#32: White Noise by Don DeLillo

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I have made no secret of my strained relationship with technology (see this rant for proof).  As much as I enjoy the ability to procure endless entertainment with minimal effort, I worry about the effect such ease has on our lives.  The old man hiding inside of me looks back to the halcyon days of childhood, when being friends meant more than accepting a request on Facebook.  Playing football meant going out in the front yard and cracking skulls with the neighborhood kids, not turning on the Xbox 360 and pressing buttons.  This wasn’t because technology didn’t exist.  It was because the generations responsible for raising my own recognized the value of actual experience over virtual accomplishments.  My mother limited the amount of Nintendo we could play.  My brothers and I were required to go outside for a certain amount of time each day.  TV was a last resort, saved for family movie nights and rainy days.  The sensibility that limited the impact of technology on my childhood seems to have disappeared at some point in the past ten or fifteen years.  For many people, I suspect it disappeared long before that.  I shudder to think what impact this fundamental shift in our relationship with technology will have on the future.  Apparently I am not alone in my concern. (For the record, I recognize the irony of making such a rant via internet blog post)

Don DeLillo’s White Noise is the story of Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler Studies at the College-on-the-Hill somewhere in middle America.  Jack’s life with his fourth wife, Babette, and their children is permeated by the omnipresent whine of technology.  The TV and the radio constantly offer commentary and commercials, uniting the family with the rest of America in a great quilt of consumerism.  Jack is happy, only vaguely haunted by the fear of his own eventual death.  This changes when a nearby chemical spill releases a black cloud of insecticide byproduct.  The airborne toxic event forces Jack and his family to evacuate their home.  Although they are allowed to return after little more than a week, the peaceful life the family knew is hopelessly disrupted.  Jack’s possible exposure to the cloud has him focused relentlessly on the possibility of his imminent demise.  Babette is also consumed by her fear of death.  A potential cure for their dread arrives in the form of Dylar, a medication that promises to eradicate the fear of death.  When Dylar fails, Jack resorts to extreme measures to ease his pain.  Through it all the hum of technology continues to surround him.

White Noise is more than a meditation on death.  It is an indictment of the influence of technology and commercialism on our everyday lives.  Jack does not fear his natural death.  It is only when exposed to a manmade disaster that he fears his unnatural demise.  The black cloud seems to rob him of the joy of living.  What DeLillo manages to express is that the white noise surrounding him had already cheapened Jack’s existence.  The black cloud simply makes him aware of that fact.  Jack’s relationships are defined by technology.  The comfort and ease offered by all of the devices surrounding him is enticing but ultimately dulling.  It blurs the line between what is real and what is merely projected.  It is a shame that the internet and social media did not exist in 1985 when DeLillo wrote this book.  I am sure he would have a great deal to say about these developments.

I was immediately captivated by White Noise.  It seems to say so many of the things I have often thought about technology.  What is the price we pay for so much convenience?  Have we given up some part of real pleasure for the appearance of comfort?  These are questions worth considering, and this is a book worth reading. White Noise is like the bastard offspring of Kurt Vonnegut and Marshall McLuhan, full of both dark humor and substantial social criticism.  Turn off the TV and read this book!

The Current Count

32 Read, 68 To Go

#31: The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt

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After the excitement of my Jeopardy! appearance last week and a few days without my laptop (thanks to a defective power cord), I finally return to the actual mission of this blog– reading.  I am playing catch up a bit, as I finished number thirty-one last Thursday.  After a string of novels I decided to go for something more academic.  I settled on Jacob Burckhardt’s seminal work of history, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.

Burckhardt’s Civilization of the Renaissance is a watershed moment in the treatment of the Renaissance.  Earlier books about this period tended to focus on the great individuals.  Burckhardt changed that by presenting a work of cultural history.  Rather than focusing on specific individuals and their deeds, he focused on cultural trends and societal developments.  The result is both informative and engaging.  Burckhardt explores the Italian Renaissance in a systematic way, considering the development of the state, the individual, the revival of antiquity, advances in science and literature, secular society, and the changing nature and role of religion.  Although more recent books include more depth in certain areas (particularly economics), Burckhardt remains the standard.  What Edward Gibbon is to the end of the Roman Empire, Burckhardt is to the Italian Renaissance.

