Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories

Title: Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories
Author: Bram Stoker
Published: 1914
Introduction and Notes: Kate Hebblethwaite, 2006
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Number of Pages: 150

I'm finally done with this collection of nine short stories. With the exception of "Dracula's Guest" and "The Judge's House" it was a snooze fest. To be blunt, if you want to read Stoker stick with his novels.

Stoker's widow, Florence, published this collection of short stories in 1914, two years after the author's death. She claimed that the short story "Dracula's Guest" was "an hitherto unpublished episode from Dracula... originally excised owing to the length of the book." However, I remain skeptical about that assertion. The story is not written in the same style as the novel and the narrator is never named.

Now that I've read The Lair of the White Worm and this collection of stories, I'm planning on sticking with Dracula (1897). Although after reading a small description of another novel of his, The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), I might read it at another time.

From "The Burial of the Rats":
The psychic faculties are often the sentries of the intellect; and when they sound alarm the reason begins to act, although perhaps not consciously.

In moments of great excitement and of great danger, which is excitement, the mind works very quickly, and the keenness of the faculties which depend on the mind grows in proportion.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Lair of the White Worm

Title: The Lair of the White Worm
Author: Bram Stoker
Published: 1911
Introduction and Notes: Kate Hebblethwaite, 2006
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Number of Pages: 257

If you read my last review you know that I threatened to burn The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila because of my frustration with reading it. Well, I ended up not burning it. It went into my giveaway box and the next trip I take to the second-hand bookshop it will be sold.

Reading The Lair of the White Worm was much easier than Teresa's Life. It was slow going at first, but around the halfway point the action picked up and the conclusion arrived at quickly. Almost too quickly. I felt the conclusion needed expanding. I felt the whole novel itself needed to be enlarged and better developed. If I were a writer I would have considered this a first draft that needed extensive revisions.

Stoker wrote this novel only a year before he died. While doing some research on the novel after I read it I came across several websites that mentioned that scholars once thought this novel was the result of Stoker's syphilitic fever. One theory of his death was that he died from syphilis, although it has never been proven. I'm not convinced this is true, although it would explain the novel's intense condemnation of strong women. BUT, it would not explain Stoker's lifelong condemnation of strong women. The Introduction put it this way:
Bram Stoker's uneasy relationship with the women of his texts has been a matter of considerable debate. In depicting a world of male camaraderie and homosocial salvation, his stories consistently work to demonize the oversexed independent female, whilst praising and advancing the meek woman who displays deference to her male overlords. In Dracula, the ultimately biddable Mina Harker is saved from the vampire's kiss whilst Lucy Westenra, desirous of three husbands in life, is transformed into a noxious sexual predator in death, finally finding 'salvation' through the phallic penetration of a wooden stake through her heart.
Illustration by Pamela Colman Smith
My opinion, though, is that Stoker's "uneasy relationship with the women of his texts" is strongest in The Lair of the White Worm. The iconographies used are strongly, strongly sexual. There were even times when the images Stoker used made me squirm, especially when Lady Arabella, a very aggressive female - the villain, shows her true form.
In spite of her veneer of female respectability, Lady Arabella's ruthlessness and ambition are revealed when she assumes her true form: a 'tall white shaft' that rises from the bushy tangle of the 'trees which lay between' (Chapter XXVIII). Just as she confuses the male/female divide in her forward conduct, the enormous white penis that Lady Arabella effectively becomes in her ophidian form is the physical representation of her departure from received and acceptable womanhood. (From the Introduction)

