Tag Archives: Surly Joe

For Anne – Leonard Cohen

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

“Deprivation is the mother of poetry.” ― Leonard CohenThe Favorite Game

Leonard Cohen Poem copy

Before his fame and acclaim, Leonard Cohen published this short poem in a 1961 collection called The Spice-Box of Earth. They were new words from an apparently old soul. Bittersweet, filled with regret, the poem is a brilliant twenty-four word realization that something very special was gone. It is stark, simple and stripped-down, where what is left is all that matters, like Hemingway removing his adjectives or Eric Clapton stressing the silence between the notes of his guitar solos.

So what is left? Presumably a young man thinking about his former lover. There is no explanation as to why the separation occurred but its reason is secondary to what he is experiencing in the current moment, and that is the discovery that he has been forced, perhaps by his own behaviour, deeper into adulthood and cynicism. Annie is gone and, in his hindsight, so too is the pure, idealistic love that he unknowingly had. Suddenly the world seems large and empty, the man-child is insignificant, and the concept of how to proceed is daunting.

In order to protect his ego and heal his wounds, he initially tries to remove himself from emotion. Annie becomes Anne. A name that is cute, tender and innocent is now more formal, stiff, detached. Despite the obvious feelings that remain, he attempts to create separation. The poem is not “To Anne’”. It is more formally “For Anne”, as if he was only addressing an acquaintance. The title implies he is trying to be aloof, but he is quickly exposed and the poem’s first three words open the floodgates to his remaining emotion.

Leonard Cohen’s first book of poetry, written in 1956 when he was a student at McGill University in Montreal, was called “Let Us Compare Mythologies”. In this poem, Annie has become his mythology. She is a story that he is re-reading. He may progress. But not yet. He is stuck. The word “compare” appears three times, more than any other word. It is the action in which he is trapped, like a hamster on a wheel.

The end result of “For Anne” is that there isn’t yet an end result. There is just the realization that what he had, and what he didn’t appreciate when he had the chance, is gone. But only because it is gone could he discover what he had in the first place.

LCLeonard Norman Cohen is a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist. Cohen published his first book of poetry in Montreal in 1956 and his first novel in 1963.
Cohen’s earliest songs (many of which appeared on the 1968 album Songs of Leonard Cohen) were rooted in European folk music melodies and instrumentation, sung in a high baritone. The 1970s were a musically restless period in which his influences broadened to encompass pop, cabaret, and world music. Since the 1980s he has typically sung in lower registers (bass baritone, sometimes bass), with accompaniment from electronic synthesizers and female backing singers.
His work often explores the themes of religion, isolation, sexuality, and complex interpersonal relationships. Cohen’s songs and poetry have influenced many other singer-songwriters, and more than a thousand renditions of his work have been recorded. He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008 for his status among the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters”.

Leonard Norman Cohen. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 10:18, May 27, 2014, fromhttp://www.biography.com/people/leonard-cohen-9252529.

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Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer GUEST POST

GUEST POST – Surly Joe

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SYNOPSIS – In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

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Freedom from everything… That is the main point.” – Zen master Shunryu Suzuki

REVIEW – There’s a derelict shell of a seventy-year old bus sitting empty in the Alaskan bush. Over the last twenty years, it has become a destination, the end goal of a pilgrimage for anti-establishment dreamers, drop-outs, hard-core wilderness lovers and curiosity seekers who want to honour an intriguing, complicated and, depending on the point of view, either an unintentional hero or a naive narcissist named Chris McCandless. At the age of 22, after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, McCandless burned all his identification, donated his life savings to charity, and disappeared from his upper middle-class family without a word. Changing his name to Alexander Supertramp, he wandered alone to Alaska, where his body was eventually found rotting in Fairbanks Bus No. 42.

“I’m absolutely positive I won’t run into anything I can’t deal with on my own,” McCandless wrote early in his journal, one of the main sources of information author Jon Krakauer used for Into The Wild, his fascinating examination of McCandless’ short life. Even in the first phases of his wandering in California, Mexico and Nevada, when he was malnourished, dirty, and living under bridges or sleeping in the desert, he was in his element. “God it’s great to be alive! Thank you. Thank you,” his journal reads. In a letter to a friend he met on the road, he explained “nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.” And written on a sheet of plywood discovered near his Alaskan bus, he described himself as “an extremist, an aesthetic voyager whose home is the road”, who rejected society “to kill the false being within”. He was living his life his way, away from a corrupt, crushing establishment. He was free.

