Monday, September 29, 2008

#42: Slaughterhouse Five

"Art renders the sight of life bearable by laying over it the gauze of impure thinking." -Friedrich Nietzsche

I don't often disagree with Fritz and I don't plan on starting here. What I can say is that I think people read entirely too much nonfiction and not nearly enough fiction. What Kurt Vonnegut does with Slaughterhouse Five is show exactly why it is the case that fiction is so important, and why Mann has dubbed it "the humanistic science."

I didn't read this book in high school because I didn't really read any of the required reading in high school. If it was required then I thought that it sucked and was probably shitty. Obviously that is not the case with Slaughterhouse Five, but I'm glad that I read it simply because I wanted to and not because I was going to have a pop quiz on what Bertram Copeland Rumfoord thought of the bombing of Dresden. I've been reading it again at the request of a friend who was reading it as well, so there can be a sort of sounding board for thoughts about it.

One thought that I had when reading this again (and actually one which has remained since reading it the first time) is the question of why Louis-Ferdinand Cèline is not read, discussed, or even acknowledged more. He gets name dropped about ten pages into this, one of the most read books in America. I think. Maybe what used to be the most read book in America, replaced now by the works of the esteemed Stephanie Mayer, Janet Evanovich and Chuck Palahniuk. Anyone who has read Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Installment Plan, or Guignol's Band seems unable to remove themselves from the experience. Cèline's writing is tremendously powerful, bold, revealing and filled with care. That last one may be disputed but I believe that he has great care for his terrible thoughts. The only reason I can see that he is not read is because it is problematic to say that someone who came out as an anti-semite can write good things. Is that what we've come down to, though? Heidegger was a cowardly nazi stooge and an adulterer to boot, but he is often (rightly) considered to be one of the, if not the, most important philosopher of the 20th century. Ezra Pound was a fascist asshole but poetry geeks love him. Burroughs was a drug addict and a pederast but you can't deny his writing. James Joyce, John Cheever, Robert Lowell, Raymond Carver, and Shane McGowan all either were or are alcoholics--and in the case of Raymond Carver he didn't even write half the shit that gets slapped with the tag "by Raymond Carver"--but people still love them. And Alan Moore worships a snake. So people have problems, is what I'm saying, whether or not they write. Yet everyone else seems to have been given a pass, leaving Cèline out in the cold. There still needs to be a stronger push for the disconflation of the author and the work, because people seem to be having a very hard time with this. Perhaps this is exactly why people have such an unfortunate tendency towards non-fiction and easy lit: because it doesn't raise the question in their minds that maybe bad people are capable of great things, and maybe great people are capable of bad things. Reading non-fiction one is only associated with events, they aren't traversing the locale of someone who may or may not be a good guy. But you aren't racist for reading Huckleberry Finn--that's something all high school teachers seem obsessed with belaboring--so why can't we accept that you don't have to be anti-semitical to read Cèline? Cèline himself was, paradoxically, a pacifist and after having been released from prison and repatrioted stated, "On the subject of Jews, I grew to like them a long time ago." Its hard to tell whether this is subterfuge or what, but he is not one to cover for himself, so I highly doubt that he is saying it as lip service. So at that point is it even still useful to blacklist him as anti-semetic? If all it does is mean that good books are not being read?

Vonnegut wrote an introduction which was published in every edition I've seen of Cèline's last three novels. In it, he describes Louis-Ferdinand Destouches (Cèline's real name) as a great man who did terrible things. A doctor who often treated the poor--accepting nothing in return when that was all they had--and a brilliant writer, as well as an anti-semite and more often than not a raving lunatic. For the sheer impentrability of his persona alone I think he should be examined more, as it takes bravery to look into something which simply destroys the line between beautiful and hideous. The section which follows the earlier Nietzsche quote in Human, All Too Human articulates it better than I ever could:

One is limiting art much too severely when one demands that only the composed soul, suspended in moral balance, may express itself there. As in the plastic arts, there is in music and poetry an art of the ugly soul, as well as an art of the beautiful soul; and in achieving art's mightiest effects—breaking souls, moving stones, and humanizing animals—-perhaps that very art has been most successful.

