Tolstoy , at least , I can understand . He didn’t like Shakespeare much , I guess , and that gives him a few points in my book . Shakespeare I can understand , too , mostly . It’s not his fault that he lived so long ago . That is , before the world spoke American . Shakespeare’s not as bad as that guy G . Chaucer , who wrote great stuff albeit indecipherably . He calls , after all , a daisy a ‘day’s eye’ , for Pete’s sake !
James Joyce ! Now there was a writer’s writers’ writer ! There’s a guy who knows his letters . And his words . His words , for sure , made up and designed for intellectual impact , I guess . And he’s Irish , too . That gives him a few extra points in my book . But Joyce is worse than Chaucer. Worse stuff than ‘day’s eye’ .
I tried Ulysses two or three or four times . I read a commentary or two on Ulysses . I gave it a shot and I’m not going to try it again . I even listened to part of Ulysses on Books On Tape once . Like reading the first chapter of my chemistry textbook over and over again in tenth grade , I just couldn’t get it .
I know people who can quote Ulysses and expound upon the characters , explain the puns and parodies , and review the themes . Are there themes ? But not me .
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners were okey . I particularly liked the story The Dead . I’ve read and re-read it , trying desperately to soak up the genius , to understand the use of the color brown , for example , to get the significance of the goose , to see in it the Joycian attitude toward his homeland …………..
The written story was okey . The film done by John Huston , however , I think was wonderful . I have a copy of it . It’s on that old technology called a VCR . I watch The Dead every year , at Christmas , although it takes place on Epiphany, I think .
I was just lent a couple of collected works of Dashiell Hammett by a friend of mine , Rod , who has an extensive personal library . He reads his books but he keeps them in like-new spotless condition . I am already reading a collection of Raymond Chandler stories and early novels that I checked out from the Sierra Madre Library , so I am a little swamped with hard-boiled detectives right now .
Chandler’s detective Phil Marlowe says : ” There was a desert wind blowing that night . It was one of those Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch . On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight . Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen . You can get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge . ”
Now , that’s writing !
Or Hammett , whose character in Red Harvest says : ” He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works . ”
Roll over , Ezra Pound , and all you literary wonders ! I’ve got a ton of mundane mysteries to read . I’ll never figure out the Cantos anyway .
Two literature teachers were over at the house recently . They both agreed between themselves that American literature is crap . I thought that an odd attitude for teachers of literature to hold . The husband of one of them asked if even Mark Twain was crap .
” He’s European -influenced ” , one said . ” Like Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court “, the other one said .
Faulkner laughed . ” To understand the world you must first understand a place like Mississippi .” he said .
I asked the two teachers ,” Can you quote Ulysses ? ” , as a joke , but they were too busy bashing Hemingway to answer .
Dashiell Hammett was hidden there in a corner . He said : ” I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of .”
Tolstoy I can understand . He said : ” To say that a work of art is good but incomprehensible to the majority of men , is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can’t eat it . ” That gets Tolstoy a couple of points in my book .