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To many native Alaskans, however, and other readers of Into The Wild , Krakauer’s portrayal of McCandless is irresponsible and romantic. To them, McCandless wasn’t a heroic figure at all, just “one more dreamy half-cocked greenhorn who went into the country expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found only mosquitos and a lonely death”.

One of the last entries in his journal gives credence to this opinion. Desperately sick, knowing that he was near the end, McCandless wrote an SOS letter to the world. “I need your help. I am injured, near death…I am all alone. This is no joke.” Ironically, he signed it with his real name. He was reaching out to the society he had rejected, victim to his ultimate freedom.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Janis Joplin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

avt_jon-krakauer_29261Jon Krakauer is a preeminent writer of narrative non-fiction. His numerous bestsellers include Where Men Win Glory, Under the Banner of Heaven, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air. He is editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.


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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And Then There Were Three – The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio GUEST POST

GUEST POST – SURLY JOE

“An unfinished book. left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will and ruthless determination to tame it again.”
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

The Decameron

FROM GOODREADS – The Decameron (c.1351) is an entertaining series of one hundred stories written in the wake of the Black Death. The stories are told in a country villa outside the city of Florence by ten young noble men and women who are seeking to escape the ravages of the plague. Boccaccio’s skill as a dramatist is masterfully displayed in these vivid portraits of people from all stations in life, with plots that revel in a bewildering variety of human reactions.

REVIEW

For the sake of full disclosure and transparency, this is a review of two-thirds of a book. I humbly admit that I raised the white flag of surrender at page 379. The finish line, page 655, was beyond the bounds of my stamina. Only twice in my life have I not read a book completely from cover to cover. The first was The Idiot by Dostoevsky – I was too young and didn’t understand it. The second – Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Again, I was probably too young, although I found it boring and repetitive. Now there is a third entry on my list.

John-Williams-Waterhouse-ArtistbrThe-Decameron
Artist John Williams Waterhouse-Artist The Decameron

The Decameron, written in the fourteenth century by Italian literary master Giovanni Boccaccio, is a collection of one hundred stores, some comic, some tragic, some brutally violent, many sprinkled with eroticism, told over a ten-day period by a group of wealthy Florentines who have self-exiled in a castle to avoid the ravages of the plague. While the common people suffer and die, these aristocrats, along with their servants and maids, sing and dance, feast on the best food, drink the best wine, and amuse themselves with stories. It is a surreal environment and an early example of the noble one percent living lavishly while the ninety-nine percent struggle.

Perhaps “noble” is the wrong word – many of the stories the aristocrats tell and enjoy to the fullest seem depraved by today’s standards. Women are objects to be stolen and ravaged. Men are lusting brutes. In an extreme example, the seventh story on Day Two, a young, beautiful girl is abducted and sexually assaulted repeatedly by several different men. Yet, despite the initial pain and humiliation, she supposedly “became so happy that her beauty flourished”. By the story’s end, she had “lain with eight men maybe ten thousand times”.

Even children are not immune from the risk of barbarity. After two young unmarried lovers have a child, the families, claiming extreme humiliation, want to “take that little boy…and smash his head against a wall and throw him out for the dogs to eat”. The lovers were sentenced to death, “to be burnt alive , as they richly deserved”. Ultimately honour is restored before any of this can happen. The child and his parents are saved, the story ends happily, and the nobles celebrate with food and drink and dance once again.

Manuscript of the Decameron
Manuscript of the Decameron

Throughout Decameron, deception abounds. Husbands cheat on their wives, wives cheat on their husbands, and the potential ramifications of their behaviour don’t seem to matter. When an illicit liaison is successful, the story ends with “May God grant us the same enjoyment”. The belief is that “there is no shame or loss of honour unless the fault is evident”. Even the clergy are “almost all engaged in the sin of lust”. When the abbot of a monastery becomes aroused by a peasant girl, he tricks her into meeting with him so he can fulfill his desires. He “placed her on top of him and, for a long time he sported with her”. Once satisfied, he could go back to running hs church and praising his God.

Day six, story six. With my mind filled with more than enough debauchery, I closed Decameron for good. It may be considered a classic, it has definitely been influential for generations, but my life will not be any more enriched by trudging through four more days of twisted tales.

