Thursday, May 19

Literary Corner

I do a lot of re-reading. Some of it is fairly structured: at least two of Shakespeare's Big Four every year, Lolita and Pale Fire, Garcia Marquez, Huck Finn and others every two or three years. I pick up Borges and James Thurber regularly, though I'm pretty sure I've read every word either of them ever published at least twice.

Some of it is just hit-or-miss. I read Homer straight through a couple years ago. Boswell. Probably 85% of the histories I own, sometimes in full, sometimes just the good stuff. I went through a good three-quarters of Shelby Foote's Civil War narrative last summer (and was surprised at how pro-Lost Cause the whole thing seemed, and how slipshod some of the scholarship--am I getting more critical, or just angrier?). Thanks to a lifetime spent perfecting the art of inattention I can even re-read mysteries, which I don't read for the plots, anyway.

This weekend I picked up The Right Stuff to get my mind off the pain in my back. I should say something about my relationship with Tom Wolfe. I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in high school just to get laid. There was an absolutely ethereal beauty a year behind me who was into Hippie Lit. I managed to avoid Kahlil Gibran, Carlos Castaneda, and all that Tolkien stuff; even Out of Control the head that does my thinking had some standards. That one book, as it turned out, was enough Wolfe for me, in both cases. Thank God for the National Lampoon.

I did read the Rolling Stone pieces that became The Right Stuff back in the days when Hunter was at the top of the masthead, and a couple chapters of Mauve Gloves someone'd left lying around at my summer job one year. For whatever reason, I have a first edition of TRS. And it's a...damn fine!...piece of reporting, he had to admit. But I didn't intend it to be this week's book report. There were a couple of things that struck me this time around. One, that nobody in the X-15 program thought Sputnik was worth one shit, let alone two, meaning that the upper levels of military/political leadership knew it, too. The other was this passage, on the famous first press conference:

It was as if the press in America, for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal, an animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a single nervous system. In the late 1950s (as in the late 1970s) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone should be established and should prevail; and all information that muddied the tone and weakened the feeling should simply be thrown down the memory hole.

It made me wonder how Tom might approach that paragraph these days, if he weren't so preoccupied with holes of a different sort.


Anonymous said...

Never read anything by the man, although I have a lot of trouble with "Look Homeward, Angel". Of course, that's the wrong Tom Wolfe.

Love Garcia Marquez though! Even if his writing is one of the most difficult (yet most beautiful) in the original Spanish I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

i never read the right stuff.

i saw the movie based on it, though. i enjoyed it greatly.

wolfe's comments about the press reminds me of the scenes in the movie where the camera focuses on the newspaper men, and the sounds of locusts play on the soundtrack.

the movie came out in 1983. i was working as a newspaper reporter then.

in 1984, i left the business. those scenes reminded me of what the newspaper business was/is/will be.