March 28, 2020

"I I was surprised at how badly-written this book is. First of all, the very first line has an obscure reference to Holden Caulfield."

"Does he not realize that Catcher int he Rye is not the touchstone it once was?... I suspect that age has hindered his ability to write coherently, The book could have used a very strong editor, or an editor at all. Some sentences are so labored and confusing that they have to be read a number of times to be understood. Perhaps his vanity prevented him from seeking an editor who could have corralled it into a better book...."

From a 2-star review of Woody Allen's autobiography "Apropos of Nothing." Something made me want to read bad reviews at Amazon instead of this WaPo piece I'd clicked on: "If you’ve run out of toilet paper, Woody Allen’s memoir is also made of paper."

I'm reading the book. The first few sentences are especially good:
Like Holden, I don’t feel like going into all that David Copperfield kind of crap, although in my case, a little about my parents you may find more interesting than reading about me. Like my father, born in Brooklyn when it was all farms, ball boy for the early Brooklyn Dodgers, a pool hustler, a bookmaker, a small man but a tough Jew in fancy shirts with slicked-back patent leather hair a la George Raft. No high school, the Navy at sixteen, on a firing squad in France when they killed an American sailor for raping a local girl. A medal-winning marksman, always loved pulling a trigger and carried a pistol till the day he died with a full head of silver hair and twenty-twenty eyesight at a hundred. One night during World War I his boat got hit by a shell somewhere off the coast in the icy waters of Europe. It sank. Everyone drowned except for three guys who made the miles-long swim to shore. He was one of the three that could handle the Atlantic. But that’s how close I came to never being born.
The famous — not obscure! — first sentence of "Catcher in the Rye" is:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
If that's obscure, then reading is obsolete, and what does it matter that a writer refers to it?

Here's the beginning of "David Copperfield" that writers who want to begin in the middle of the story establish their voice by calling "crap":
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously....
ADDED: Originally, I spelled "Apropos" the way I learned to write it in French, "A Propos." (Note that I followed the rule that you don't use accent marks on capital letters.) Anyway, as Sebastian points out in the comments, the book title as printed is "Apropos of Nothing." So that's that, and it doesn't matter what I think is the standard way to use the French phrase in English. But out of curiosity, I looked it up in the OED, and the spelling of the English word is "apropos." That's how John Dryden wrote it in 1668.

But the French form — "à propos" — also appears in many English works. Alexander Pope wrote it that way in 1738. Take your pick: How French-y do you want to be? Is it "French-y" or "Frenchy" or is there no excuse for not just saying "French"? I say writer's choice, and it's my blog. And it's Woody Allen's book, and he wrote "Apropos." And he's enamored of the French. From his telling of his teen years:
One girl asked me to take her to the film O. Henry’s Full House. The only O. Henry I knew was a candy bar. Another brought up Swann’s Way, but I was too busy demonstrating how funny it was when Milton Berle walked on the sides of his feet. These girls read and spoke French, and one had been to Europe and had seen Michaelangelo’s David.
Hey, "Frenchy" — sans hyphen — is in the OED. It means: "Characteristic of what is French (as opposed to English, etc.); French in nature, French-like. Also: sexually adventurous or suggestive." Ooh! I like this example from 1814: "Their dinner smelt very frenchy and savoury, and consisted of stewed spinach and eggs...." That's very food-y. What about sex-y? From 1967: " Word had gotten about that the plays in her repertoire were ‘Frenchy’, meaning naughty."

147 comments:

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Like most cultural artifacts, Catcher in the Rye resonates with different intensities with different generations. For my daughter, not at all. This appears to be generally true for recent generations. For them it is obscure, not a touchstone. There is very little deathless prose in the world.

Temujin said...

The opening of Woody's book sounds great. Allen was always a very good writer. So the fact that he could write and/or edit his own book is not surprising. I suspect it's a better read than the reviewers are leading to because, Woody Bad now. Woody used to be good. So good, famous people would beg and plead to be in his movies. Now he so bad that obscure anonymous posters on Amazon can get in their digs.

I had zero desire to read this book, but after reading the opening...I do now.

Bay Area Guy said...

I've read several Woody Allen books -- the man is an exceptional writer. Yes, wacky and weird in other emotional departments, but, nonetheless, an exceptional writer.

Also, CITR was huge for that generation Even in my generation, it was pretty big

gilbar said...

i Just finished re-rereading a book that Actually Has a great and memorable first line:
"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

Wince said...

All reminds me of my favorite self-deprecating opening line from Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant".

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.

Fernandistein said...

Sounds like a great book despite the two inapt literary references in the first sentence.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

gilbar i Just finished re-rereading a book that Actually Has a great and memorable first line:

"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

Excellent. That is a great opening that makes you intrigued to read the next line and the next.

It certainly isn't "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." DIAGRAM THAT.

The basis of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest .."Since 1982 the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest has challenged man, woman, and (very precocious) child to write an atrocious opening sentence to a hypothetical bad novel. We're honored to receive thousands of odious entries from around the world each year"

The submissions to the contest are downright hilarious.

wendybar said...

gilbar said...
i Just finished re-rereading a book that Actually Has a great and memorable first line:
"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."
3/28/20, 7:43 AM

That was my all time FAVORITE book growing up. (I named one of my cats Dally!!) I've read it hundreds of times. Now I'll have to read it again!!! Thanks!! Stay Golden!!

rhhardin said...

Catcher in the Rye figured large in Conspiracy Theory (1997), Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts, as a touchstone.

Big Mike said...

So how did a mensch like his father produce a nebbish like Woody? Does the book explain that to its readers?