Often it has been the ugly soul (or at least the pretty fucking weird one) which has created the greatest things. But what is most important of all is that fiction continue to be read because its effects simply cannot be emulated. In a poetry class I once took (bad idea) a guy claimed that the difference between poetry and prose is that poetry wasn't bound by logical progression from beginning to end. That guy was a moron. Fiction, and novels in particular, are pretty much capable of anything when someone approaches them creatively. Vonnegut did that in Slaughterhouse. He eviscerated the difference between fact and fiction, as well as the idea that prose must move like a person--starting somewhere and ending somewhere, but seeing it all in a straight line. Cèline did the same thing, bringing the novel as close as it can get to having some bat-shit crazy French guy yelling at you for a couple hundred pages. I, for one, appreciate that opportunity. Non-fiction can be fun and informative and provoke many "oh that's interesting" moments, but it isn't art. And I think Cèline was right when he said "without incessant artistic creation by everyone, there can be no society."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

#41: The Ruined Map

My current job (ending today) has been to sit at a desk in a hotel from the hours of 4pm until midnight. I watch as about twenty people go in and out of a conference room but beyond that I don't really do much of anything except read, which has been beneficial. Quartet I finished on Monday, today I'm slogging through New Grub Street, and yesterday I read Kobo Abe's The Ruined Map.

At the Q&A session with Paul Auster someone asked him if he was influenced by this novel and he sort of dodged the question, saying that he had read it but that it wasn't really an influence. Liar! That's fine though. To be honest I think that his quasi philsophical meta-detective novels are a bit better than this one but, regardless, the similarities are beyond number. The Ruined Map starts out with a short case file describing the situation: a young woman's husband has been missing for six months and she wants to find him. Much more so than "where is he," the real question that emerges in the novel is: does someone have a right to disappear? I think that this moves in a somewhat more typical detective fashion than Auster's New York Trilogy, but it follows a very similar spiraling descent into questions of identity, the relational existence of reality, and the self/other distinction. Unfortunately, many of the sentences seem rather awkwardly constructed and I have a feeling that this is due to a spotty translation. In other sections, however, the prose slams into you with otherworldly clarity, but the disparity between these sterling passages and the rest of the text is a bit too high.

Among the events, however, there is one seemingly autonymous moment in which the detective briefly preys on a young girl at the library. He witnesses her damage one of the books and tells her to follow him, cashing in on her embarassment and relative innocence. When they are outside he pulls the car up and offers to drive her home before snapping, slamming the door in her face, and leaving her perplexed on the sidewalk. It is the scenes like this which justify the book's fantastic epigram which follows:

The city--a bounded infinity. A labyrinth where you are never lost. Your private map where every block bears exactly the same number.
Even if you lose your way, you cannot go wrong.

It is this idea of the labyrinth in which you are never lost that grounds the novel, and its conclusion has the strength of culminating its circuitous paths--the only problem is that some of the paths just don't read as well as others. Intensely problematic (at least, I found) were the extended colloqueys without any "I said," "she said," (etc) to distinguish between who is talking. Though the case could be made that this is part of the book's surreal aesthetic I found that it was more detracting than supportive of the feel. It came across as affected and confusing rather than effectively confusing.

So I have a general feeling of ambivalence left with me. It has some true strengths and as a historical document of the metaphysical detective genre it has its place, but I came away less impressed than I expected based on the high praise and interesting concepts. I'll definitely keep him in mind (Woman in the Dunes is also supposed to be good), but I won't yet recommend him unless there is some specific reason. Let's just say the case isn't closed on this one yet! HAHAHAHA! HAHAHA! Oh god...

Monday, September 22, 2008

#39-40: Good Morning, Midnight / Quartet

I've tried for a while and just have never been able to find any female authors that I particularly like. Sylvia Plath makes me roll my eyes, Jane Austen writes about uninteresting subjects, Zadie Smith is a bit too precious, and Ayn Rand is a windbag (at best). The one novel I read by Mercè Rodoreda wasn't bad, and Frankenstein is actually quite good, but in Jean Rhys I feel as though I've finally found a female novelist who I can appreciate.

