Archive for the ‘Amlit’ Category


Lovely few moments listening to Jim Dwyer talk about his childhood and subsequent career in journalism, all in Manhattan. His mention of Charles Snyder and the story behind his memorial took me back to our recent studies in the Thursday class of some American architecture and somehow or other I got round to reading of the conflicts between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs in New York in particular but in urban design theory and practice in general.   Out shopping earlier and picked up the ( charity shop £2 ) DVD of Mean Streets which had to be watched so I took the Big Apple in my head to bed. And then there’s Chinatown,  Jack. Will I get to Chicago this year, I keep asking myself, as the exchange rate – sterling to the US dollar – gets worse and worse?

Gave a first donation of platelets yesterday in Stoke-on-Trent. Oil level warning light in the car on the way with the accompanying message “Switch off engine immediately” was worrying but probably explainable after several days of snow and temperatures below zero and not using the car . Not the sort of thing one expects in a Nissan either. After checking levels and a quick burst of acceleration needed to enter fast moving traffic it went off and I still arrived in time, though slightly flustered and a little apprehensive anyway. Seventy five minutes, a big drink of water, staff who know how to smile and a bag of yellow stuff later I was ready to make the next appointment. The machines cost £50 000 each. Taxes and time well spent.

Whilst watching the machine’s display racking up the numbers and beeping occasionally, I managed to read a bit more of Manhattan Transfer by John dos Passos in anticipation of our focus on him this Thursday. Tomorrow though it’s McTeague by Frank Norris which I have enjoyed and look forward to seeing what the rest of the group think, as I suspect that none of them are as keen on Am Lit as I am, though they are always outspoken and often generous in response to any writing they enjoy. Last year one thought that Sherwood Anderson‘s Winesburg Ohio was the worst book she had ever read! Some stills from the film Greed, (with its extraordinary production history and based on McTeague) remind me of scenes from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, also based on a book, this time by the wonderfully mysterious B Traven.

Through Wells (Love and Mr Lewisham) and Housman ( A Shropshire Lad) in a sort of fin de siecle way on Wednesday this week and then Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams and e e cummings on Thursday. Religion and sex, especially sex, dominated the responses to all these works. Differences and similarities in attitudes to promiscuity and homosexuality, between the period of these writers’ work, 1890- 1940 and our own times made a happy balance in the lectures and ensuing discussion with the attention we paid to traditional lit crit.  The latter revealed again the wide variety of ways of reading there are, even among 20 or so people.   We don’t really have formal lectures because all three tutors allow and sometimes invite interruptions. They get them uninvited too, such is the enthusiasm and confidence of we students – most of us are clearly over 60 after all. Perhaps this also explains the ease and considerable delight just about everyone shows in talking about sex….

After the morning with the poets I had lunch in Reubens in Newcastle-under-Lyme with a friend who assists at a catholic church. Afterwards she gave me a guided tour of the church, the sort of thing that is always a treat even given my atheist convictions. They have a relic in this church – a piece of a martyr’s arm, kept in box hidden away in a wall unfortunately! Two sculptures by Eric Gill too (interesting hyperlink there) . So loads to think and reflect on that day, to say the least.

Finding out about podcasts, how to use them, what equipment (I would say “kit” but somehow that makes me smile and squirm a bit) do I need and do I just want a player ? So far have managed to download 3 programmes, including one about the architecture of the New York Subway System, another called Americana with Matt Frei from the BBC talking to Americans in his Washington studio about a wide range of subjects. I look forward to having access to such stuff when and where I like which doesn’t mean being near the computer, as well as sometimes using the computer to “Listen Again” on the BBC  to their matchless output. BBCi is already a favourite source of entertainment.

Spent 2 hours on Thursday with F Scott Fitzgerald in our course – Into the Jazz Age: American Art and Literature 1900 – 1930 – run by Keele University at Silverdale Library. Introduced by our great tutor John Toft, the man was depicted, dissected, discussed, delighted in, debated and distributed in the form of extracts from Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby. Clive James includes eloquent praise for Fitzgerald in his Cultural Amnesia, putting into words whatever it was I thought or felt about him without knowing it and then some. Someone mentioned the shirts scene in Gatsby and away we went for a humorous minute led by John on the subject of his own shirt collection! Then I missed most of the next 20 minutes as he asked if anyone knew the name of the actor who played Tom Buchanan in the 1974 movie and I knew but couldn’t get the name off the tip of my brain. By the break, we had gathered the phrase “American Dream” to find out the origin of, too. Get Bruce Dern from memory, but this one’s going to be a search engine job.

I am really enjoying this collection. The stories transport me in a few lines to whichever part of America they are set in and I’m usually there without a break ’til the end of the story. This isn’t the same as the ‘sense of place’ so often commented on by writers on Faulkner and others, as Wolff moves easily from desert to suburb to city as he tells us of his characters’ troubles, delights and then often more troubles, usually of the spirit. His endings for me form a major part of the experience as they ripple out beyond the last sentence into the silence in which I gaze up the garden or out into the night while the story’s effect endures.

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