Archive for May, 2009

Last night I finished reading NYT columnist David Carr’s interesting addiction memoir THE NIGHT OF THE GUN. I’ll freely admit to being a sucker for addiction memoirs, but I kind of lost my taste for them when James Frey’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES was revealed to be mostly fabricated (which came as little surprise to me after reading it; how anybody familiar with addiction, and particularly the ins and outs of treatment facilities like Hazelden, could have believed his ridiculous Hollywood soap opera is beyond me). Carr sucked me back in, however, with his novel approach — using a tape recorder and video camera, he went back to interview all the people involved with and affected by his rampage through the Valley of Crack. In the process, he made a revelatory discovery about the nature of memory as well as the usual pithy truths about addiction that so often populate books like this.

Carr’s book is pretty good, certainly one of the better addiction memoirs I’ve yet read. (It helps that Carr, unlike Frey, is an excellent writer with a firm grasp of proper syntax, along with the fundamentals of grammar and spelling.) Some reviewers have taken him to task over an apparent glibness in his recounting of events, or what they perceive as shallow attempts at self-understanding, but I think those guys are mostly chasing smoke. Carr is honest enough to admit that he has no idea what possessed him to do the things he did, which is a central reality for most addicts — after all, if they really understood what motivated them to fuck up so spectacularly, they wouldn’t ever relapse after recovery, right? (And yes, Carr relapses, although with booze rather than crack, but the results are just as predictable.)

The book I’m reading now, the Peggy Noonan memoir WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION, details her years working as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan in the White House during the 1980s, and it’s every bit as interesting, albeit quite different. I don’t necessarily share Noonan’s politics (although I did vote for Reagan), but I’ve always found her to be one of the more intelligent, literate, and rational political writers of the past few decades. I’d certainly rather hear what she has to say than the idiotic blather of people like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, barely literate fools who have turned reasoned conservative discourse into the equivalent of foul-mouthed kindergarten bullies yelling at anybody who will listen. Noonan always had more class than these rubes, and she’s an excellent writer as well, always worth reading even when I don’t agree with what she says.

One of the things I like about her book is that she periodically talks about the nuts and bolts of writing — specifically regarding writing speeches, but at other times in more general fashion — and what she has to say is often quite illuminating. I’m only about halfway through the book, but I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to say in the rest of the book.

HEARING: The Traveling Wilburys — COLLECTION


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I recently finished reading a whole stack of Lew Archer novels by Ross MacDonald, and I’m kind of ambivalent as to how satisfactory the experience was. I’m aware of the man’s high standing in crime fiction circles, but I’m not sure how he got to be so highly ranked. Sure, his books were well-written for the time, and considerably more literate than much of the work of his peers (like, say Mickey Spillane), but they also tended toward a certain obsessive repetition in their themes and plots. Certain phrases turn up again and again in book after book, and it seems like every one of them has at least one scene where Archer visits his wealthy clients in a house that borders on being a mansion. Those conversations are almost invariably in living rooms where the rich clients are attended to by “Negro servants” (a term that really dates the books, too). Then there’s the issue of his attitude toward women, who almost always turn out to be duplicitous and, in most of the books, the killers. By the time you’ve read three or four books in the series, the rest seem almost identical, to the point where it’s difficult to later recall which plot went with which book. So… I dunno. Hopefully the Travis McGee books, which I’ll be reading soon, will be better.


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