Lucid-Ideas said...

"Vogon poetry is of course, the third worst in the universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their poet master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging and the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos was reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his 12-book epic entitled "My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles" when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save humanity, leapt straight up through his neck and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, in the destruction of the planet Earth. Vogon poetry is mild by comparison."

- Douglas Adams

Woody's book can't be that bad can it? The allusion being if it was, we'd all be dead...at least if god is merciful.

Big Mike said...

@gilbar, @wendybar, so what is the name of the book you are touting?

Also, you have the same suffix. Are you married? Should we call you Mr. and Mrs. bar?

wendybar said...

Haha!!! Good one Big Mike!! I am married but not to gilbar. The book is The Outsiders by SE Hinton. They made it into a movie in the 80's with Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez and quite a few other big names. The book was WAY better than the movie though as usually happens!!!

Howard said...

Big Mike, you can't be a nebbish and have the lifelong success as an independent free market capitalist artist and bang high quality trim.

Lazarus said...

From the Post article:

This book’s value is in knowing that even when the planet is hurtling toward global medical disaster, life still goes on, because there will still be a man like Woody Allen who takes a look around this feverish globe and says: Right now, today, is the time to publish my memoir, titled “Apropos of Nothing,” recounting the story of how I once charmingly invited a teenage Mariel Hemingway to go to Paris with me, and also I could barely figure out how to work the camera I used to take those famous nude photos of Soon-Yi.

gilbar said...

Also, you have the same suffix. Are you married? Should we call you Mr. and Mrs. bar?
I should BE so lucky!

here's a hit to the name; i'm Very fond of "In the Immortal words, of SE Hinton: That Was Then, This is NOW" (which is NOT the name of the book we're touting
I'm assuming that you KNOW what book we're touting, and you're just being snarky (which is FUN!)

but here's another hint: it's Mostly about two GORGEOUS barrelracers, one of which is a fantastic redhead

Bay Area Guy said...

"So how did a mensch like his father produce a nebbish like Woody?"

Once the little nebbish start making tv money and then movie money, well, the chicks started flocking, and his papa was proud!

gilbar said...

wendybar; i'd totally forgotten how MUCH rodeo is in the book
Tuslatown is HorseCrazy!

robother said...

The editor thing could be said about many books these days. Woody's autobiography has a dashed off feel to it, but its kind of like picking up a storytelling hitchhiker on a long drive, whiles away the hours pleasantly. Was put off a bit when he referred to throwing a party where all the women were well "quaffed."

rcocean said...

His father sounds like a real BS artist. in the navy at 16, gets on a firing squad, and his "boat is hit by a shell" and sinks. Notice how vague that is. German shell or our Shell? Per Navy records only one ship was US Navy sunk by Gunfire:

August 27, 1918:, U. S. subchaser No. 209, displacement 77 tons; sunk with gunfire by Steamship Felix Taussig, south of Long Island in 40° N., 73° W.; mistaken, for enemy; 18 lives lost, 2 officers and 16 men; 4 wounded. But that ship had 27 men, which meant 9 men survived.

I guess we can mark all that down as "family lore"

tim in vermont said...

Woody is anything but a nebbish, though he played one from time to time. John Wayne wasn’t really a cowboy either, BTW.

rcocean said...

Also per Wikipedia:

As of 2020, no member of the Navy has been executed since October 23, 1849,

Michael K said...

Most Amazon one star reviewers have not read the book.

rhhardin said...

A search for aspartame on Amazon turns up (item 3) The Equalizer 2 with Denzel Washington on prime video.

rcocean said...

Bulwer Lytton is better heard than read. His long-winded prose was quite interesting when I heard it on Books-on-Tape.

Darkisland said...

Who published the book?

Ther was a huge kerfuffle last month when Hatchette gave him back the rights. He kept the advance.

This was because a bunch of 20 somethings objected and management caved.

I hoped he would go the indie route. Amazon's creatspace/kdp. What does a publisher do for any author thes days?

Publishers are as useless as teats on a bull.

But I suspect he went with a legacy publisher and am curious which.

John Henry

Darkisland said...

As to what a publisher does, mostly suck up royalties.

10-15% to the author legacy. 35-70% to the author amazon.

John Henry

Sebastian said...

Y'all are missing the best part of the first paragraph.

Woody's grandpa smoked, wait for it, Corona Coronas.

Better than nothing.

Roughcoat said...

Most brilliantly written opening in the literature of the English language: The first two pages of "A Farewell to Arms."

First paragraph of "Moby Dick" comes in a close second.

The opening lines of "Genesis" a close third.

The opening lines of the Iliad a close fourth.

Sebastian said...

By the way, since I thought Althouse might appreciate a pedantic correction, the title is not A Propos (with or without the accent? let's make up our minds) but Apropos.

Of course, Apropos irritates me as much as it does her. What's next, alaminute? derigueur? jenesaisquoi?

Still, Woody may be pretentious, but occasionally he fakes the common touch.

Ken B said...

Motivated review. This happens with every high profile or political book. The reviewer has probably not read the book, just the opening, and that only with the intent of slamming it. Many appear even before the book is for sale. Chuck has his review of Trump's memoir ready to go already.

Big Mike said...

but here's another hint: it's Mostly about two GORGEOUS barrelracers, one of which is a fantastic redhead

Is the redhead Reba McEntire? She got her start barrel racing in Oklahoma — and singing the National Anthem at rodeos.

Ken B said...

Know your audience. Most of us old enough to want to read Woody Allen's memoirs know who Holden and Copperfield refer to. Most of us would catch a Hamlet reference too. Common knowledge in the older, educated set.