Female gender prejudice aside, the novel, at best, is inconsistent - plot-threads are pulled and then dropped - yet it seems to have had been carefully researched, especially where it concerns myth and science. The story is set in the early 1900's in a part of England that was once the ancient kingdom of Mercia. Stoker pulls a lot of history into the story, connecting the past and the present. I found the ancient myths interesting to read, but the science parts lost me.
In thrall to the abiding power of myth and legend, yet also attuned to contemporary scientific ideas, the novel crosses borders between the logical and the illogical, the old and the new, the impulsive and the considered, whilst also being thematically engaged in the transgression of boundaries between male and female, human and animal, right and wrong. Simultaneously displaying both irrational flights of imagination and careful research, unconscious impulses and measured ideas, it is Stoker's most inaccessible yet his most revealing work. Like the man himself, The Lair of the White Worm is a complex amalgam of self-possession and passion that defies any ready definition. (From the Introduction)
I found the idea of the novel to be original, but the execution lacking. I'm not sure if Stoker meant this to be his final edition; it was published the year before his death. Maybe he decided to publish it the way it was because he had been ill for so long and didn't have the energy to revise. Perhaps he thought that it was good and right just the way it was. But history has found the novel much the way I have: sometimes in thrall to it, sometimes unable to be understood. It would have been a thrilling read if the kinks and inconsistencies had been ironed out.

I recommend this book, even if it is sometimes slow and inconsistent. However, I recommend finding an unedited version. For many years it could only be found highly edited, containing only twenty-eight chapters instead of the original forty, and published under the title The Garden of Evil. Penguin Classics, in this edition combined with Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories (1914), has printed it in its original form.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

Title: The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself
Author: Teresa of Ávila
Published: 1588
Translated by: J.M. Cohen, 1957
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Number of Pages: 316

"... it was quite clear to me 
that I was moved by two contrary feelings."
- Teresa

I was so frustrated with this book that when I finished it I asked my husband if we could take it out in the yard and burn it when I was finished with my blog post. He said we could. There might be a small bonfire tonight. It would look good with our Halloween lights glowing in the background. (Just a note here: I do not approve of burning books. My intention would not be to take away others right to read, merely my expression of deep frustration.)

You might think bad of me because I feel this way about an innocent woman who is no longer living, but my frustration with Teresa and her prevarications (so infuriating!) were endless. It got to the point where just the sight of the book would make me break out in hives; I didn't want to go near it. Yet, I wanted to finish it (I don't like giving up on books, after all), and I pushed myself so hard at the end that I exhausted myself (or should I say Teresa exhausted me?).

I'm thinking, seriously, about not reading any more autobiographies for the rest of the year. I want to take a break and maybe start it again after the new year. That's how badly this one affected me. The first four autobiographies on The Well-Educated Mind's Autobiography list have exhausted me and I have no desire to continue to exhaust myself without reward.

All divine things gave me great pleasure; 
yet those of the world held me prisoner.

Teresa's Life is full of opposites: she loved the Lord, but loved the things of the world almost as much. This dichotomy of thought characterized practically her entire life. She often discusses the daily struggles to keep her mind focused on God and ignore the afflictions of the human condition.
How she gained strength to combat her own waywardness, and gradually grew, almost unaided by her ignorant confessors, to understand and assess the spiritual experiences that befell her, is the central theme of her book.
Her book covers Teresa's life up to the age of fifty and is thought to have been begun seven or eight years before she was asked for it. It is believed that she was asked to write it around the time that she began to arrange the opening of a convent, called St. Joseph's, that was to be more "enclosed" than the one she currently resided in.
The saint herself states that it was composed in the first place at the request of her confessors, who required some account of her rare experiences to be circulated among those religious of a like bent, and who needed it also, in a day when accusations of heresy were frequent, as proof positive of her complete orthodoxy and utter obedience to the teachings and dictates of the Church.
This autobiography was published, along with other works by Teresa in 1588 and quickly became the second most read book, after Don Quixote. She died in 1577 and in 1622, forty-five years after her death, Teresa was officially declared a saint.

The translator mentioned something strange surrounding her death: "the incorruptibility of her body."
... the fragrance that surrounded her uncorrupted body led to most disgraceful results. In the wild rush to acquire sacred relics, various of her limbs were torn from her corpse. Her old friend Father Gracián, who had only lately so disappointed her by failing to accompany her on a journey, inaugurated her dismemberment by cutting off one of her hands.
In the text itself there were times when I didn't exactly understand what Teresa was trying to say. She would talk about a situation without providing specifics, so I was never entirely sure what her lesson was in writing about that situation.

