Said and read – October 2018

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Textbooks. That’s about all I can say or reflect on with regard to books read in October. My neck and shoulders are crying out similarly (as I’ve dutifully lugged these texts with me all over the place). It’s been interesting, and has informed many of my non-studious discussions, but nothing worth writing extensively about.

I have been pleased, though, that I’ve somehow managed to keep my head above water over the course of October, which will (along with the first half of November) be the most challenging time of 2018. I enjoyed a brief re-connection with a university-era acquaintance who was apparently inspired by this blog to think differently about what he reads, which in turn gave me things to contemplate with regard to how I consume my literature – and why.

Feel free to dig further into what I was reading over the course of the year, which was undoubtedly more interesting than now: September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January, if you’re curious. Or follow me on Goodreads to see a list of pretty much *everything* I read.

Thoughts on reading for October:

Highly recommended

*The Conformist: A NovelAlberto Moravia

I read this novel in the course of a couple of short flights, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I had had no idea what to expect. The style was infused by such intensity that I couldn’t stop reading.

“But Marcello, we were all innocent. Don’t you think I was innocent, too? And we all lose our innocence, one way or another. That’s normality.”

Still, Italy isn’t fooling me.

He observed all these people from under his lashes with urgent repugnance. It always happened like this: he thought he was normal, like everyone else, when he imagined the crowd in abstract, a great, positive army united by the same feelings, the same ideas, the same aims; and it was comforting to be part of this. But as soon as individuals emerged out of that crowd, his illusion of normality shattered against the fact of diversity. He did not recognize himself at all in them and felt both disgust and detachment.

Good – really good

*Development as FreedomAmartya Sen

Perhaps my interests are skewed toward social and economic justice, equality and equality of opportunity, and Sen’s ideas on development and development as freedom are thus especially appealing to my kind of thinking… nevertheless, he makes compelling arguments for these ideals with evidence from within the framework of fairly mainstream and widely quoted/perceived-as-capitalist thinking in the extreme (e.g. Adam Smith: We have to begin by noting that Smith was deeply skeptical of the morals of the rich—there is no author (not even Karl Marx) who made such strong criticism of the motives of the economically well placed vis-à-vis the interests of the poor.).

Development can be seen, it is argued here, as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Focusing on human freedoms contrasts with narrower views of development, such as identifying development with the growth of gross national product, or with the rise in personal incomes, or with industrialization, or with technological advance, or with social modernization.

And we can see more clearly than ever the way these fundamental freedoms are withheld from the majority, leading the situation in what are often cited as the most prosperous societies:

Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states. Despite unprecedented increases in overall opulence, the contemporary world denies elementary freedoms to vast numbers—perhaps even the majority—of people. Sometimes the lack of substantive freedoms relates directly to economic poverty, which robs people of the freedom to satisfy hunger, or to achieve sufficient nutrition, or to obtain remedies for treatable illnesses, or the opportunity to be adequately clothed or sheltered, or to enjoy clean water or sanitary facilities. In other cases, the unfreedom links closely to the lack of public facilities and social care, such as the absence of epidemiological programs, or of organized arrangements for health care or educational facilities, or of effective institutions for the maintenance of local peace and order.

I read several books about poverty, gentrification and the homelessness/housing crises as side effects of unequal economic development and infrastructural collapse in the United States, but didn’t find any of them to be as urgent or in-depth as they should be given the extent of the problem. I suppose Sen’s theories and analysis feels more important, even if it is grounded in theory rather than in the daily-life inability of individuals to pay their rent.

*Bosnian ChronicleIvo Andrić

“Daville thought: “The terrible thing is not that we grow old and weak and die, but that a new, younger, different breed comes pushing behind us. This is the essence of death. No one drags us toward the grave, we’re pushed in from behind.””

Andrić just has a way with describing people and scenes that I can’t quite compare to anything else.

One approaches every parting with a twofold illusion. The person we are parting from—especially when, as in this case, it is likely to be forever—appears to us far more valuable and deserving of our attention than heretofore, and we ourselves feel much more capable of generous and selfless friendship than in fact we are.

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*Selected Poems by Laurie LeeLaurie Lee

*Woods and ChalicesTomaž Šalamun

As always, it’s poetry that grounds me when I need to reconnect to myself and escape from work or study.

Coincidences

Nothing terribly coincidental although I find trivial tidbits interesting, such as reading about one of the pioneers of psychology/leaders of behaviorism, John B. Watson (who is woven throughout almost all of my current textbooks) is the grandfather of the actress and mental health activist/advocate, Mariette Hartley.

Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)

I don’t think I can characterize anything I read as a disappointment or a source of strong feelings whatsoever. The workload of textbook reading is not exactly pleasure reading, and I am finding some things more interesting than others, but nothing qualifies as something I’ve actively disliked. The whole textbook ‘style’ lacks anything that endears the reader to it, but it serves its purpose.

 

Dickheads – Who Remembers Richard Marx?

