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The Best Show on WFMU => Mike And His Ilk. => Topic started by: mnstrfrc on August 30, 2016, 12:17:52 AM

Title: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on August 30, 2016, 12:17:52 AM
I saw it mentioned on twitter not so long ago that there is some kind of ap mike book club and the current selection is the heart is a lonely hunter by carson mccullers. I happened to pick it up and am about half way through. Is anybody else reading this? I find it interesting enough but not completely engrossing. I see the two mute characters as laurel and hardy in my head, they are my favorite thing about the book so far.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on September 08, 2016, 02:28:38 AM
You don't like Mick Kelly?
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on September 08, 2016, 09:36:49 AM
To this point Mick hasn't been that interesting to me. I'm much more amused by Biff and his penchant for buying anybody freakish or missing a limb a drink as soon as they come into his place, and his embarrassing surprise birthday party incident is hilarious. I'm very curious where Biff's fascination with Mick is going, but to me she is kind of like background music behind these other wacky characters and intense incidents (her kid brother playing with the rifle e.g.)

What do you make of all of the communist stuff? Do you think she is preaching it? making fun of it? just presenting it as part of the picture? A good chunk of the book is like a class on Marxism. I was not expecting that.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on September 08, 2016, 12:52:31 PM
What's not to like about Marxism?
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on September 11, 2016, 11:25:15 PM
Too much work. I retired from it.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: Kurz on September 12, 2016, 05:18:52 PM
The book, or Marxism?
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: fonpr on September 12, 2016, 09:04:18 PM
What's not to like about Marxism?
Billy Bragg described it as organized compassion.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on September 12, 2016, 10:41:11 PM
The book, or Marxism?
Still reading the book. I meant that having Marxist beliefs is one thing, but being a Marxist requires building your life around class struggle and I tried to do that like in college and for a few years after but I eventually faded out. I meant the retiring thing as sort of a joke. I was never that good at it anyway. Some of the smartest/hardest working people I ever knew were commies. Two of the characters in the book are hardcore marxists and it beats them up pretty bad.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on September 12, 2016, 11:01:45 PM
What's not to like about Marxism?
Billy Bragg described it as organized compassion.

The same could be said of Buddhism. The two philosophies really jibe. I would also add that one other thing that's not to like about Marxism is that the 20th century wasn't a great advertisement for it overall.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: Kurz on September 26, 2016, 08:28:20 PM
I would also add that one other thing that's not to like about Marxism is that the 20th century wasn't a great advertisement for it overall.
I don't know what particular interpretation or misinterpretation of Marxism is in that book, but aren't most of the supposedly Marxist revolutions of the 20th century more Leninist in nature?
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: doctor klopek on September 27, 2016, 10:31:05 AM
I would also add that one other thing that's not to like about Marxism is that the 20th century wasn't a great advertisement for it overall.
I don't know what particular interpretation or misinterpretation of Marxism is in that book, but aren't most of the supposedly Marxist revolutions of the 20th century more Leninist in nature?

Yes - almost all were rooted in party apparatuses with a democratic centralist system that kind of ignores the whole dictatorship of the proletariat concept.  And Lenin even called the USSR's economic model "state capitalism."
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on October 26, 2016, 10:24:48 PM
"For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of the who labor and of those who-one word-love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only . . ."


I ended up finishing the book and I'm glad I did. I got bogged down in the middle but all of the set-up led to a satisfying third-act where pretty much everybody ends up fucked. Except maybe for Biff Brannon who presides over "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" (I felt the final chapter evoked the Hemingway story quite heavily), who has the above revelation. He shakes it off and goes back to his routine while the rest of the cast are either on the run, being displaced, or having the last bits of their souls crushed.

Flipping back through the novel I found Biff thoughts on gender rather interesting for a middle-aged small-town restaurateur in the 1930's:

"By nature all people are of both sexes. So that marriage and the bed is not all by any means. The proof? Real youth and old age. Because often old men's voices grow high and reedy and they take on a mincing walk. And old women sometimes grow fat and their voices get rough and deep and they grow dark little mustaches. And he even proved it himself-the part of him that sometimes almost wished he was a mother and that Mick and Baby were his kids."

A great passage from one of the Marxists:

"For we were thinking of freedom. That's the word like a worm in my brain. Yes? No? How much? How little? The word is a signal for piracy and theft and cunning. We'll be free and the smartest will then be able to enslave the others. But! But there is another meaning to the word. Of all words this is the most dangerous. We who know must be wary. The word makes us feel good-in fact the word is a great ideal. But it is with this ideal that the spiders spin their ugliest webs for us."

