Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Bruce Jay Friedman, Even The Rhinos Were Nymphos

Bruce Jay Friedman, Even The Rhinos Were Nymphos

Even The Rhinos Were Nymphos - ain't that a magnificent title?

As it often happens with me, I picked the book for the title alone.  I may not be that interested in sexual habits of megafauna, but I suspected that the publication is not about zoology at all.  Rightly so. 

Basically, the book is a collection of Bruce Jay Friedman's articles published previously in all sorts of Magazines for Boys.  You know the type, Playboy, Esquire and a range of less prominent titles.  Nah, you don't need to run yet - naked ladies (or nympho rhinos, for that matter) feature only occasionally, hardly at all, really.  True, these are distinctly testosterone packed pieces.  Just look at the subject matter:  detectives, drug dealers, pathologists(!), celebrities, supermodels, boxers...  But unless you are a certain very specific type of a girl, the faint-at-the-sight-of-a-mouse-oh-sugar kind, you're likely to enjoy them, whatever your gender.  I did, anyway, and I am most certainly NOT a testosterone packed male. 

Style-wise, the book made me think of Hunter S. Thompson, without drugs and booze (some of you might say that Thompson's writing is ALL about drugs and booze and you might even be right, but...).  Friedman makes use of the same rambling, surrealistic, informal type of storytelling, although I suspect that despite appearance it takes a lot of work to make such a tale tick.  And his do tick, no two ways about it.  They are fun, they are entertaining, they are very readable.  Maybe not exactly High Literature - but I doubt the author ever aimed this way. 

Great toilet read, really.  Which, I hasten to add, is a compliment.

One tiny thing, the articles in Even The Rhinos Were Nymphos are slightly dated.  They span years between 1968 and 1994, so it's been a while since they were hot news, or even particularly relevant.  Still, they were fun to read in 2013 and well, there's the historical value to think of... 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Susan Sontag, Where The Stress Falls

Susan Sontag, Where The Stress Falls

I've read so many great things about Susan Sontag that I was almost salivating when I finally got hold of a book of her essays.  The revered author, elegantiae arbiter of the literary world, spoken of with reverence by the likes of Nadine Gordimer, and I'll get to read some of her words? Gosh! 

Well, there's no denying Sontag's impressive erudition and, yes, elegance.  Her command of language was awesome, as was her ability to create vivid, detailed images - even her non-fiction reads like poetry.  A master of the abstract, she wrote of feelings, impressions, ideas, her mind's eye able to detect whole worlds in a single book, movie or performance. 

With all this greatness, Where The Stress Falls should have swept me off my feet. 

I was bored.

My goodness, didn't the book drag!  It took ages to get through.  My mind kept drifting off every five seconds, words turning into meaningless gibberish every other line.  The reading got easier halfway through the volume, but even in the best moments I wasn't exactly captivated.  Now, is it me being boorish and uncultured, or is Susan Sontag vastly overrated?

Where The Stress Falls is composed of 100% High Culture, capital letters mandatory.  All the Great Arts get their due.  Books (obviously), cinema, photography, theatre, opera, even bloody ballet.  All very exclusive, very noble, very condescending.  Unfortunately, I'm allergic to intellectual snobbism.  High Arts can be fine, Sontag's reviews flawless, but I simply couldn't stand the author's patronising tone.  People With Taste vs The World.  I couldn't stop thinking of those posh vernissages where VIPs stuff their faces with caviar and sigh with delight over a black square on white canvas (with a seven-figure price tag).  Ridiculous only begins to describe it. 

It's faintly possible that I'm simply not mature enough to appreciate Sontag's cultural refinement.  I might get there when I'm around sixty, but I doubt it.  I simply do not wish to take my sensitivities in that direction.

Besides, I hate caviar.