Monday, August 21, 2017

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace



I am 647 pages into David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, a tome of 1,079 pages. I thought I'd post about it now and perhaps again when I'm finished since it's so freaking long and I am about 60% of the way finished. I don't know if I will be able to finish it in 2 weeks before we leave for Europe, and I am definitely not hauling it around with me because of its sheer size plus it's a library borrow. I could buy it on Kindle and continue reading it on my phone, a much easier physical feat.

People seem to either hate or love this book. Friends report having failed at reading it, some having had multiple failures. One friend suggested reading something worthwhile instead -- like the dictionary. I must admit that I run hot and cold depending on what Wallace happens to be riffing about at any particular moment. I say "riffing" because Infinite Jest has a spontaneous feel a lot of the time, not unlike Jack Kerouac, and as someone else on-line pointed out, Wallace definitely has a quite unique style -- something not all authors can claim.

Wallace's powers of description are mighty, both of the environment and of the many quirky characters in the book. He employs numerous pet devices (e.g., abbreviations like w/r/t and R.H.I.P and Q.v.), unusual words you have to look up (too many to pick just one as an example and I think he makes some of them up), strange - and sometimes quite entertaining -- grammatical construction (e.g., "So and but then he like really decided to ...), and is seemingly fixated on certain topics (in particular, vomit). There are times when Wallace sucks me into his world (e.g., when describing life at the halfway house) and other times when I am totally lost and reading just to get to the next engaging part (e.g., the meeting between Steeply and Marathe outside Tucson -- what the Hell are they talking about? -- and the whole dystopian-future world in general). Sometimes Wallace takes pages and pages to describe an event for which it seems a paragraph would suffice. But that is his "thing," I guess, or at least one of them: extremely detailed and free-flowing narrative and description.

The Notes and Errata at the end -- comprising almost 100 pages across 388 entries -- are particularly annoying. They vary from the 8-page fake filmography of a movie producer character to trivial side comments to obviously important backstory. No matter what, you get the sense that you can't skip them for fear of missing something important, and it's a pain-in-the-ass to go back there (often multiple times a page) especially with a hard copy. I ended up using two bookmarks so I could get back-and-forth more efficiently.

The setting -- a dystopian world in the future focused around a tennis academy, a nearby halfway house, and a movie ("Infinite Jest") so addictive that anyone who sees it loses all desire to do anything but watch it -- is certainly not typical or tropish. I could care less about tennis so the over-descriptions of  life at the Enfield Tennis Academy in Massachusetts are a drudge for me. Like I mentioned above, life at the halfway house captures my attention for some reason -- perhaps the over-the-top characters.

To sum, there are some obstacles to reading Infinite Jest -- and I suspect those vary from reader to reader -- but certainly the sheer length is one of them. Add to that Wallace's writing quirks plus the exceedingly strange world he creates and it's easy to understand why many people give up. There are times when I think he wrote the book as a giant dare (as in "I dare you to read this entire thing."). It's also easy to understand why this novel has a cult-like following. It is at various times mesmerizing, funny, entertaining, engaging, and thought-provoking. And it's different in both writing (you have to experience it) and content (there can't be too many novels in which a main character commits suicide by putting his head in a microwave oven).

I'm not recommending Infinite Jest . . . yet. Let's see what I think after 400 more pages. I assume I am nowhere near the climax of the novel let alone the denouement (if there is one), but I am determined to get there. Stay tuned for future thoughts, most likely not until after we get back from Europe.


P.S. What does this have to do with Jack Kerouac? See paragraph #2 above.






Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Beat Hotel in Paris: Here We Come

That awesome background is my workbench

I own and have used three of Bill Morgan's excellent guides: The Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America, The Beat Generation in New York: A Walking Tour of Jack Kerouac's City, and The Beat Generation in San Francisco: A Literary Tour.

Now I'm happy to say I own The Beats Abroad: A Global Guide to the Beat Generation, and I'm even happier to say that I am going to get a chance to use it since we are winging our way to France in less than three weeks. Our first stop is Paris, and of course one of our objectives will be to visit The Beat Hotel (9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur), now known as Relais Hôtel du Vieux Paris. Many Beat writers stayed there over the years (with the exception of our boy, Jack). In fact, we have a private walking tour scheduled and The Beat Hotel is where we are meeting our guide.

Morgan cites a number of specific street addresses in Paris where the likes of Corso, Burroughs, and Ginsberg stayed in Paris, and we may saunter by some of them during our perambulations. Of interest to me is famed bookstore Shakespeare and Company, which in the Beat heyday hosted many Beat writers overnight or for readings.

Jack Kerouac has his own entry for Paris and number of addresses where he either visited or stayed, so there's that to consider. We'll definitely visit the Louvre, where Van Gogh's paintings hit Jack with "'an explosion of light -- of bright gold and daylight'" (p. 31).

This is a vacation, though, and not a Beat history tour, so don't expect a lot of structure. We'll also be in Lyon and Servagette, France, and Venice and Amalfi, Italy. Venice has a few entries in Morgan's book, and Amalfi has one (but no address). We'll see what we see.

