Tag Archives: United States

David Foster Wallace: The Infinite Jester.

I have just finished reading Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, an author I’ve heard about but never read. I doubt I’m the only one in the latter category. He’s mentioned in the same breath as Dave Eggars, Thomas Pyncheon, Jonathon Franzen and Dom DeLillo. Of these authors, I’ve only read DeLillo’s Point Omega – and that’s only because it’s a short novel. I still didn’t get it – if there was anything in there to “get” that is.

Wallace achieved fame after the publication of his second novel, Infinite Jest. There is a copy of this 1,079 page monster beside me right now, looking at me, daring me to open it up and read it. It’s a scary proposition. All the more so because the author himself felt he couldn’t top it. No matter how hard he worked (and he came up with some great excuses when he couldn’t quite find the inspiration), Wallace’s anxieties and ongoing struggle with depression and addiction – as well as a succession of failed relationships – ripped his undoubted talents as a fiction writer to shreds. His non-fiction, particularly his journalism, kept him alive – but only to a point.

Wallace committed suicide at the age of 46. He left behind his wife of four years, and an unfinished manuscript for what would eventually become The Pale King, a novel about boredom and the I.R.S.

So why would I be interested in a writer I’ve never read, especially one I’d probably never read? * Because he (and I’m sorry if this sounds clichéd) suffered for his art. When he faced long bouts of writer’s block, he wrote to DeLillo and Franzen to complain about his lot. Nowadays we writers moan about our lack of creativity on Facebook or Twitter. Both actions are cries for help, but Wallace had a bit more class about him. He was also a deep thinker; there wasn’t a subject he didn’t want to know about. He studied philosophy, mathematics, tax accounting (for The Pale King), and was a clever, funny, but insightful critic on modern-day consumerism and mass entertainment. Infinite Jest is Wallace’s commentary on a society brought up to worship television, a society that has become addicted to addictions, become increasingly disconnected, and mourning for a loss of community. Wallace gives us no answers because that would be the easy way out. We have to find these for ourselves.

And this is why I am drawn to this man. He echoes my thoughts right now. The world he wrote about in 1996 is still very much the world of 2012. We’re still searching for answers, looking for meaning in an ultimately meaningless society. Will we find them? Wallace didn’t stay around long enough to find out.

* (I will clarify my above statement. I have read Wallace: it was an article he wrote about Roger Federer – Wallace played tennis to a high level when he was younger – and it’s an exquisite piece of writing.)

The Daily Rant: Raving Haruki Murakami and 1Q84

Rather than rant away on some topic that’s currently got my back up, today I wish to rave about an author I’ve recently discovered. I don’t know a lot about Japanese author Haruki Murakami, but 200 pages into his new novel, 1Q84 (first published in his native country in 2009), I am astounded and captivated by this literary marvel.

This is a long book and was originally published as a trilogy. However,  the American publishing company Knopf published all three novels in one volume last week and it’s this edition that I picked up in Hodges Figgis. For reasons best known to myself I tend not to read foreign authors (my recent attempt to read Les Miserables stalled at the end of the first volume), but it appears Murakami’s style is distinctly Western by nature.

I can’t give too much away about the story mainly because I don’t really know what it’s about. Okay, it has a fantasy feel to it because of its theme of parallel universes and a race of beings known only as the Little People. But it’s the power of Murakami’s prose that’s holding my attention. He is a very ‘readable’ literary fiction writer (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and his characters are uniquely drawn and compelling.

From what I’ve read so far, there is murder, sex, religious zealotry, magic realism and a 17-year-old Japanese dyslexic who may or may not have written a book called Air Chrysalis. It is this girl, Fuka-Eri, around which the plot revolves.

At the moment I’m taking every opportunity to read this novel, whether it’s stealing a page or two while working, or whole chapters when I have more time. Like I said, I’m only a fifth of the way through the novel. but already I feel like I’ve discovered lost treasure.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 54. On 9/11.

Ten years ago my brother and I were on holiday in Tenerife. We were having lunch in a cafe when I got a text from a friend back home.

Have you seen the news, kid? the text said.

No, I responded, who died now? 

Check the news, the next message said.

As it turned out, tragically, thousands of people died that day. The Towers fell, the Pentagon was attacked, United 93 crashed when decent people became heroes and sacrificed their lives so no one else would die.

The world changed there and then, and nothing has been the same since.

Remember, remember, 11 September.

