Proust’s coffee

Although fifteen years later [Marcel Proust] would recall his year as a soldier with total delight, as “a paradise,” at the time he complained bitterly and his mother had to write him consoling, babying letters, telling him to think of the twelve months as twelve chocolate squares.

Imagine the guys in the barracks finding your letters from your mom telling you to think about your year as twelve chocolate squares.

In his short biography of Custer, Larry McMurtry mentions a few other short biographies he judges fine, including with a characteristic lack of false modesty his own biography of Crazy Horse, and this Edmund White biography of Proust.

So, I got it and read it.  Wonderful act of compression.  Thoughtful, succinct, at times funny, human, gentle, this book is a great guide to the man and artist, what his work meant and what he was after.

Thought this was wild:

In 1911 Proust became a subscriber to Théàtrophone, a service that held a telephone receiver up at a concert, which allowed people to stay at home and hear live music on their receivers.

The few hundred pages of Remembrance of Things Past I was supposed to read in college (“Proust, Joyce and Modernism”: a class I chose to take!) were tough going for me.  Proust won’t be hurried.  This guy didn’t even get a job  until he was in his thirties.  This was an unpaid job, as a librarian, and eventually he got fired for being out sick too much.  Proust is not interested in going at anyone’s pace except the languid pace of a man lying in bed, leisurely following the meandering paths of his own memory.

Proust always claimed that he had a bad memory and that, besides, a carefully reconstructed recollection, prompted by photos or shared reminiscences, was invariably colorless, Only an involuntary memory, triggered by a taste or smell or other sensation, could erase the passage of time and restore a past experience in its first, full effulgence.

Proust’s world was pretentious and can seem ridiculous.  Proust himself was a great mimic, reducing people to fits of laughter with his impressions.  He loved collecting anecdotes and gossip, grilling waiters for details (Proust was an extravagant tipper.)  White says that Georg D. Painter’s Marcel Proust: A Biography, the one-volume edition, is

so amusing that it could be used as a source for a stand-up comic.

I’ll be looking into this claim.

How about Proust’s maid, Céleste?

Céleste’s great anxiety was Proust’s morning (or afternoon) coffee.  It had to be ready the moment he rang for it, but the preparation took at least half an hour, since he liked the water to be dripped, drop by drop, through the grounds in order to produce the thickest, strongest possible “essence” of coffee.  Nor could he bear for it to be reheated…

This is after Céleste had been standing up for hours listening to Proust recount gossip he’d collected on “rare midnight sorties,” Proust waiting til midnight to go out because he was so afraid of dust.  Well, White tells us we read Proust because he knows that

only the gnarled knowledge that suffering brings us is of any real use.

Maybe Céleste pondered that while she remade the coffee.

Leaving the house was a challenge for Proust, but near the end of his life he made an outing to see Vermeer’s View of Delft:

On the night before he died Proust dictated a last sentence: “There is a Chinese patience in Vermeer’s craft.”

White tells us.  Man Ray took a picture of Proust right after the author died, you can see it here if you’re so inclined.  I’m told by the Met that Cocteau wrote of the scene:

Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.

True despair hours:


Tyler Cowen’s Productivity

Here is Tyler Cowen’s list of the best non-fiction books of 2018.

I take eight where the Amazon link is easily clickable and find the page count, coming up with an average of 461 pages.

Let’s discount the two books written by colleagues and the one book TC wrote himself.  That leaves us with 19 books, x 461 pages= 8,759 pages of books / 365 = TC is reading 24 pages of nonfiction on average every single day.

But remember, these are just the BEST books he’s picking.  Let’s say for every one book he picks, there’s one he doesn’t.  Call it 50 pages of nonfiction a day.

TC also picked eight fiction books, one of which is 1160 pages.

In addition to a busy travel schedule, college professor, prolific blogger, interviewer, husband, etc.

Impressed!


Dictionary of National Biography

When you come across this book, it’s fun to take it down and open it at random and read about some guy.  For instance, Caleb Jeacocke, debater and roll-maker:


Books I got rid of

Pained me to get rid of it.  But look how long it is!

Let’s be reasonable!

I hate giving away books.  I wish I could read them all.

This one I got because I saw John Laurence on Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War

and kind of related to him.  

But I mean, these books’re spilling over into in my kitchen!

The Idiot I read and loved, that is my second, demolished copy on the right.  The Other Paris can stay.

This book is incredible.  The part about the Judge and The Seducer should be its own book.

