Category Archives: Surly Joe

In Our Time – Ernest Hemingway

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

  • IOTTitle: In Our Time
  • Author: Ernest Hemingway
  • ISBN 0684822761 (ISBN13: 9780684822768)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: February 28th 1958 by Charles Scribner’s Sons (first published 1924)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre/s: Literary Fiction/Short Stories
  • Print Length: 156 pages
  • Source: Purchased

My critical eye is half-closed.  I’m writing as a fan.  Intelligently, hopefully, but with admitted bias.  Ernest Hemingway is one of my favourite writers.  And while I don’t always understand him, I continue to read and re-read him.  I’m not critical because how could I be critical?  It would be like telling Picasso he used too much gray or telling Hitchcock that the Psycho shower scene wasn’t quite right.

In 1925, Hemingway published In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.  He was young and poor and knew he wanted to write.  His methodology, according to his somewhat-fictionalized autobiography A Moveable Feast, written many years later about his early life, was to write one true and pure story about everything he knew well.  And so “The End of Something” and “Big Two-Hearted River – Parts One and Two” are about camping and fishing. “Cross Country Snow” is about skiing.  “Out of Season” takes place in Italy, where Hemingway spent time as an ambulance driver and was wounded in World War One.  Other stories discuss boxers, soldiers, and bullfighting, subjects that make Hemingway the most masculine of writers, themes that would appear over and over throughout his career and develop as full-length novels.  And of course, scattered throughout, are episodes of drinking, understandably coming from the pen of one of America’s premier alcoholic authors.

Not only did In Our Time introduce Hemingway as a new writer, it introduced him as a new kind of writer.  His stories were unusually stark, stripped of adjectives, short and blunt.  They seem to begin just after the beginning and end just before the finish.  They explore intimate events in extreme detail.  Plot seemed secondary.  Between each story are very brief bursts of micro-narrative, usually violent and disturbingly casual, feeling like cathartic moments needing to be purged.

Consistent throughout most of In Our Time is the character of Nick Adams, a young man who is essentially Hemingway’s conduit, who allows Hemingway to tell his own stories and express his own doubts and fears and hopes in the guise of fiction.  In “Big Two-Hearted River, Part One”, Nick is travelling alone through the countryside:  “His muscles ached and the day was hot, but Nick felt happy.  He felt he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs.  It was all back of him.”  And later, “he had not been unhappy all day”, as if being happy was an unusual occurrence.  Knowing the history of depression and suicide in Hemingway’s family, and foreshadowing his own self-inflicted death, happiness was indeed a rare commodity.

In 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  By that time, he was legendary, ranked in the pantheon of 20th century writers.  I discovered his genius after a trip to Paris, where I walked where he walked and sat in cafes where he sat.  And now, whenever I want to read but can’t decide what to read, I usually end up reaching for him, to re-explore what I’ve already explored many times before, to re-enjoy, usually to discover something new in the familiar words.

HemingwayErnest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction works. Three novels, four collections of short stories and three non-fiction works were published posthumously. Many of these are considered classics of American literature.

CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

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The Sea Is My Brother – Jack Kerouac

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” 
― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

  • Sea is my brotherTitle: The Sea Is My Brother
  • Author: Jack Kerouac
  • ISBN 030682180X (ISBN13: 9780306821806)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: November 1st 2011 by Penguin Books 
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Genre/s: Literary Fiction
  • Print Length: 417 pages
  • Source: Purchased

The Sea is My Brother is a simple quick-read of a book with an unfortunately bad title. Its plot is basic, its style is amateurish and inconsistent. it reads like the initial attempt of a young kid who just got back from travelling the world for the first time and suddenly feels like he has a wealth of experience and wisdom to share with the world. So why should we be interested in this book? Because in this case, the young kid is Jack Kerouac, and The Sea is My Brother is his first book, written fourteen years before On The Road, his classic novel that became the Beat manifesto and the bible for freedom-seekers, hedonists, and counter-culture anti-establishment rebels.

Written when he was just twenty-one years old and based on his journals, The Sea is My Brother is a highly autobiographical account of Kerouac’s experiences as a sailor with the Merchant Marine in 1943. The two main characters, Bill Everhart and Wesley Martin, are, according to Kerouac scholars, representative of how he viewed his own personality. Everhart is an assistant professor of literature at Columbia University who sees himself as “an unusually free and fortunate man, but honestly…not happy”. He is a responsible member of society but feels there is much more to life than what he is experiencing. He wants “a life with a purpose, with a driving force’.