Jack Reacher: Literary Action Hero Supreme

Extract from Worth Dying For (2010)

Reacher said, “Pop quiz, guys. You spent four years in college learning how to play a game. I spent thirteen years in the army learning how to kill people. So how scared am I?”

No answer.

“And you were so bad at it you couldn’t even get drafted afterwards. I was so good at it I got all kinds of medals and promotions. So how scared are you?”

“Not very,” said the guy with the wrench.

Wrong answer.

End of extract.

Jack Reacher is an ex-Military Policeman and the hero of Lee Child’s fifteen novels. I’ve read them all and they’re a masterclass in succinct, action-packed thriller writing. Child and Reacher are my heroes.

In the above extract, taken from Child’s latest novel, Worth Dying For, all you need to know about Reacher is there. I’ve no doubt in my mind that already you have an image of what he looks like and how he thinks.

He can survive anything the bad guys throw at him. In the end of the last book, 61 Hours, there was some doubt about whether or not he made it out of the cave that was packed to the hilt with explosives. There was no mention of him getting out. In Worth Dying For there is no mention of how he did manage to escape; except that he did. He’s bruised and in some pain, but that’s not enough to stop him from being a relentless force for good.

In a fight between Rambo and Reacher, Reacher would make the muscle-bound Vietnam vet eat his bandanna through a tube.

In a scrap between the Incredible Hulk and Reacher, it would be the monster who’d get smashed.

In a duel between James Bond and Reacher, all the gadgets in the world wouldn’t save 007 from an embarrassing end.

That’s how good Reacher is as a fictional action hero. He shouldn’t exist. But he does. He shouldn’t be real. But he is.

My recommendation? Start with The Killing Floor and work your way through the series. Be prepared for late nights because these books do not let up.

Bucktooth: My NaNoWriMo Premise

Tim “Bucktooth” Fanning has anger management issues. Look at his girlfriend the wrong way, and he’ll knock seven shades out of you. He needs a therapist but he can’t afford one. So he goes in search of a job that will pay him big money, impress his friends, and help restore him as a functioning member of society.

It’s a big ask but the MeerLin Corporation are willing to help. They need someone expendable to deliver a package to Mr Sandross in Berlin – a package that is not only the most important historical artifact in living memory, but one that is prized by inscrutable collectors from America to China. It’s a one-man, one-off mission. If Bucktooth succeeds he’ll collect a cool million euro; fail and he dies.

So naturally he wants a cyanide tooth, just in case the bad guys get to him first. When they do – and the tooth doesn’t live up to expectations – Bucktooth wants answers. From MeerLin and Mr Sandross. He doesn’t care what the package is; he just wants to hit people.

From November 1, follow Bucktooth as he wreaks havoc across Europe, cracks heads in Athens, breaks arms in Geneva and falls in love in Paris.

Bucktooth: a hero for our times. Just don’t get on his bad side.

On This Day…5 October

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Ryder Cup has come back to Europe, and on the morning after the night before, I wish Colin Montgomery’s team of twelve good men and true a happy hangover.

In all fairness the tournament could have gone either way. Tiger Woods showed why he is still the number one golfer in the world; 21-year-old rookie, Ricky Fowler’s last gasp half against Eduardo Molinari put pressure on reigning US Open Champion, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, needing a win in the last match against Hunter Mahan to regain the trophy Europe lost to the United States in 2008. And win he did. Europe beat the U.S. by 14.5 points to 13.5.

Sorry…this is supposed to be an On This Day post. Pardon my exuberance, my friends. GO TEAM EUROPE!

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s begin with events on this day in…

1143 – The king Alfonso VII of Leon recognises Portugal as a Kingdom. The Portuguese think it’s about bloody time he found his glasses.

1789 – French Revolution: Women of Paris march to Versailles to confront Louis XVI about his refusal to promulgate the decrees on the abolition of feudalism, demand bread, and have the King and his court moved to Paris.

1864 – The Indian city of Calcutta is almost totally destroyed by a cyclone; 60,000 die.

Rather him than me. (Image: wright-brothers.org)

1903 – Sir Samuel Griffith is appointed the first Chief Justice of Australia and Sir Edmund Barton and Richard O’Connor are appointed as foundation justices.

1905 – Wilbur Wright pilots Wright Flyer III in a flight of 24 miles in 39 minutes, a world record that stood until 1908.

