Catching up on three recent reads.
On Bullshit – Harry G. Frankfurt. “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” Thus begins what is, really, an extended essay in book form on the meaning of bullshit. I read a blurb about this somewhere over the holidays and thought it sounded like a hilarious and quick read. In fact, Frankfurt was a professor of philosophy at Yale and Princeton, among other places. This is a serious look at BS. Seriously. He delves deeply into what exactly bullshit is, and how it compares to outright lying, for example. I’ve never done great with philosophical texts, so I admit my enthusiasm waned quickly. Probably far more interesting in title than in execution.
Reputations – Juan Gabriel Vázquez. This wonderful book has won numerous awards both in its original Spanish, and after being translated. All the best awards, too!
Vázquez centers the tale on a political cartoonist in Colombia. For decades Javier Mallarino has skewered the famous and powerful of Colombian society, mostly from a leftish point of view. His career is celebrated as he is presented an award for his contributions to Colombian society. Following the ceremony, a young blogger approaches him and asks if she can come to his studio and interview him for her website. He agrees, and their conversation ends up shaking everything he believes to be true about his work.
As the title suggests, the central theme of the book is about reputations. How they are made, what they mean, how they can come to dominate all aspects of our life. Mallarino had been comfortable making and breaking the reputations of others, and in turn building his own as a champion of the common man in the face of the rich and powerful. However, his visitor makes him consider the effects his cartoons can have on individuals other than his direct targets. She also forces him to recall a moment from his past, on which one of his most famous cartoons was based, and determine whether what he drew was based on true events, or just his perception of them.
My Struggle: Book 3 – Karl Ove Knausgaard. Karl Ove is back with book 3 of his epic novel/memoir. This time he focuses on his childhood years, growing up on a small Norwegian island in the 1970s. It is mostly a carefree time, although as always with him, there is drama. He is effeminate, prone to outbursts of tears, mean to many of his friends in the manner many smart kids are, and painfully learns that most of the children he goes to school with don’t like him. Yet, like is still pretty idyllic. He runs around an island pretty much unchecked.
Except for his relationship with his father, who is distant, uncommunicative, and unceasingly cruel to Karl Ove. Knausgaard lives in constant fear that even the most minor misstep will invoke the wrath of his father. A lost sock. Candy bought without permission. Eating two apples instead of the allowed one. Running in the house. Not sitting up straight. Young Karl Ove lives in near paralysis when his dad is around, knowing every action puts him on the verge of a rage by his dad.
The relationship with his father puts Book 1 in better perspective. Its easier to understand now how Karl Ove felt so conflicted about his dad’s death, and how they had become so distant in his father’s final years of life. Karl Ove is already building that distance as Book 3 ends, when he is about to go to high school.
The one part of the book that really frightened me was the closing section, when Karl Ove and his classmates are discovering and exploring their sexual urges. This was 1970s Scandinavia, so kids were allowed to go off into the woods in groups and basically figure things out on their own. The boys all became sexual predators by today’s standards, and the girls did little to stop them. As the father of three daughters, one of whom is 12, this section made me even more uncomfortable that I already was about what’s to come.