August 29, 2012

"The Coup" by John Updike

The Coup was a 1978 bestseller by John Updike about Africa that is almost totally forgotten today, even though it was written by America's most gifted novelist at his mid-40s peak, when he was, in his own words, feeling "full of beans." Thus, it's an absurdly high-spirited first person account of a Muslim Marxist dictator of a drought-stricken African country.

It's interesting that Evelyn Waugh's African novel Scoop remains much discussed in the 21st Century, and Waugh's earlier African novel Black Mischief remains well-known, while The Coup has vanished.

The extraordinary lucidity of Scoop's prose has helped it endure because it is the rare novel that is both brilliant and an easy read. In contrast, Updike was feeling his oats in The Coup, and the style is over the top: William F. Buckley published a column in 1978 saying that while people accuse him of using sesquipedalian words too much, here's a list of all the words in The Coup that he doesn't know the meaning of. I recall feeling proud that, being a good Boy Scout, I knew a word that WFB didn't: scree.

While trying to look up that WFB column, I found this 1996 Paris Review interview with Buckley:
I occasionally run into stuff that deeply impresses me. For instance, Updike’s The Coup, which I reviewed for New York magazine. It astonishes me that it is so little recognized. It’s the brilliant put-down of Marxist Third World nativism. It truly is. And hilarious. It’s a successor to Black Mischief, but done in that distinctively Gothic style of Updike’s—very different from the opéra bouffe with which Evelyn Waugh went at that subject fifty years ago.

Updike's basic message in his 1978 novel was: America is going to win the Cold War. Capitalism makes people happier than Communism does, so these Third World Marxist dictators you read about in the newspapers all the time are going to lose.

This conclusion was not at all obvious in the Carter Era. When I read it in the tumultuous summer of 1980, I was surprised by Updike's optimism.

The Coup, however, has vanished from all memory. Almost nobody, for instance, noticed how similar the President's parents were to The Coup's ambitious African student narrator and his white American coed second wife. Joyce Carol Oates wrote in the New Republic in 1979:
Ellelloû is, or was, a devout Muslim, and a jargon-ridden Marxist whose hatred for all things American—"America, that fountainhead of obscenity and glut"—is explained partly by the fact that he attended a small college in Franchise, Wisconsin where he received an unfair grade of B- in African history, from a trendy professor who was jealous of his relationship with a white girl named Candy, and partly by the fact that he married this girl and brought her back to his kingdom, where their marriage quickly deteriorated. (Candy, called "Pinktoes" by the blacks she compulsively pursues, is coarse-mouthed, nagging, stereotyped as any cartoon suburban wife; even her most ostensibly idealistic actions—like marrying a ragamuffin Negro who seemed so lonely at college—are motivated by cliched notions of "liberalism." And of course she marries Ellelloû to enrage her bigoted father.)

Candy is probably closer to Ruth, Obama Sr.'s third wife, who married him in Boston and moved with him to Kenya, where she got to know him well enough to hate him. Oates continues:
in sharp contrast to [the narrator's] indefatigable syntactical acrobatics the other voices of the novel are either flat and silly or a parody of US advertising rhythm and jargon. ... Candy greets his infrequent visits with "Holy Christ, look who it isn't," refuses to listen to his formal Islamic pronouncements which are, to her, "Kismet crap," and says of his strategic execution of the old king: "Well, chief, how's top-level tricks? Chopping old Edumu's noggin off didn't seem to raise the humidity any."

Oates compared it to Nabokov's comic novel about a deposed ruler, Pale Fire, and it's in that class.

I presume that Obama has at least started to read it. I'd be interested to know his reaction to it. In Dreams from My Father, he describes his acute distress reading on the airplane on the way to Kenya, The Africans by David Lamb, a straightforward account by the L.A. Times' Nairobi correspondent of post-colonial African dysfunction. Updike's The Coup would have hit even closer to home.

In 2008, Updike endorsed Obama and recommended he read The Coup:
For Obama I'd recommend a novel of mine called The Coup. It's about an imaginary African country where the dictator pretends to hate the US, though he actually went to college here. The politics were based on Gaddafi - what's he called, not Mohamed, Muammar, right? The joke is how unlike Obama my character is!

Of course, as far as I can tell from Google, Updike, me, and about one other person in the history of the Internet have ever publicly noticed the connection between The Coup and Obama's parents. It would be interesting to ask Obama about it, but nobody ever has. Because that would be interesting.

102 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about Third World Capitalist dictators? General Pinochet had the Milton Friedman educated 'Chicago boys' in his economic team.

playrink said...

a good Boy Scout? In yr heart of hearts you were James Dean. Some of us post-Boomers have thankfully evolved.