About this Author

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 21 December 1375) was an Italian author and poet, a friend and correspondent of Petrarch, and an important Renaissance humanist in his own right and author of a number of notable works including the Decameron, On Famous Women, and his poetry in the Italian vernacular. Boccaccio is particularly notable for his dialogue, of which it has been said that it surpasses in verisimilitude that of just about all of his contemporaries, since they were medieval writers and often followed formulaic models for character and plot.


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.

 

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe – Bill Bryson

GUEST POST – SURLY JOE

“There is something about the momentum of travel that makes you want to just keep moving, to never stop.” ― Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe      

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SYNOPSIS (From Goodreads) – Bill Bryson’s first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither Here nor There he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.

Whether braving the homicidal motorist of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a German-speaking, 25km-long principality between Austria and Switzerland. It’s known for its medieval castles, alpine chalets and villages linked by a network of trails. The capital, Vaduz, a cultural and economic center, is home to the Kunstmuseum, a sleek museum displaying modern and contemporary art.
Liechtenstein is a German-speaking, 25km-long principality between Austria and Switzerland. It’s known for its medieval castles, alpine chalets and villages linked by a network of trails. The capital, Vaduz, a cultural and economic center, is home to the Kunstmuseum, a sleek museum displaying modern and contemporary art.

REVIEW

I love Neither Here Nor There.  I loved it when I first read it twenty years ago when my experience of solo travel was in its infancy and I loved it when I re-read it two weeks ago, with my experience of solo travel now mostly relegated to dusty memories and buried journals.

In 1972, Bill Bryson did what millions of other freshly-graduated young adults did and still do – he stuffed clothes into a backpack and left home for Europe to wander around, see new sights, gain new knowledge and do some chemically-induced stupid things.  When he landed in Luxembourg and hitchhiked to Belgium, he was immediately “smitten”.  He was “at large in a perfect world”.   For four months, he traveled, “lost in a private astonishment”.

belgium-pin-map

Twenty years later, after living in England for over a decade, Bryson, now an author, decided to retrace his early steps and rediscover the continent he loved and the feelings of exhilaration and trepidation that solo travel brings.  Arriving first in northern Norway, Bryson slowly made his way south.  Over the next few months, he wandered through France, Germany, Holland, Italy and the rest of the continent, loving and occasionally hating the feeling of being “hopelessly unfamiliar with everything”.

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Italy, commanding a long Mediterranean coastline, has left a powerful mark on Western culture and cuisine. Its capital, Rome, is home to the Vatican as well as landmark art and ancient ruins. Other major cities include Florence, with Renaissance treasures such as Michelangelo’s “David” and its leather and paper artisans; Venice, the sinking city of canals; and Milan, Italy’s fashion capital.

Neither Here Nor There is the hilarious, sarcastic and very honest recollection of his tour.  He describes the “pleasantly pointless days wandering around”, the “necessarily aimless” evening strolls, and the “hermetic slobbiness” that can result from weeks of being a solo traveler.  He both praises and criticizes bluntly.  Bruges is “deeply endlessly gorgeous” but Cologne is “a dismal place” and Brussels is “seriously ugly” and “full of wet litter”.

Bruges, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium

But as I read, a new realization slowly began to simmer.  Not only is Neither Here Nor There a travelogue, it has also transformed into a historical document of the early 1990’s and a description of what now seems prehistoric.  Bryson’s journey is pre-GPS, without email, without Google, without Smartphones.  If he wanted directions to the next town, it meant unfolding a map the size of a tablecloth or reading Let’s Go or Fodor’s, the guidebooks of the times.  To buy dinner in France or Switzerland, he needed francs, in Italy, the currency was lira.  No such thing as Euros back then.  And Yugoslavia as a country doesn’t even exist anymore.

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Even the humour seems somewhat outdated in our ultra politically-correct present. I both laughed and cringed at his cultural generalizations.  Is it proper to say that “Germans are flummoxed by humour, the Swiss have no concept of fun” and are “desperately dull”?  Or that “Italians are entirely without any commitment to order”?  Statements made honestly at the time, perhaps, but still statements from another era.

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Neither Here Nor There is back on my shelf again, where it will probably stay unopened for another twenty years.  The humour, the currencies and the national boundaries may have changed, but my overriding thought when I closed the book was the same now as it was then.  Heading to the airport with a one-way ticket to anywhere seems like a really good idea.

