Mid-trip Books Update
Studious readers of this blog remember my post a few weeks ago about trying to figure out what books to pack for my trip to Hong Kong. Well, the seven I brought were the Oppen, Schulz, Cohen, Offill, Hempel, Kierkegaard, and Bloom. Also, Bluets by Maggie Nelson (Wave), the review copy of which arrived literally minutes before I left for the airport. Of those, I’ve finished the Cohen and the Bloom, have been picking at the Oppen (sparingly, but I dig what I’m seeing), am bottomed out about halfway through the Schulz, and haven’t touched any of the others. But that’s not to say I’ve only read two books. At a sweet secondhand store here in HK called Book Attic (that’s 10 Amoy street, if you’re passing through) I picked up a few titles. After the jump, I talk about the books I bought, and it becomes clear why I’ve illustrated this post with a photo of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
(1) A pocketsize selection of early Yeats, because it was the equivalent of about a buck and a half US, and I figure there are worse things in life than always having a copy of “Sailing to Byzantium” and/or “Leda and the Swan” ready-to-hand. (Side note: does anyone else think that the middle third of “The Second Coming” is kind of a dead spot?)
(2) The Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway. Another cheap paperback, mid-’60s UK edition. They had a handfull of these there and they all looked pretty good, but the others were short story collections, and I have the Collected Hemingway Short Stories back home, so striking out into new territory seemed like a good idea. BUT, I did sit in the store and re-read the story “The Light of the World,” which for some reason had been on my mind the past few weeks. There’s a note in the Collected where H. says he’s pretty sure that’s the one story of his nobody ever liked but him. Anyone want to argue with him?
(3) The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso, 2001) by Christopher Hitchens. I read this book in a day and a half, with my jaw on the floor the whole time. It was absolutely compelling. I had always understood in the general sense that Kissinger was a monster, but I really had no idea how idea the truly disturbing and perverse depths of the man’s monstrosity, or the sheer amount of devastation he’s wrought. Most of the chapters are anchored to a location–Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia, Greece & Cyprus, Chile, East Timor. There’s really no excuse for the fact that this man walks free in the world today, or that he won’t die in a jail cell. Hitchens lays out his case with great clarity (the text runs 150 pp.) and ample supporting evidence. The book’s thesis is simply that Kissinger has committed an array of crimes–including war crimes–and as such ought to be tried for them. Not such a crazy notion,yeah? As such, Hitchens leaves out anything he can’t prove, as well as any act of Kissinger’s that–disgusting and murderous though it may be–falls under the rubric of realpolitik and as such does not meet the legal criteria for calling something a crime (whether and what certain things ought to be crimes is surely a topic for another day). This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to be utterly disgusted and filled with hate.
Now that I’ve read it, I’m on to the Hemingway, which is even shorter than the Kissinger book. It’s really weird, and funny. The introduction says it’s partly a satire of a Sherwood Anderson book called Dark Laughter, but you don’t need to know that–in fact it’s probably better not to. It’s in a few sections, each one with a different Henry Fielding epigraph. So far a guy named Scrips O’neill has decided to leave town, found a bird on the railroad tracks and taken it with him, walked to a new town, and eaten a plate of beans. The whole thing runs like 80pp., so it’s basically a one-day read, then back to struggling with the Schulz, because the writing is truly gorgeous, unlike anything else I’ve ever read before. The only problem I’m having with it is I can only take it in two page doses or I fall asleep–a pretty unusual reaction for me, but I’m choosing to see the Schulz as some sort of super-sweet liqeur you have to sip at, rather than as some sort of weird concoction I don’t like the taste of. But since you don’t want the book that you’re struggling with to be your main book, I think the Offill novel is probably the next thing I’m going to take on.