Bob Boyd said...

Memorable first lines:

When Kleon heard the news from Capua he rose early one morning, being a literatus and unchained, crept to the room of his Master, stabbed him in the throat, mutilated that Master's body even as his own had been mutilated: and so fled from Rome with a stained dagger in his sleeve and a copy of the Republic of Plato hidden in his breast. - Spartacus, Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Amexpat said...

It's Allen's memoir, so if a cultural reference is important to him, it should be important to those who choose to read the book.

Allen is a very good writer, but no self respecting SJW, or those who fear their blow back, can give it a good review. For what it's worth, it got a rave review at the National Review

Big Mike said...

“He was born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.” Opening sentence of Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

tim in vermont said...
John Wayne wasn’t really a cowboy

Maybe a midnight cowboy.

Spiros said...

It is funny when stuffy critics get worked up by celebrities. Consider Alan Bean who described Tom Hank's debut collection of short stories as "the work of Forrest Gump himself."

Mr. Allen should have hired a ghost writer.

tim in vermont said...

Why would I care? He was an actor.

Levi Starks said...

Censorship by any other name.
1st we try and prevent the publishing of the book,
2nd. We give it terrible reviews,
3rd we make it clear that you too will be shunned if you speak favorably of it.
The modern day gatekeepers politically correct though have a zeal for their cause that could scarcely be matched by the puritans of days gone by.

Laslo Spatula said...

The first line of Mia Farrow's upcoming book is "I want to cut off his balls."

The second line is "I really want to cut off his balls."

The third line is "If Frank was still alive he would cut off his fucking balls."

She's still working on the rest.

I am Laslo.

tim in vermont said...

To be honest, the opening paragraph is kind of slapdash. Like a first draft or a blog comment. Sounds like his dad was a first rate bullshit artist. My dad told the verry occasional war story and he was never the hero of any of them, but they checked out with history books. Allen has made some great movies, he is all about production values in his movies, and professionalism.

Michael said...

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

Maybe not the greatest opening line, but 45 years ago it nailed a restless 14 year old to his seat until he finished the entire book.

Big Mike said...

@Howard (8:13) the educated fool is wrong again. A strong man marries a strong woman; a nebbish messes around with women who are underage or barely legal.

mockturtle said...

It reads like a book I'd continue reading.

tim in vermont said...

If he was John Irving, his father would have also worked in a mannequin factory.

Bay Area Guy said...

John Wayne wasn’t really a cowboy either, BTW.

Yeah, but John Fucking Ford was. Check out his work for the OSS during WWII.

So the Duke hitched his horse to the right wagon.....

tim in vermont said...

“Nebbish” may not be the word you are looking for. No nebbish gets movies made. Nebbish’s *might* manage to land a job through a cousin getting coffee on the set.

Bay Area Guy said...

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

The.single.best.opening.book.line.in.the.history.of.Western.Civilization.

Black Bellamy said...

I'm age-appropriate for Catcher in the Rye and I read it and immediately forgot it. I couldn't tell you what it was about or what happened. It wasn't a very good book and it wasn't written well. It didn't resonate, it was boring and hard to read. That's just me though, people love that "touchstone" for some reason.

My Catcher in the Rye is Less Than Zero.

chuck said...

Woody's father sounds interesting, if he had written a book I'd want to read it.

I prefer reading the three starred reviews on Amazon, they tend to have the most balanced criticism. For amusement I also read a couple of one star reviews, which often as not complain about spelling, punctuation, and the need for an editor when not ranting about politics. Sounds like you read a one-star review passing as two-stars.

tim in vermont said...

Grocer’s apostrophe... ugh. Sorry.

Bay Area Guy said...

Suggestion -- read the whole Woody Allen book and opine on whether you enjoyed it.

Then, we can debate whether he's a nebbish in real life or just plays one on tv.

Roughcoat said...

Hunter S. Thompson was a maggot.

Lurker21 said...

It's true that the Post writer has ulterior motives - her focus is on gender issues, not on style - but is it that the writing is good or that Allen's father was so overwhelming a character that anything about him would be impressive? Even if Woody's father made it all up, it certainly took some imagination.

I used to love Woody Allen's movies when I was young in the '70s. There was something in them that spoke to that age and that time - that helped to create the mindset of young people back then. Then the movies got worse, and Woody started to repeat himself.

John Simon's reviews of Woody's pictures were devastating. Simon was the ferocious critic of the time. He loved to savage things and people. After he called one actress a notorious Hollywood "party girl and gate-crasher," she emptied a dish of food on his head and said "Now you can call me a plate-crasher, too."

Simon was something of an intellectual, and his point was that Woody was a poseur in over his head, claiming to have read books and thought about things that he only used as comic material. That made an impression on me. I was trying to be adult and get away from adolescent enthusiasms at that point, and the fact that most of Allen's movies weren't that good made it easy.

Woody was perfectly in tune with what was going on in the Sixties and his films then and in the Seventies were fresh and unusual, but it seems like he had only so much material. When it ran thin, Woody, cut off from the world by celebrity, couldn't replenish it, so he turned back to his own past and his prior films, and the results weren't good. It often seemed like he was stuck in an earlier era.

Still, it is something that fifty years later, Woody Allen is still a topic of conversation. In part for unsavory reasons, to be sure, but if we're still talking about his movies, there must have been something valuable in them.

mockturtle said...

Nicholas Nickleby first lines: THERE ONCE LIVED, in a sequestered part of the county of Devonshire, one Mr Godfrey Nickleby: a worthy gentleman, who, taking it into his head rather late in life that he must get married, and not being young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her turn had taken him for the same reason. Thus two people who cannot afford to play cards for money, sometimes sit down to a quiet game for love.