Anyway, I thought the book was great and I am hoping for another selection.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on October 26, 2016, 11:25:40 PM
I would also add that one other thing that's not to like about Marxism is that the 20th century wasn't a great advertisement for it overall.
I don't know what particular interpretation or misinterpretation of Marxism is in that book, but aren't most of the supposedly Marxist revolutions of the 20th century more Leninist in nature?

Yes - almost all were rooted in party apparatuses with a democratic centralist system that kind of ignores the whole dictatorship of the proletariat concept.  And Lenin even called the USSR's economic model "state capitalism."

But Lenin was trying to be a Marxist and the other "supposedly Marxist revolutions" at least pretended to aspire to Marxism. Marx was monumentally important to these revolutions, even if they weren't by strict definition Marxist revolutions. The "state capitalism" that many of these revolutions eventually found themselves in was part of the plan to transition away from capitalism and you can find justification for this in Marxist literature.

You both make an interesting point. Basically the idea is that Lenin, by setting up "state capitalism" in Russia, set the model for Marxist revolutions the world over that then followed this flawed "Leninist" model. If you can blame all the horrors carried out by "Communists" on Lenin alone, then I guess Marxism is blameless. Is that what y'all are saying?
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: Kurz on October 27, 2016, 06:54:07 PM
I was actually thinking more along the lines of Marx writing that the proletariat would rise up itself, perhaps even without violence, while disregarding the peasantry, while most Communist states were largely peasant states that became Communist due the actions of a small elite, or became Communist (at least partly) for other reasons, such as nationalism and colonialism, like in the case of Vietnam*. I'm not sure if a true Marxist revolution in the sense of the ever happened.

Then again, Marx himself denounced what he called Marxism, saying that he believed in many things but not Marxism... so what is even Marxism?

As for blame, that's a different matter. For instance, Stalins excesses were more rooted in his cult of personality, his paranoia and his prejudices than in his political beliefs, I'd say. Besides that, many of his policies went against Leninist ideals. And is the idea of democracy to blame for the Holocaust because the Nazi's were originally democratically elected? Or, if we accept Jesus as historical figure, is he to blame for all the horrors carried out by Christians? Or, taking that further, are the founders of Jewish monotheism to blame for everything bad done in the name of their religion, Christianity and Islam, being the root of all three? I'm just saying, this blame game is tricky business.

* = since this a book club, can I recommend Ho Chi Minh: A Life by William J. Duiker? I mean, if one's interested in that subject, it's a good book.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on November 11, 2016, 11:23:17 PM
I got ya. I was intrigued by the concept that Leninism could be detached from Marxism. I think everything post Lenin would be referred to as Marxist-Leninist, but I get the separate parts of the equation there and I see where you were coming from. I was just trying to say that the 20th century implementers of "Marxism" or "Communism," however these terms would be commonly understood, did a terrible job, generally speaking.

I've had that Ho Chi Minh book on my bookshelf since college and I'll definitely read it someday. Perhaps soon. My book club is currently reading Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, and it is amazing. Derrick Bell's "The Space Traders" from 1992 portrays the racist under current in America getting it's chance to burst forth, and I found it uncanny how well it resembles recent events.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: BadGuyZero on November 23, 2016, 07:09:16 PM
What's not to like about Marxism?

I'm ok with Groucho and Harpo. The rest are take-'em-or-leave-'em.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on January 18, 2017, 05:59:41 PM
I finally finished the book last week (I got side-tracked by a series of music books: Behind the Shades, Trouble Boys, and Born to Run). I'm glad I persevered. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I wasn't expecting all the Marxist talk either, but then you have to remember it was published in 1940 when Marxism was still a major part of the political conversation. Overall, the writing was good and the plot interesting. I'm glad others who read it found it worth their while.