Anonymous said...

Updike's basic message in his 1978 novel was: America is going to win the Cold War. Capitalism makes people happier than Communism does, so these Third World Marxist dictators you read about in the newspapers all the time are going to lose.

Didn't Updike's daughter marry an Obama Sr. type? He may have ended up reassessing this message....

DPG said...

I just so happen to be reading Rabbit at Rest right now. I'll have to give The Coup a gander.

My sense of Updike is that he wasn't really that conservative, something along the lines of a religious Northeastern Kennedy liberal, but that he tended to emphasize his conservatism in his stories a bit to differentiate from Philip Roth and the sexual revolution.

Mr X said...

"Sesquipedalian" is a sesquipedalian word.

RE: Pinochet, Chile's economy is still the most stable in South America.

Anonymous said...

The Coup is a great read if you like Updike's sometimes-frantic style (which I do). It's also likely he'd never have gotten it published in today's PC climate; it's way politically incorrect.

I recently reread Scoop, and as much as I admire Updike, there's not much question Waugh was better. Scoop is a comic masterpiece. Waugh's characters are so, so good: even the bit players such as Katchen, Boot's erstwhile love interest, resonate sharply with contemporary types.

But did Updike paint the truer picture of 3rd world tinpot dictatorships? Up to a point, Lord Copper!

Steve Sailer said...

While we rhapsodize about "Scoop," let me warn readers that Waugh's book gets off to a bit of a slow start. But by the time poor William Boot is called in to see Lord Copper ...

CJ said...

I read The Coup about 30 years ago, and yes, it's an entertaining and insightful book by a good writer. It's "forgotten" because its content is so unfashionable among the literati. If you haven't read it, then read it -- it's a definitive analysis of pseudo-intellectual anti-colonialism and therefore, as Steve notes, useful for understanding the mentality that shaped Barack Obama.

If you have read it, than may I recommend a complementary piece to it, a novel about what those same literati would probably call the "clash of civilizations" in equatorial Africa, A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul. It's a shorter book than The Coup, published one year later in 1979, and it's a thoroughly engrossing read, packed with insight and information. It's also not much discussed today, probably because its content is just too damn accurate.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Steve, agreed it's a slow start if you're accustomed to reading contemporary fiction, but I found the opening sequences extremely funny. Don't you think Waugh was having a bit of a go at P G Wodehouse? I love Wodehouse, and I thought Waugh was aping/sending him up beautifully.

Anonymous said...

"Muslim Marxist dictator of a drought-stricken African country."

Do you think Marxism makes much of a difference in Africa?? I bet if the Soviet Union(when it existed) controlled Africa it would be better off than modern day capitalsm.

Anonymous said...

"RE: Pinochet, Chile's economy is still the most stable in South America."


For you gringos out there.. Chile is without a doubt a first world country....

Anonymous said...

"Waugh's characters are so, so good:"

Sorry for being an ignoramus but I don´t even know these people.. I´m 21 and have been raised by cultural marxists...

Steve, I respect your judgement like few others,,(i´ll include buchanan with ya) you think you could make a must read list for us dummies?? if you could we´d be better off ... thanks

Anonymous said...

"While we rhapsodize about "Scoop," let me warn readers that Waugh's book gets off to a bit of a slow start. But by the time poor William Boot is called in to see Lord Copper ..."

Slow can be good. Aspiring humorists should read Wodehouse to see how to milk a set piece to death in super slo-mo.

Gilbert Pinfold.

Anonymous said...

For you gringos out there.. Chile is without a doubt a first world country....

No it is not. It's per capita income is about $3000 less than Trinidad and only about $1500 more than Brazil:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita


In the Human Development Index it ranks behind Qatar and Bahrain and slightly above Barbados and Palau:


http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/human_development.htm





Steve Sailer said...

"you think you could make a must read list for us dummies??"

If you are 21, one thing that would be useful is to discover how much better old Brits were at prose. It can be challenge to get used to various classic British rhetorical styles, but it's worth doing. Here are some high Return on Investment selections that are rewarding without being too hard or too long.

Waugh's Scoop is high on the short list of books that are both sensational in classic prose style and a quick read. The opening is a little scattershot, but keep reading at least until the second time "cleft stick" comes up.

Read the autobiography Churchill wrote for boys in 1930. It's called A Roving Commission in Britain and something generic like My Life over here. It's a great boys' adventure story, in part because Churchill makes no attempt to impart mature wisdom to his tale. When he's describing what his life was like when he was four, he exhibits only the values of a four-year-old boy.