As a half Dominican, half British, often poor and perpetually nationless woman in the early twentieth century, the sense of being adrift in her writing jumps off the page. Good Morning, Midnight picks up after the protagonist (who chose to go by the name Sasha, and whose real name is never really revealed) has tried unsuccessfully to drink herself to death for an extended period of time in London. This, apparently, is something Rhys herself also failed at between the years of 1939 and 1957 (a long bender!). A friend, then, gives Sasha some money so that she can visit Paris, where she has many of her youthful memories, and hopefully come away with a renewed sense of life. During her time there, the stream of consciousness first person narration jumps between the past and present, distracted by objects and breaking thoughts off halfway through, giving a sense of being awash in events and places (as well as waves of alcohol). Her fractured mindset gives way to the most ellipses I've ever seen in a book not written by Céline, which was pleasing in and of itself, and the language alone carries this book far beyond the disconnect between genders and places it firmly in the universal human experience.

Good Morning, Midnight was the last thing she wrote before disappearing for a decade, and lying in relative obscurity for another eight years. Quartet, however, was her first novel and the second one of hers I read. It reads much more traditionally than Midnight, and seems to be more directly autobiographical (though dealing with many of the same subjects and events). Also about a woman without anchor in Paris, Marya's husband is arrested and thrown in jail while she is left to wander the streets and become acquainted with her own alienation. She is sort of picked up by another British couple living there and encouraged into a highly passive aggressive affair with the husband, while the relationship of the three of them grows tense and insulting. Both novels seem obsessed with the notion of humans as essentially cruel, and in both the protagonist is equally harmed by those who care for her as those who don't--however they avoid a sense of melodramatic theatre of the tortured heroine (which is why they succeed). Quartet was originally published under the title Postures, though neither name seems to really suit the novel quite as well as Good Morning, Midnight's does. Good Morning, Midnight should really be the name of her entire catalouge since, both as a book and as a title, it pierces down to the heart of what she is writing about, which is the encroaching night.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

#38: Bullet Park

The oft-asked question, "How Come No One Celebrates My Alcoholism Like John Cheever's?" is answered in this devastatingly sharp book. In a very poor American Lit class at the tail end of my UCSC tenure, I read Cheever's short "The Death of Justina" and realized that it was hands down the best thing we read all quarter. There was also a Joyce Carol Oats short that was surprisingly good, but I'm going with my man John C. on this one. Earlier in the year I read Falconer and was a little disappointed with what I found. There was some real strength in there but it didn't have any of the urgency that "The Death of Justina" utterly exuded out of every word, and in the end I came off of it a little flat. I was even going to write off that short as possibly a great fluke (since Falconer seems to be the most critically acclaimed of his work) until I found my dad's old copy of Bullet Park lying around and decided to give him another look. Admittedly, this was also an attempt to get another quick read under my belt before dealing with George Gissing, who I had queued up but that's neither here nor there. I'm glad I did, though, because Bullet Park is a novel which finally reaches greatness with America as its chief influence.

There is a deep care for the characters present in Bullet Park, which gives them all a much needed, very human aspect. You can see why someone would fall under the lulling influence of the American Dream just as easily as you can see why someone would want to kill that person. There is a complexity to even the banal societies which allows their banality to breathe naturally without coming off as hectoring or dismissive. And the rampant alcoholism present makes Bukowski seem sort of like that kid who just found out about The Boondock Saints and talks about it all the time. I can't stress how many times people go to get a drink, go to the pantry to mix a drink, have some cocktails, scotch and soda, scotch and water, whiskey, bourbon, gin and scotch again. And the absolute casual assiduity with which these arrive in the narrative levels them down to the most natural and unthinking acts. It's a sort of blurred, flattened existence which is violently broken up in a way completely unexpected to the inhabitants of Bullet Park. But one of the main strengths of the book is in the way it unfolds for the reader--naturally and unrushed. Though one can see what is coming, it isn't until the final act that it becomes apparent that anything will happen at all. It is really beautifully constructed. Thankfully, the publisher of the edition I have has included very little in the way of plot description, because I think that this is how the book was meant to be read. So instead of getting into the plot myself, I'll say that the book is fantastic and reprint the description here:

"Bullet Park. The beautiful and leafy suburban village where the American Dream went crazy and tried to kill a young boy with gasoline and a burning cigarette. The boy was saved. The Dream died."