When he meets Wesley Martin at a New York City bar with a group of his friends, he is presented with the alternative lifestyle that intrigues him. Martin is a sailor, a wanderer, a traditional-society drop-out. He had a wife, a house, a job, but he left them all to travel across America and then join the Merchant Marine. He is, in Everhart’s view, “no more than a happy-go-lucky creature to whom life meant nothing more than a stage for his debaucheries and casual, promiscuous relationships”. After a few drunken hours, Everhart is convinced, as Kerouac was too, that the sea is his answer.

Despite his decision to “drop out”, Everhart’s internal struggle, and presumably Kerouac’s as well, only intensifies as he approaches the ship after a 24-hour hitch-hike from New York to Boston harbour. In only one day, his views swing radically. He asks himself “What folly was perhaps being committed?” in a moment of doubt but then quickly admits to feeling “a fiery tingle to move on and discover anew the broad secrets of the world”.

The novel concludes as the ship sails out to sea with Everhart literally confronting his own uncharted waters. Whatever happens after is not important, the plot of the book is not important. What matters is Kerouac’s initial tackling of the themes that he would explore for his entire career – freedom versus responsibility, adventure and spontaneity versus practicality, and ideas versus action. The Sea is My Brother questioned established rules and presented an option for a new youth culture. It would take another fourteen years before Kerouac could present it perfectly, but its infancy is here, and therefore, so is its value.

Jack-Kerouac-13Born Jean-Louis Kerouac, Kerouac is the most famous native son of Lowell, Massachusetts. His parents had immigrated as very young children from the Province of Quebec, Canada, and Kerouac spoke a local French Canadian-American dialect before he spoke English. He was a football star at Lowell High School and upon graduation in 1939 was awarded a scholarship to Columbia University. However, after an injury sidelined him on the football team, Kerouac grew unhappy with Columbia and dropped out of school.

During this period in New York City, Kerouac became friends with the poet Allen Ginsberg and the novelist William S. Burroughs, as well as Herbert Huncke and others who would be associated with the “Beat Generation.” When Kerouac finally broke through with the release of “On The Road,” he was faced with challenges presented by the fame that followed as he tried to live up to the image portrayed in his novels and facing criticism from the literary establishment for being part of what was considered a fad. He would go on to publish additional novels, many of which used settings based on Lowell – including “Doctor Sax,” “The Subterraneans,” “The Dharma Bums” and his final great work, “Big Sur.” He settled in Florida with his wife, Stella Sampas, and his mother, where he died in 1969 at age 47. He was buried in Lowell.

CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

 

The True Story of the Bilderberg Group – Daniel Estulin

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

  • bilderberg_cover_front_2009-bigTitle: The True Story of the Bilderberg Group
  • Author: Daniel Estulin
  • ISBN 0977795349 (ISBN13: 9780977795345)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: September 1st 2007 by Trine Day
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Genre/s: Non-Fiction
  • Print Length: 312 pages
  • Source: Purchased

DESCRIPTION – Delving into a world once shrouded in complete mystery and impenetrable security, this investigative report provides a fascinating account of the annual meetings of the world’s most powerful people—the Bilderberg Group. Since its inception in 1954 at the Bilderberg Hotel in the small Dutch town of Oosterbeek, the Bilderberg Group has been comprised of European prime ministers, American presidents, and the wealthiest CEOs of the world, all coming together to discuss the economic and political future of humanity. The press has never been allowed to attend, nor have statements ever been released on the attendees’ conclusions or discussions, which have ramifications on the citizens of the world. Using methods that resemble the spy tactics of the Cold War—and in several instances putting his own life on the line—the author did what no one else has managed to achieve: he learned what was being said behind the closed doors of the opulent hotels and has made it available to the public for the first time.

The Golden Rule for conspiracy theorists should be this – if you are going to propose that every aspect of life is not what it seems, you should do it in the most academic and intelligent manner possible. Otherwise you will have no credibility. You will sound like a paranoid nut. And even if what you are presenting is true, it won’t sound believable. The True Story of the Bilderberg Group, by investigative journalist Daniel Estulin, sounds like the rambling of a paranoid nut.

In 1954, a collection of the world’s most important politicians, business leaders, media barons and other high-ranking officials met at the Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands to conduct secret discussions on the state of world affairs. Since then, the Group has met every year at a different international location. Attendees have supposedly included Bill Clinton, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien, Stephen Harper, Henry Kissinger, Conrad Black, Margaret Thatcher, presidents and prime ministers of most European countries, and CEOs of many of the world’s largest corporations. The goal of their meetings, according to the author, is ‘to create a single globalized marketplace, ruled by a world government (which in turn controls its courts, schools, and the people’s reading habits and very thoughts), policed by a world army, financially regulated by a world bank”.