Read a few chapters of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Read at least until you laugh at his jokes.

I extracted a bravura chunk of Macaulay's History of England a month ago.

Read the opening of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations about the pin factory. This is a slow read, but the pin factory example is great.

Read the appendix to Orwell's 1984 on "Newspeak." Orwell's magazine-length journalism is tremendous, too.

Read a Kipling short story, such as The Man Who Would Be King. If you like the short stories, try Kim, which is dazzling high literature. For poetry, If would rank near the top of poems worth reading at 21.

Open the the second half of Boswell's Life of Johnson at random and read until some transcribed conversation seems funny.

Wodehouse's Jeeves and Bertie comic novels peak around 1940, such as Jeeves in the Morning.

Swift's Gulliver's Travels is about the earliest readable British prose: the least known of the travels, the third, to the island of Newtonian scientists, is the funniest.

Steve Sailer said...

Among more recent books ... Not quite in the same league in terms of prose style, but John Keegan's The Face of Battle. A great book about the British in World War II is Richard Adams' novel about talking rabbits, Watership Down.

Paul Johnson can be a spectacular historian. Modern Times from 1983 is the greatest neoconservative book. His earlier book from 1972 when he was still on the Left, A History of the English / The Offshore Islanders is an awesome work of Orwell-style socialist nationalism.

Plays are usually a tough read. You'll notice that nobody reads screenplays for fun. Playwrights write plays to work on the stage, not on the page. Julius Caesar is the most readable of Shakespeare's plays.

Shakespearean criticism is an important genre on its own. Read the critic William Hazlitt on a Shakespeare play you are familiar with. He's probably the best prose introduction to the early 19th Century Romantic period.

Among Tom Stoppard's plays, Arcadia is likely his masterpiece, but Travesties is a good initial goal. It's a play about how Lenin and Joyce were in Zurich in 1917. It is, in part, a parody of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, with the main character, who is very much the hero, being a very British upper class twit in the mode of Ernest, or not Ernest, the other one (Algernon). He tells Lenin off good.

I read Wilde's Earnest at 20 and didn't get it at all. However, Camille Paglia's chapter on Earnest in Sexual Personae is hilarious because she understands how extremely gay the play is. (The 1952 movie of Earnest with Joan Greenwood is pretty funny, better than the Reese Witherspoon version of a decade ago.) If you get into Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves books, however, you can read Travesties without reading Earnest. Think of Travesties main character as Bertie Wooster and it works fine.

Poetry is another tough read for 21st Century people. For T,S. Eliot, I'd start with Prufrock, for Romantics, I'd start with Coleridges Kublai Khan, Shelley's Ozymandias and Wordsworth's more political sonnets, such as Milton, London 1803, and For Toussaint L'Ouverture. The section in Milton's Paradise Lost about Lucifer being cast down into Hell is spectacularly in touch with today's comic book movie tastes, but, famously (as Dr. Johnson said), nobody every wished the entire poem longer.

In short, the Brits are just better with English than us Americans.

Anonymous said...

Steve, thanks much for that list -- I'm (the anon from 11:26 and 12:01) in remarkable agreement with your choices. I also agree with your suggestion to read excerpts in many cases; one of the main problems of discovering classic literature is the barrier posed by sheer length, and the energy needed to surmount it.

The young reader might also try some Jane Austen; she's very accessible (my nine year old daughter recently plowed through Pride and Prejudice, albeit with some skipovers) and certainly witty and elegant.

I would add James Joyce's Dubliners to your list. It's accessible, and it gives you a good taste of JJ's genius.

For Eliot, some may find "Four Quartets" attractive; again, excerpting would be fine. Eliot's style in 4Qs is such that you get the idea pretty quickly if you'll like it or not.

I would also push more Orwell; I'd certainly recommend "Politics and the English Language" as another good starting point.

Finally, to quibble: Jeeves in the Morning may be very fine, but Right Ho, Jeeves is unsurpassable. It is comic perfection, from end to end.

I also think you're right about the English-English/American split. There aren't many rivals from this side of the pond who can match the Brits' sheer 'dazzle', as you put it. Maybe John Kennedy Toole in Confederacy of Dunces, and Faulkner sometimes, but the list is short. Even Fitzgerald falls a bit short of the best of the Brits, I'd have to say.

Steve Sailer said...

Agreed with everything above.

If you are a 21 year old guy, you need to read Jane Austen. You won't get all of it, but it will help you understand the opposite sex. (The Bridget Jones books, which are a modern riff on Pride and Prejudice, won't hurt either.)

Anonymous said...

You just asked and answered the question.