For instance, in Chapter 7 she states:
So, when I began to indulge in these conversations, seeing that they were customary, it did not seem to me that they would bring the harm and distraction to my soul that I afterwards found such behaviour to entail. As the receiving of visitors is such a common practice in many convents, I did not think that it would hurt me any more than it hurt the others, who were, as I saw, good women. I did not realize that they were much better than I, and that what was a danger to me was not so dangerous to others. Yet I have no doubt that there was always some harm in it, if only because it was a waste of time.
She talks about "these conversations" without referring to what "these conversations" were. I kept thinking: what were the contents of those conversations? She states they did harm to her without explaining what was said in them. Since she makes a great deal in the next pages about the harmful effects of "these conversations," her point could have been better made by examples of what harmful talk was indulged in.

In her defense, I later read in another chapter that she refrained from using specifics because she knew that who she was sending this to might want to publish it.
That is why I mention neither myself nor anyone else by name and have done my best to write in such a way as not to be recognized.
And I wasn't the only one who noticed the vagueness of her writing. The translator himself made a note at the beginning of Chapter 18 to this effect: "This chapter must be read with great care, since the argument is most subtle..."

Again, I will state that Teresa's dichotomy of thought was the thing that drove me crazy about this book. She seems to have been unable to either express herself clearly or unable to clarify what it was she was feeling. Often, she would express that two extremes were true in herself at the same time.

What I found the most difficult about her book was the constant condemnation of herself, her nature, her thoughts, her sex, and her life. Nothing, it seemed (in her words), was good about her. Nothing in her that should make God love her. I guess she was unable to recall this passage in Genesis: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." She constantly, constantly, worried about offending God: "There is nothing in myself that can be relied on." She offended me by stating her beliefs about women: "... the mere thought that I am a woman is enough to make my wings droop. How much more then the thought that I am not only a woman but wicked!" I shouldn't be surprised by this belief, she was only expressing the beliefs of her time.

I am glad to be done with Teresa and I am disappointed that I cannot write here everything I feel about the doctrine of her beliefs. I took eight pages of notes while reading and so much of it is good stuff, but too much to be included in a blog post. Besides, a post like that would be incredibly boring and not useful for anyone to read.

From Chapter 12:
To occupy the powers of the mind and at the same time to imagine that we can keep them quiet is folly.

From Chapter 18:
What virtues there are in obedience, which can do everything!

From Chapter 25:
... the proof that something comes from God lies in its conformity to Holy Scripture.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Skeleton Crew

Title: Skeleton Crew
Author: Stephen King
Published: 1985
Publisher: Pocket Books
Number of Pages: 760

Personal Note:
I checked this book out at the library the first week of September on a whim. My husband and I were taking a weekend trip to southern California and I needed something that I could read without a pen or highlighter (or even paper) close by. That weekend trip turned into an even longer trip when we decided to drive to Las Vegas on the way back and take in Michael Jackson's One at Mandalay Bay Casino. It was my first time in Vegas; I was blown away by the show (awesome!) but disgusted by all the rampant consumerism on The Strip. (As someone who practices simplicity I was astounded by what people could possibly need so bad that there had to be a whole strip to promote it!) The book went unread or even started since my extended family took up my time in southern California and my husband and I were constantly on the go in Vegas.

I read my first Stephen King book, Firestarter (1980), when I was nine years old. In fact, it was the first grown-up novel I read. I used a dictionary, quite heavily, since at nine years old I didn't know a lot of grown-up words. This time, for Skeleton Crew, I didn't have to rely on a dictionary, although I did have to look up all of three words (thanatotic, concatenation, and nostrum; thanatotic I had to look up on the internet since my dictionary didn't have it).

The first time I read Skeleton Crew, which is a collection of twenty-two short stories, was in 1985. I was in middle school and when done for the day I would walk across the street to the church my parents and I attended and wait in a Sunday School room for a couple of hours until my mother picked me up on her way home from work. I vividly remember laying on the floor, my feet planted on the wall and reading "The Mist," the first short story. Each afternoon, after school, I devoured another - or several - short stories, becoming so absorbed that I would sometimes forget to go outside at the time I knew my mom would be driving up, forcing her to come inside and find me.

