1. AOTW: No one in particular this week. There were some in traffic who flirted with the award, but other than the guy who has taken to riding "my" bike at the health club at the very time I want to use it, nothing too notable--or ignominious. So ...
2. Last night, Joyce and I continued our journey through the films of the Coen Bros. We watched (via Netflix) The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), a black-and-white film featuring Billy Bob Thornton as a laconic, phlegmatic small-town barber whose vague wish for more financial substance leads him into a scheme that turns deadly. Great minor roles by the late James Gandolfini, by Frances McDormand, and by the very young Scarlett Johannson (a teen?!), who makes a very surprising move in the final half-hour. A film about greed, about language and silence--with some shots at a hotshot defense attorney, at our all-too-prevalent cultural ignorance, about, well, sex and its consequences.
I love the look of the thing. The Coens can set up shots about as well as anyone--from the stunning image of a barber pole, spinning, at the beginning to "shocking" scene in prison near the end.
BTW: Thornton must have smoked 6000 cigarettes in the film--and I don't think I saw him blink a single time. Link to film trailer.
3. I finished several books this week--three were from my "Night Stack," books I read slowly most nights, ten pages or so at a time. Just so happened I finished two this week.
- The first was Selected Essays by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), pretty much a contemporary of Shakespeare (1564-1616). The essays are similar in format: a single theme ("Of Travel," "Of Seeming Wise," etc.), brevity. I blogged a bit about the book a couple of days ago, but today just a few quotations I really liked:
* from "Of Wisdom for a Man's Self": "An ant is a wise creature for itself, but is a shrewd thing in an orchard or garden. And certainly men that are great lovers of themselves waste the public" (39).
* from "Of Discourse": "As for jest, there be certain things which ought to be privileged from it; namely religion, matters of state, great persons, any man's present business of importance, and in any case that deserveth pity" (56). [Well, that would leave much to joke about, would it?!?!]
* from "Of Youth and Age": "Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success" (76). [Ouch.]
- John Grisham's most recent novel, The Whistler (2016). I like the first part of it a lot. It's a case involving the investigation of a corrupt judge, and how the story gets going is fun--and deadly. But the last, oh, thirty pages contain basically a re-hash of the relevant arrests, etc., and it seemed to me that Grisham just got tired of the damn thing and just published his notes on what should happen. Disappointment, finally.
* Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World in Me (2015), an epistolary monograph about race in today's America (with some flashbacks to his own youth), is an eye-opener. Coates writes to his young son, telling him what it's like to be black in America--and warning him about how he ought to behave. It bubbles with rage at times (and why not?!?) but also contains piercing insights about what it's like to be black today, insights that it would benefit every "white" person to read. I like how Coates continually refers to people who think they're white (for, after all, we all come from African ancestors). There is some hope in the book--why write a book otherwise?--but in my view it has well earned the numerous awards it collected for the author (who's a national correspondent for The Atlantic now), including the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
- Finally (in more ways than one), I finished the most recent book by Richard Ford (I've now read them all!), which is also is final (?maybe not?) book about his most engaging character, Frank Bascombe, who has appeared (and narrated) The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995), The Lay of the Land 2006), and, now, Let Me Be Frank with You (2014), a trio of novellas.
Like the previous Bascombe fiction, this one takes place at holiday time--Christmas this time. And--although I found only one sly allusion to Dickens, Frank is being haunted in all three tales by the Ghost of Christmas Past--or, at least, the Ghost of the Past. In all the fiction, Frank has ruminated about the past--but here it is most prominent. He is sixty-eight years old now and has seen himself evolve from a promising writer of fiction to a fairly successful sportswriter for a national magazine to a fairly successful real estate agent in New Jersey.
It's the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and we see how that vicious storm affected not just people but communities, markets, etc. Frank's own beach house, which he sold before the storm arrived, has been destroyed--as have homes all up and down the beach. He and his wife, Sally (who is not a major presence here--well, a bit), now live back in Haddam, back in the same house where he'd lived years before.
I like how Ford takes a phrase from the end of one novella to use as the title of the next one. Clever. And, of course, I loved an allusion to Billy the Kid on pp. 15-16--Copland's ballet). Frank's allusions are often very literary--vestiges of his past as a writer and teacher. So we get mentions of Naipaul, Auden, Emerson, Henry James, Anthony Trollope, and others.
Frank retains, as well, his sardonic humor--and Ford retains his mastery of the English sentence. "I look at life in terms of failures survived" (189); "He's a thought that might become an act" (243). And on and on.
Well, I have completed my literary journey in my Ford, and I know he has a memoir coming out early this May (so promises Amazon, anyhow), but I hope he is not finished with Frank. I need him; we need him.
4. Final word: A word I liked this week from my various online word-of-the-day providers:
- from wordsmith.org
ETYMOLOGY: Of unknown origin. According to a popular story, a fellow named Hiram Codd came up with the design of a soft-drink bottle with a marble in its neck to keep the fizz. Wallop was slang for beer and those who preferred alcoholic drinks dismissively referred to the soft-drink as Codd’s Wallop. This story is unproven. Earliest documented use: 1959.
“And to think that there are people out there -- including some I used to vaguely respect -- who actually buy into and believe that kind of codswallop.”
Jesus, St John, and Mahatma Gandhi need YOU; Malta Today (San Gwann); Jan 19, 2017.