Steve Sailer said...

"I also agree with your suggestion to read excerpts in many cases;"

Here's a question: I'm pretty good at picking out prize excerpts, so I got to thinking about what I could legally get away with in terms of setting up a website with the best excerpts from out of copyright books. How far back do I have to go? Ron Unz says 1923 is the cutoff date in America. Is it the same in Britain?

Shining Wit said...

The scene in The Coup where Ellellou endlessly ponders his white girlfriend in a dorm-room is a comic contrast to Obama and "Julia." The difference is that Ell is a leader of men and conqueror of women (though he finds himself conquered), whereas Obama is such only in his mind. Maybe Ellellou is the super-hero Obama turns into.

The best scene might be when the white devil brings water and such to Ellellou's country, and Ellellou is convinced that the mob is going to go all anti-colonial and race-riot, when instead they just want the hoses turned on.

Anonymous said...

His daughter married blacks. He was what was wrong about wasp fathers

unix said...

"Waugh's characters are so, so good:"

Sorry for being an ignoramus but I don´t even know these people.. I´m 21 and have been raised by cultural marxists...

Steve, I respect your judgement like few others,,(i´ll include buchanan with ya) you think you could make a must read list for us dummies?? if you could we´d be better off ... thanks

"

Evelyn (Evelyn used to be a male name) is a major, 20th c. author. You should make his acquaintance. Since you were raised by NPR types, perhaps you already know him a bit through Brideshead Revisited repeats on PBS?
Personally, I most remember him for The Loved One, about a pet cemetery in California, 1940s. Cartoonish but prescient nonetheless, in describing over-the-top commercialism of sentimentality (even though I think pet cemeteries are good ideas, just don't make them religious.)

unix said...

True, but Austen doesn't just help you understand women; it helps you understand human nature, as it manifests in civilized society. W. H. Auden wrote of her:

"...But tell Jane Austen, that is, if you dare
How much her novels are beloved down here.
She wrote them for posterity, she said:
‘Twas rash, but by posterity she’s read.
You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amourous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety..."

Anonymous said...

"A great book about the British in World War II is Richard Adams' novel about talking rabbits, Watership Down."

This is probably my favorite book: I've read it so many times that when I pick it up I flip to a random page and can instantly tell where in the story I am.

As for poetry- listening to recordings tends to be much more pleasant than reading text, in my experience. The parts of Kubla Khan I remember best (and enjoy the most) are the ones that I had a brief recording of.

Polichinello said...

The Coup is also prophetic in that Ellelloû, his third wife and her six kids wind up living in the West.

Savor the victory.

Anonymous said...

"In short, the Brits are just better with English than us Americans."

Shouldn't that be "we Americans"? I'll assume that was a joke.

Anonymous said...

http://irishsavant.blogspot.com/2011/02/hallelulia-ireland-becomes-ever-more.html

Irish potatoheads freed themselves from the British to... hand over their nation to Africans.

Anonymous said...

Lots of great recommends here. I would also say, for a younger reader into science fiction, to try some of the Brit SF writers of the '50s and '60s.

John Wyndham, with "Day of the Triffids" and "Midwich Cuckoos"; JG Ballard with "The Drowned World" and "The Crystal World"; Brian Aldiss with "Hothouse" and "Greybeard." John Christopher with "No Blade of Grass."

Unlike the rather optimistic american SF of the period, these books are all rather pessimistic about the long-term fate of mankind, with a common theme that civilization is fragile and can end suddenly, on any pretext ("Blade of Grass" is about what happens when there's a global grain blight.)

These books are all relatively short and written in sharp, precise prose and are darkly witty at times. Burgess' "Clockwork Orange" falls into this line, though obviously it's a tougher read.

Anonymous said...

http://takimag.com/article/bloodbath_in_the_rainbow_nation_hannes_wessels/print#axzz252KVLYLi

Speaking of rabbits...

Anonymous said...

http://blogs.suntimes.com/foreignc/2012/08/dont-knock-woody.html

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see you suggested Watership Down. Upon recently re-reading it I found the section where the rabbits encounter the deracinated, pretentious, fatalist, meterosexual, artsy-fartsy rabbits the most eye-opening. More relevant today than the commie rabbits of general Woundwart they encounter at the end.

Luke Lea said...

There is also a resemblance between Obama and the hero of Updike's novel Terrorist. The mother is white (Irish-American) and the father, who absconded at birth, is African (or maybe Egyptian, I forget). Anyway the son idealizes the absent father and resents the mother with whom he lives in the New Jersey suburbs of NYC, where he finds it impossible to fit in. It is a story of alienation -- a very empathetic one I might add -- and a very good novel.

