Picasso by Norman Mailer

Yo–el Rey. I, the king. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso wrote that three times on a self portrait painted when he was just 19 and about to leave his native Spain for Paris, where he became even more than a king. The funny thing about a grotesquely outsized ego is that very occasionally it is actually representing an equally legendary and outsized talent, intellect, beauty or charismatic personality; the deep flaws of entitlement, narcissism and infidelity such an ego sanctions can be overlooked, even forgiven. Continue reading “Picasso by Norman Mailer”

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

It was easy to pull Electric Kool-Aid off the shelf after reading the Grateful Dead biography. Tom Wolfe brilliantly describes Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster scene, of which the Grateful Dead were a major contributor, in this somewhat novelized, novel-length report. Continue reading “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe”

A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally

A few weeks ago I found out that a man I’d lost touch with killed himself last spring. He’d been a magnificent influence on me in the early 1990s. We wrote for the same magazine, but his writing was many leagues beyond my work horse prose. Where he would wax romantic, I would wane maudlin, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me so. But he was kind. One late night in his office cluttered with rock specimens, empty bottles of great wines and hundreds of books, he let me recite “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in its entirety. I was nervous, so he handed me a stress ball to squeeze. That’s a good friend. I’d forgotten his kindness. Continue reading “A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally”

Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell

As I wrote in my unfinished report about Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God, I encountered Joseph Campbell (who I refer to as “the other JC”) in around 1987 after his death and after he had done the famous Powers of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers. Nothing makes me feel more like a water buffalo in a herd than trending with the rest of America after a PBS special. Continue reading “Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell”

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson, I learned from reading the back flap of my cherished First Edition of The Orphan Master’s Son, is a professor and lives in San Francisco. I got chills–genius is always so close and yet so far, right? I feel a stupid sort of pride in the fact that the author of such a great book lives in my neck of the woods.

I originally read this book right after it came out. I had just joined a book club and it was the very first book I read with that club; unfortunately it and maybe a couple of others were the only few books I thoroughly enjoyed over three years in the club (which in part led to the formation of the SBC). I reread The Orphan Master’s son last week and it was every bit as good as I remembered with the added oomph being that I now know so much more about North Korea (thanks, Donald Trump) than I did in 2011, and that made it all the more impressive and intriguing. Continue reading “The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson”

On Nature, Lucretius

I haven’t read philosophy since my 20s. Without a classmates and a teacher to be accountable to, philosophy is just behind math, science and cook books on my snore setting. But a girlfriend wanted to read it so I agreed to temporarily form a book club of two and let my selfish guard down slightly. She better not flake out and not read it because it’s pretty fucking tedious. But gold mining is tedious too, and occasionally the odd nugget makes the process completely worthwhile. Continue reading “On Nature, Lucretius”

1984 by George Orwell

The 80s are back and I can hardly believe it. There is a female editor (again, post Tina) at Vanity Fair, ridiculous volume in clothing, and a familiar new wave sound on the Sirius XMU channel, and they are giving me flashbacks. I never thought I’d worry about shoulder pads and nuclear war again, but here we are. Big Brother is one thing, but the return of Big Hair would be a real tragedy.

The news of the day, with themes of surveillance, white nationalism and American exceptionalism make it a perfect time to revisit George Orwell’s 1984. I sure hope they are still reading it in high school, although from the sound of the Parkland student speeches and youthful activism of the moment, maybe they don’t need to. 1984 made me quake in my jelly sandals in the 80s;  I’m glad to see the kids of 2018 have the courage to speak truth to power. Continue reading “1984 by George Orwell”