Lem said...

First i thought quoting lines from his movies would help me appear smart. And then, when it was a hit, Seinfeld lines would do the trick.

Two pillars holding up nothing. Or so it seems until you watched this video saying the air around us contains ten trillion trillion atoms per cubic meter. that's a lot of stuff. If you want considerably less, or next nothing, you have to travel to the space between galaxies and there you find just 10 atoms per cubic meter.

I have to get this book.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Black Bellamy said...
My Catcher in the Rye is Less Than Zero.


I am guessing that you are at least 10 years younger than Althouse. Less Than Zero, was an interesting read.

Bay Area Guy said...

"Less Than Zero, was an interesting read."

Hated it, and that stupid movie with Andrew McCarthy (not the lawyer) and Robert Downey, Jr.

However, it was influential at the time and made a big impact, I reluctantly concede.

Ken B said...

I always look at the bad reviews of a book first. If they sound informed and thoughtful they often convince me and I move on. If they are hit jobs they often convince me too, but to give the book a try. This inclines me to putting the book on hold at the library, or requesting they get it even.

Ken B said...

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”

One of Richard Stark's novels. I forget which one.

Fernandistein said...

So how did a mensch like his father produce a nebbish like Woody?

It was an act;

"I'm the guy you see in his T-shirt with a beer watching the baseball game at night at home with the television," says Allen. "I was never a loner or a loser — always the first one picked for the team."

IIRC he was captain of his HS baseball team.

DavidUW said...

Catcher in the rye is a story about a loser written for losers. Period

Which also sums up my high school paper on it. My English teacher was so aghast at how I tore it apart as it was clearly his favorite book *cough* but I went to a school with intellectually honest teachers so I got an A even while expressing a non-dominant opinion.

Bilwick said...

The fact that Allen is criticized for a supposedly "irrelevant" or "obscure" literary reference is a reflection of rising cultural illiteracy than anything else.

Amexpat said...

I'm the guy you see in his T-shirt with a beer watching the baseball game at night at home with the television," says Allen. "I was never a loner or a loser — always the first one picked for the team."

Wally Cox had the same nebbish act as well. In real life he taught Marlon Brando how to ride a motorcycle.

Patrick said...

Now, I also want to read a book about Woody's father.

Robert Cook said...

"Like most cultural artifacts, Catcher in the Rye resonates with different intensities with different generations. For my daughter, not at all. This appears to be generally true for recent generations. For them it is obscure, not a touchstone. There is very little deathless prose in the world."

Perhaps it is because recent generations do not read as much as previous generations. I was in my late 30s when I read CATCHER IN THE RYE. I was at a family gathering at my grandparents' home in Newburgh, Indiana, and, poking around, I found an old copy of CATCHER in a trunk in their basement. Given that the family gathering was a several-day affair, I decided to give the book a try, simply to pass the time. I was immediately captured by the opening sentence disparaging the "David Copperfield kind of crap," and I found the pages that followed to be equally compelling and very funny. Its stature is well-deserved. (I have not read anything else by Salinger.)

Mark said...

Reading that opening paragraph, I get the sense that Allen dictated it, rather than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

chuck said...

"Like most cultural artifacts, Catcher in the Rye resonates with different intensities with different generations."

Fear of Flying is another such artifact.

Ann Althouse said...

"By the way, since I thought Althouse might appreciate a pedantic correction, the title is not A Propos (with or without the accent? let's make up our minds) but Apropos."

The rule I learned in French class was that you don't put an accent mark on a capital letter.

As for closing up the space... I had not noticed. Seems wrong to me. I guess I should correct it.

Roughcoat said...

John Simon was a maggot.

mockturtle said...

The fact that Allen is criticized for a supposedly "irrelevant" or "obscure" literary reference is a reflection of rising cultural illiteracy than anything else.

So very true, Bilwick!

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Those who can do; those who can't teach; and those who can do neither write reviews for major newspapers.

narciso said...

but Erica jong has long lost her relevance,

Lurker21 said...

Catcher was more popular with English teachers than with students when I was in school. It was very much a Fifties/Early Sixties book (though like On the Road it actually grew out of the Forties world). It didn't seem so relevant to students who came along later.

I liked Salinger's other writing better. He was savaged so much for his later works, that I'm not going to dump on Catcher. If that was what he needed to write in order to produce his other books and stories, so much the better.

ga6 said...

He went with a low ball bid on the ghost writing...never go with the low ball bid..

chuck said...

I liked Salinger's other writing better.

I read Franny and Zooey and thought it well written, but it was about a lost world.

ga6 said...

I wish to retract my earlier comment..AA

narciso said...

salinger's life was much more interesting than holden Caulfield's the former resembles the late William butterworth, aka web griffin, that he introduced for his life, into his later work,

as a fan, of his earlier work, it would be interesting to see what influences allen had growing up

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Bilwick said...
The fact that Allen is criticized for a supposedly "irrelevant" or "obscure" literary reference is a reflection of rising cultural illiteracy than anything else.


As reluctant as I am to step in to defend 'younger generations', which for me means most of the country, they have developed different ways of interacting with the culture than older pre-internet people. I gave my early teen daughter a short story by Gerald Murnane to read ("Land Deal"). It is not an easy read. She read it, quickly, and absorbed it as well or better than I did, and then went back to the internet. It is not a lack of technical skill. She speaks three languages well, two natively and the third much better than any of her peers. Yet, she reads the internet. The internet is more interesting than most literature. Can't see that changing any time soon. A lot of older cultural touchstones will be diminished in the vast jumble of information that descends upon us through the internet. Younger people interact with almost all culture through the same screen. This has a leveling effect. It isn't handed to them as a semi-sacred text in a 'difficult' course on the Great Books.