Updike's best remains Couples in my opinion however.

FredR said...

I thought the funniest passage was when Ellelou went on a rant about tourists:

"He was flooding my purified, penniless but proud country with animalistic buses stuffed full of third-echelon Chou Shmoes, German shutterbugs, British spinters, bargain-seeking Bulgarians, curious Danes, Italian archaeologists, and trip-crazed American collegians bribed by their soused and adulterous parents to get out of the house and let capitalism collapse in peace"

Anonymous said...

"No it is not. It's per capita income is about $3000 less than Trinidad and only about $1500 more than Brazil:"

Go to those 3 countries and tell me which one you think is the richest.

Money isn´t everything when it comes to quality of life...

FredR said...

Its funny to think of "The Coup" and "A Bend in the River" side by side. Updike could see the humor in ultimately destructive postcolonial third-world intellectual pretensions, but the famously dyspeptic Naipaul, writing about the same subject, produced a few books that are incredibly depressing and nihilistic.

Anonymous Rice Alum #4 said...

Here's a question: I'm pretty good at picking out prize excerpts, so I got to thinking about what I could legally get away with in terms of setting up a website with the best excerpts from out of copyright books. How far back do I have to go? Ron Unz says 1923 is the cutoff date in America. Is it the same in Britain?

IANAL, but it looks like work by any British writer who died before 1925 is in the public domain. Otherwise, copyright expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year of the author's death. So Orwell's work will be public domain in 2021; Waugh's, 2037.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_the_United_Kingdom#Copyright_term

Why limit yourself to a website? Ebook and print-on-demand publishing is fairly easy, and you would be adding enough value as an editor to justify a $5-10 ebook and a $15-20 trade paperback (with royalties to you of $3-5 per copy sold). Seriously, if you are at all interested, leave me a comment and I can contact you privately about it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list, Steve. I think I´ll start out with Churchill´s autobiography...

Anonymous said...

http://www.aol.com/video/whitewashed-history-teaching-discrimination-in-us-schools/517458875/?icid=maing-grid7%7Cmaing6%7Cdl5%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D198804

peterike said...

The Updike sounds interesting. The only thing of Updike's I've read in decades was "The Witches of Eastwick," which I thought was absolute dreck (punctured now and again by a brilliant sentence).

I presume that Obama has at least started to read it.

You presume wrongly, I'm sure. I would bet that Obama hasn't read five novels in the past ten years. He's a life-long slacker and has zero intellectual curiosity (people who feel they know everything never need to actually, you know, know anything).

Baloo said...

Jack Vance. Everybody needs to read Jack Vance. He's a stealth conservative in the best and deepest sense.

Anonymous said...

On the list of countries by gdp per capita Chile is at 14000 between Hungary and Croatia so not quite first world.

I think the cutoff for first world is probably 20,000 which is where the Czech Republic and Taiwan are.

Anonymous said...

No it is not. It's per capita income is about $3000 less than Trinidad and only about $1500 more than Brazil...

In the Human Development Index it ranks behind Qatar and Bahrain and slightly above Barbados and Palau:


Chile is a dump but it tends to get good publicity (except for extreme left pro-Allende types) from the mainstream because Pinochet was a CIA backed stooge and because it aggressively imposed neoliberal economics that's been good for rentiers.

Anonymous said...

OT:

Stanford Is Building a Body-Cooling Glove That Might Work ‘Better Than Steroids’ for Athletes

http://gizmodo.com/5939295/stanford-is-building-a-body+cooling-glove-that-might-work-better-than-steroids-for-athletes

"One of the reasons professional athletes illegally use steroids is to help speed up their recovery time after a particularly grueling game or injury, thus making them fresh as spring chickens the next time they compete."

Anonymous said...

You know, I thought maybe I had read something by this Updike fellow, until I realized that his "Rabbit" books were not the same thing as "Watership Down".

Oh well.

PS: Apparently Updike was obsessed with questions of adultery? So I guess then it wasn't much of a surprise to people when he divorced his wife?

Big Bill said...

"Ron Unz says 1923 is the cutoff date in America. Is it the same in Britain?"

No, it is not the same in Britain. 1923 is the magic date in the US because of the Sonny Bono Copyright Act.

However, US copyright law applies to ANY book that is copyrighted in the US.

Thus, a British-written book may have lost its British copyright and still have a US copyright.

What you need to do is set up a server in a foreign country with no copyright law or a country in which no one bothered to get a copyright or a country that didn't even exist (Dubai? Tuvalu? Slovakia?) and serve your web pages up from there.

