Thursday, October 11, 2012

Film Review: The Master directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

"The Master"

Some summers ago, on a warm night in Harvard Sq., I wandered past a space that had been empty since Wordsworth Books shut down several years before. To my surprise, that storefront was well-lit and active again — in fact, hyperactive: there was a greeter, or barker, posted outside. It being Harvard Sq., not Coney Island, this was not the norm. I went in.

This space that had once nattily showcased thousands of books — classics of fiction, science, philosophy and history; glossy new titles packed so steamily together it seemed sexual congress among them was quietly underway; an airy children’s book section — this venue so good for ogling books and people was now every inch taken up with wall panels, posters, and texts announcing atrocities and mass murders that had somehow slipped my notice.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review: Glittering Images by Camille Paglia

If you try to take Camille Paglia seriously, despite the occasional insight you might find along the way, in the end it’s impossible to avoid the suspicion that you’ve made a category error.

Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars by Camille Paglia. Pantheon, 224 pages, $30.

By Harvey Blume

It’s no fun to take Camille Paglia seriously. Not rewarding. It could be the effort is, as someone remarked similarly about Slavoj Zizek, a category error. But in thinking about the opening pages of Paglia’s new book, it occurs to me that there is a simple way of describing her. Her pronouncements about art, literature and assorted other topics over the course of her career (including, back in her heyday, when she regularly mounted a soapbox, strictures about how Madonna should sing and Hillary Clinton dress) have this in common: behind them there is a demagogue trying to get out.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: Glen Duncan's "The Last Werewolf"

Originally appeared in the

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Knopf, 293 pages, $25.95.

I picked up Glen Duncan's "The Last Werewolf" (2011) from the new fiction shelf at the library a month or so ago because I was looking for a good read and remembered that I had found Duncan's "I, Lucifer" (2003) enchanting.

The plot of "I, Lucifer" concerns the aches and pains, the trials, tribulations and daily humiliations visited on the title character — Him — by HIM. The details of plot mattered less to me in retrospect than the fact that the writing was so fine. I’m tempted to say, at this remove, that Duncan managed to make Lucifer — drug fiend and sex addict though he was — more Chaplinesque than Miltonic, more schlemiel than Satan, in prose as pin point as the sentences Martin Amis used to chisel back in the day. On the strength of "I, Lucifer" I rushed to pick up Duncan’s next book, "Death Of An Ordinary Man", and could barely finish it. It was a labored, melodramatic look back on life by some dead guy, the prose flailing away at being brilliant.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Review and Interview: “The Lost History of 1914″ — Almost the War That Wasn’t

Short Fuse Book Review and Interview: “The Lost History of 1914 — Almost the War That Wasn’t

Originally appeared in the 3/8/12

Jack Beatty, The Lost History of 1914: The Year the Great War Began, Walker & Company, 392 pages, $30.00

For Jack Beatty, born in the last year of World War II, World War I was, far more than for most Boomers, a family story. Beatty was "raised on tales" of his father's service in the First World War. The elder Beatty survived a German submarine attack on the U.S.S. Mt. Vernon — we see him and other survivors in a photographic front piece to the book — and having declined the disability compensation that was his due, later, during the Great Depression, when compelled to bed down in his car outside WPA work sites, cursed "himself for a fool for passing up the money."

Beatty is author of The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley, 1874-1958, among other books. He's a senior editor at Atlantic Monthly and a longtime analyst for NPR's On Point. Those who know him from the radio venue will not find great disparity between the passion of the spoken and the written voice, except to the degree that on the page he can allow for more scope and complexity.