Among other seemingly outlandish claims, the author purports that The Bilderberg Group supports “selective breeding”, that they manipulated the Watergate scandal, forcing Richard Nixon to resign, that they forced Margaret Thatcher from office, that it was their plan for Quebec to separate from Canada, and that they decided on the sale of Ontario Hydro. He calls the entire devious operation “a mammoth machine, which, like an octopus, grows larger, bolder and more powerful as its tentacles reach out and strangle everything and everyone in its path”.

The fact that the Bilderberg Group exists cannot be denied, and the author provides almost one hundred pages of photos and documents as proof of its existence. The problem with his book is that his presentation is rambling, inconsistent, and completely non-academic. He will follow a chapter on the Bilderberg agenda with a completely unrelated story of how he supposedly met a shady ex-spy in a Toronto pub or how he was accosted by thugs in
Italy, changing directions again with a brief history of Marxism and the Russian Revolution. It’s as if he couldn’t decide where his book should go, and so he jumps from activist journalism to personal anecdotes to philosophical musings. While there are one hundred and thirty endnotes, many of his claims are not referenced at all. To further erode his academic credibility, one of his sources is actually an article from Penthouse magazine.

The True Story of the Bilderberg Group could have been a fascinating if hard-to-believe account of secrecy, deception, world power and ambition, an account of the ultimate conspiracy theory, one that seems impossible to comprehend, yet presented intelligently, might just have some validity. Instead, it feels more like the report of a sleep-deprived, paranoid college kid who has a deadline and is running out of time. Better to scrawl something on a  piece of paper, no matter how incoherently it comes across, than have nothing at all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Daniel Estulin is an author, public speaker and investigative journalist who specializes in researching and reporting the Bilderberg Group, an annual invitation-only conference of the elites in the fields of business, finance, media and politics.

CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

 

Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

“He might be ragged and cold or even starving, but so long as he could read, think and watch for meteors, he was, as he said, free in his own mind.”
― George OrwellDown and Out in Paris and London

  • Down and Out copyTitle: Down and Out in Paris and London
  • Author: George Orwell
  • ISBN: 015626224X (ISBN13: 9780156262248)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: March 15th 1972 by Mariner Books (first published 1933)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre/s: Fiction/Memoir
  • Source: Purchased

Before the acclaim of Animal Farm and 1984, before gaining recognition as one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most influential authors, there was poverty. Squalid, extreme, bug-infested poverty. Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, is George Orwell’s autobiographical account of life on the streets, searching for work, searching for food and a place to sleep, pawning clothes for a piece of bread, a cup of tea and a cigarette. His Paris was not the City of Lights, his London was not the height of British splendor. Success meant finding work in a grand hotel restaurant for just enough money to avoid starvation, working seven days a week, seventeen hours a day, standing in slop, serving the oblivious rich patrons on the other side of the kitchen door.who don’t realize that their food was just laying on the floor being picked at by vermin.

When work ended, life meant “tramping” from town to town, sleeping in lodging houses, Salvation Army hostels or on park benches, hoping not to get arrested. At times, there was no food for days, no bathing for weeks. But ironically, Orwell also describes “a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out…and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety”. Down and Out in Paris and London is Orwell’s descriptive study of poverty in two of the world’s greatest cities. It doesn’t explain why he was poor, how long he was poor or how he escaped from being poor. He just was. It was his existence. And when it ended, he
took his experiences and learnings and moved on.

This unusual fictional account – in good part autobiographical – narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-out of two great cities. The Parisian episode is fascinating for its expose of the kitchens of posh French restaurants, where the narrator works at the bottom of the culinary echelon as dishwasher, or plongeur. In London, while waiting for a job, he experiences the world of tramps, street people, and free lodging houses. In the tales of both cities we learn some sobering Orwellian truths about poverty and society. – Goodreads

George_OrwellEric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

He is best known for the dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (published in 1949) and the satirical novella “Animal Farm” (1945)—they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book “Homage to Catalonia”, an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, are widely acclaimed.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/bookclub/down-and-out-in

Surly Joe – The Gambler

CONTRIBUTOR PROFILE – Surly Joe

In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

For the record I would like it known that I am far more computer savvy than this clip would have it seem but I couldn’t help but be reminded of exchanges between Joe and I in the past.

As the far more discerning and cultured of the two of us, my plebeian tastes run along the lines of strawberry zinfandel than a full bodied red. Therefore it should be no surprise that Joe would be the one to select George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London as his debut review. I can only hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did.