That way, you won't be violating copyright. Alternatively, provide links to a Gutenbergish site in a country in which the copyrights have expired. Like this site for books by Orwell and many others.

DaveinHackensack said...

Steve,

You should consider starting a book club. Include Amazon affiliate links so readers can give you a few bucks when they buy the books and then we could discuss them in detail here.

Re your recommendations, Scoop is great. Kim is as well; I read that one on a Nook, which had links to a handy glossary explaining some of the historic references. Re Gulliver, were the Newtonians the Laputans? I haven't read that since I was in high school. Will have to revisit it.

I'm curious if you've read Jonathan Franzen's last two novels (The Corrections and Freedom). If you haven't, I think you might like them and perhaps find some material worth blogging about in them.

Jason said...

Steve, I just wanted to say thanks for recommending The Coup. It's one of those books that changes your frame of reference, and I never would have picked it up if you hadn't mentioned it. I recently watched The Last King of Scotland as well, and the two works are of a piece.

Luke Lea said...

Read England in the age of Wycliffe by Trevelyan. Read the collected poetry of Louis MacNeice, a much neglected figure. Read Auden and Eliot too of course. Read the essays of Bacon and Hume, the critical biographies of English poets by Johnson, the prose of Matthew Arnold, the prose of John Maynard Keynes, read Pickwick Papers (but nothing later) by Dickens, read Orwell's essays, read Carlyle, read the Psalms and Ecclesiastes and Genesis. And of course Shakespeare.

Luke Lea said...

I disagree about the English/American split. Emerson, William James (not Henry), Emily Dickinson, Eliot (or is he English?) are in the same league. Edmund Wilson is probably the greatest literary critic there ever was. Hemingway and Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby especially) hold up well. etc..

Luke Lea said...

Typee is a great book for youngsters. The ultimate South Seas fantasy.

Luke Lea said...

Wilde's wit is fab, and Shaws plays play well on stage or film. Unreadable however, Shaw.

Anonymous said...

steve, what do you think of DFW?


I mentioned in another comment thread that I'd put him up against any of your smug Brits in terms of raw verbal horsepower. He's a technical virtuoso and a true genius but his work is often too difficult to engage. I'd liken him to Joyce in some respects. Both were absolute masters of the English language and both have works that are readable and, uhh, less readable.

I think almost anyone can enjoy Joyce's short stories and they are brilliant. Portrait of the Artist is pretty readable and still brilliant. Ulysses is brilliant but less readable. Finnegan's Wake is rough going. Similarly, I think anyone can enjoy DFW's magazine pieces while his novels gets a bit esoteric. Maybe that's the price of genius in the modern age when a writer feels like he has to keep pushing the boundaries of originality.

Luke Lea said...

Tennessee Williams and Ellen Gilchrist are supreme prose stylists. Gilchrist's stories about growing up in the South put Twain to shame.

Luke Lea said...

David Lodge is too much neglected, his serious efforts especially. Paradise News in a great little novel.

Luke Lea said...

Lincoln's prose pays re-examination. Cooper's Union address is a good place to start.

Luke Lea said...

Grant's memoirs, anybody?

Luke Lea said...

What about great travel writing? We haven't even touched on that.

Luke Lea said...

To the Lighthouse, all but the last section, is a tour de force of English impressionism.

Luke Lea said...

Poems of Innocence and Experience, Intimations of Immortality -- how could we forget those?

Luke Lea said...

Eliot's poetry should be read in sequence. It's all one big long (but verbally compact) spiritual journey.

Luke Lea said...

Let's put special emphasis on Shakespeare's sonnets.

Luke Lea said...

For something really offbeat but hilarious try Flush Times in Alabama. Broad 19th century humor at its best.

Luke Lea said...

If you want a really good selection and introduction to English and American poetry I recommend Cleanthe Brooks's Understanding Poetry. Those New Critics have not been topped.

Luke Lea said...

Becket is a master of the English language. Just about everything he srote reads well.

Luke Lea said...

How about a list of all those we've grown tired of? You know, the ones who were supposed to be great but don't hold up when you go back to them. I'd put Joyce and Faulkner on the list.

Clutch cargo cult said...

I wasn't aware of either book but ready your summery of "The Coup" and some reviews of "Black Mischief" it seems the novels are perfect bookends for the folly of intervention in Africa by either communism or capitalism They are better off alone as are we.

Anonymous said...

There aren't many rivals from this side of the pond who can match the Brits' sheer 'dazzle', as you put it. Maybe John Kennedy Toole in Confederacy of Dunces, and Faulkner sometimes, but the list is short.



