Literary Review

The Masters of Musing

Touched By Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley by Gary Lucas (Jawbone Press)

Über rock guitarist Gary Lucas's loving homage to his pupil Jeff Buckley is chock full of fascinating details and minutia that apparently doomed their creative coupling from the get-go. There is no question that they are two tremendously gifted individuals, and that by joining forces they added magic to the world. And it is also quite apparent, especially when you listen to the music they created together, that theirs was a partnership that should have afforded them both so much more. Had Mr. Buckley not taken his solo flight, leaving Mr. Lucas and their Gods & Monsters to soldier on without him, who knows what magic might have been created from their continued collaboration. 

The Original Mr. Gray

What is the value of art in society, and what are the artist’s moral imperatives? How must artists reconcile their predisposition toward sensory indulgences with modern mores, particularly if they gravitate towards a lifestyle that is largely stigmatized? Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray examined all of these questions. It was a seminal work of Gothic horror literature, and, although he was a highly accomplished playwright and critic, this was the only novel of Wilde’s that was ever published. 

Mean Greene Machine

greene.jpgTravels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

Sometime in the late 1960s (1969 to be exact), when Philip Roth was ripping it up with raw liver, Graham Greene -- lauded, praised, lionized - kicked back and created one of his greatest "entertainments," Travels with My Aunt. He has confessed in interviews that this was his most pleasurable writing experience, and all I can say, as a reader, it certainly delivers on the pleasure principal. Interestingly, Greene's Aunt Augusta calls to mind that other great literary free-wheeling aunt of mid-century, Auntie Mame. But Augusta's not merely an eccentric globe-hopper. Aged yet spry, her relations are deep, dark, and strange -- as is her relationship with the narrator, surely the most milquetoasty, recently retired, dahlia-cultivating, bachelor bank manager in literature.

Wilt-A-Whirl

Sign of FourWilt by Tom Sharpe

There are a lot of definitions of comedy floating around out there. My personal favorite is the theory of "bad to worse." There's something about watching someone go from bad to worse, but still bring cheerful, even upbeat about it, that just cracks me up. It certainly works in Curb Your Enthusiasm, the reigning heavyweight champ. You'll also see it on The Simpsons. Family Guy, ditto. The hell with the three-act, Robert McKee, story-structure hoo-haa. Instead of getting someone up a tree, throwing sticks at him, and getting him back down again, in comedy, for me, it's just about throwing sticks at him. Then trees. Then the whole frickin' Great North Woods. You get the idea.

Woodman's Muse

Woodman's MuseI was flipping through an old magazine and I came across this quote. "I remember the first person I ever laughed at while reading was Max Shulman." I might not have paid any more attention to it than I usually do to denture adhesive ads or reports of alien abductions, except that the person who said it was Woody Allen. And when the Woodman talks, people listen. Well, at least people in the person of me.

But Max who? I Googled away: 1950s writer, originally from Minneapolis, wrote the novel the groundbreaking TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was based on. Yeah. And a week or so later, walking past a used book kiosk, there it was. Goofy, '50s New Yorker-style cover.

Big Biswas

biswas.jpgMohun Biswas is you. When you finish reading the last line of V. S. Naipaul's novel A House for Mr. Biswas, you will feel like a part of your body -- your arm maybe, possibly your leg -- has been removed. Lopped off. Severed. The presence of Mr. Biswas, this ornery, feisty, mean, arrogant, flawed man will have so completely taken you over, you will not be the same person ever again. You will be you plus Biswas.

The magic of Naipaul's long novel is that it has life in it. You may not be of Indian descent. You may not be living in Trinidad during the time of English colonialism. You may not be a man. But as soon as you start reading this book, you will be.

I'm Your Biggest Fan

The energy exchange between fans and musicians during live events can be intoxicating, even without mind-altering substances. New York-based photographer Erin Feinberg has perfectly captured that dynamic in her new B&W coffee table book. Moreover, she knows first hand what it is to be a super fan. As a photographer she has "...photographed these congregations from every vantage point -- around the stages, oppressively hot parking lots, muddy festival grounds, intimate clubs, massive stadiums, and often right the middle of the most pits...."