Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Norman Mailer as literary critic

When I was 18 or 19 and looking for something to read in Corte Madera circa 1960, I tried the drugstore on the town square that had one of those revolving wire racks with mostly trash and best sellers in paperback editions. There were few bookstores in Marin; there was one in San Rafael and another in Sausalito. The drugstore was where I picked up a paperback of Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself, who I had never heard of. Reading that book was an important event in my life, since Mailer was the first serious contemporary American writer I read, except for the Catcher in the Rye, which I loved, and some short stories by Hemingway, who would be dead within a year.

Though Mailer was a novelist, much of Advertisements is non-fiction, political polemic and social criticism, though that description is too tame to describe Mailer's writing. Most of all I liked it because it had real bite, unlike most of the bland stuff I read in school and the magazines my parents subscribed to.

In one of the essays in the book, Mailer has thumbnail critiques of other important writers of the day, including J.D. Salinger: "Salinger is everyone's favorite. I seem to be alone in finding him no more than the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school." Well! I was shocked and thrilled at the same time, which was the effect on me the rest of the book had. His judgment of Salinger I finally had to admit made a good point, which might be altered if Salinger was actually writing all those years when he lived as a hermit and was incommunicado.

A collection of Mailer's letters has just been published. The NY Times has some tidbits, including some more literary judgments, in today's review:

“Faulkner writes his long sentence because he never really touches what he is about to say and so keeps chasing it; Hemingway writes short because he strangles in a dependent clause; Steinbeck digs into the earth because characters who hold martini glasses make him sweat; Proust spins his wrappings because" a gay man “gets slapped if he says what he thinks.”

Unfair and untrue, more or less, but good stuff. Mailer was in the Pacific for World War 2. In a letter to his wife from the Philippines: “I was given a machine gun. Your baby is awfully heavily armed now.” Mailer with a machine gun!

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Bono has an accident


You are probably already aware of this but in case you’re not…

U2 band leader Bono suffered major injuries last week in a SOLO bike crash in Central park, NYC. Not a lot of details available but he was reported to have been avoiding another cyclist (Bono Treated With Metal Plates, 'Intensive Therapy' After Bike Injury).

As a high-mileage cyclist myself I experience much more terror in the presence of other cyclists and have been subjected to at least as much vehicular violence from them as I have from motorists. I can attest that it’s just about impossible to find any statistics about inter-bicycle crashes and mayhem. Needless to say, the dangerous, rude and aggressive behavior of cyclists among and towards other cyclists, and the resulting close calls and crashes, are not something about which the bicycle evangelists would ever inform newbies.

If Bono’s crash had taken place in Golden Gate Park and his posse had scraped him up and taken him to UCSF before any police arrived his injuries would, as you know better than anyone, not be tallied up in the MTA’s annual (well, formerly annual) collisions report.

Deane Hartley

Rob's comment:

You are the kind of cyclist that earns my respect, since you are aware of the dangers and not playing the victim card. Cyclist-on-cyclist accidents are rare enough that apparently no statistics are available, but as Bono's accident shows they can be serious.

Accidents can happen to all cyclists. Bike safety expert Bert Hill was hit by a car, and Supreme Court Justice Breyer had a spill off his bike.

A New York Times reporter had the kind of cycling accident that the UC study found was surprisingly common and just as serious as being hit by a car:

My crash came 8.9 miles into a 100-mile ride (of course I knew the distance, because of course I was watching my bicycle computer). My friend Jen Davis was taking a turn leading; my husband, Bill, was drafting — riding close behind her. I was drafting Bill when a slower rider meandered into his path. Bill swerved and I hit his wheel. Down I went. The first thing I did when I hit the ground was turn off my stopwatch — I did not want accident time to count toward our riding time. Then I sat on a curb, dazed. My head had hit the road, but my helmet saved me. My left thigh was so bruised it was hard to walk. Worst of all was a searing pain in my left shoulder. I could hardly move my arm. But since it hurt whether I rode or not, I decided, like an idiot, to finish the ride. The next day I went to a doctor and learned, to my shock, that my collarbone was broken.

Okay, accidents of all kinds happen on our streets. What's my point? That cycling is being oversold as a green, win-win deal for everyone, and the dangers aren't being acknowledged, especially the risk of head injuries. City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition are being particularly irresponsible when they encourage the city's children to ride bikes on city streets, since cycling is the cause of most head injuries to children

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Michael Brown: Why wasn't non-lethal force an option?

What bothers me about this incident---along with the larger issues of white police force in a black population, institutional racism in Ferguson that's common nationwide, etc.---is the mindless application of lethal violence by the cop. From the autopsy photo in the video below, Michael Brown was evidently shot eight times by Wilson. That shows that not only is Darren Wilson a terrible shot, but that none of those shots were aimed at Brown's large legs---he was 6' 4" tall and over 250 pounds---which could have disabled him before the lethal shots.

And why not use a taser before you shoot at the guy? If Ferguson cops aren't armed with tasers, they should be. 

Even if, as he claims, Wilson thought Brown wanted to kill him, it seems incredible---and unacceptable---that non-lethal force was never a serious option for Wilson.

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