Narr said...

Roughcoat--which translations of Hebrew scripture and Greek epic do you prefer?

Woody Allen is a better writer and more significant cultural figure than Salinger, whose product is much more time-sensitive.

As to first lines, or "'arresting openings'", I've always liked Burgess's from Earthly Powers--

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the Archbishop had come to see me."

Narr
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, teach teachers

William said...

Woody Allen will probably end up with more Bartlett entries than any other writer of his generation. I don't think he's a great writer, but he's got a gift for short, whimsical observations that stick with you. They're not so profound and never poetic, but they stick with you. "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying."......I don't suppose he could have achieved all that success if he were a thorough going nebbish. On the other hand, a true man of action doesn't spend all his life in therapy. There are a lot of contradictions. I'm not sure what to make of him.

Roughcoat said...

Narr:

Richmond Lattimore

King James (even though I am RC)

By far and away, for both. YMMV.

Sam L. said...

Catcher In The Rye: One of the books I've never read.

Roughcoat said...

P.S. Concerning Lattimore's translation of the Iliad (and, come to think, of the Odyssey as well): I am a passionate devotee. Other, far more knowledgeable scholars (those who are fluent in the variant of the Greek language in which Homer's epics were originally) composed are emphatic in this regard, asserting that Lattimore more than any other author/translator reproduces the ancient idioms, rhythms, and meaning of the texts; and that his translations are the next best thing to reading them in Greek.

As for the KJV: it may not be the voice of God, but I feel that's it close to it.

mockturtle said...

As for the KJV: it may not be the voice of God, but I feel that's it close to it.

Agree, Roughcoat. ;-)

Sebastian said...

"A lot of older cultural touchstones will be diminished in the vast jumble of information that descends upon us through the internet. Younger people interact with almost all culture through the same screen. This has a leveling effect."

True.

LordSomber said...

If only the book had an egg salad recipe...

Ken B said...

KJV

But Fitzgerald and Lombardo over Lattimore

The ESV is a good descendant of the KJV by the way.

narciso said...

in middle school, they assigned Robert Cormier's the chocolate war, a cross between salinger and se hinton, now that was tedious,

the first chapter reminds of the first part of Michael chabons moonglow, where he discovers his grandfather's secret history, with the oss and von braun,

rcocean said...

Its funny that whenever you criticize one of their film heroes, they come back with "John Wayne wasn't a war hero" or whatever. I suppose in their mind, Wayne is "Right wing" and since anyone - in their mind - who dislikes Woody is a "Right winger", they've insulted you back. Except that's not reality. Its only the Left that worships Film celebrities - or hates them - due to their being Democrats or Republicans.

rcocean said...

Most people under 50 know nothing of Catcher in the Rye. And they're missing nothing. Its a dated book about a certain time and place. IT effected the Boomers, it "Spoke to them". but that was 60 years ago.

rcocean said...

The only thing wrong with Woody Allen filmmaker is that after 1983, he kept making the same three movies over and over again.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I forget what writer said it, but years ago, someone wrote that Allen was basically intellectually stuck in the middle-brow culture of the '50's - Freud and psychoanalysis and dime store existentialism, plus the Hollywood "witchhunt" being the worst thing ever, far worse than Communism (and weren't those old NYC Reds from the '30's colorful, lovable characters?) And yeah, writers like Salinger.

I think that's a fair take. And, quite honestly, I miss the days when we actually had a middlebrow culture in this country.

mockturtle said...

I've only read one translation of Iliad and that was Lombardo, which I found almost divine. I've been thinking of re-reading it but don't want to risk a different translation. Call me a literary coward. ;-)

mockturtle said...

Exiled, I agree with the writer you quote. That Allen was [and is] very much aware of this fixation and often satirizes it speaks to his credit, don't you think?

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

" IT effected the Boomers, it "Spoke to them". but that was 60 years ago."

It was published in the early '50's. It predates rock and roll. What struck me when I read it as a teen was how "adult" the adolescent characters acted. Holden had a crew cut and was going to the Rainbow Room and drinking cocktails. His girl friend talked about going to see Oliver as Hamlet. Holden sees "fuck" scrawled on a wall and is shocked and concerned about little kids seeing the word. Does that sound like a Boomer to you? A Boomer "Catcher in the Rye" written 15 years later would have been a very different novel.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I think you're correct, mock.

narciso said...

like William goldman in marathon man, still obsessing on McCarthy, that was certainly dustin Hoffman's character singular obsession, probably Nixon too if he had any time left over,

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

BTW, the world of Holden Caufield - a world of preppy, wealthy Manhattan WASPs back when wealthy WASPs still ran America - was not only alien to me in the early '70's, it would have been alien to Allen as well. Holden's parents weren't inviting many Brooklyn Jews to their dinner parties, I would wager.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

A Boomer "Catcher in the Rye" written 15 years later would have been a very different novel.

3/28/20, 11:54 AM

The Boomer version of Holden Caufield was seduced by Mrs. Robinson.

mockturtle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mockturtle said...

exiled aptly notes: Holden's parents weren't inviting many Brooklyn Jews to their dinner parties, I would wager.

Makes me think of the Easter dinner scene from Annie Hall! :-D
Link

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

That was classic, mock!

daskol said...