What I Liked:
My favorite stories in this collection are "The Mist" - it was the first short story I read by King, but also, it's just a really good story; it pulls you in and you just have to continue reading to find out what comes next; "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" - which I was delighted to find out was based on King's wife (as he stated in the Notes section at the end of the book); "The Raft" - which I remembered from the movie Creepshow (1982); and "Uncle Otto's Truck" - mainly because of King's descriptions of the landscape (a big red truck sitting in a field, white mountains behind it).

The best thing about the collection, though, would be the Notes at the end. In this section King describes the origins of a selection of the stories. This is where I learned that his wife, Tabitha, was the inspiration for "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" and a story his brother-in-law told him became "The Reach."

What I Didn't Like:
Sorry Mr. King, but I just didn't like "Survivor Type." An awful, awful story. And quite gross. Maybe it was the subject matter, self-cannibalism, that turned me off. Whatever the reason, I didn't like it and it was the only story I had a strong negative reaction to.

From "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet":
The editor: "A detailed plot synopsis would only be boring."

Concluding Note:
It was nice to read a book and not have to worry about analyzing it! When I don't have to have my brain "on" I can sit back and get absorbed in what I'm reading, which I find very relaxing. So, thank you, Mr. King, for giving me some good stories to read and some much needed relaxation.

Friday, August 31, 2018

North and South

Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Published: 1855
Introduction and Notes: Patricia Ingham, 1995
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Number of Pages: 451

Personal Note:
So I struggled reading this book. I started reading it in May, but didn't make the big push to finish it until two weeks ago. The story was good, but the writing - the style, the grammar - was terrible. There were times I was left scratching my head, wondering what the author said or meant to say in a sentence or even a paragraph. That constant aggravation was a barrier to enjoying the book and even a barrier to completing it.

One reason, possibly, for my problems with the style of the novel may have been because it was originally a serial, written for Charles Dickens' Household Words, and published from September 1854 through January 1855. For its publication in novel form in 1855, new chapters were added. Gaskell adds a Note at the beginning of the novel to explain:
On its first appearance in 'Household Words', this tale was obliged to conform to the conditions imposed by the requirements of a weekly publication... Although these conditions were made as light as they well could be, the author found it impossible to develope the story in the manner originally intended, and, more especially, was compelled to hurry on events with an improbable rapidity towards the close. In some degree to remedy this obvious defect, various short passages have been inserted, and several new chapters added...
What remains in published form is not something I would have been proud to publish myself. I would have been embarrassed by the bad grammar and sentence structure.

In the Introduction (which I wish I had read first and not last), Patricia Ingham explains what the North is and what the South is:
'The North' in mid-Victorian fiction is not merely a place but a figure for capitalistic value for which Manchester [an industrial town in England] was often the symbol... 'The South' on the other hand was, in industrial novels, another country: not only physically distant but unrelated. It was merely the natural location of the educated and comfortable middle-class.
The author, Gaskell, is contrasting these two extremes: the manufacturing towns of the North and the middle-class as well as the landed gentry - the gentlemen and ladies - of the South.

Patricia Ingham goes on to succinctly state the novels premise:
... Gaskell takes a heroine from the 'unmercantile' South - educated, refined, with a taste for virtue, beauty (and comfort) - thrusts her into the ugliness and conflict of the North, and allows her to go native... Margaret Hale... is transformed by her life in Milton into a different person both as an individual and as a woman... She embodies the unbreakable link between southern prosperity and northern misery. She is now both South and North.

What I Liked:
I'm sorry to say this, but the only thing I liked about this novel was the Glossary. I had a hard time understanding the working class' use of words. When I discovered the Glossary in the back of the book, which defined the words used, it became easier for me to understand them. For instance, 'hoo' meant 'her,' and 'clem' meant 'to starve.'

What I Didn't Like:
I found out right away that the End Notes gave away too much information. I had to be careful how I read them. I tried only to read the information I needed right away and not read anything that might give the plot away.

Another thing I found quite disconcerting was the author's misuse of pronouns. For example, in chapter XXII, there are three women and one man appearing in the action. In the example I am using here, the last woman referred to was Mrs. Thornton. So one paragraph down, when the author refers to a "she" I thought it was to Mrs. Thornton. I was wrong, and subsequently confused. The "she" referred to was Margaret Hale, who had not been named or referred to for the last three paragraphs.

