Random reflections, part V

A freestyle digest of stuff — anecdotes, lists, thoughts, opinions … 

paul-rudd-headed-to-netflix.jpgIn 2007 I interviewed actor Paul Rudd at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. He was charming, funny and absurdly laidback. As he answered one of my questions he blurted out a lengthy, earth-rattling burp. “Whoa,” I laughed, “what flavor was that?” Rudd replied: “You know what’s weird? It wasn’t a flavor so much as an actual scent, like a potpourri, a mixture of peppermint and brisket. I went to (barbecue joint) The Salt Lick last night, and I ate brisket. I’ll tell you something: It was very different than my Nana’s brisket.”

51Joc3GzvtL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Ben Lerner’s “10:04” is a breed of intellectual masterpiece, a novel I’ve praised here before. His 2011 debut “Leaving the Atocha Station” is also remarkable, the work of a poetic brainiac with torrents to say, crackling with life observations. His new novel, “The Topeka School,” is his most acclaimed yet — and I’m not sure why. I read fully half of it, and while the writing is pristine, the thinking impressive, I got lost in the choppy, distracting narrative thread. Unmoored, I put it down, migraine emerging. Yet I’m not through with the scandalously young Lerner. I’m taking “10:04” on my 14-hour flights to and from Japan — my third communion with that radiant auto-fiction.

My list of favorite cities has shifted just-so over time, and will likely keep doing so. For now: 1. Paris (eternally tops);  2. Istanbul;  3. Tokyo (this may change after my upcoming visit); 4. New York;  5. London;  6San Francisco;  7. Sevilla;  8Amsterdam.

Numero Uno

The New York Review of Books is hallowed home to academic think pieces about all things, from politics to poetry, by some of our most prodigious and stylish writers: Zadie Smith, Adam Kirsch, Marilynne Robinson, Jonathan Lethem, Rachel Cusk. Why then do I find the essays gassy, tedious, enervating, as long and dry as the Sahara? Never, not once, have I read more than a third of one. (It’s me, I know.) 246x0w.jpgRightful cult classics, “John Wick” and “John Wick: Chapter 2,” starring a lank-haired, bullet-proof Keanu Reeves, are action-flick orgies, chop-socky pistol poetry of a kind unseen since the heyday of John Woo’s “The Killer” and “Hard-Boiled.” I could barely wait for this summer’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” And then, ugh. Grindingly repetitive (though that urban horse chase is nifty), drawn out and mired in its own smug formula — with a wider narrative scope that attenuates rather than expands the affair — this one is all diminishing returns. The film runs 131 minutes. I quit it, bored, fatigued, with 40 minutes left to go. This Wick is no longer lit.


It’s still hard to reckon, a year after his death, that American novelist Philip Roth never won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Like most awards, it’s a scam, a sham. Roth was one of the greatest, dwarfing most writers who have indeed won the prize. That he received only a single Pulitzer — for 1997’s astonishing “American Pastoral” — is itself a gross dishonor. Every once in a while this pops into my head and I get all rankled. philip-roth-e1545164284312.jpg

Gusty and blustery, a wind storm howls, churning treetops like crumpled paper, flinging acorns that pelt cars and roofs, dropping like small rocks, falling leaves twirling, the house creaking, windows rattling and Cubby the dog, shaking, leaps into my lap, where he curls into a donut, glancing up with fraught brown eyes that say, simply: “Papa.”               This lasts all day. img_0832.jpg

When I wrote about film in Austin, a particular local celebrity didn’t like me. That’s because I didn’t write super stuff about her — one Sandra Bullock. I thought she was a cutesy hack, all dimples and snorts, with dismal taste in roles. Knowing she told a colleague that she wanted my “head on a stick,” I won’t deny a small surge of pride.

“Ms. Congeniality” —   enough said.

6 thoughts on “Random reflections, part V

  1. Another great post as usual.
    As with you my list of favorite cities continually evolves. Rome is up there primarily because it’s the place of my mother’s birth and after having visited a good dozen or so times I know it well and can get around it as easily as I can SF. NOLA is up there for the food, the music, the history and the general vibe. Quebec City is Paris and London in one convenient place.
    But I’m a rural person at heart. I can just as easily take Gardiner, Montana and Pinedale, Wyoming.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rome is a terrific city, and is on my long list, as is Florence. I’d love to get to Quebec City after hitting Montreal two years ago. Love that Quebec swirl of cultures, cuisine, language etc. I’m not too rural, as you can tell, but I sure should check out Montana and Wyoming. From photos, they look otherworldly. I just don’t know what I’d do there. I bet you have some ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is some beautiful country in both Wyoming and Montana. I always recommend Yellowstone to anyone and everyone.
        You aren’t going to find a lot of culture in Pinedale. I visited because I have family there. The cultural attraction there is the Mountain Man Museum. Cody Wyoming has the Buffalo Bill Center of the West which actually has a very extensive collection of art by a few American heavy hitters.
        Gardiner, Montana. We stayed in a cabin 10 miles or so up a dirt road. No phone, no internet. There was a creek that flowed right near the porch. In the late afternoon I would read on the porch and pause to listen to the creek. In the middle of the night I stepped out onto the porch to see stars that you wouldn’t know exist if you’ve never left urban America. On a good night you might hear wolves howl.
        It took awhile for my wife to get just a little bit used to it.
        If you want some culture then Jackson, Wyoming is the place. There’s an interesting museum just out of town that you can visit after dining at a Michael Mina restaurant. Before going to Michael Mina there’s the Million Dollar Cowboy bar where the bar stools are saddles – the wife didn’t dig that. I believe that Robert Redford has a home in Jackson. So does Dick Cheney but I don’t hold that against the town itself.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Montana sounds idyllic, just wonderful. I think I’d like that. Mountain Man Museum — I’m there for the name alone! This is a hell of a travel guide for future reference. I need to print it out. Thanks for sharing so much goodness, Paulie. Evocative, informative.


  2. Of all the writers you name there, I’ve only read Zadie Smith yet. Can I feel smug about my intellectuality and sophisticated taste now or are her books just – as I think of them – glorified soapies?

    Liked by 1 person

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