“Traveling is more fun– hell, life is more fun–if you can treat it as a series of impulses.” ― Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe      

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

billbryson_1724978cBill Bryson’s bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Neither Here Nor There and Notes from a Small Island, which in a national poll was voted the book that best represents Britain. His acclaimed book on the history of science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Royal Society’s Aventis Prize as well as the Descartes Prize, the European Union’s highest literary award.

Bryson has written books on language, on Shakespeare, and on his own childhood in the hilarious memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. His last critically lauded bestsellers were on history – At Home: a Short History of Private Life, and One Summer: America 1927.

A_Walk_in_the_Woods_PosterAnother travel book, A Walk in the Woods, has now become a major film starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson. Bryson’s new book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island comes out in Autumn 2015.
Bill Bryson was born in the American Mid-West, and is now living back in the UK. A former Chancellor of Durham University, he was President of Campaign to Protect Rural England for five years, and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society.


 

CK

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.

 

 

 

 

Future Crimes by Marc Goodman – GUEST POST REVIEW

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe


 Lud·dite

noun
a member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16).
– a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.
“a small-minded Luddite resisting progress”

  • futurecrimes_bookshot2Title: Future Crimes, Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It
  • Author: Marc Goodman
  • ISBN: 0385539002 (ISBN13: 9780385539005)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: Published February 24th 2015 by Doubleday
  • Genre/s: Non-fiction/Science Technology

SYNOPSIS – (From GoodreadsTechnological advances have benefited our world in immeasurable ways, but there is an ominous flip side. Criminals are often the earliest, and most innovative, adopters of technology, and modern times have led to modern crimes. Today’s criminals are stealing identities, draining online bank accounts, and erasing computer servers. It’s disturbingly easy to activate baby monitors to spy on families, to hack pacemakers to deliver a lethal jolt of electricity, and to analyze a person’s social media activity to determine the best time for a home invasion.

Meanwhile, 3D printers produce AK-47s, terrorists can download the recipe for the Ebola virus, and drug cartels are building drones. This is just the beginning of a tsunami of technological threats. In Future Crimes, Marc Goodman rips opens his database of hundreds of real cases to give readers front-row access to these impending perils. Reading like a sci-fi thriller, but based in startling fact, Future Crimes raises tough questions about the expanding role of technology in our lives. The book is a call to action for better security measures worldwide, but most importantly it will empower readers to protect themselves against looming technological threats before it’s too late.

REVIEW

“There is a gathering storm before us. The technological bedrock on which we are building the future of humanity is deeply unstable and like a house of cards can come crashing down at any moment. It’s time to build greater resiliency into our global information grid in order to avoid a colossal system crash. If we are to survive the progress offered by our technologies and enjoy their abundant bounty, we must first develop adaptive mechanisms of security that can match or exceed the exponential pace of the threats before us. There’s no time to lose.”
― Marc Goodman, Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It

If you are a Luddite, if you are a technophobe, then reading Future Crimes will further convince you that you’re right. Stay away from technology as much as possible – it will ultimately destroy you. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, Future Crimes will further convince you that you’re right too. Technology and its masters are watching and manipulating your every move, privacy is nonexistent, you cannot escape.

In just under four hundred well-researched, albeit somewhat repetitive pages, security expert and former FBI and Interpol official Marc Goodman explores his thesis: “currently in our world there is no such thing as trustworthy computing”. If it is connected, it is vulnerable. Despite the fact that he calls himself “irrationally optimistic”, he claims that “a horde of emerging threats…will be here much more quickly than anticipated”, coming from hackers, cyber-criminals and terrorists, and the examples he provides are staggering. Facebook has supposedly admitted that more than 600,000 of their accounts are compromised daily. McAfee claims that “82% of Android apps track your online activities”. A study by Verizon concluded that hackers are successful 75% of the time, usually within minutes. And it doesn’t seem to be too difficult. In 2013, personal data from 110 million Target customers was stolen, “apparently masterminded by a seventeen year-old Russian”.

Making the situation worse, according to Goodman, is that we are easy targets, oblivious to the threats around us. Facebook may be a victim of daily hacking, but, at the same time, they seem to also have their own dark side, evidenced by their Terms of Service which gives them the right “to turn on your mobile phone’s camera at any time without your consent”. The internet, with all its “free” services, is only free because every search we do, every website we visit, is tracked, saved, documented, and then the data is sold to brokers and marketers. And the internet we know isn’t the only internet. It’s just the public one. Deep in the digital underground is the “Dark Web”, only accessible through software that hides identity. It is supposedly “five-hundred times larger than the surface Web, unreachable by search engines like Google and Yahoo”. This is where terrorists and criminals go to source anything and everything illicit. Recently, a “dark” site called Silk Road was identified and shut down by the FBI. It was essentially an Amazon for criminality, peddling weapons, child pornography, hit-men and drugs and earning millions of dollars per year.

