active archive of blog entries about literature
the road, parenthood
today is my son's 12th birthday and as a gift i found him a first edition of cormac mccarthy's the road (thank you patrick at 1st Print Books), as well as a Blu-ray disc of the movie and the soundtrack on CD), and i inscribed⁄dedicated it as follows:
Yes, this book is dark and depressing. Yes, this book is brimming with love.
You are an empath, you are smart, and you will do great things!
Carry the fire of our shared humanity and let it burn bright and true.
Dont let go. No matter what.
I love you, forever and always!
the boy is by all accounts a daddy's boy and an empath and while i am decidedly nothing like the man i can completely see myself doing everything i have to to make sure my son will live his best life. hopefully i will be able to provide for him without the post-apolyptic backdrop, without having to protect him from being kept in a cellar for consumption by cannibals, without having to wash ourselves in cold waterfall water, or raise him without his mother.
both the book and the movie are bleak, but what i saw more than anything else is the unwavering love of the man for his boy, something that until roughly 13 years ago i would not have been able to comprehend let alone feel deep within my bones like i do now. in my opinion this story is about the bond between child and parent that is near unbreakable, about perserverance, about strength, about human ingenuity in the face of destitution, about love.
i hope that i, as a parent, love my son so much that he knows he can do anything he wants and he can be anything he wants; i already know that travis has a brilliant mind and that science is probably the road he will take in life, but he also has a softer, more philosophical side that will allow him to be in touch with humanity in all its frail glory. while the latter may be upsetting and uncomfortable, he can use the former to provide logical conclusions and move humanity forward. but, if he wants to be traveling poet, i will give him all the encouragement in the world, because without artists the world would be exactly like the post-apocalyptic world mccarthy details.
sunday may 30, 2021
review for between the world and me
because facebook decided to stop supporting their notes feature at the end of october 2020, without informing anyone, i lost my post with the extensive book review i did for ta-nehisi coates' between the world and me. since hbo premiered the television adaption of the staging of the book in 2018 on saturday november 21, 2020, i decided to dust off my review. since i was not able to share or repost the notes, i decided to find my original notes and the saved document of the review and post it on my literature blog instead.
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Since Sunday, July 18 2015, I am reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' second book, Between The World And Me, to my 6-year old son Travis at bed time. When I ordered the book from Amazon a week before its release I told Travis about it and he was almost more excited than I was when it got shipped. He then asked me if he could read it and I said that I had to read it first, but then, if he still wanted, I would read it to him after I finished it, which I did last Saturday. The next evening it was my turn to take him to bed and read him stories and he was adamant I read Between The World And Me to him.
I read Coates' seminal work in two evenings and there is nothing in it that I thought should prohibit me from reading it to Travis. From the outset I knew that 99% would fly right over his head, but I also know it would present me the opportunity to teach him about racism. Or rather, the importance of equality.
Disclosure: I am a white male, originally from Europe, immigrated (officially) in 2008, married to a white woman and together we had a white boy, Travis, who according to Louis CK has won the jackpot, for now.
I am also a very left-leaning atheist whose hope it is to see a world where everyone is equal, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or economic status, hopefully in my lifetime. However, I also understand that my hopes and opinions are steeped in white privilege and that what is directly above makes me part of The Dream of the New People.
This book is Ta-Nehisi Coates addressing his teen son, Samori, about how black people have been and are being mistreated by white people and how he cannot prevent or help his son understand why he must go through all the pains of discovering this for himself. Coates lays out the historical reasons for his belief that the black body can be broken or taken: 'at the onset of the Civil War, our stolen bodies were worth four billion dollars, more than all of American industry, all of American railroads, workshops, and factories combined' and therefore 'America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation to ever exist […] America understands itself as god's handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.' I agree with him that 'race is the child of racism, not the father' and that 'hate gives identity.'
I will never truly understand what a black person feels just going about his day-to-day with his life being so fragile, literally always in the hands of faith, because I was born into white privilege. However, I can and will speak out against whitewashing (pun unintended) history like so many other white people want to do, afraid of having to confront their own shortcomings. These white people may harmlessly claim good intentions, but 'good intention is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream' because 'I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free.'
For the longest time I have held the belief that the USA is not at all a free nation, that Americans are not free, but that they just have the illusion of freedom. After reading Between The World And Me, I have to add a disqualifier and note that it is just white Americans who are quote unquote free. Black people have only been quote unquote free for a handful decades, after enslavement, segregation and Jim Crow laws for close to 400 years. This means that today's free black people come from generations upon generations born into bondage, so they are unfortunately in a better position to see that Americans are not truly free.