Paul Auster cont.

Thanks to the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley, I saw Paul Auster field some questions last night and talk about his career in general, and all in all it was really great. I don't think it's of any importance to discuss this like I've been going over the books, though, so I'll just mention some points of interest.

  • I found out about Kobo Abe, who I'm now very interested in, as well as a book called W, whose author I forgot the name of and now can find no information on because searching for "W" is entirely too broad (anyone know who wrote it?).
  • Coetzee, Murakami, and Delillo were the names he mentioned as being good contemporary authors. I've been very skeptical of DeLillo because of his precocious high school kid fan base, but I guess I need to actually stare into the abyss now (meaning I'm going to go watch the movie The Abyss).
  • Compared Barack Obama to the Mets (perennial Mets fan, as Auster is) in that he's sincerely worried but hopes he/they win.
  • Oddly enough, Auster is friends with Philip Petit--the Man on a Wire guy--and he also possibly influenced Beckett to not truncate the English translation of Mercier et Camier (a book I read last year).
  • I guess that Hunger introduction was taken from Auster's Masters Thesis, written when he was 23. Hopefully that means that one day my Masters Thesis, "Why I Think Skateboards are Super Cool!", will be published.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

#37: Oracle Night

Like Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster seems to be an author primarily of ideas. Both have struggled with the explosion done to traditional literature by people like Beckett and Burroughs and now aim to fit that sort of experimentation into a somewhat more traditional narrative. Auster's New York Trilogy is a collection of short novels which explode the detective genre by following utterly circuitous paths to the point where the mystery no longer means anything, the detective is usually someone else, and the victim has usually disappeared. The character Paul Auster also shows up in them, apart from the narrator. When I found that he had also written an introduction to a later edition of Knut Hamsun's Hunger I read it and was pretty shocked with how perfectly he articulated everything unavoidably brilliant about the book. So I've held him in pretty high regards since those two forays into his writing.

Oracle Night, however, is a somewhat challenging book. Not challenging in that it challenges your expectations for a novel, or that it challenges your ability to grasp it, but challenging in that I was a little taken aback. It strikes me as significantly more pop than anything else I've seen him capable of, falling into many of the trapping of contemporary American fiction--bad dialog, somewhat safe characters, the protaganist is a successful writer, etc etc. Plus, I don't want to seem like a fascist but I just don't believe that there is any place for the word "dude" in books, as partial as I am to that particular colloquialism. Once Chuck Palahniuk threw "dude" around egregiously in Choke it helped me to realize how little I had liked him beforehand. When it comes to books, "Dude" is the nail in the coffin for me. Now, I made a point to move past it because "dude" only ever pops up once in this book (and Auster's credentials are significantly more noteworthy than Palahniuk's) but it gets at the problem with the dialog in the book--too much is shown and too little is told. You can have a character say a lot without ever having him quoted, and that's exactly what I wished Auster had done with the Jacob character. Oh, and another thing: whenever a book mentions a fictitious punk band the name is always stupid and it always comes across kind of pandering. So two nails in the coffin.

But this does neglect the fact that there are some fantastic ideas in the novel. The first half moves along swiftly and explores some very interesting places. The novel which the protagonist is writing--and its own internal novel--take over the vast majority of the story for a while and are, quite honestly, much more interesting than the real novel. Is this a comment on the mundane reality of factual existence? I don't think so. But it did work quite well, I thought. Once this section reaches its untimely close, however, nothing really interesting happens the rest of the time.

It is also difficult for me coming off novels like The Clown and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, in which the prose is endlessly lyrical and is constantly exposing the human qualities of its characters, since Oracle Night is tiresomely American in its short, swift sentences which simply move the story along. The last paragraph is really the only one where a troubling feeling is examined, however briefly.