I started reading Dreamland by Sam Quiones. If people are interested in making that the next selection, we could discuss it here. I'd like to alternate between fiction and nonfiction. Other nonfiction choices I would be willing to entertain if there is more interest are Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance and Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: fonpr on January 18, 2017, 07:28:11 PM
I'd be down/up for the Elegy.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on January 18, 2017, 09:34:14 PM
I started Hillbilly Elegy, fonpr. I like it so far. I'm gonna read Dreamland and Hillbilly Elegy. Both of them seem timely, so they go together.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: doctor klopek on January 19, 2017, 10:05:46 AM
I read Hillbilly Elegy a couple months ago and found it very strange.  I think it's a good book club selection though.  This review sums up how I feel about it:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/hillbilly-elegy-review-jd-vance-national-review-white-working-class-appalachia/ (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/hillbilly-elegy-review-jd-vance-national-review-white-working-class-appalachia/)
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on January 19, 2017, 07:19:14 PM
I'm only 4 chapters in, but I can't agree with this at all:

"Thomas Frank has called this the “gradual Appalachification of much of the United States”: a leveling of wages and expectations in places distant from Vance’s current home in San Francisco — the most gentrified city in the United States — but certainly not confined to white Americans in the Ohio River Valley. Vance’s view of poverty has profound racial and geographic limits that curtail his ability to understand it."

Vance is writing about the towns he grew up in, not conducting a national sociological study. Are you faulting him for not writing the book you wanted? I don't think it's that difficult for readers to extrapolate from his story similar experiences occurring all over the country where jobs are disappearing (I also don't agree with your point that he blames this entirely on a slacker work force). Also, his politics, which I wasn't personally aware of (I don't read The National Review), seems to have colored your criticism. We can discuss this further after I've finished the book.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: doctor klopek on January 19, 2017, 09:33:44 PM
It's a fair quibble, but I think the big problem, inescapable in the book, is Vance's disregard for the structural, external factors that are, I think, primarily responsible for the conditions of the white working poor in Appalachia.  I find it bothersome -- whether in the investment banker Vance, Dabo Swinney, or any other remarkable southerner to have emerged from poverty -- for a particular, exceptional individual to sermonize about his or her own experience as though it were  not exceptional, as though it were typical and achievable and as though any resident of Paducah could emerge unscathed and upwardly mobile from abject, structural poverty. I think Vance's position is rooted in resentment for those who didn't do as well as he, or who gamed the welfare system or whatever.  It's rooted in anecdotal evidence of abuse of the social safety net and the same sort of stories that have been exploited as grist to deprive the poor of access to state support.  Basically, I came away from the book thinking that he was Frank Grimes in a world full of Homer Simpsons. 

I admit my reception of it was colored by the notable absence of any coherent reckoning with the political economy of his upbringing.  Maybe that wasn't his point, and if one's expectations were otherwise, it would come off as an arresting memoir. I'm curious to hear your thoughts upon completing the book. 
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: fonpr on January 20, 2017, 08:05:35 AM
I started Hillbilly Elegy, fonpr. I like it so far. I'm gonna read Dreamland and Hillbilly Elegy. Both of them seem timely, so they go together.

This may take a while, I'm number 27 on the library waiting list.

Should I have used a semicolon instead of a comma?
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: buffcoat on January 20, 2017, 11:52:06 AM
I think the documentary series "Justified" sums up the Appalachian experience more accurately.

As far as I can tell, much of that experience is in either traveling back and forth among the various gang hideouts in the hills (the  black gang, the Nazi gang, the gang led by the wily old widow) or seeking to use abandoned mineshafts to break into the near-impenetrable vaults of Gar from the movie Mask.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mostlymeat on January 20, 2017, 12:14:17 PM
Excerpts from Bill Kreutzman's "Deal: my three decades of drumming, dreams, and drugs with the Grateful Dead", which was a fun read that I would recommend to all rock lovers:

"You can never truly predict where the jam will go next, but you must always know what to do when you get there. Or else it ends and you move on to the next jam. "

"So, for the record, the drummer from the Grateful Dead smokes weed and thinks it should be legal. "

"I started painting her boobs and stuff and it was great."

"Brent's funeral sucked."

Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on February 09, 2017, 11:25:28 PM
Finished Hillbilly Elegy. It was OK. Its main conclusion that children flourish in a stable home environment was hardly a major revelation. And a story of someone overcoming adversity will always have its appeal. It's being marketed in the media as an up-close look at the white working class, but that's not the case at all. The family dysfunction that Vance endures is something most Americans can relate to. It got preachy in one chapter, but then the author acknowledges the unique set of circumstances that enabled him to overcome his rough upbringing. The chapters on his experiences in the Marines and at Ohio State University were so slim on details that they hardly added anything to the story. It's an interesting story, but I'm still not sure why it became a blockbuster bestseller. If people are buying it to gain some insight into the people who voted for Trump, I'm afraid they're going to be sorely disappointed.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on February 23, 2017, 10:00:21 AM
Almost finished with Dreamland. It is very engrossing, and I'm enjoying the story a lot. The writing is not stellar. At one point the writer refers to an amount of people as "close to dozens," which I found a little grating. I find the book fairly repetitive as well. Repetition is not always a bad thing, but I got annoyed that he sticks the phrase "delivered like pizza" in just about every chapter. He did amazing research and tells a great story though. Overall, it's a really good read.