It is immeasurably sad that 'black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets America made' and that 'I recall learning these [street] laws clearer than I recall learning my colors and shapes' and that 'the schools were not concerned with curiosity; they were concerned with compliance' and that 'they did not present it [school] as a place of high learning but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing.' It is immeasurably sad that schools appear to function differently for white kids than they do for black kids, even today.
Anyone who says the womb-to-prison pipeline isn't real is not paying attention; voucher schools are just the latest attempt to separate affluent white kids from black kids as a means to ensure that white people maintain control. Anyone who believes that institutionalized racism ended with the defeat of the Confederate states is sorely mistaken. Here is another essay Coates wrote about that.
Don't be fooled by the title, though, because this article is not about giving black people 40 acres and a mule with a couple hundred years of interest, but it highlights how racism led to the situation an alarmingly high number of black people find themselves in today: inherently less than white people. Or as Coates writes 'perhaps being named black had nothing to do with any of this [lost their bodies]; perhaps being named black was just someone's name for being at the bottom.'
These small acts of racism can be seen everywhere, because they are pervasive throughout society. The difficulty is wanting to see the subtleties and this is where a lot of white people fall short. Either because they refuse to see it, don't want to see it, or are just flat-out oblivious to it. And it's not strictly a Southern thing either, as Peter Daou discovered in New York City. Sometimes I wonder if there isn't more racism in the North than there is in the South, or maybe it is just the perception, that it is more subtle in the South (with its flamboyant outcroppings in the KKK) and more overt in the North. Regardless of location, there are definitely separate rules.
If there is one set of rules for black people and one for whites than you know something is wrong. This is most noticeable in police actions, where black people get shot & killed for no apparent reason, other than the not-so-cryptic I-feared-for-my-life excuse, and white people can literally physically threaten cops without any repercussion. That said, as Coates points out, 'the problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled my majoritarian pigs'; we, the voters, vote predominantly white people into office who will do all they can to maintain the status quo. Not officially, of course, because even SCOTUS has ruled that the USA is post-racist. These white politicians make the laws that result in the police being 'given maximum power, [bearing] minimum responsibility.' And there really is no excuse for that. It's shameful that too many people don't even acknowledge or self-reflect that they are guilty of this status quo, and a lot of people do so hiding behind political correctness or, much worse, the L/libertarian viewpoint of we *should* not need the Voting Rights Act and we *should* not need any Equal Opportunity or Affirmative Action laws, because sadly that is just not the way things work. Yet.
The tide is slowly turning. The current younger generation is more socially diverse and open-minded, so perhaps in a few generations we really don't need laws on the books anymore to ensure that non-white people are treated the same as white people. As with everything that has been institutionalized for so long, this will not happen overnight or without a fight. I understand the hesitation, but giving other people the same rights as one currently enjoys does not, in any way, diminish one's own rights. This is why the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is infinitely more relevant than the #AllLivesMatter hashtag.
Most of these things I kind of knew, albeit on a more visceral level rather than with an academic understanding and this book made my knowledge more tangible, especially given the fact that, like Ta-Nehisi, I have a son. Imagining that Travis would find himself in the same situation as his black peers both frightens and angers me. I'm also not going to deny that Travis is fortunate to be as white as he is, which means he and I will likely never have to be afraid of hearing 'I could have you arrested! Which is to say: I could take your body.' This is something that black people live with, day in and day out. Just imagine the pressure and stress that brings and then understand that black people's life expectancy is shorter. Just as Travis has the freedom to be himself, so should every black person be. As Coates impresses on his son: 'You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.'
The thing that binds us all is love, family, friends. Coates tells his son 'I didn't always have things, but I had people' and that is something that is universal. As I tell Travis that I love him every night before he goes to sleep, I am sure that black fathers and mothers tell their kids they love them, too, before they take them to bed. Why should I get to sleep comfortably knowing my son has an advantage over others simply because of the color of his skin? Why should black parents have to lie awake at night wondering how to protect their kids from things that may or may not happen, with the compounded stress which comes with that? This is one of those things that cannot be explained, cannot be taught. This is something that each individual has to learn, finding out on their own terms. The least we should do is make sure that everyone gets to start on a level playing field.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, his wife and son are moving to Paris, France for a year. To enjoy freedom, the freedom to not be afraid that someone is going to take their bodies, the freedom to live life like a Dreamer, the freedom of just being. I hope he and his family enjoy themselves. Buy Between The World And Me on Amazon.