So I guess I wouldn't really recommend this book, though it had its highlights. I'm going to see Auster speak later on in the month so hopefully I can get a better feel for him and, in particular, find better books of his than this one. But I am at least glad that this was just lying around and not something that I spent money on. Small pleasures!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

#36: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

"The special quality of hell is to see everything clearly down to the last detail. And to see all that in the pitch darkness!" - Yukio Mishima

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is a book which seems to exist sheerly by the strength of its own alienation. Often alienation is perceived as something which is reactive--one is alienated because they aren't accepted elsewhere. This doesn't even come close to probing the depths to which Mishima explores in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion--it is something entirely different. It explores alienation as alienation, and not alienation from something in particular. And it does so with such incredibly forceful prose that it is utterly impossible to deny this way of life that many people simply can't imagine exists. Mizoguchi, the novel's protagonist (based on a real Buddhist acolyte, and burgeoning Herostratus in Japan), describes his progression from a withdrawn child entranced by beauty, to a young priest completely obsessed with destruction. His father, a dying Zen Buddhist priest himself, frequently describes the Temple of the Golden Pavilion as the most beautiful thing in existence, and so Mizoguchi struggles his entire life to find this same beauty in the temple. Later, he is left to become an acolyte at the temple and finds himself utterly captivated with it, to the point that it interferes with all other aspects of his life. He is torn between the factuality of the real world, and the ephemeral otherworldliness of the Temple as it exists in his mind. In the end, the only thoughts which he can bear any longer are of burning the temple to the ground and destroying himself in the process.

In the same way he is constantly struggling with the Zen teachings he undergoes and--in a way--his own insanely destructive path has a certain aspect of the Zen to it. The categorical denial of any dialectical reconciliation between the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit is embodied in his act of arson, just as is mentioned many times in the Zen problem recounted in the book: "Nansen Kills a Cat," in which a Buddhist scholar slits the throat of a recently discovered kitten to end the discussion of which temple will care for it. Mizoguchi continually mistakes metaphors for challenges, and is taken under the wing of a nihilistic clubfooted student who also twists the Zen teachings to fit his own take on life. This relationship is further complicated by Mizoguchi's friendship with another young acolyte who exists in a seemingly perpetual state of human understanding and caring, twisting Mizoguchi's many brooding and dangerous thoughts into benign niceties. Where Mishima succeeds wildly is in denying any answer to which side is correct (or even which side is different), and completely avoiding any sort of moralizing so that, like the Zen riddles mulled over endlessly, paradox is upheld and the dialectic is utterly disarmed.

This is by far the best thing I've read by Mishima.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


1. Peeling the Onion - Günter Grass
2. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets - David Simon
3. The Glass Bees - Ernst Jünger
4. Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks
5. Hunger - Knut Hamsun
6. Foe - J.M. Coetzee
7. The Aspern Papers - Henry James
8. Conversations With Professor Y - Louis-Ferdinand Celine
9. Cat and Mouse - Günter Grass
10. Turn of the Screw - Henry James
11. Blindness - Jose Saramago
12. I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski (does this count?)
13. Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin
14. The Farewell Party - Milan Kundera
15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
16-18. The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster
19. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
20. The Way to Rainy Mountain - N. Scott Momaday
21. Faust Pt. 1 - Goethe
22. Pnin - Vladimir Nabokov
23. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
24. Tripmaster Monkey - Maxine Hong Kingston
25. Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith - Mark E. Smith
26. Four Great Plays (A Doll's House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Master Builder) - Henrik Ibsen
27. Cancer Ward - Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
28. Falconer - John Cheever
29. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles - Haruki Murakami
30. We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
31. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum - Heinrich Böll
32. The Stranger - Albert Camus
33. Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend - Thomas Mann
34. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
35. The Clown - Heinrich Böll

Getting there...

Monday, September 1, 2008

#34-35 Doctor Faustus / The Clown

"Yes, Monsignor Hinterpförtner is right: we are lost. In other words, the war is lost; but that means more than a lost campaign, it means in very truth that
we are lost; our character, our cause, our hope, our history. It is all up with Germany, it will be all up with her. She is marked down for collapse, economic, political, moral, spiritual, in short all-embracing, unparalleled, final collapse." -Thomas Mann

As far as I am concerned, just about all the world's greatest literature was written between the years 1870 and 1970. Granted, there are some good things on either side of those bookends (Don Quixote before, John Banville after), but if you want to see just what books are capable of then that century stretch is a pretty damn good place to look.