I guess what I really need to do is get out Satori in Paris and re-read it before we leave!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2017 (and the "secret word")

One year ago today I posted a reminder about Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in October and announced the "secret word," so it is time to do that again. Regular Daily Beat readers know that each year I announce a "secret word" that wins a free signed copy of my book -- The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions -- for the first person to come up to me and whisper it in my year (or just say it -- I'm not fussy).

Last year the secret word was "satori," and while some years no one takes me up on my offer, in 2016 we had a winner: Phil from Indiana. So far I have not allowed repeat winners, so we'll stick to that rule this year. And now the moment you've all been waiting for . . . this year's secret word -- in honor of the 60th anniversary of On The Road and a famous quote from the book and the fact that you will be shambling after me like one of these in order to win a book -- is:

dingledodies

Good luck.

But we're not finished. We need a reminder of details about the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.

What:    An Annual Festival Celebrating Jack Kerouac
Where:  Jack's Hometown of Lowell, MA
When:   October 5-9, 2017


For places to stay, try Trivago.com. I recommend the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center if you can get a room. It's the only hotel in the city proper, but of course there are hotel options outside the city as well as Air B&B, Couchsurfing.com, a tent under the stars along the Merrimack, etc.

For directions to Jack's grave, a visit to which is on the agenda as part of the bus tour but you should make time for a private visit, search for Edson Cemetery (1375 Gorham Street) in your GPS system of choice. Go straight when you come in the gate and turn left on Lincoln Avenue. Find his grave on the right between 7th and 8th Streets.

Rick Dale at Jack Kerouac's grave on October 6, 2016

See you in October. We'll be fresh off a trip to Europe so ask me to see pictures of The Beat Hotel.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Happy Birthday to Diane di Prima


Today is award-winning beat poet Diane di Prima's 83rd birthday.

In celebration, read some of her work. Her most recently published collection is pictured above, or you can find some of her poetry on-line (e.g., https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/diane-di-prima).

Or, if you're in a randy mood, revisit your dog-eared copy of Memoirs of a Beatnik.

Happy Birthday, Diane.


Mystery in Greenwich Village: The Riviera Cafe (UPDATED 8-9-17)



I came across this article about the closing of The Riviera Cafe in New York's Greenwich Village (a place where once upon a time Crystal and I stopped for a drink while waiting to meet our friends, Richard and Michelle): http://www.grubstreet.com/2017/08/nycs-rivieria-caf-and-sports-bar-will-close.htmlhttp://www.grubstreet.com/2017/08/nycs-rivieria-caf-and-sports-bar-will-close.html.

I shared the link with my friend Richard and we got to discussing whether it's the same place that Bill Morgan mentions in The Beat Generation in New York (1997, p. 71) as a beat hangout where Kerouac liked to go in 1955 and his friend Henri Cru was the bouncer.

What gave us pause was the article saying the place was closing after 48 years. That means it was something else before 1969. This article and Morgan's book both note the address as Seventh Avenue South, although Morgan adds 225 W. 4th Street (which is how the place is listed on-line).

I noted that the name of the current place is "The Riviera Cafe," yet Morgan lists it as "Cafe Riviera."

So we have a date and a name discrepancy. And a minor mystery.

Can anyone confirm that this is the same place (location) Morgan references, and, if so, explain the discrepancies?


P.S.

After I posted the above to the Facebook Kerouac group, Kerouac researcher extraordinaire Kurt Phaneuf replied with the following information that seems to verify that it's probably the same place with a small change in names. As Kurt says, perhaps management changed in 1969, hence the 48 year longevity reported in the article.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Article in this month's Esquire mentions Jack Kerouac

In my endless quest to keep you apprised of Jack Kerouac mentions in the news and popular culture, I note that an article in this month's Esquire (which Jack wrote for) mentions our hero. The article is titled, "Making s SPLASH in the CITY," and recounts author Dwight Garner's quest to swim the hidden rooftop pools of New York City a la John Cheever's character, Neddy Merrill (played by my hero, Burt Lancaster, in the movie version), in the short story, "The Swimmer" (available here). In the story, Merrill realizes at an early afternoon cocktail party that he might be able to "swim" the eight miles home by hopping in and out of the pools of friends.

Garner concludes the piece thusly in the context of his visit to the rooftop pool of the Hotel Americano in Chelsea (where he doesn't take a swim but does have dinner with a friend):

The martinis up there are good. The soulful Mexican food is even better. I felt I could almost see my house out across the horizon, the way that Neddy, in Cheever's story, sensed, "with a cartographer's eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the country." Cheever made this stream of pools sound as happy as one of Jack Kerouac's western highways. I began to wonder if I could swim home.

I wonder: Did the passage mentioning "subterraneans" invoked Kerouac in Garner's mind in some way, consciously or otherwise?




Book on WWII Merchant Mariners


The below article recently appeared in the local paper. I thought it might be of interest to readers given that Jack Kerouac was a merchant mariner. The gist of the article is that a local couple, Arthur and Florence Moore, were honored for a book they wrote in 1983 that helped chronicle the sacrifice of merchant mariners during WWII (when Jack served). Their "meticulous log" of all merchant mariners who died will -- thankfully -- not include Jack, but their list of merchant ships that sunk likely includes the Dorchester, on which Jack served as a scullion.

http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/08/03/hallowell-couple-honored-for-research-on-world-war-ii-mercant-mariners/