05 November 2009


Etymological aside: the word ketchup/catsup comes from the Malay word kechap, itself a version of a Chinese word describing a pickled fish sauce. While Americans associate it purely with tomatoes, it is in fact the spices & vinegar that define the substance--the English used to make ketchups out of oysters and walnuts, and banana ketchup is super-popular in the Philippines.

Aaaand a flurry of updating:

Doctor Fischer of Geneva, or The Bomb Party, Graham Greene: a decidely minor, black-comic entry in his oeuvre.

To the Wedding, John Berger: lyrical, but emotionally slight.

Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud: a classic, obviously, and useful to a text-obsessed reader like me. Whenever I read graphic works, I'm never sure if I'm spending enough time looking at a given page, especially if there aren't words on it; I've enjoyed David Small's Stitches, loved Posy Simmonds' Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe and the more straight-up comic-book stylings of Joss Whedon's Fray (my Halloween costume two years running) and the Buffy Season 8 series, but I still often feel out of my depth, like I'm not getting something. Understanding Comics helped a bit. (Though you know what? I will never like Watchmen, ever.)

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs: a novel written in alternating chapters by two founding Beats, with an afterword by my cousin James (first, once removed; Burroughs' longtime secretary and executor). I read and enjoyed On the Road, read and shrugged at The Dharma Bums, never read any Burroughs--and I have a chip on my shoulder about the whole Beat movement, as it has been used as an excuse for so much terrible, sloppy art since. But this was engaging, and surprisingly cohesive for being written by two people.

Behind That Curtain, Earl Derr Biggers: read somewhere, earlier this year, that our knee-jerk assumption that the Charlie Chan mysteries were racist isn't really true. And yes, having read one now, Charlie does dabble in flowery humility, and his attitudes towards women are not at all progressive, but he's well-respected by almost everyone he meets, and the ones who do bluster about being bested by a Chinaman are, basically, idiots. Plus, this was a great mystery: long-vanished ladies! Enigmatic clues! Quite enjoyable.

American Nerd: The Story of My People, Benjamin Nugent: a good "ethnography" of the history and subtypes of the nerd, including the roots of the type in the Romantic rejection of reason as what sets man apart in favor of emotionalism--hence seeking rational and rule-based means of discourse (which something like D&D has at its base) made one less than human, instead of more so as the ancients would have believed. He also theorizes that the fake hipster nerd is an attempt to attain authenticity by allying oneself with the artless outsider--really kind of the same way the Beats co-opted black jazz culture, and just as annoying. It's not as boring or scholarly as I make it sound; while I could have done without some of Nugent's self-flagellation for abandoning his nerd friends when he got to high school, it's a fast and oddly heartwarming read.

About to start Solzhenitsyn's August 1914! 700 pages of sheer delight, no doubt.

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