Character development was poor. Elizabeth Gaskell may not be Jane Austen (who is superb at character development - possibly the best in history!), but if I cared about my characters as much as she obviously did about Margaret and Mr. Thornton, I would have spent some time on them, fleshed them out, presented them to my reader and the other characters appearing in the book as more... established... at least in my own mind. Did she not know who they were, deep down, before she began writing her story?

From Chapter XLIX: Breathing Tranquility:
But she [Margaret Hale] had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it; and she tried to settle that most difficult problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority, and how much might be set apart for freedom in working.

Concluding Note:
In spite of my problems in reading this book, I do recommend it to others. If you do read this version printed by Penguin Classics, I would recommend reading the Introduction first. It doesn't give away too many details of the plot and it helps the reader set up ideas of what North and South is. I'm an American, not English, so I would not understand what those parts of the country stood for in the mid-nineteenth century. Patricia Ingham, who wrote the Intro and Notes, kept bringing up two other industrial novels that might be helpful to also read: Hard Times (1854) by Charles Dickens and Shirley (1849) by Charlotte Brontë. These are already on my reading list. Once I get over Villette (1853) by Charlotte Brontë, which I read earlier this year, I might read another novel by her. I also hope to one day read Wives and Daughters (1864) by Elizabeth Gaskell. I can only hope that her grammar usage had improved in the intervening years.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Riders on the Storm

Title: Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and The Doors
Author: John Densmore
Published: 1990
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Number of Pages: 319

Personal Note:
My reading has been slow - even a standstill at times - this summer. With the persistent high temperatures and the large number of fires surrounding the region I live in, filling the area with choking smoke, my body is sluggish and my mind is dumb. I've mostly been listening to music (The Police, the Doors, and the Star Wars Soundtrack from 1977), sharing adventures with the Winchester boys from Supernatural (a show I've watched since it debuted in 2005 on the WB Network - now The CW), and watching Sharp Objects (an HBO Limited Series based on the novel by Gillian Flynn and mostly filmed in my home state).

Late last year when I was planning what I wanted to read this year, I decided I was finally going to read John Densmore's autobiography of his time with the Doors. I had been wanting to read it since I came across the autobiography in a bookstore in Lenox Square Mall, located in Atlanta, in 1992. And I wanted to read other books on the Doors as well. I penciled in No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980), which I read earlier this year; this book: Riders on the Storm (1990) by John Densmore; Light My Fire (1998) by Ray Manzarek (who is now deceased); and The Doors Unhinged (2010) by John Densmore. My local library carried the last two, but the first two I would have to find on my own. After some searching, I came across this book at a thrift store; it was a hardback in perfect condition and I bought it for three dollars. The only marking in it was a name written in red marker on the inside cover: Angie Hecht. The book smelled faintly of patchouli and the smell would waft up to my nose every time I opened the book or turned a page. It was a calming, sensual pleasure that added to my digestion of Densmore's poignant story.

It seems that whoever met Jim Morrison walked away with a different impression: Southern gentleman, prick, poet, brute, charmer, etc.
I lived with Jim for six years on the road and in the recording studio. This book is my truth. It may not be the whole truth, but it's the way I saw it. From the drum stool.
John's story begins in Paris in 1975 when he visits Jim Morrison's grave for the first time. He is so overcome that he begins a letter to his former and now deceased friend in order to understand the madness that existed for the six years the Doors were together. His letter is an attempt at not only understanding the past, but an attempt to build a present and a future as John Densmore, individual, and not as John Densmore, drummer of the Doors.
Densmore fell in love with music at an early age. One of his earliest memories is sitting next to the organ pipes in the balcony of his Catholic Church. He loved the loudness of the organ and how his seat would vibrate with the low notes. His description of music and how it affected him resonated with me:
Music hypnotized me and transported me out of my little suburban bedroom into fantasyland.
In Junior High he joined the school band and learned to play the drums, taking private lessons to quickly become proficient.
I was fortunate to learn the drum instruments separately, so that I had a thorough understanding when I put them all together.
But being in the band wasn't cool. Sports were the thing, and John was not a jock.
Looking back, music was my salvation through those lonely adolescent years, as it would prove to be for years to come.
The final four that would become the Doors came together in 1965. John had met Ray Manczarek (yes, I spelled that right - Ray later changed it to Manzarek), a keyboard player from Chicago, who was in a band with his brothers; reconnected with an old friend, Robby Krieger, a guitar player with flamenco and folk roots; and met Jim Morrison, a mysterious guy and film school buddy of Ray's that was living with him. 