I'd put Nathanael West's two short novels Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust on that list. They're both short reads and dazzling.

Anonymous said...

"If you are a 21 year old guy, you need to read Jane Austen. You won't get all of it, but it will help you understand the opposite sex."

In this day and age of hook up culture? Hahahaha.

Anonymous said...

That is like saying you have to read Shakespeare to understand modern day yobs.

Anonymous said...

From Churchill's My Early Life :

"It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. The quotations, when engraved upon the memory, give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more."

DaveinHackensack said...

Chile is the best-governed country in Latin America now (thanks in part to policies enacted under Pinochet and still maintained today), but it's not at first world income levels. It would be interesting to see the potential of Brazil or Argentina if they were governed as well as Chile though. One of them might have the potential to be a first world country in that case. Argentina had one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world in the 1920s.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
Don't know if you have been following the race realist web sites, but they are starting to provide coverage of Ryan's black college girlfriend

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:35 (I'm the other anon you're replying to; Mr Tall hereafter), that's an excellent call. West is indeed dazzling, and those are two exceptional little novels. The Day of the Locust is more famous, but I actually prefer Miss Lonelyhearts.

The LA setting also brings to mind another trans-atlantic dazzler our young reader should definitely engage: Raymond Chandler. If I only I could put together sentences like his . . . .

And, finally, still in the noir vein, James Cain is remarkable, and very efficient reading. You can read Double Indemnity, for example, in a sitting, but you'll never forget it.

Mr Tall

chucho said...

File FTW under DICKENS, CHARLES

Whiskey said...

For those with either Nook or Kindle, Project Gutenberg here will serve you well for Kipling and Smith and many others.

Let me add some others:

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Professor Challenger, and White Company stories. All public domain by now. Excellent and page-turning.

Eric Ambler, particularly his earlier and later books. Coffin for Dimitrios is a classic, but Doctor Frigo (covering some of the same ground South American style as Coup only with ironic twist thriller) is great, as well as the Levanter, Care of Time, and State of Siege (called "the Night-Comers" in the UK). Doctor Frigo is in my opinion brilliant, and the Levanter is amazing.

You really can't go wrong with Eric Ambler. Ever.

Steve Sailer said...

Rice Alum #4

"Seriously, if you are at all interested, leave me a comment and I can contact you privately about it."

Yes, please do.

Steve

Anonymous said...

"o these Third World Marxist dictators you read about in the newspapers all the time are going to lose."

Yea, We won and now all the dictator's former subjects get to move here.

Anonymous said...

I always like threads like these because they give me some ideas on what to read.

Steve, How about a list of great essayists that you or anybody else recommend.

I like Orwell, Mencken, Twain, Schopenhauer.

Any others?

Anonymous said...

"Why limit yourself to a website? Ebook and print-on-demand publishing is fairly easy, and you would be adding enough value as an editor to justify a $5-10 ebook and a $15-20 trade paperback"

Please get going on this Steve. I can't wait.

Anonymous said...

Man, it is so weird that I had "Rabbit Run" confused in my mind with "Watership Down" and then it turns out that you had named WD before I even commented.

Bizarre.

Anonymous said...

i will back Luke Lea's recommendation of "To the Lighthouse" and Woolf in general. Woolf gets a really bad rap from some quarters, but if you remove "A Room of One's Own" (which is not radical feminism by any means, but simply a rich, ambitious, talented woman's pissed-off rant about being denied the resources to the fops who attended Oxford in the '20s---Woolf is the sort of woman, like George Eliot, who the rules should've bent for) and the more wilder, avant-garde books, there are a few really top-rate novels.

in particular "Orlando" and "Between the Acts" (both of which you can get through that Adelaide site linked to earlier). Woolf had a real, piercing love for English literature---she saw herself as a poor inheritor at best--and these books are valentines to her heritage. The Elizabethan chapter of "Orlando" is just stunning, absolutely wonderful writing.

Anonymous said...

Kipling very good choice.

Anonymous said...

To anon at 6:16: if you're looking for superb essayists, I'd recommend C S Lewis. Most of his work is explicitly Christian/apologetic, of course, but there are few, if any, examples in English of a style so limpid and effortlessly readable.

Mr Tall

Anonymous said...

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/08/the-seer-of-pakistan.html

FredR said...

"I disagree about the English/American split."

With Mencken, Wilson, and Eliot, America had a really strong showing in 20th century literary critics.

Anonymous said...

Twain, specifically "Roughing It", is a great read in your late teens/early 20's. Austen is worthwhile in your early 20's to get they lay of the land, and again in your late 20's when you have a more sophisticated understanding of men and women.