I have a growing tendency towards German literature and a sizable portion of what I read now is German but, obviously, things are a little conflicted if you're reading German literature from around this time. Perhaps that's exactly why the writing is so strong: because of the immense conflict of the time. Well, I've recently finished two books which articulate this palpably: Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus: The Life of The German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend, and Heinrich Böll's The Clown.

Mann's take on the Faust tale runs roughly from shortly before the first World War up until the unfortunate and inevitable outbreak of the second, and it is from this that the earlier quote comes from. Though it is, ostensibly, the story of the fictional Adrian Leverkuhn's final damnation it is much more involved with the state of Germany's soul than Leverkuhn's alone. The narration takes place during WWII, as Mann's narrator is saddened and alienated by his own country's actions, and as he looks back on the downfall of his friend Leverkuhn. Since it is by Mann, there are lengthy moments of very dry, hifalutin prose, but he is a master of the "humanistic science" (as he dubs literature) and so its moments of clarity very finely explore the highly conflicted nature of being a German at a time when Germany's actions are horrific. The unfortunate thing about WWII is that over time it is all too easy to simply look at Nazis as evil--and it is also difficult to distinguish between the average German citizen during this era and a Nazi. Though their actions were frightening and inhumane, even Nazis were humans and so it is necessary to look at the situation in human terms. This is something which Gunter Grass's memoir Peeling the Onion did quite well: explore the unfortunate involvement that actual human beings had in truly inhuman acts. Mann's stance is more distanced--the war feels as though it is being viewed from a screen, all distant bomb blasts and low rumbles--so it takes a more metaphorical position in the book. The war exists as the fall of Germany (just as the leaving of Gretchen was the fall of Faust) since Germany has certainly sold its soul in its actions. However, there is something sadly consistent between its fall and its wistful philosophies, and fate seems to be the main catalyst for action in Doctor Faustus. There is never even an active selling-of-the-soul for Leverkuhn. He is merely visited by the Mephisto character who reveals the fact that Leverkuhn's soul is already sold. It really only begins to make sense when looking at Faust's own words, as often quoted by Mann: "I die as a bad and as a good Christian." Mann takes Germany's most famous contribution to Western Literature and uses it to show how little his country has learned from its own creations.

If Doctor Faustus feels as though it is leading up to the fall, The Clown exists as a survivor in the rubble of previous mistakes. Böll's writing is even often described as "Trummerliteratur," or literature of rubble. This is felt tremendously in The Clown both in that Schnier (the titular clown) was a child during the war and is now dealing with its lasting vestiges, and in that he has effectively destroyed himself at the book's outset and is now dealing with the rubble of his own life. After an embarrassing drunken performance he is left with no career, no money, and his fiancee has left him for another man. And he's almost out of cigarettes, too. The caustic narration explores hypocrisy in many different forms--from those who now speak glibly about "Jewish spiritualism" but until the last moment of the war were violently calling for the death of the "Jewish Yankee," to the Catholic priests who determine others' subsistence levels though there own is much higher. From under his white makeup, The Clown turns his mirror on society and shows everyone the clowns that they are. Its gripping and powerful and quite sad.

What is also alarming is the quote from the Christian Science Monitor on the book's back, describing it as being "filled with gentleness, high comic spirits, and human sympathy." This is alarming not because it is wrong but because it is so accurate. Where are these Christians?--those who actually stand for the things which Christ taught. Were this book published today, in the climate of the Ann Coulters and the Jerry Falwells, it would be deemed blasphemous for its relentless assaults on both Catholicism and Protestantism, though it is impossible to deny that these attacks are like those of a beat dog: angry after having been hurt so many times.

I've been lucky to have read many good books recently (I'm on a pretty good streak right now) but The Clown stands out even among some of the best of those. So far I'd say the absolute best books I've read this year have been this, Hunger and Cancer Ward. But Mark E. Smith's book was pretty good too.