One of my favorite early memories of John's is when Morrison took him to Olivia's for lunch.
Olivia's. A small soul food restaurant at the corner of Ocean Park and Main. A roadside diner that belonged in Biloxi, Mississippi. The place was packed, as usual. The restaurant that Jim later memorialized as the "Soul Kitchen" was full of UCLA film students. It looked like an Amtrak dining car that got stranded at the beach.
Morrison and Densmore ordered and began to eat.
Half an hour later Olivia bellowed, "Lunch is over!" She wore the traditional print apron over a full skirt... Her vibe was warm, but the big black woman whose name was synonymous with soul never let any patrons in at closing time, and she always tried to hustle out the ones who were there.
Her restaurant may be long gone, but the legend lives on in Jim's words...
No matter how much Densmore liked the music the four of them were creating, he couldn't help but be uneasy about Jim's instability. Jim would quote William Blake again and again: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." These "dark monologues" scared Densmore and, looking back, he states, "Meeting Jim was the death of my innocence."

So music became what Densmore focused on, more than Jim's unpredictable behavior:
My first job was to keep the tempo, not to let anybody rush or drag, but there was a lot of room for all four of us to express our individuality, which seemed to result in a unique group sound. With my jazz, Ray's early classical training and then exposure to blues, Robby's folk and flamenco, and Jim's obsession with old black blues singers, we were slowly forming the Doors' sound.
Eventually, Ray found a Fender Rhodes keyboard bass, so we didn't need a bass player. It completed the sound. Because he played the bass with his left hand and the organ with his right, it forced Ray to play simple bass lines while he concentrated on his right hand playing the organ.
The lack of a real bass player left room for me to fill, and I enjoyed adding percussive comments to Jim's singing.
After playing clubs for awhile, the Doors were finally signed to a small record label, Elektra Records. In 1966, they went into the studio with producer Paul Rothchild to record their first album. What came out is unarguably the best album they released. This opinion is supported by the fact that their first album is also their highest selling album.

Between the years of the recording of their first album and their last, L.A. Woman, Densmore describes the studio process, playing live (something he came to live for), and Jim's excesses which progressively got worse and even hindered the band in the recording process and on the road when touring. He said he had a constant rash on his back and on the backs of his legs from the stress of dealing with Jim. He sometimes wondered if he should quit, wondered if he could deal with Jim over a long period of time.

Robby would have his own misgivings about the band as well:
In retrospect, Robby says that it was at this point - around the end of '67 and beginning of '68 - that he began to dislike Jim intensely, thinking that the band's future was a day-to-day thing.
Success had become its own problem as well. Densmore describes one of the effects of success like this:
We were going into the studio to record and we didn't have enough songs worked out to fill an entire album. There just wasn't enough time to write the songs and digest them like we used to. The Doors had finally gotten a giant business machine going, lawyers and managers, and now it was picking up speed, gaining its own wild momentum. No time for writing songs like in the early days. Success began to feel like a runaway train - and we couldn't slow it down.
But playing live was what it was all about for Densmore. The band loved to get into the groove of a song and let it take them away from themselves. They followed the music.
I enjoyed spurring Ray and Robby on in their solos... When Ray and I locked into a groove, it was unbounded joy. Robby floated on top, and Ray and I were the rhythm section, the bottom.
When it was good, you wanted the groove to go on forever. Don't change to another set of chord progressions, don't go to the next section of the song; just stay right there and ride.
After twenty years, trips around the world, and two marriages, this is still one of the moments I miss the most.
The last chapters of the book is a continuation of John's letter to Jim. He tells Jim everything that has happened to him since Jim's death in Paris in 1971: more albums, writing, acting, two marriages, a child, and a long search for himself, separate from the Doors. The book ends on a positive note:
There is life beyond the Doors. I've been a husband, a father, an actor, a writer, and a politically concerned American.
I now know the reason I stayed in the band through all the insanity was because music had become my new religion. It is a major theme through my life. 
Music is my closest friend, but not my only friend. Through journals, a play, and this book, I've been building an inner life - an inner peak to match the outer one the band had, only this one will take me on through to the other side.