The fact that Allen is criticized for a supposedly "irrelevant" or "obscure" literary reference is a reflection of rising cultural illiteracy than anything else.

The kids may be alright (or not), but I think this is more a sign of the depths people descend to in criticism of Woody Allen: WDS is rampant. I read it as part of my American module of English Lit in high school. Naive reader that I was there, the book was difficult for me because I knew no other way to engage with a story but to turn the central character into a hero. Holden was so irritating and and disappointing that the book stuck with me for a long time, as did Gatsby, also part of that same module. Well done to Ms. Liuzzo on the curriculum! Also the word "necking" and just what the fuck it meant preoccupied me for a long time: every time I was with a girl for at least a couple years, I'd think is this "necking"?

My 13 yo daughter, precocious but still only 13, decided to read it for an independent reading project, probably because we have my wife and my old copies on shelves in my office. Hate throwing away even tattered, crumbly old paperbacks. We discussed it a lot, but possessed of better developed and keener judgment than I was at even a few years older than her, she quickly pegged Holden for the simpering jackass he was, and was mostly mystified about the relationship with his sister. I think she's mostly forgotten about the book already, although she was eager to discuss it for a few weeks afterwards. I wonder if she'll return to it at a more age appropriate time: probably not, as there's a lot to read out there.

Roughcoat said...

Not Fitzgerald. Oh, dear. Please not Fitzgerald.

I'm sticking with Lattimore, now and forever. He's my touchstone.

If you want to experience Lattimore, and the Iliad, the way Homer intended (i.e., spoken), listen to the Audible version.

How many times have I missed my highway exit because I was so caught up in listening to the Lattimore Illiad being spoken to me?!

Roughcoat said...


mockturtle: FYI, the best audio version of the KJV is one with Alexander Scourby as the readere. Every book of the Old and New Testaments, with Scourby reading, are available on YouTube. (You can get an add-on so as to download each book as an MP3.)

Bob Loblaw said...

Like most cultural artifacts, Catcher in the Rye resonates with different intensities with different generations. For my daughter, not at all. This appears to be generally true for recent generations. For them it is obscure, not a touchstone. There is very little deathless prose in the world.

True. However, I suspect the people who are likely to pick up Allen's book are also likely to be people for whom Catcher in the Rye quotes resonate.

Roughcoat said...

"Catcher" was okay. I read it c. 1965 and liked it well enough. I didn't go ga-ga over it, though. It seemed written for the generation preceding mine, the one that came of age in the 50s. Also, being as I am a Midwesterner, I couldn't identify with the East Coast Wasp prep school sensibility that informed it. Nor could I identify with Holden's angst, with his mopey "sensitive confused youth" persona.

mockturtle said...

mockturtle: FYI, the best audio version of the KJV is one with Alexander Scourby as the readere.

Yes, roughcoat. I've been in possession of that gem for many years.

Churchy LaFemme: said...

Most brilliantly written opening in the literature of the English language: The first two pages of "A Farewell to Arms."

First paragraph of "Moby Dick" comes in a close second.

The opening lines of "Genesis" a close third.

The opening lines of the Iliad a close fourth.


Not even close:

"In five years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman.

Roughcoat said...

Holden Caulfield had an offputtingly soft masculinity. There is, by contrast, nothing soft about the masculinity of the male characters in the Iliad; and the female characters are also plenty tough, each in her own way. The Iliad may be the most masculine book ever written and Lattimore's translation, which is to say his grasp of the Homeric idiom, is the most masculine of all the translations. His language has a muscular, almost brutish, quality, which I am given to understand is quite true to the original. If you read him aloud you can almost hear bronze swords clanging. And yet, and yet ... his translation of the Odyssey, with its story that is very much centered, thematically, on the female principle -- Odysseus, and the reader, are confronted and challenged by five female archetypes, each of them powerful in her own way -- is profoundly different from the Iliad translation. The Odyssey is at once a tragedy with comedic overtones, and a comedy with tragic overtones, and withal it is a deeply insightful meditation on love and loyalty and what it means to be civilized: and Lattimore's translation is perfect in communicating all the thematic and linguistic complexities of this complex tale.

mockturtle said...

OK, roughcoat, you've convinced me. Next time I'll read Lattimore's translation. ;-) I was very young and romantic when I read Iliad and my tastes in literature have matured.

John D said...

Is there intended to be some hidden meaning in your quoting the poorly written first lines of the review that serve as the title of this post?

Let me fix it for you" ""I I [sic] was surprised at how badly-written this book is. First of all, the very first line has an obscure reference to Holden Caulfield.""

Roughcoat said...

Wow! You're in for treat. Let me know when you finish it. We'll talk. I'm very interested in your opinion.

And thanks for your interest! I can yak on about Homer til the cows come home.

mockturtle said...

OK, I just ordered it for my kindle. Still reading Ivanhoe right now.

Roughcoat said...

Cool! Enjoy!

Fyi, I've decided to re-read Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe. That's a conversation for another day ... :)

mockturtle said...

I can yak on about Homer til the cows come home.

Then I hope the cows never come home, roughcoat! ;-)

Roughcoat said...

No worries there -- Nietzsche's eternal recurrence is in play. Happily.

Howard said...

Holden Caulfield was one of the least interesting characters of all time. I think because I was a late baby bloomer, non-athletic teenage boys had been faking that character in real life for years and years and it had gotten so old and dull that reading about it in the book was beyond tedious.

Lawrence Person said...

Since it was mentioned upstream, I just want to note that I was Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award winner in the Bulwer-Lytton Contest.

William said...

