Friday, December 23, 2016

Winter weather reading: beats, hipsters, and vision quests

When the winter weather outside is frightful, cyber-shopping makes more sense than ever. With a few clicks  all of us can go back to dreaming of sugarplums, or whatever makes the winter holidays special for each of us. Here are some books reviewed by others that are worth a year-end browse by the fire.
Brother Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation: Ann and Samuel Charters (University Press of Mississippi): ... Holmes, a good friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and a founding member of the original Beat circle in New York City, also wrote several novels that were respectably reviewed. But he lacked the charisma and theatricality of the later Beat writers, and struggled for literary success even as his friends reached explosive levels of fame. It's only because of these legendary friends, and not because of his own fiction, that John Clellon Holmes merits an extensive literary biography by Ann and Samuel Charters today. Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation is unusual among literary biographies because its hero never had a breakout success. Instead, he filled out his career with dead end manuscripts, odd magazine assignments and college teaching jobs. In this sense, Brother-Souls is actually a more accurate glimpse of how most writers live than any typical biography of a famous writer. (Levi Asher, Literary Kicks)

Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food, Wendell Berry, Introduction by Michael Pollan (Counterpoint Press, above) If you aren't already familiar with Wendell Berry's essays and his fiction, Bringing It to the Table is an excellent introduction, and if you're already an admirer, wanting to spread the word to people on your holiday gift list, this book is a fine addition to Berry's recent publications. Born in 1934, Berry has been publishing poetry, fiction in long and short forms, and essays since the 1960s; he has been working a farm in Kentucky for about as many years. In an essay from 2006 he recalls, "In 1964 my wife Tanya and I bought a rough and neglected little farm on which we intended to grow as much of our own food as we could." Although he came from a farming background, he asked for advice from an organic gardener who was his editor at the time, and seeking out the source of that man's principles, he discovered The Soil and Health, by the British agricultural scientist Sir Alfred Howard. Berry says of Howard, "I have been aware of his influence in virtually everything I have done, and I don't expect to graduate from it. That is because his way of dealing with the subject of agriculture is also a way of dealing with the subject of life in this world." (Jim Quitsland, Sound Food)

What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Investigation: Mark Greif, et al (n+1 Books) All descriptions of hipsters are doomed to disappoint, because they will not be the hipsters you know. But to those of you who are reading What Was the Hipster in 2050, I can only say: Everything in this book is true, and its impressions are perfect. When we talk about the contemporary hipster, we’re talking about a kind of cross-subcultural figure who emerges by 1999 and enjoys a fairly narrow but robust first phase of existence from 1999 to 2003. At which point the category of hipster seemed about to dissipate and return to the primordial subcultural soup, for something else to take over. Instead what we witnessed was an increasing spread and durability of the term, in an ongoing second phase from 2003 to the present. The truth was that there was no culture worth speaking of, and the people called hipsters just happened to be young and, more often than not, funny-looking. (Anonymous, Atomic Books)

Fishers of Men – The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest, Adam Elenbaas (Tarcher Press): The cross-generational stories surrounding Elenbaas and his father, and his father and grandfather, sanctify the Freudian influence on drug writing. From the opening chapter when his father lays bleeding, holding a hunting knife, till the final modernist resolution, redefinition of all the relationships occur. It’s very reminiscent of the poem "This Be The Verse" by Philip Larkin: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do./ They fill you with the faults they had/ and add some extra, just for you.” The Freudian model, which places so much emphasis on a child’s relationship with its parents as a foundation for personality structure, is being played out once more as a literary structure: “One of the most intense psychological settings in the world – the visionary space of ayahuasca” (201). The combination of the psychedelic experience and psychodynamic models is firm territory, not only in Fishers of Men, but in modern drug writing generally. (Rob, editor, The Psychedelic Press UK)

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