Chapter 11: Tell All the People:
Apparently we were one of the more popular groups in 'Nam... To some, our music meant a longing for back home, a momentary escape valve, and a way to feel connected with what was going on back in the States. To others, we were the dark soundtrack raging in their minds when they were under fire.

What disturbs me today is that rock 'n' roll is being exploited into "battle" music for patriotic war movies. Vietnam was called a rock-'n'-roll war because the soldiers chose to listen to it to help them survive, which is quite different from some of today's film directors (modern-day generals) using rock to drum up patriotic reverie.

Chapter 13: Absolutely Live:
Ray lit a stick of incense that was preset on the organ, an idea we copped from Indian music. It had evolved into a ritual that signaled we were leaving the outside world behind, and the smell put us in a collective mood to play.

Chapter 14: Shaman's Blues:
Writing to Jim Morrison: "You wouldn't believe all the sixties' songs that have been sold for commercials now, let alone the giant deals "artists" are now making for Pepsi or the like. Rock 'n' roll is incorporated now, selling jeans, perfume, and war. We were just ahead of our time!... Seriously, it's a good lesson you taught me about greed. I've been adamantly opposed to the use of any of our songs for commercials ever since."

Chapter 15: Touch Me:
When one gains so much power that others, friends as well as strangers, are afraid to comment on one's excesses, trouble lies ahead.

Chapter 22: When the Music's Over:
Discipline does something for the soul.

Concluding Note:
This book was much, much better than the previous one I read on Jim Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive. Densmore's writing is personal, vulnerable, and strong, all at the same time. If you're looking for a good book to read on the Doors this is the one you should read.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Complete Essays of Montaigne

Title: The Complete Essays
Author: Michel de Montaigne
Published: 1580/Revised 1582, 1588, 1592, 1595, 1617
Translated by: M.A. Screech, 1987, 1991, 2003
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Number of Pages: 1284 (of which I read 172)

Personal Note:
These essays are the third title on The Well-Educated Mind's Autobiography list and I just can't read them. I gave it a good try, but Montaigne is not for me. I made it through the first twenty-five chapters and part of chapter 26 of Book I and called it.

Montaigne decided to write these essays after he retreated to his estates in Montaigne, seeking a life of leisure.
Montaigne's project of calm study soon went wrong. He fell into an unbalanced melancholy; his spirit galloped off like a runaway horse; his mind, left fallow, produced weeds not grass... So at the outset otium [leisure] brought Montaigne not happy leisure and wisdom but instability. Writing the Essays was, at one period, a successful attempt to exorcize that demon.
He soon decided to write about himself, the only subject he might know better than anyone else... No one in Classical Antiquity had done anything like it... the Essays were... a hunt for truth, personality, and a knowledge of humanity through an exploration of his own reactions to his reading, his travels, his public and his private experience in peace and in Civil War, in health and in sickness.
Sorry Montaigne, but I found your project and your essays about yourself quite boring.

These essays cover a wide range of topics. Of the twenty-five or so that I read they covered sadness, lying, war, religion, emotions, idleness, constancy, and the last two I read were about educating children.

From Chapter 20: To philosophize is to learn how to die:
To practise death is to practise freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.

From Chapter 24: Same design: differing outcomes:
A competent reader can often find in another man's writings perfections other than those which the author knows that he put there, and can endow them with richer senses and meanings.

From Chapter 26: On educating children:
The profit we posses after study is to have become better and wiser...

Concluding Note:
So, I do not like giving up on books, although this didn't use to be the case. Before I began reading the lists from The Well-Educated Mind I gave up quite easily on a book if it didn't immediately grab my attention. But reading from these lists has taught me how to stick with things, even when they are difficult or boring (hey, I made it through Don Quixote and Moby-Dick). Montaigne tried me a little too much to stick with it. As I read, I found the subject matter was something I just couldn't continue with.