1945 – Hollywood Black Friday: A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators turns into a bloody riot at the gates of Warner Brothers’ studios.

1962 – Dr. No, the first in the James Bond film series, was released.

And now for something completely different...

1968 – Police baton civil rights demonstrators in Derry, Northern Ireland – considered to mark the beginning of The Troubles. It is called the Battle of the Bogside.

1969 – The first episode of the famous comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired on BBC.

1974 – Guildford pub bombings: bombs planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) kill four British soldiers and one civilian.

2000 – Mass demonstrations in Belgrade lead to resignation of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević. These demonstrations are often called the Bulldozer Revolution.

Happy birthday to:

Steve Miller, of the Steve Miller Band, is 67.

(Sir) Bob Geldof, former Boomtown Rat and Live Aid organizer, is 59.

The gorgeous Kate Winslet (Image: enjoyfrance.com)

Guy Pearce, former Neighbours actor who also starred in LA Confidential and Memento, is 43.

Kate Winslet, Oscar-winning actress for The Reader and star of Titanic, is 35.

Paris Hilton, the heiress of uselessness, is 27. That’s probably her IQ, as well…but don’t quote me.

Nicola Roberts, English singer with Girls Aloud, is 25. (She’s the ginger one on the far right.)

On This Day…4 October

Monday, 4 October 2010

The 2010 Ryder Cup has gone into a fourth day for the first time in its 83 year history. The inclement weather (i.e. the rain came down in elephant-sized buckets) called a halt to yesterday morning’s play. The organizers have decided to play all twelve singles matches today, starting at 9am GMT. This bit of information will be important for future posts of On This Day.

You see? That’s what I call thinking forward – history is made every day.

So what did happen on this day in other years? Let’s find out and start with…

1537 – The first complete English-language Bible (the Matthew Bible) is printed, with translations by William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale.

1582 – Pope Gregory XIII implements the Gregorian Calendar. In Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain, October 4 of this year is followed directly by October 15. So if your birthday fell between October 5 and 14, hard luck.

Image: hbcho.com

1830 – Creation of the state of Belgium after separation from The Netherlands. This makes Hercules Poirot and Tintin very happy indeed.

1883 – First run of the Orient Express. Getting tickets for this journey proved to be murder.

1910 – Declaration of the Portuguese Republic. King Manuel II flees to the United Kingdom…and lands a part in TV reality show, The X-Monarch Factor.

1965 – Becoming the first Pope to ever visit the United States of America and the Western hemisphere, Pope Paul VI arrives in New York.

1997 – The second largest cash robbery in U.S. history occurs at the Charlotte, North Carolina office of Loomis, Fargo and Company. An FBI investigation eventually results in 24 convictions and the recovery of approximately 95% of the $17.3 million in cash which had been taken.

Birthdays today include:

For the gentlemen: the beautiful Susan Sarandon (Image: time.com)

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon is 61. (Sorry, Tim, she’s mine now!)

Alicia (Clueless) Silverstone is 31 – and the less said about Batman and Robin, the better.

Chris Lowe, one half of electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys, is 52.

Janis Joplin died today in 1970. She was just 27-years-old.

On This Day…3 October

Sunday, 3 October 2010

You know, Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest; a day when we take stock of the week just done, and prepare for the week ahead.

I’m working today – so bugger that for a lark!

But before I head out to earn a crust let me regale you with historical tit-bits, starting with events on this day in…

1283 – Dafydd ap Gruffydd (try saying that with a mouthful of mothballs), prince of Gwynedd in Wales, becomes the first person executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered. See? I told you I was in a good mood today.

For the ladies: Liam Neeson as Rob Roy MacGregor

1712 – The Duke of Montrose issues a warrant for the arrest of Rob Roy MacGregor. Liam Neeson lookalikes hide out for the duration.

1849 – American author Edgar Allan Poe is found delirious in a gutter in Baltimore, Maryland under mysterious circumstances; it is the last time he is seen in public before his death. Nevermore!

1863 – The last Thursday in November is declared as Thanksgiving Day by President Abraham Lincoln, as are Thursdays, November 30, 1865 and November 29, 1866.

1951 – The “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, one of the greatest moments in Major League Baseball history, occurs when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson hits a game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning off of the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, to win the National League pennant after being down 14 games.

1981 – The Hunger Strike by Provisional Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland ends after seven months and ten deaths.