Only after 350 pages does Future Crimes begin to hint at Goodman’s “irrational optimism”. It’s not very encouraging. We can combat the potential impending doom. Be smart, change your passwords frequently, don’t open files you don’t recognize, encourage governments to spend more on cyber security, turn your devices off when you don’t need them. In other words, it appears it’s up to us to make the best of it. So when the machines take over and the energy and water grids are hacked and there’s no way to get money out of the ATM’s, I’m choosing to keep my pen and paper. I may be hungry and cold and poor, but at least I’ll be able to write about it.

About the Author

MG

Marc Goodman is a global strategist, author and consultant focused on the disruptive impact of advancing technologies on security, business andinternational affairs. Over the past twenty years, he has built his expertise in next generation security threats such as cyber crime, cyber terrorism and information warfare working with organizations such as Interpol, the United Nations, NATO, the Los Angeles Police Department and the U.S. Government. Marc frequently advises industry leaders, security executives and global policy makers on transnational cyber risk and intelligence and has operated in nearly seventy countries around the world.

In addition, Marc founded the Future Crimes Institute to inspire and educate others on the security and risk implications of newly emerging technologies. Marc also serves as the Global Security Advisor and Chair for Policy and Law at Silicon Valley’s Singularity University, a NASA and Google sponsored educational venture dedicated to using advanced science and technology to address humanity’s grand challenges. Marc’s current areas of research include the security implications of exponential technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, the social data revolution, synthetic biology, virtual worlds, genomics, ubiquitous computing and location-based services.

WEBSITE

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 Secret Life of Books – GUEST POST

Surly Joe Dreams: A Mostly True Narrative of Literature and Nonsense

copperfield-cover-webThe sound that woke me from a semi-deep sleep was a loud dull thud. I sat up, startled and immediately alert. It was the middle of the night, not a time for loud, dull thuds. On the pillow next to me was my copy of David Copperfield, the copy that was supposed to be on my bookcase on the opposite side of my room. I had not touched this book in years, but it was on my pillow next to me.

Before I could say “what the…”, a second book, Dante’s Divine Comedy, shot out of the bookcase, cannonball-like, and slammed into my shoulder, spine-first. It was a paperback so it didn’t hurt too much, but that really wasn’t really the issue. The issue was that the books from my bookcase on the other side of my room were spontaneously launching themselves at me. A third, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, followed in quick succession by Fahrenheit 451 and all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings, ricocheted off my arms and chest. I covered my face, trying to protect myself, yelling over and over “Stop! Stop!”, screaming “What are you doing?” The attack continued. 1984, Crime and Punishment, Jude the Obscure, A Farewell to Arms, Under the Volcano, The Grapes of Wrath. A literary barrage. I yelled one more time, the sound of my voice competing with the thudding of the books.

Then I really woke up, relieved. Shaking my head into awareness, I marvelled at what must have been a book reviewer’s ultimate nightmare. The symbolism was so beautiful and perfect. It was the revenge of the books, their angry response to all the negative criticism that had been heaped on them over the centuries. For once, they were fighting back, attacking their critic in the only way they could attack. Pure violent retribution.

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The Nightmare is a 1781 oil painting by Anglo- Swiss artist Henry Fuseli (1741–1825). Since its creation, it has remained Fuseli’s best-known work. With its first exhibition in 1782 at the Royal Academy of London, the image became famous; an engraved version was widely distributed and the painting was parodied in political satire. Due to its fame, Fuseli painted at least three other versions of the painting. – WIKIPEDIA

220px-The_Fantastic_Flying_Books_of_Mr._Morris_Lessmore_poster

Then a second interpretation came to mind. Perhaps it wasn’t revenge. Perhaps it was a call from all the books I hadn’t yet reviewed, their blunt statement saying “pick me next, don’t ignore me”. It wasn’t anger, it was jealousy, a wish for inclusion.

I’m on my way to my local cafe now. Hemingway had his favourite cafe and I have mine. I have to read and write. I have a new review to begin. For the sake of my sleep, I’ll try to not be overly critical. I’ll try not to forget anyone.


CK

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.