-Originally posted July/August 2015
monday november 23, 2020
for me, music and literature have always been intertwined. like the beat generation used cool jazz, like hip hop is directly fusing poetry and beats. either music inspires my writing or music invokes an emotion for my writing, or a combination of those two. sometimes even photography gets thrown in the mix and this is especially true for my hometown of rotterdam.
i am deeply anchored in rotterdam and when i first heard stuart mccallum's north star it felt like this song was about my city, even though i know it's about manchester (uk), even though i have been away from rotterdam for 13 years.
is this literature, or is it quasi-romantic musings of a love-stricken nostalgist?
sunday october 4, 2020
for my birthday 3 months ago, my lovely bride presented me the two novels craig clevenger has published so far, because she googled for douglas coupland (my favorite, as you know) and his books came up. in the reviews of clevenger's books chuck palahniuk is mentioned, and since he is another writer i admire, she figured to give it a try. it took me a while to get through my backlog of reading in addition to my other daily tasks, like making a living, but in the past two weekends i've read both the contortionist's handbook and dermaphoria, and i find myself once again in awe of my wife's resourcefulness.
the contortionist's handbook (2002)
gritty like palahniuk, witty like coupland.
clever first novel, mixing defeatism with smart observations and a deep knowledge of apa application to court-ordered mental health holds or releases. while mostly linear in storytelling, the protagonist jumps forwards and backwards in time with flashbacks and flash forwards, like a quentin tarantino movie, but never is the golden thread lost. as the reader you will quickly figure out how it ends, because there can only be one finale, but it still comes as a surprise and, more surprisingly, it leaves hope beyond hope, creating that necessary tension to complete the story arc.
fight club meets fear and loathing in las vegas meets naked lunch.
a drug-fueled roller coaster of a paranoid story told in recursive flashbacks that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. clevenger's second novel is meticulously researched and contains vivid descriptions of illicit drug manufacturing, trafficking, and user experience. one can almost see the motion picture that is rumored to have been made but not yet released. the book ends with one of the best sentences "In my last second, the last of the evidence hits my bloodstream and in the moment before the angels turn off my universe, God's own clock quicksand slows to an ice whisper quiet and I could sit here beside you and watch the sunlight wither for days on end."
clevenger on twitter
sunday september 6, 2020
reading, and to a lesser extent, writing have always been one of the ways i both escape from reality and expand my horizon, like traveling within the bounds of paper.
since it has been a passion for a long time and since i have blogged about it before i though that to jump start this blog i would repost a few pieces from earlier incarnations of my website.
i am not going to promise to update this frequently, but i will do my best to share book reviews and other insights. who knows, maybe i will even premiere some more poems, like the one at the bottom of this post!
Continued praise for Douglas Coupland
I've just finished Douglas Coupland latest novel, Hey Nostradamus!, and I must confess that I am in utter awe of this work.
Dare I say that this book is the Mother of all Literature Masterpieces.
Forget all about your Wuthering Heights, your Moby Dicks, your Shakespeare Sonnets, your Catcher In The Ryes and your Ulysseses. This is the new standard in literature.
Sleeve notes from the author:
Several years after the 1988 Delbrook Senior Secondary School massacre, the television cameras have moved on to the next horror show; but for a handful of people in this sleepy corner of Vancouver, life remains perpetually derailed.
The book is told in four voices: Cheryl, who calmly narrates her own death; Jason, the boy who no one knew was her husband; Heather, the woman trying to love the shattered Jason; and Jason's dad Reg, a cruelly religious man no one suspects is worth loving.
This books reads as an allegory on the Bible's New Testament, a search in the depths of ultra-religion, a story of dealing with life's most difficult moments, a fable about never-ending undying love. This story has so many levels you need to read it more than once.
And it is a very emotional novel; it is the first book that brought me to tears. Ever. Especially Jason's part is heart gripping. The way Coupland lets Jason deal with the loss of his wife and the loss of innocence and the loss of lust for life feels extremely accurate and spot on.
Nowhere you get the feeling it is a work of fiction. It is more like the book contains testimonials from the things these 4 people have witnessed. This way as a reader you can fully empathize with what's being told. You might say this is Coupland's trademark, but in this novel he definitely crystalized it.
The events are carefully puzzled together throughout the book, so bit by bit you get to know what the protagonists have gone through and still are going through. Even though the novel spans 15 years you never have the feeling that you lose touch with the story line. I also think it shows that sometimes wounds need a lot of time to heal and, in the case of Reg, it takes a lot of time and a number of misfortunes to understand why he reacted the way he did and what effect those reactions had to the people close to him. And himself.
