‘Warhol’ By Blake Gopnik


This is a genuinely wonderful biography. Gopnik (a contributor to our very own Washington Post‘s art section) offer an intelligent, warm, enthusiastic, admiring, and clear-eyed view of the artistic career of Andy Warhol, née Warhola.

He writes more enthusiastically about the earlier years, tacitly acknowledging that his artistic output peaked in the sixties and this work in the eighties, in particular, is lacking compared to his creative peaks.

Where he provides the greatest insight is in Warhol’s intellectual and erotic life. He dismisses the idea of Warhol as being uncreative and, more importantly, lacking in an intellectual and theoretical understanding of art, in general, and his own artistic creations. Finally, he waves away the image (one I held) of Warhol as lacking interest in sex and chronicles his important and often relatively long romantic and sexual relationships.

He doesn’t spend much time on other artists in his milieu. Much of ‘understanding’ of Warhol was filtered through movies: I Shot Andy Warhol and Basquiat. While his shooting by Valerie Solanas was rightfully depicted as a turning point (and possibly marked the end of his artistic peak) and while she was an important character, my own view was skewed by the sublime performance of Lili Taylor. Similarly, Jeffrey Wright in his breakout role led me to think that Basquiat got short shrift. But, I reminded myself, this was a biography (and a hefty one; 900 odd pages) of one man: Andy Warhol.

Note: Though I enjoyed this book, I will also recommend (in addition to the book itself), this scathing review of it from Harper’s: Always leave them wanting less: How not to write about Andy Warhol

Thomas Jefferson & Doctor Dolittle


While reading it to my daughter (having not realized when I began it, how mightily I would struggle to skip over and elide the racist sections; though I will give some credit for a wonderfully concise criticism of colonialism: an African king says that the last white man to come through, dug holes all over his kingdom and took all the gold and killed all the elephants and took all the ivory and then left without saying this thank you; sadly, this moment of criticism was overwhelmed by subsequent racism, often of a most crudely worded kind), I saw a passage where Dolittle consults Buffon, looking to see if a particular animal is mentioned.

Surely this was the Comte de Buffon whose theory of the decadence of American animals and men had so inflamed Jefferson and inspired some of his most interesting taxonomic efforts?

Down Among The Dead


Did you know that K.B. Wagers hasn’t finished her second trilogy (the ‘Farian War’ trilogy)?

Because I didn’t. And I made a pledge to avoid starting series that are not already finished, because I don’t want to wait for authors to finish.

Oh, and it was good. Better than the first book in this trilogy. The big reveal was telegraphed, but at least our intrepid heroine was reasonably prepared for it.

But it’s not done. Ugh. How long do I have to wait? According to her website, it’s available for pre-order, but I’m not inclined to do that. And the first trilogy has been optioned for television or movie (television makes more sense these days), so when that happens, I can act superior to fans who haven’t read the series, which is a plus. But you know what would have been better? The third book.

There Before The Chaos


It was a mixed joy to return to Wagers’ ‘gunrunner empress’ novels with the first book of her second trilogy featuring runaway princess turned gunrunner turned empress of a matriarchal and Indian influenced space empire, Hail Bristol.

Not mixed because it wasn’t good, but mixed because I grew to love the characters, especially the heroine (and narrator), and got very angry at some of the bad things that happened to her. The first trilogy was more of the Star Wars mold. First one ended in a good victory, telling a reasonably complete story; the second with an Empire still dark setback; and finally with a reasonably upbeat conclusion, following a more conclusive struggle.

This was more of… well, something else. Bad going to worse. And having already started the next book (Down Among The Dead), I know that it doesn’t immediately get better, but instead, rather quickly darker.

I will make one quibble. The aliens are not very alien. One of them, the Shen, can pass as human. And they are, apparently, very close to the Farian, one of whom featured quite heavily in the original books (and is even more important now). For some reason, I had imagined them as looking like Roger from American Dad (I have no idea why), but now that I am noticing descriptions… well, what are the odds that every advanced species in the universe looks more or less like us? I’m a churchgoing man who believes we were made in God’s image, but take that to be more a spiritual statement than as a thesis proposing that all advanced species look more or less the same.

Time Of The Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger And The Decade That Reinvented Philosophy


Besides the fact they were all important philosophers, the magician connection is missing. I don’t mean that I wanted some sort of connection of party tricks, only that it’s a little disappointing that this title clearly seems picked just because it sounded cool, rather than because it relates to some extended metaphor or thread which snakes through the book.

But it’s a good book. Enjoyable for academic and for more dilettantish readers of philosophy.

While it made me want to dig up my copy of Being and Time (which I read in college, but almost certainly failed to understand), I wish that the other philosophers, particularly Cassirer, had had their philosophical positions explicated in as much detail as Heidegger’s. But then again, Heidegger continues to loom large, even now, so perhaps it’s only fair.