I'll start Elegy pretty soon. I read Thompson's Hell's Angels recently for that whole "insight into Trump voters" reason that some folks were touting about it, but I ended up enjoying it for entirely different reasons. Like waiting for him to get beat-up.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on March 24, 2017, 12:07:41 AM
Couldn't agree more with the review of Dreamland above. It's good book on an important subject, but it's poorly edited so that it reads like a series of blog posts (the repetition becomes maddening as you go along--I cringed every time the pizza delivery analogy was made).

Next up:

Fiction: The Map and the Territory (Michel Houellebecq)
Nonfiction: Unfaithful Music (Elvis Costello)
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on April 17, 2017, 10:59:02 PM
Couple more negative thoughts on Dreamland. He left a lot of unexplored territory. He danced around the topic of recovery and found people who seemed to have found some ways to fight the problem but the details were so sparse it was just a waste of time. He also didn't go into detail about the discoveries being made by using MRI scans to study the effect of opiates on the brain. I'd been waiting for this to come up, how the "morphine molecule" actually acts on the brain, but when he finally gets here he doesn't even give it a paragraph. He has a doctor say that the discoveries are fascinating and then tells us nothing else about it. Pretty frustrating. I got something out of this book, but not as much as I would've liked.

I never got around to Elegy, and Elvis Costello holds too little interest for me. Currently reading Oryx and Crake, and I have a deadline to read Jane Hamilton's A Short History of a Prince for another book club. Picked up the Houellebecq and looking forward to reading it.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: buffcoat on April 18, 2017, 12:52:41 PM
I think I got all I needed of Hillbilly Elegy by reading some reviews and interviews with the guy.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on May 04, 2017, 10:33:16 PM
The Map and the Territory is a funny book. I'm about half way through it. Juxtaposing pictures of maps and the territories represented is something my wife and I did many years ago. We should have fucking exhibited that! One example is my twitter profile pics. Unlike Jed Martin, I more often found the map less interesting . . .

Can someone get their hands on Bebe's book and make that the next selection?
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: Spalding on May 10, 2017, 01:37:45 PM
I might have missed it, but what's your take on Born to Run Mike? Currently reading it and I'm up to when he becomes famous around the "Born to Run" album. Lots of "power of rock and roll" talk and lots of exclamation points. Not as revealing as I had thought it would be, given the interviews I heard last year. My favorite part so far is his description of the gig circuit he worked with his high school bands (the "rah" gigs vs. "greaser" gigs).
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on May 15, 2017, 07:22:50 PM
I didn't find Born to Run particularly revealing. The only revelation for me was that Springsteen has suffered from depression and anxiety over the years. I found the straight forward bio, Bruce, much more interesting.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: mnstrfrc on June 17, 2017, 10:55:28 PM
I finished Houellebecq a couple weeks ago. Trying to find the time to sit down and write something about it. It's a book that seemed to be about the art world and one particular peculiar character in it, but the major theme turned out to be death and different ways to die in the modern world. That's what I got out of it anyway. Houellebecq's caricature of himself was amusing in all aspects and killing himself off in a spectacularly horrific fashion was the kicker.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on June 19, 2017, 08:27:06 PM
I enjoyed The Map and the Territory very much. The crime story that appears in the last section was a complete surprise.

Currently reading:

The Rat on Fire/George V. Higgins
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963/Taylor Branch
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: Kurz on June 25, 2017, 10:02:57 AM
I didn't find Born to Run particularly revealing. The only revelation for me was that Springsteen has suffered from depression and anxiety over the years. I found the straight forward bio, Bruce, much more interesting.
What makes that one more interesting? I haven't read either yet, but I've the auto one on the shelf.
Title: Re: Mike's Book Club
Post by: B_Buster on June 25, 2017, 10:15:12 AM
I didn't find Born to Run particularly revealing. The only revelation for me was that Springsteen has suffered from depression and anxiety over the years. I found the straight forward bio, Bruce, much more interesting.
What makes that one more interesting? I haven't read either yet, but I've the auto one on the shelf.

You get to hear from the guys in the band when things weren't so great in the E Street Band. In other words, a little more balanced.