Coupland made sure that the final story didn't become like the ending of those sappy weekend TV movies. Granted, Reg tries to redeem himself, but it is executed honestly. None of the characters put any blame onto the people that put them in the situation they are in; they all look at themselves and the errors of judgment they might have made. Playing the blame game would have been the easy way out for the writer, so I think it was a wise decision to avoid that pitfall, making it all the more a real experience.
Of course the book is in a way criticism on two things that are becoming more and more apparent in North American life: gun ownership and the (mis)use of it, and the role the media has in today's coverage of events.
The massacre at the Delbrook School of course is modeled after the Columbine shootings, but instead of focusing on the reasons for this sudden outburst of violence Coupland shows the ramifications on people who were close to the terrible events. We learn that the media played a doubtful role in the beginning of this shooting, but when public interest faded away they, in turn, lost their interest and moved on to the next big thing.
I, however, will not yet move on. I am going to read this wonderful, touching book again. I recommend you do the same.
-Originally posted on July 27, 2003
Is Douglas Coupland the new Messiah?
No. But he is someone who is far ahead of his and our time and through his publications he keeps our finger on the pulse of current affairs. He possesses an almost supernatural ability to have his readers face the facts in a clear and simple and humorful manner. And I don't know of anybody else who can do that.
It all started for him with Generation X, the book that created a generation that at that time was not even discovered yet. The book came out in 1991 at the apex of the grunge/slacker period and it shows the meaningless life of the main characters. They have an attitude that is exactly the opposite of the mentality of those of the late 80s, who, edged on by the economic boom, strove for as much gain as possible and mainly a material one.
With Microserfs, from 1995, he continues that thread. Now the main characters are go-getters from the early 90s that live an ambiguous life: they are sort of Generation X-ers who are after a strictly professional career. It is also a satire on the Microsoft culture that makes its employees rich fast but at the same time makes them socially poor. The main figures break away from this culture and try to start their own, more normal enterprise, which produces the same result pretty fast. At the same time he lets Lego make a comeback, for which the Danish should worship him.
In the book Polaroids From The Dead Coupland parts from the Generation X-ers. This is the starting point of the return to nature, to sprituality. A trend that was also noticed in worldwide society at the time of publication, in 1996. It is also the start of him turning away from globalization and he shows his audience truths that are easily overlooked. Coupland was the first to expose the severe regulations of the Disney Corporation that is propagated both inward and outward and called it Mauschwitz. That shows courage. And insight.
With Girlfriend In A Coma, published in 1998, he is the first one to exaggerate the craving for the spiritual, thus in fact criticizing the turn he took with his previous book. With the impending turn of the millennium he sketches an image both apocalyptic and promising of the state mankind is in at the end of the 20th century.
In Miss Wyoming Coupland interweaves the mysterious with reality and shows us the harshness in all layers of society. This book that was published in 2000 again is a current affairs indicator. It shows that people with star status are just people like anyone else. People who, once out of the spotlights, prove to be fragile, but have not lost their sense of humanity. Also the relentless globalization is taken on, but in a more stealth manner.
Coupland's most recent work, All Families Are Psychotic, from 2001 shows almost the opposite: unknown people, not craving for fame, achieve something that other people can only dream of ... however it does not change them. On the contrary, it makes the main characters long for a return to anonymity. This is an indictment of the ever more obtrusive reality madness: everybody is famous.
In the meantime Coupland also (co)worked on two books of photographs, City Of Glass by himself and States by Christopher Griffith. In the latter he gives America a "history" in an essay of just 5 pages!
The recurring theme in all of his work, of which you will find an overview below, is the extreme now-ness. Coupland seems to be ahead of all trends and gives us readers a glimpse of the absurdity and normality, the tragic and the humor, but most of all the here and now of life.
-Originally posted on November 25, 2001
My reading list
Arthur van Schendel - The Frigate Johanna Maria
This is highly probable one of the first books I read, on the recommendation of my dad. I think I must have read it at least three times. The book is written in a very expressive capacity which makes it seem that you yourself are the helmsman of this commercial vessel, experiencing everything from up close. Normally I do not have much affection with things that happened in the past, but this book is clearly the exception to the rule. The plot is fairly simple, but it is written in such a compelling style that you soon forget anything around you and rush to the end of the book and there come the conclusion that it all went by too fast.
