Monday, 23 January 2012

THE MAPLES STORIES by John Updike


THE MAPLES STORIES is an unusual format, being a string of short stories following one long marriage, of Mrs Maple to Mr Maple.

Updike is an immensely accomplished author. Try this wonderful description of a cabbage:
. . . the pure sphericity, the shy cellar odor, the cannonball heft. He chose, not the largest cabbage, but the roundest, the most ideal, and carried it naked in his hand to the checkout counter . . .

Note how he describes the cabbage as naked. I have never thought of any vegetable as naked, but these are the kind of lines along which Updike's mind runs. He is well obsessed with sex, as we observed last year on reading RUN RABBIT RUN.
It is Saturday; the formless erotic suspense of the afternoon – the tennis games, the cartoon matinees – has passed.

The erotic suspense of cartoon matinees?

Anyway, the Maples have a very depressing suburban midcentury American marriage. They are constantly going to suburban cocktail parties and having affairs with their suburban friends. It is all very repressed and alcoholic and dramatic. I had to say: get a divorce. Or at least take make every third drink a soft one. Beautifully written, deeply felt, I just found it all very difficult to relate to.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

RICH DAD, POOR DAD by Robert Kiyosaki


Robert Kiyosaki is a self-made millionaire who in this book shares with us his ideas about making money. If you can look past some terrible writing, childish views about tax, and many awful golfing anecdotes, it is an interesting book.

His primary point is that one does not make any serious money as an employee. The idea of getting good grades and a good job is he feels painfully old-fashioned; all it means is that the profits do not come to you but to your employer. You ought, he argues, to be your own employer.

He thus recommends owning an array of business ventures, investments, real estate, and so forth. In order to do this, he believes you should 'pay yourself first.' This means that you pour your income into your own projects, even when money is tight. This may mean not paying your rent, your creditors, etc etc, in a timely fashion. This idea makes me very nervous, though perhaps that supports his point: he feels most people make decisions about money based on emotion, or family history, not on reason. I do see the value of paying yourself first – it means your own projects are never allowed to be optional or to remain in the realm of theory.

Clearly, investing your own money carries risk, but as he points out: “I have never met a rich person who has never lost money. But I have met a lot of poor people who have never lost a dime.”

One thing you do not expect from a low brow financial self-help book is Freudian dama. RICH DAD, POOR DAD is an exception. It literally drips with Oedipal anxiety. The poor dad is Kiyosaki's real father, who is a teacher on a low income and does EVERYTHING WRONG. The rich dad is a friend's father, who is WONDERFUL. Seriously, Mr Kiyosaki, sit down with your dad at the dining room table. You don't need to write a book to get to the bottom of your issues.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

O PIONEERS! by Willa Cather

Fourteen days, ten flights, four continents, seven countries. The beginning of January gave me lots of time to read, and also to regret poor scheduling choices.

Let's have WHITE WHALE'S only annual airline awards!


BEST UNIFORM
Usually a cinch for KLM, I have to go with Indigo, a small Indian airline with these super cute retro outfits. The narrow belt is killing me.


MOST PAINFUL CHECK IN
Kenya Airways is a shoo-in here, with a two and half hour queue. Other airlines can only gape at this impressive level of incompetence. I certainly hope none can compete.


MOST LIPSTICK
Ethiopian Airlines usually has this one in the bag, hot pink being very big with their cabin crew. However, this time it also goes to Indigo! One hostess was wearing so much red lipstick I didn't know if she wanted to eat me or nurse me. Revolting and yet titillating.

And now let us turn abruptly to Willa Cather's masterpiece of nineteenth century American life, O PIONEERS! Some people will suggest this is Cather's best work, but all this shows is what a real afflication crack smoking must be among readers of early American fiction. MY ANTONIA is much better.

This is not to say I did not enjoy O PIONEERS! I particularly like it's musical theatre title. It is set in the early days of immigration to Nebraska, and follows one particularly bright young woman as she builds a healthy farm. She however is unlucky in love, with her brothers chasing her only suitor away.

Her suitor, poor man, leaves rural Nebraska for the big city of Chicago, hoping to hit the big time as an engraver. Sadly for him, photography is invented. Here's his heartbreaking, and very modern, account of his time in the city:
Freedom so often means that one isn't needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to ay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.