Especially knowing how the story ended, I found myself deeply wishing that poor Walter Benjamin had ever gotten an academic posting and what could have been if he had ever gotten some semblance of stability in his life. C’est la via.

The Epicure’s Lament


I was reading an article or review or something and this novel was mentioned in the context of other readable things that seemed interesting, so I borrowed it from the library and, yes, it is a pleasurable novel. The hero, the improbably named Hugo (improbably because the only Hugo I ever knew was a strange, distasteful fellow from college; not at all like this Hugo) Whittier.

Hugo is a sort of self aware and sexually voracious Ignatius Reilly. No, not as brilliant as that creation, but there is something similar in them. Their anti-modernism, their sense of their appetites, and their comic natures.

But, as enjoyable as the book was, it couldn’t live up to the comic conceit of its amusing (and conceited) protagonist. It didn’t blow the landing, but it didn’t stick it either (A Confederacy of Dunces nailed it). In a sense, the ending reminded me slightly of A Clockwork Orange (the book, not the movie), but instead of Alex growing up, Hugo get therapy.

The Last Wish


Another Witcher novel. But actually, a collection of short stories (something close to half of the episodes of the Netflix series are taken from here) which precedes the novel I read. I feel like the novels and stories of Gerald of Rivia, the titular witcher(a sort of monster hunter; a child raised by other witchers and made stronger, faster, and less emotional through magic and chemicals) should be less interesting than they are, but also they are still missing something, though I couldn’t say what.

This stories were better than the novel I read, not in the least because the novel sometimes read like short stories forced together to form a single narrative.

I did also get the Witcher video game (technically the third one; it was deeply discounted because it’s five years old now), but haven’t gotten into, but that is perhaps more about me and my life than the game.

But while the game may get dusty on my shelves, I will read the next book of short stories about this witcher fellow.

Guest Post – Polar Bears


Today, we have a special guest blogger, Miss BB.

Miss BB a noted local artist and YouTube star, but is maybe best known to readers of this blog from her review of Katie Woo: The Big Lie.

Polar bears live in the Arctic. Polar Bear has two kinds of fur like undercoat, and guard hairs. Polar Bear fur is black. Polar bears must be fat so they will not drown into the water. Polar Bear has very small ears because they live in the Arctic. Polar Bear has fur on the paws and the paws are about 30cm. Polar Bears can run for 40 kilometer per hour. Polar bears have a hard time catching food from the sea. Polar bears can swim 100 km away from the land. Polar Bear favorite food is seals and seals are fat. Polar Bear mom stays in a cave and it is also called torpor too. Polar Bear can have 1 to 3 cubs at a time. Polar Bear cubs usually born in the summer. The cubs can weigh more than half a kilogram.

She: A History Of Adventure


It should be made clear at the outset: this novel is not a history of adventure. It is a single adventure. In fact, it hand waves a couple of adventures that theoretically take place (the narrator literally says that he’s going to skip over the time he and his ward were held prisoner for six months by a pre-modern peoples).

And, if you are going to read this book, get used to reading She as a name (‘I handed the phone to She so that She could explain why the narrator didn’t want to talk about those six months of captivity.’). Also, is this first time the phrase ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ was used? It seems that way.

This is your classic, late nineteenth, early twentieth century adventure, as well as being a forerunner of lost world books.

The tale itself, is both fascinating and bats–t crazy. Ayesha, a woman of Arab descent has been alive for… they keep saying two thousands years, but honestly, it sounds like a lot longer when the book notes what she’s seen and who she’s met. She doesn’t use magic, but, similar to the Arthur C. Clarke rule about how a sufficiently advanced technology seems like magic to a less advanced civilization, science that feels pretty magical. She was also interested to hear that the Jewish savior arrived after she’d left the area of the Mediterranean civilizations.

Beautiful, compelling, seductive… she is a pretty cool character. Crazy and arguably immoral, but, without overstating H. Rider Haggard’s writing skills, someone who holds the readers attention.

Jefferson & Ethics


In a letter to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, the Thomas Jefferson writes:

Under temptation and difficulties, I would ask myself what would Dr. Small, Mr. Wythe, Peyton Randolph do in this situation?

Letter to thomas jefferson randolph, washington, november 24, 1808

This struck me because I thought about a description of duty-based ethics that I once read. I wish I could remember where I read this, but the idea was that the follower of duty-based ethics would, when faced with a dilemma, ask her- or himself questions like, ‘what would a courageous person do?’ or ‘what would an honest person do?’ He seems to be proposing something similar.

For those who haven’t been reading too much by and about Jefferson for the last half decade, Dr. Small was Jefferson’s professor at William and Mary, Mr. Wythe was his mentor in the practice of law, and Peyton Randolph was the first President of the Continental Congress (who, incidentally, died of ‘apoplexy’ whilst dining with Jefferson).