Mahatma Dondi said...

I recently read The Singapore Grip, by J.G. Farrell. A great historical novel that well describes the weakness and dysfunction of a multicultural society (in this case, Singapore on the eve of the WW2 Japanese invasion). He also wrote hist. novels on British India and Ireland's troubles. Died in his 40s, I think, from a rogue wave that caught him while he was fishing from his oceanfront property in Ireland.

The protagonist of Grip reminded me somewhat of the one in Confederation of Dunces, so there's some humor in it also.

Kylie said...

"Sorry for being an ignoramus but I don´t even know these people.. I´m 21 and have been raised by cultural marxists..."

No need to apologize for being subjected to that crap.

Dashiell Hammett only wrote 5 novels, all are excellent but I'd especially recommend Red Harvest. It really moves and is based on Hammett's own experiences as a Pinkerton detective.

Joseph Conrad is a terrific writer, not easy reading but very worthwhile. Heart of Darkness is a must read.

Mehlville, Moby Dick.

Anonymous said...

I think Defoe's Journal of a Plague Year, which has some simlarities to Updike's coup, is the most original novel in the English language.

Anonymous Rice Alum #4 said...

Steve, I sent an email on the subject. Let me know if it didn't go through and we can figure out another way to get in contact.

FredR said...

High-brow literature was never really America's thing, and the quality seems to have gone down even more over the twentieth century, but there are a few recent writers other than Updike worth reading. Saul Bellow was an excellent writer, even if he never he could never really figure out how to develop and structure a good plot. Many of the readers of this blog would enjoy his "Mr. Sammler's Planet", which is, in some ways, the best expression of Jewish neo-conservatism.

Anonymous said...

http://sensesofcinema.com/2012/feature-articles/pure-west-drive-nostalgia-for-postmodernism/

Interesting read but what does it mean?

Anonymous said...

FredR said...

"Many the readers of this blog would enjoy his "Mr. Sammler's Planet", which is, in some ways, the best expression of Jewish neo-conservatism."

Are we talking about the same place? I thought aside from Whiskey and a few other nuts this blog was a Paleo-Conservative hangout not a Neo-Conservative hangout? No?

FredR said...

Sure, but there's still plenty of discussion of neo-conservatism. My impression is that people here find the movement interesting, even if at times only as a foil for their own views.

Anonymous said...

Here in Hong Kong, the public library stocks seven copies citywide, with one copy at the little neighborhood branch down the street.

Thanks for the tip.

Kylie said...

"http://sensesofcinema.com/2012/feature-articles/pure-west-drive-nostalgia-for-postmodernism/

Interesting read but what does it mean?"


It means the writer is only a scribbler with too much think in him.

Anonymous said...

Edmund Gosse's "Father and Son", a minor classic of elegant Edwardian prose. Still a great read.

Anonymous said...

After reading The Coup, I'm not so sure Waugh was better. Scoop is unquestioningly great, but The Coup is better than Black Mischief.

Speaking of which, one of the blurbs on the back if my paperback of Black Mischief calls it a novel of "declining Britain and emerging Africa". Another suggests Waugh's satire implies a genuine fondness for Africans. I don't see it. At the end of Black Mischief, the country is a League of Nations protectorate. Updike's novel was more generous, and, from the perspective of today, perhaps more accurate, as natural resource wealth has helped a number of African countries advance from perennial destitution.

- Dave Pinsen

Rabbit said...

Tracking John Updike's Foot Fetish.
This is only scratching the surface! Some quotes from six of Updike's fifty odd books.He kneels to comply. Annoyed at such ready compliance, which implies pleasure, she stiffens her feet and kicks so her toenails stab his cheek, dangerously near his eyes.

http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2013/10/tracking-john-updikes-foot-fetish-part-1.html#.Up9tyzYo6M8

Robertstone said...

Tracking John Updike's Foot Fetish.
This is only scratching the surface! Some quotes from six of Updike's fifty odd books.He kneels to comply. Annoyed at such ready compliance, which implies pleasure, she stiffens her feet and kicks so her toenails stab his cheek, dangerously near his eyes.
http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2013/10/tracking-john-updikes-foot-fetish-part-1.html#.Up9tyzYo6M8

John Updike said...

Signs and signage – road signs, movie marquees, newspaper headlines real and imaginary, municipal signs, electronic message boards, storefronts, etc. – function as important indicators of the shifts, changes, and developments in Angstrom’s consciousness as he grows older throughout the decades chronicled in Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series. Perhaps.http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2013/12/signs-and-signage-in-updikes-rabbit.html#.UyN2cj9dXxA