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Among world-famous “Marx”es – Richard Marx is pretty low on the list and not first to spring to mind (Karl being most prominent for me). I always forget about 80s musician Richard Marx – I’d call him a “flash-in-the-pan” except that he had more than one hit at the time (at least one of which most people could sing along with or at least have heard, even if they have no idea who is behind it – “Right Here Waiting”.

He was no priority to me, but today I stumbled on an article about Marx’s petty wars-of-words with journalists – sometimes not even big-time journalists. Just people whose articles (even blog articles?) Marx apparently stumbles across and then starts arguing, defending himself against nonsense that does not really matter. Is it just to be mentioned and inflate an ego that cannot be sustained just on the 80s hits and a successful producing/songwriting career that came after the more visible fame? Is it really some kind of inferiority complex? Because really – if he embodied the kind of confidence that he probably should, to which he applies all manner of defensive words and threats, he would have neither the time nor interest in stooping to the level of addressing the fact that someone makes fun of the hairstyle he sported in the 80s or referred to his (soon-to-be ex-) wife, Cynthia Rhodes) as a “former model” (I guess he rushed to her defense, citing her history as an actress in important/popular films – we all remember Dirty Dancing and her role as “Penny”. Although I don’t remember much about her or her role, I remember Jerry Orbach saying something like, “You’re the one who got Penny in trouble.” – always enjoying this euphemistic language – “in trouble” – to describe pregnancy).

The aforementioned 2013 Salon article puts it best (although a Techdirt response also made me crack a smile in response to the Salon piece and Marx’s behavior, which they characterized as “acting like a self-important psychopath”) – Marx has outsold so many of his much better-known peers but has not had the staying power nor garnered the respect of the industry (italics are mine).

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Marx’s quadruple-platinum album “Repeat Offender” has sold more copies than “Blonde on Blonde,” “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” or “Pet Sounds.” (In fact, Marx’s most popular album has sold more copies than any album by Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra or the Beach Boys.) However, Marx’s window of fame was so brief, and his songs so ephemeral, that he doesn’t have a musical legacy. He’s still heard on late-night call-in request shows for the lovelorn, and, as even he admits, “I’m HUUUUGE at Walgreens” as background music for shopping.

But unlike near-contemporary pop stars Hall & Oates and Journey, Marx has not built a following among a new generation of fans. Few people under the age of 30 or over the age of 60 knows who he is, and most people in between haven’t thought about him in decades. His last Top 10 hit, “Now and Forever,” was released in 1994. He’s a songwriter and a producer now, with a Grammy for co-writing Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father,” but in Hollywood, nobody knows the writer’s name.

Marx has never gotten respect from critics, which is understandably galling for any artist. In a 1990 concert review, a New York Times critic compared him to David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, as the latest in “a long string of insipid, pseudo-adolescent singing idols whose tenure as teenage heartthrobs rarely lasts more than three years.” That was also the last time Marx’s music was the subject of a New York Times article.

To be honest, I never imagined that I would devote a whole blog post to Richard Marx. But Edward McClelland (writer of the Salon piece and this longer, funnier version of the story, “Right Here Waiting”) probably did not imagine it either. But mostly on the strength of the quoted text above and how much I enjoyed McClelland’s pieces, I thought… yeah, this is all true. (I did a little bit more online digging, which also led me to a different Richard Marx who apparently practices law in Florida – found an article about journalism in Zimbabwe linked from that Richard Marx’s site – ties in nicely, if completely randomly, with my intermittent Africa-related knowledge binges.) It made me feel sort of bad for the guy, even though his lashing out at critics seems overboard and desperate – especially when he could arguably have the last laugh. He has undoubtedly “outgunned” most of his contemporaries and certainly his critics financially. And artistically – even if he did not make a lasting impression aside from probably providing a theme song for many a high school prom (again, see “Right Here Waiting” again or “Hold Onto the Nights” – among that category ballads that really does strike a chord with the lovelorn high school set who believe fervently that high school sweetheart love will last forever) – he made a few decent records (I sort of liked the single “Don’t Mean Nothing” at the time – I was a kid in the late 80s; what can I say? I am sure I thought I was too cool for it, just leaving sixth grade, but I will cop to having the broadest of musical palates, even then, so I won’t apologize! haha) and has what – at least in 1990 – I would have characterized as a rabid fan base.

Yes, you got that right. Rabid. Back in 1990 (you know, the old days when we did things like this), my best friend and I were waiting for tickets to a Sinéad O’Connor concert (we got in line about 4 in the morning) – and we thought we would be the first there. But there was a 30-something woman there first, who proudly exclaimed that she had been there all night waiting to buy tickets to see Richard Marx. She said she had previously been following him around the country and that his rabid fans affectionately refer to themselves as “Dickheads”. We were sort of making fun of him, and this woman became maniacally defensive. Why does Marx need to be out there defending himself when there are bulldogs and terriers out there fighting all these little battles for him? (Granted that was back in 1990 – I don’t know if the Dickheads are still out there, but I suspect that diehards of that type are forever.)

(And because I cannot sign off on a Richard Marx note, here’s Sinéad’s “Just Like U Said It Would B” from her brilliant debut album.)