Note: Upon reading this post I couldn’t help but be reminded of the wonderful 2011 Academy Award winning short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. I defy you to watch and not want to immediately drop everything and pick up the next book on your TBR list!

Junkie – William S. Burroughs GUEST POST REVIEW

GUEST REVIEWER – Surly Joe

  • junkieTitle: Junkie
  • Author: William S. Burroughs
  • ISBN: 0450010627 (ISBN13: 9780450010620)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: Published 1972 (first published January 1st 1953)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre/s: Fiction & Literature

From GoodreadsBefore his 1959 breakthrough, Naked Lunch, an unknown William S. Burroughs wrote Junky, his first novel. It is a candid eye-witness account of times and places that are now long gone, an unvarnished field report from the American post-war underground. Unafraid to portray himself in 1953 as a confirmed member of two socially-despised under classes (a narcotics addict and a homosexual), Burroughs was writing as a trained anthropologist when he unapologetically described a way of life – in New York, New Orleans, and Mexico City – that by the 1940’s was already demonized by the artificial anti-drug hysteria of an opportunistic bureaucracy and a cynical, prostrate media.

Junkie is not a book to be enjoyed.  It is a book to be endured.  There are no likable characters.  There are no feel-good moments, there is no happiness.  It is ugly, blunt, emotionless, occasionally vile.  It is car-wreck fascinating and probably one of the most honest accounts of drug addiction ever written.

William S. Burroughs, the godfather of American Beat literature, author of The Naked Lunch,  and seminal influence to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and others, wrote the semi-autobiographical Junkie, his first published work, in 1953.  He was ivy-league educated, a kid with financial support from a respectable Midwest family.  But he was also a bored misfit and an outcast who rejected conformity for drugs and extreme experimentation.  “You become a narcotics addict,” he wrote, “because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction.  Junk (i.e. drugs) wins by default.”

Junkie spans the course of a few years and Burroughs describes his existence as an addict, traveling from New York to New Orleans to Texas and finally Mexico City, always with the goal of the next high in mind.  He hangs out with thieves, dealers and other addicts, chasing drugs, fleeing the law.  He describes his acquaintances, members of the junkie community, as “basically obscene beyond any vile act or practice.”   The typical addict “is socialized as an insect, for the performance of some inconceivably vile function”.  They feel no remorse because they are completely chemically-controlled.  Once hooked, “life telescopes down to junk, one fix and looking forward to the next”.  It is life on “junk-time”.

There were instances where Burroughs tried to break his habit.  The results were painful and short-term, junk-sickness suffering – “My body was raw, twisting, tumescent, the junk-frozen flesh in agonizing thaw.”  He substituted drugs with alcohol, once drinking for ten days straight, not bathing, not eating, almost dying.  And after two months of being clean, he went back to his needle, found the vein, and described the hit as pure bliss, writing “If God made anything better, he kept it for Himself”.

As Junkie ends, Burroughs’ search for new highs is still in its infancy.  His travels would take him to South America, Europe and North Africa.  It is rumoured that, while living in Morocco, he did not leave his apartment for a year, never washing, never changing his clothes.  He wrote and was an addict.  But he survived and produced, his tortured existence resulting in fame, notoriety as a completely amoral, tragic figure, with the label as one of America’s greatest and most influential writers and a hero to the counterculture for pursuing freedom at all costs.  Was it worth it?  In an interview late in his life, Burroughs was asked if he regretted anything.  He replied curtly – “Everything”.  A junkie’s honesty still intact.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

william-burroughsWilliam Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee; February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be “one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century”. His influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.

He was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson of the inventor and founder of the Burroughs Corporation, William Seward Burroughs I, and nephew of public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in early adolescence. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University, studied English, and anthropology as a postgraduate, and later attended medical school in Vienna. After being turned down by the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy in 1942 to serve in World War II, he dropped out and became afflicted with the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life, while working a variety of jobs. In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the counter-cultural movement of the Beat Generation.

Much of Burroughs’s work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a controversy-fraught work that underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws. With Brion Gysin, he also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–64). In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1984 was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift”, a reputation he owes to his “lifelong subversion” of the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War”, while Norman Mailer declared him “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius”.

Burroughs had one child, William Seward Burroughs III (1947-1981), with his second wife Joan Vollmer. Vollmer died in 1951 in Mexico City. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in Vollmer’s death, an event that deeply permeated all of his writings. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, after suffering a heart attack in 1997.


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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.