Crime and Misdemeanors: It's interesting to note how the judgment of history has fallen upon these three writers: Charles Dickens, J.D. Salinger, and Woody Allen. Dickens was undoubtedly the most despicable and malign in negotiating his sex life. When people evaluate his life and work, they don't put it at the forefront. He mostly skates for some godawful behavior... J.D. Salinger wasn't so bad. He negotiated his kinks in a fairly honorable way. Among the piles of fan letters, he only chose girls over eighteen to groom. Salinger had the most protracted and horrendous war experiences of all but a few writers of his generation. His PTSD was not an act. I'm glad he found a measure of relief.......Woody Allen definitely had a thing for teen age girls. I don't know how often he acted out that thing, but, given the levers at his control and the temptations in front of him, he seems fairly well behaved-- at least by Hollywood standards. He was nothing like Charley Chaplin or Roman Polanski......It would be nice if we were privy to the Last Judgment and had some knowledge of how God sorts them out.

mockturtle said...

Perhaps only the rare bird is able to separate art from artist but I never let the personal life of a writer, composer, actor or painter keep me from enjoying his or her work.

0_0 said...

Woody- or possibly his father- is a lying piece of shit in those first sentences.

WhoKnew said...

I love the first paragraph of Moby Dick and it's in the running for best opening ever. And "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee" is a great ending. On the other hand, I didn't read The Catcher in the Rye until I was in my forties and I thought it was awful. Couldn't figure out why it had such a great reputation. Still can't.

tcrosse said...

It should not come as a surprise that Woody writes the way a character in a Woody Allen movie talks.

tim in vermont said...

"'In five years, the penis will be obsolete,' said the salesman.”

Based on the stuff I have seen come out of nightstand drawers, if the penis isn’t obsolete now, it never will be. Just sayin’.

Marc said...

I don't understand the fascination with Woody Allen, although it makes sense that in its Amazon category ('movie director biographies') the book is a hot commodity. This-- my own favorite English novel's first paragraph-- puts the Salinger silliness to shame.

As, in the triumph of Christianity, the old religion lingered latest in the country, and died out at last as but paganism—the religion of the villagers, before the advance of the Christian Church; so, in an earlier century, it was in places remote from town-life that the older and purer forms of paganism itself had survived the longest. While, in Rome, new religions had arisen with bewildering complexity around the dying old one, the earlier and simpler patriarchal religion, "the religion of Numa," as people loved to fancy, lingered on with little change amid the pastoral life, out of the habits and sentiment of which so much of it had grown. Glimpses of such a survival we may catch below the merely artificial attitudes of Latin pastoral poetry; in Tibullus especially, who has preserved for us many poetic details of old Roman religious usage.

At mihi contingat patrios celebrare Penates,
Reddereque antiquo menstrua thura Lari:

—he prays, with unaffected seriousness. Something liturgical, with repetitions of a consecrated form of words, is traceable in one of his elegies, as part of the order of a birthday sacrifice.


(Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean.)

Lurker21 said...

The Catcher in the Rye experience is similar to what people went through with Thomas Wolfe (not the Right Stuff writer, the other guy). People who loved and lived by his books left them on their shelves when they had families of their own, and their children read Look Homeward, Angel or one of the others and were mystified by whatever their parents could possibly have seen in Wolfe's works - so long and pointless and overwritten, complete trash.

To one degree or another it's like that with most of yesterday's best-sellers, whether they were considered "serious literature" in their day or not. In the Seventies, bookstores were full of Richard Brautigan and Robert Coover. Nobody remembers them today, even though Coover is still alive. It's a rare writer or work that manages to escape oblivion. Catch-22 still seems to be read and relevant. Salinger will also be remembered for his stories and novellas - and longer than Woody Allen, at least in my opinion.

h said...

Thanks Lurker21 for those reminders. Robert Coover, but not Thomas Pynchon, right? And if Trout Fishing, then also even more so, Even Cowgirls, right? I'm not enough of an expert to be confident in my own judgments. But the enthusiasms of my youth make less confident in the judgments of my young self.

Penguins loose said...

Best opening of a short story:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl you hair and make you nerves jump and you skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ neck. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

“Red Wind” by Raymond Chandler

Kirk Parker said...

Roughcoat,

μῆνιν ἄειδε does have a certain ring to it!

rcocean said...

I forget what writer said it, but years ago, someone wrote that Allen was basically intellectually stuck in the middle-brow culture of the '50's - Freud and psychoanalysis and dime store existentialism, plus the Hollywood "witchhunt" being the worst thing ever, far worse than Communism

That makes sense, since most people have their tastes and political/religious attitudes formed when they're under 30. I noticed that Woody references Psychoanalysis a lot in his early movies, and it sorta dies out by the 1990s. BTW, even in the early 80's my college was teaching Marx, Freud, and Darwin as the three intellectual giants that everyone had to know about.

rcocean said...

Someone compared Catcher in the Rye to Look homeward angel. The impact on young people may have been similar in the 30s and 50s, but its hard to think of two books and authors who differ by so much. Homeward angel has almost a hundred pages of great writing, unfortunately its 520 pages long.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

rcocean said...
even in the early 80's my college was teaching Marx, Freud, and Darwin as the three intellectual giants that everyone had to know about.


Darwin has done OK in the intervening years, the others not so much. Freud is almost forgotten at this point.

rcocean said...

BTW, John Simon LOVED "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and thought and said it was ironic that he was praising the film to the skies, since Woody Allen had banned him from private Screenings of his movies. It seems Woody didn't appreciate John Simon's less the enthusiastic praise of "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "interiors".

Marcus said...