1990 – Re-unification of Germany. The German Democratic Republic ceases to exist and its territory becomes part of the Federal Republic of Germany. East German citizens became part of the European Community, which later became the European Union. Now celebrated as German Unity Day.

1995 – O J Simpson acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. We all know what happened to O J a decade or so later.

Birthdays today include:

Another one for the ladies: birthday boy Clive Owen

Chubby Checker, American singer-songwriter, is 69.

Lindsey Buckingham, American guitarist and singer  with Fleetwood Mac, is 61.

Clive Owen, British actor, is 46.

Neve Campbell, Canadian actress and star of the Scream series of movies, is 37.

Today marks the passing of an English comic legend. Ronnie Barker, one half of The Two Ronnies, died today in 2005. This sketch is my absolute favourite. The smaller of the two is his partner in crime, Ronnie Corbett.

On This Day…2 October

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Hello and welcome to another journey through history. Take notes, people, I’ll be asking questions later.

Are you ready? Okay, let’s start today with events On This Day in…

1535 – Jacques Cartier discovers Montreal, Quebec. Then he decided to make some really expensive watches. Give me a Timex any day of the week.

1835 – The Texas Revolution begins with the Battle of Gonzales: Mexican soldiers attempt to disarm the people of Gonzales, Texas, but encounter stiff resistance from a hastily assembled militia. (Sigh…I live Texas. I am so going back there next year.)

John Logie Baird and friend. (Image: britannica.com)

1919 – US President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. (91 years later, the US economy leaves Obama totally paralyzed)

1925 – John Logie Baird performs the first test of a working television system. He was then fined by the courts for not having an up-to-date TV licence.

1928 – The “Prelature of the Holy Cross and the Work of God”, commonly known as Opus Dei, is founded by Saint Josemaría Escrivá. Dan Brown thinks of an idea for a novel – in italics.

1950 – Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz is first published.

1959 – The anthology series The Twilight Zone premieres on CBS television.

1990 – A Chinese airline Boeing 737-247 is hijacked; after landing at Guangzhou, it crashes into two airliners on the ground, killing 132 people.

2002 – The Beltway sniper attacks begin, extending over three weeks.

2009 – The Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland is approved at the second attempt, permitting the state to ratify the European Union’s Treaty of Lisbon. This proves the old saying true: If at first you don’t mess it up, try, try again.

Celebrity birthdays today include:

Don McClean, American folk singer, famous for his classic American Pie, is 65.

Donna Karan, the fashion designer, is 62.

And my favourite tantric Policeman, Sting (born Gordon Sumner in 1951), is a fragile 59.

On This Day…1 October

Friday, 1 October 2010

I welcome you to today’s installment of On This Day, the first one in the merry month of October. I know it should be the “merry, merry month of May,” but we do things differently in Ireland. Like bailing out banks to the tune of 29 billion euro. Yes, Anglo Irish Bank, I’m looking at you!

*Fumes*

Anyway, before I have a total canary, I’ll go straight to events on this day in…

959 – Edgar the Peaceable becomes king of all England. He succeeded Gerald the Bloodthirsty Warmonger.

1795 – Belgium is conquered by France, despite going 1-0 in the first half.

University of Capetown

1811 – The first steamboat to sail the Mississippi River arrives in New Orléans, Louisiana.

1829 – South African College is founded in Cape Town, South Africa; it will later separate into the University of Cape Town and the South African College Schools.

1880 – First electric lamp factory opened by Thomas Edison. What a bright spark he was!

The George Washington Bridge. (Image: paulscharffphotography.com)

1903 – Baseball: The Boston Americans play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first game of the modern World Series.

1931 – The George Washington Bridge linking New Jersey and New York opens.

1946 – Mensa International is founded in the United Kingdom. I’m still waiting to see if they’ve accepted my membership.

1957 – First appearance of “In God We Trust” on U.S. paper currency. Just as well God isn’t a banker!

1971 – Walt Disney World opens near Orlando, Florida, United States.

1975 – Thrilla in Manila: Muhammad Ali defeats Joe Frazier in a boxing match in Manila, Philippines.

1989 – Denmark: World’s first legal modern same-sex civil union called “registered partnership.”

Birthday wishes go to:

Jimmy Carter, former American president and world-famous peanut farmer, is a dry roasted 86-years-old today.

Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music star Julie Andrews is 75.

Randy Quaid is 60.

And Irish pop singer and actor Keith (Boyzone) Duffy is 26.