Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday's Best Book Diary: Roger Ebert, Lisa Randall, Grant Morrison

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert published his memoir this month (Life Itself, Grand Central Publishing, September, 2011) and it is remarkable, one of the best books I have read this year.  He profiles many of the interesting people he has known during his long career.  He speaks of the evolution of his personal philosophy:

Catholicism made me a humanist before I knew the word.  When people rail against "secular humanism," I want to ask them if humanism itself would be okay with them if it wasn't so secular. . .No, I am not a Buddhist.  I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic.  I am more content with questions than answers.

Ebert also speaks frankly and incisively about the depths of his illness and his struggle to recover.  Listen to this, pp. 387-388:

"Curiously, my love of reading finally returned after I picked up Cormac McCarthy's SUTTREE, a book I had already read not long before my first surgery. Now I read it two more times, reentering the same experience, the same occult and visionary prose, the life of SUTTREE so urgently evoked.'

"As rarely before, a book became tactile to me. When Suttree stopped at the bus station for a grilled cheese, I ate it, and the pickle, and drank the black coffee. I began to live again through this desperate man's sad life. In my chilly hospital room late at night, a blanket pulled around me in a wheelchair, a pool of light on the page, I found myself drawn into the story of Suttree with an intensity I hadn't felt from fiction in years.'

"I hungered for that book. I yearned toward it. Suttree was alive. He lived for me. How strange that a novel about such a desperate man could pull me back into living. . ."

Also added to my year's best list is Grant Morrison's SUPERGODS.  As I've never been much of a comic book reader, I was going to pass on this social history via comic books.  But then I started reading just a page or two and wound up being enthralled by the incisive ideas and the muscular prose.  I then backed off, bought the book, and started over at the beginning.

Coincidentally, just in the last week or so, I posted the cover of the original Justice League of America comic on this blog, comparing Don Winslow's Dawn Patrol to the original JLA.  I'd never thought about it before, but Grant Morrison points out that the original JLA was much like the lineup of Greek gods.  Superman was Zeus; Wonder Woman, Hera; Batman, Hades; the Flash, Hermes; Green Lantern, Apollo; Aquaman, Neptune; and so on.

I'd always considered Batman juvenile or campy at best, but after reading Morrison's detailed mythic and sociological analysis, I've decided to take a look at some of the dark Batman movies, starting with Batman Begins: The Long Halloween.

Also added to the best list:  Lisa Randall's new one, Knocking On Heaven's Door.  Randall was a guest on two segments of Charlie Rose this last month and I'm glad to have seen her.  She talks books at this link.

In her own fresh and widely informative book, she discusses the latest in scientific theories.  And she reminds us that it was Murray Gell-Mann, one of Cormac McCarthy's other scientist pals and a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, who coined the term "quark" to describe the elementary particle, the term inspired by James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

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