I tried reading Catcher in 72 in high school but it was dreadfully boring and I gave up, choosing the other title the teacher offered us: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Didn't care for it either, but I drudged through it. "Hard" books don't bother me -- I've read Moby Dick three times in my almost-65 years -- but boring books (that are supposed to be CLASSICS) don't thrill me at all.

THEOLDMAN

Next month it will be 26 years since I got a kick from champagne

Nichevo said...

Ken B said...
“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”

One of Richard Stark's novels. I forget which one.


I googled up Firebreak and began digging it right away, but then it broke me when the killer's (Parker's intended killer, 'the man's) weapon was a silenced revolver.

With very few exceptions, a silenced cannot be used on a revolver because there is no gas seal at the cylinder/forcing cone. The only exception I am aware of (there are others) is the old Nagant from Russia. This was a .357 Colt Trooper and so it was bullshit. However, the piece is moving swiftly and perhaps I will forget within a few more pages.

Is Stark an Anglophone, a Commonwealth member? Englishmen are always making such mistakes, like revolvers with safety catches (again, almost no revolvers have these).

gpm said...

Graduated from high school in '71. Just shy of being three years younger than Althouse. Hated Catcher in the Rye, which got me my lowest grade in high school (not counting gym which, actually, didn't count) in junior year English. Teacher decided to have individual "oral" final exams, with parents invited to attend, etc. Went to the ones for several of my friends, which I was sure I could have aced. Mine started out with one member of the panel (an obese Jesuit much involved in student government, not that it matters) asking what I thought about it. After I said I didn't like it, he came back with something like "Too bad, I think it's the greatest thing ever written." Exam focused on it, but I could barely remember anything about it. Did a little better with The Scarlet Letter, but also botched a couple of things there.

As for the Greek stuff, I never cared much for reading the translations. Or for diving into the epics. Much prefer the lyric poetry in the original, which comes in small, manageable chunks. Perhaps my greatest regret about high school is that I passed up two years of very small class instruction in ancient Greek and only took it up in college.

--gpm

Lurker21 said...

Does Woody know that his father made those stories up? Or did Woody make them up himself? Does lying in a memoir automatically invalidate it, or does it give it deeper and richer levels of meaning? Does it become something less, or something more?

Narr said...

Oh, the Great Bearded Overminds of the Victorian Age are people that students should know about, especially Darwin, who still has legs. Marx and Freud were great in the sense that it takes a certain greatness to mislead so many people so thoroughly for so long, to such ill effect. (People used to think I was joking when I rated Clausewitz as more important for understanding reality than M and F combined, and one of the great modern thinkers.)

In library school I took a children's lit course, which had its fun parts, but among other projects was one that required reading, critiquing and evaluating two dozen Y.A. (young adult) novels. CITR was included as a possibility, along with SE Hinton, Cormier, and others mentioned, but I had never been able to read past the first few pages of CITR and never will.

My experience with lady teachers and librarians, and what they imagine is suitable for children or young adults, has been almost always negative. Luckily this course was taught by a guy.

I think there's a Lattimore around here; I'll look.

Narr
I draw the line at learning new alphabets

Rockport Conservative said...

I have never been a fan of Woody Allen, movies or otherwise. That first paragraph tells me why.

Bilwick said...

Re the cultural illiteracy of the Dumbest Generation, I often think of a passage in a book from about twenty years ago called, as I recall, GREAT BOOKS. I think the author was David Denby. A Baby Boomer, he went back to college--I believe a big Ivy League college--to re-take the Great Books course. He was struck by the difference between his classmates of yore, and the young people who were his classmates of now. He said that when he was originally in college, being well-read was something he and his friends and then-classmates all aspired to; but it seemed to mean nothing to the young people in his latter-day Great Books class. To them it was just another class to endure on the road to graduation and a high-paying job.

Kyjo said...

The Catcher in the Rye was mandatory reading for most of my peers in high school. My impression has long been that most people around my age (I’m an older Millennial) have read it. Perhaps that’s not the case. I was in AP English and never read it. Go figure.

Lucy Elwood said...

The rule to not place accents on capital letters in French is no longer current, according to l’Académie française. Originally, it apparently had to do with wanting to keep the line spaces even in print, when “print” meant paper and not screens. I was surprised to learn this myself a couple of years ago.

http://www.academie-francaise.fr/questions-de-langue#5_strong-em-accentuation-des-majuscules-em-strong

Accentuation des majuscules (sommaire)
On ne peut que déplorer que l’usage des accents sur les majuscules soit flottant. On observe dans les textes manuscrits une tendance certaine à l’omission des accents. En typographie, parfois, certains suppriment tous les accents sur les capitales sous prétexte de modernisme, en fait pour réduire les frais de composition.

Il convient cependant d’observer qu’en français, l’accent a pleine valeur orthographique. Son absence ralentit la lecture, fait hésiter sur la prononciation, et peut même induire en erreur. Il en va de même pour le tréma et la cédille.

On veille donc, en bonne typographie, à utiliser systématiquement les capitales accentuées, y compris la préposition À, comme le font bien sûr tous les dictionnaires, à commencer par le Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, ou les grammaires, comme Le Bon Usage de Grevisse, mais aussi l’Imprimerie nationale, la Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, etc. Quant aux textes manuscrits ou dactylographiés, il est évident que leurs auteurs, dans un souci de clarté et de correction, auraient tout intérêt à suivre également cette règle.

Marc said...

Since Lucy Elwood pointed it out, I notice that Le Monde and Le Figaro and a couple of the Catholic sites I read at do practice l'accentuation des majuscules: I hadn't before. My computer can't, or at least I've never been able to figure out how to do it.