Mockingbird [unnecessarily canonized by HS teachers]

Ellison - Invisible Man [probably would end up in my top 25]

Gone w/Wind [erm, no]

Sun v. Farewell [the writing in Sun has this amazingly impressionistic quality that outdoes Farewell, despite Farewell's clearly better plotting]

As I Lay Dying v. (the others) [As I Lay... is an amazing book, but Fury and Absolom are monsters]

Nobody's Fool v. Empire Falls [Despite its at time broad humor, Nobody's... is a better book IMO. I think Empire gets a boost from Car Wheels... syndrome. Russo writes better about the blue-collar post-industrial funk of upstate NY, where he's from, than Maine, where he lived as a professor]

Mailer [English lit student: "What do you think about Norman Mailer?" Charles Bukowski: "I don't think about Norman Mailer."]

Vidal [not even in the running]

Sawyer v. Huck [clearly Huck is the better book, but I'm not a Twain person. I think he really benefited from the advent of a mass media and the uniquely American creation of "fame" in its nascent--but recognizable by today's standards--form. Melville (who comes a bit earlier) died while relatively anonymous and wrote a much better book, but he didn't commercialize his own persona as effectively as Twain did his. I used to teach at Elmira College where they have the Twain Studies center. This kind of thinking was taboo there. . . ]

Post Edited (12-27-11 18:48)
Re: Holiday Literature Fireside with Brandy and a Freaking Pipe
December 28, 2011 12:20AM
wow. love it.
Agree with points and recs (except for Miller: Capricorn tops my list whereas most people go with Cancer* - though I don't not understand when people don't like the style; that's the way it is with literature) so the only debate I can sink my teeth into is Sawyer over Huck and love of Twain**. I'm familiar with the other thing, too - know people from Elmira C.

btw- What I don't understand in the NY system: Most states (out west if not most others) have a state system that includes the ""UNI of..." and the "State Uni" but New York has the SUNY system. Which is the flagship? Is it Buffalo? I always assumed it was Albany but I know the big stadium and campus are Buffalo?

*My argument goes: the style was much refined on Capricorn (and more concise) and the NY experience was more focused than Paris. It's basically Cosmodemonic Telegraph versus Anais!

**FWIW, Huck is among my least favorite Twain and although I always recommend Sawyer my faves are Innocents, Roughing It, Puddinghead and CT Yankee. Haven't been to the Elmira center but did see the stuff in Virginia City due to Roughing It.
In brief - there are three sequels to Tom Sawyer: Huck, Tom Abroad, Detective. One argument: Can't judge til u read the set. All are episodic. Best episodes: the original; most depressing and slowest: Huck

Post Edited (01-20-12 03:54)
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