This one I got because it was recommended someplace.  Again, I regret parting with it and perhaps we’ll meet again.

This book I got because I wanted to track down the origin of JFK’s alleged claim to Macmillan that if he didn’t have a woman every few days he got headaches.  Unfortunately the source appears to be yet another book!  Goodbye, this book.  Macmillan’s life worth a peak into. 

I like Melbourne a lot.  But I did feel this book was attempting to exaggerate the charm somewhat.

For me the best thing to do in Melbourne is take a train to the countryside or drive the Great Ocean Road.  No need to oversell Melbourne, it has some cool buildings.

Flinders Street station is a personal fave.

Discussed in a review by Thomas Ricks.  Pickett’s Charge is interesting, and I was curious as to how you write a whole book about what was pretty much four thousand guys getting blown to pieces.

But then I was like I don’t want to read a whole book about four thousand guys getting blown to pieces.

A page selected at random:

One reason why there are so many statues of Lee is that he really did do some cool shit.  Something like this really did happen:

But whatever.  Remember he did just get four thousand guys blown to pieces.

Phillip Thomas Tucker I believe makes the case that Pickett’s Charge wasn’t as crazy as it later seemed and Lee almost won.

A tough guy detective type book recommended by fellow tough guy detective type writer Don Winslow.  Interested in tough guy detective type books.  But I just didn’t get to this one and it’s probable I won’t ever so best to pass it along to a new home.

Like I say, I am sad to part with any book.

I thank these books for their service!

If you want these they should be at Goodwill on Beverly.

TWIST:

Two books got a last minute reprieve!

 

 

 

 

 


Critics on critics on critics

This review in the New York Times, by Vivan Gornick of Adam Gopnik’s “At The Strangers’ Gate” caught my attention.

Critics have taken aim on Adam Gopnik before.  To which New Yorker editor David Remnick says:

‘The day any of these people write anything even remotely as fine and intelligent as Adam Gopnik will be a cold day in hell.'”

The key to this memoir might be when the author reveals he graduated high school at age fourteen.  He’s a boy genius.

This is kind of Young Sheldon the book.

The book has some good stories in it.  Adam Gopnik tells about how a guy who came to one of his lectures on Van Gogh.  This guy had an axe to grind and it was this: why did Vincent never paint his brother Theo?

My favorite part of the book was Gopnik’s discussion of Jeff Koons.  Gopnik is illuminating on the topic of Jeff Koons.  Here is Koons talking to Gopnik at a party.

(I added the potato because while it may not be strictly legal to electronically reproduce pages of books, if I include them in an original work of art, that’s gotta be allowed, right?)


His sporting blood turned to horsepiss

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This interview with Charles Portis, on his days a young reporter, for an oral history project about the Arkansas Gazette newspaper is so wonderful.

Lady stringers:

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On Tom Wolfe and Malcolm X:

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They made movies out of several Portis books:

is one and

is another.

What does Charles Portis make of all this I wonder?

mofa

Click on this link for an amazing picture of William Woodruff sailing up the Mississippi with his printing presses.


F Minus

I don’t like to give bad reviews to books on Helytimes.  Why call limited attention to bad books?  However I must condemn this book.

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Let me admit that I didn’t read it.

I oppose it because:

1) I was not consulted on it and didn’t hear about it until it was published

2) I was not included in it

3) many geniuses were not included in it, and the selections don’t represent anything like a best of.   

Impossible in an anthology to please everyone.   But I suspect anyone familiar with the Lampoon will find the table of contents to be the funniest part.

(That’s the only part I read.)

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4) No art?

The Lampoon is full of beautiful art that makes the words tolerable.

Example I happened to find here.

Example I happened to find here.

A mistake to print an all words anthology.

5)  the whole point of the Lampoon is you can write and “publish” dumb bad practice material that no one will ever see.

On the other hand: I was lucky and was given issues of the Lampoon by my cousin when I was a senior in high school.   That gift changed my life.  So maybe this book will do that for someone.

Still, I must grade it an F minus and recommend that you not purchase it on Amazon or your local indie bookstore.  For example The Harvard Book Store:

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found on the website of Dr. Barbara Long

Here’s a funny review by one Helen Andrews of Sydney, Australia in the Weekly Standard.  (Shoutout to Chris McKenna who I guess reads The Weekly Standard?)

I think you’ll get more value for your book dollar in:

treee

available at Amazon or your local indie bookstore.  You’ll enjoy it.