Multatuli - Max Havelaar
A classic. It is hard to get started, because of the rather archaic use of language. However, you get used to it quickly and it really goes well with the story. It is about the adventures of a Dutch governor on the tea plantations of Dutch India. Most of the students will not come close to this book. Wrongly it is considered to be difficult, and it most likely will help if you view the movie once. The book also contains a couple of picturesque parables, of which I personally think the one about the Japanese stone cutter is phenomenal: it reduces life to its essence. The book also makes you think about how Holland acted during its foreign rule (or oppression) of Indonesia. Truly this is required reading.
Jan Wolkers - Turkish Delight
What Ronald Giphart now does for literature Jan Wolkers did before him: on the face of it it looks like easy to read work with a profusion, or maybe even benefaction, of sex. But this is not all Turkish Delight has to offer. The story tells about a love that is doomed to fail between Jan and Olga and it is to a great extent autobiographical, like almost all of Wolkers' work. The book reads like a movie script on account of the simple structure and the spoken language it is written in. Because it is so artless lots of people think that the work of Wolkers doesn't have any depth, but nothing is less true. The psychological aftermath of World War II and his strict religious upbringing obviously leave their traces. In this context he resembles the work of Maarten 't Hart.
Harry Mulisch - The Assault
The magnum opus of Mulisch. All the anger, frustration, sorrow and gained hope caused by the traumatic events during the Second World War are strongly united in this beautiful chronicle about how a boy experienced and processed all this. Nowhere is the pretention to be found that is so present in the rest of Mulisch' work. It is not a coincidence that this is the most accessible of books Harry Mulisch has written. The images he evokes are easily to project in front of your mind's eye and everything is written in an honest and pure language. The film that was made after this book is absolutely worth seeing.
Remco Campert - Life Is Deliteful
This book was groundbreaking for a lot of words were written fonetically. This also appeared in some poems by the Belgian poet Paul van Ostaijen, but what Campert did was unique in prose. In the fifties, when Remco Campert was coming on he, and his colleague quinquagenarians, were looked at with suspicion, but it now looks like he is finally getting the acknowledgment he rightfully deserves. Life Is Deliteful is full with Carmiggelt-like pieces of the daily life of the main character, told in a humorous and cynical fashion, of which he seems to have the patent. Campert is also responsible for the only successful book week present book that was ever published and at the same introduced a new word to the Dutch language: Gloomyman.
J.D. Salinger - The Catcher In The Rye
This book, written by the notorious hermit Salinger, tells of the usual problems that occur during maturing, as seen through the eyes of Holden Caulfield. When he goes to prep school he is confronted with fears that are new to him and clearly do not belong to a child, but belong to an adult. Because these feelings are so overpowering he feels that he has to protect his little sister and all other kids from the dangers of growing up; he feels like he is someone in a field with rye on the edge of an abyss who has to catch all the children who are in danger of falling in. The book also caused a sensation due to the language that was used, which was a reflection of the language of the streets at that time, but in the (certainly then) puritan United States it caused a wave of indignation. If you hold it against what is possible nowadays, you can't do anything else but smile about so much irony.
George Orwell - Animal Farm
If there is one book you should be careful about choosing it is this one. What first meets the eye is a simple story about how power corrupts. In reality it is a roman à clef and during your oral exam you should be able to explain the "true identities" of the different animals. You better hope you are one of the first to be cross examined ... For the rest this book is a strong indictment against totalitarian leaders, no matter how social they appear at first. This work took example from the assumptions of power in Russia in the beginning of the 20th century and the one in Germany a couple of years before World War II. Don't tell that you not have been warned!
-Originally posted on October 6, 2000
Untitled poem, copyright of yours truly
The present is not now enough.
The near future already is past tense.
Always having to plan ahead
leaving the past far behind me.
I barely let the present permeate me.
Enjoying a still moment in time befalls so intense
that it's over before I even realize
something beautiful is passing by.
Instead of pausing and trying to
embrace it with all my heart and soul
my thoughts rush on
afraid of looking back knowing
that once more I made a mistake.
I also know too well I will have to wait
resignedly to miss such an opportunity again.
What can I do to slow myself down?
What do I have to do to let me see
that the future has already begun and that
I don't need to pursue the past?
The notion I know where I go wrong
is not enough: the urge to go onward
is stronger than the will to dwell upon what I have
What have I got? The knowledge that somewhere
along the road, tranquility is waiting.
I have got to get there fast ...
-Originally posted on October 6, 2000
friday september 4, 2020
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