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is a tremendously informative book.  Burckhardt presents a wealth of information to be consumed by the willing reader.  I learned a great deal and enjoyed the book very much.  That said, there are a few cautionary words I should offer.  First, go into this book prepared to look up various historical figures and facts.  Burckhardt assumes a certain depth of knowledge regarding the Italian Renaissance, and the uninformed reader can get confused.  Despite being reasonably well-studied in this era, I found it necessary to look up many things as i read.  Second, the translation used in my edition (the Modern Library edition from 2002) and every other English edition I can find is that of S.G.C. Middlemore from 1878.  While the book is very engaging, the translation is rendered in Victorian English and comes across a bit stilted at times.  A modern translation would be a welcome gift from the literary gods.  Even with these two caveats, I would highly recommend this book to any individual interested in the Italian Renaissance.  It was an era that continues to exert an influence on our own and is well worth studying.

The Current Count

31 Read, 69 To Go

The Jeopardy! Experience, Part 2

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After months of forced silence, I can finally complete the epic tale of my Jeopardy! experience. If you haven’t already, read Part 1 here (it is worth it, I promise). Compared to my aerial hijinks on the way to LA, the story of my actual episode is almost mundane. Almost.

If I were a dwarf, they’d call me Bashful.

I’m bringing sheepish back.

I mentioned in the first half of this story that prior to taping our episodes, all of the contestants were taken onto the set to play a practice round or two. I neglected to mention that we also taped a short promo to air in our home markets. These are known as Hometown Howdies and are heavy on the cheese. You can watch them here for the next week. My Hometown Howdy offers just a glimpse of the nervous feeling coursing its way through my body, as the picture shows. We filmed our howdies, did our rehearsals, and returned to the green room. As I already related, we drew for order and I wound up in the first game.

The game is afoot, Trebek!

The contestant wranglers led myself and my two competitors out onto the stage and we prepared to do battle. I would face off against fellow challenger Misha Bushyager, a stay-at-home mom from Maryland, and Matt Samberg, an attorney from Pittsburgh. Both seemed very nice before the taping but I was fully prepared to crush them mercilessly. I took my place behind the podium, signed in with my child-like scrawl, had my make-up retouched to keep the damage from my facial impact concealed, and tried to stay both confident and continent.

When taping an episode, it works exactly like what you see on TV. They play the intro music and graphic, Johnny Gilbert announces your name, and they turn the camera on you. Although I look fairly calm during the opening sequence (with a smile that is dangerously close to charming), my heart was pounding so hard that I thought the microphone might pick it up. Alex stepped out and greeted the camera, the crowd, and the contestants and turned to the game board. “Let’s start with single Jeopardy in these categories…” cooed the crafty Canadian. Nothing happened. The board was dead. The crew scrambled to fix the problem while the contestants were treated to bottled water and another touch up (for me at least). Board working at last, we picked up exactly where Alex had left off. Our categories would be Rolling Stone’s Greatest Guitarists, Literary Adjectives, State the National Park (what state is each park in), Abbre-V-ations, Famous Hungarians, and Medical Talk. My reaction to each was, respectively: money, meh, okay, okay, *%$*#@**&^%, and meh. Alex turned to Matt to choose the first clue and we were off to the races.

Remember that time I gave Alex Trebek the finger?

Matt started with the medical category and I was thrilled to see that I knew the first answer. I confidently rang in and Alex called on…. Matt. Okay, no big deal. Another medical clue to which I know the answer and another failed attempt to ring in. A third clue and a third failed ring in, this time losing out to Misha. I felt as though it were rehearsal all over again. The fourth medical clue, again one I know. Again, I can’t ring in. They told us in the green room not to get frustrated if we were having trouble ringing in, that we would find out timing. That went completely out the window. I was furious. The fifth medical clue came up and I didn’t even read it. I rang in with all I had, concentrating every bit of my rage into that tiny plastic button. I heard Alex’s voice. “Taylor!” Crap, I didn’t really mean to ring in. I scan the clue: Synonyms for it are pollex and digitus primus. “Umm… what are the index finger?” Both grammar and common sense had left me at this point. I missed it and Matt swooped in with the obvious answer of thumb. I was $1000 in the hole and my confidence had retreated to the pit of my stomach.

I made a minor recovery by getting the first Hungarian clue and could finally steer us towards the Rolling Stone category. Naturally, I couldn’t ring in before Matt and he stole the $200 clue. Back to the Hungarians. Matt missed the $400 question about a Hungarian composer with a guess of Bela Bartok and I correctly rang in with Liszt. I was in control again. Back to the guitarists, and the $400 clue. The answer was George Harrison and I was excited to be called on for a clue involving my favorite band. I stuck with the guitarists and correctly named Jimmy Page for $600. The $800 clue was mine as well with Chuck Berry. I asked for the $1000 clue and was rewarded with the Daily Double. The camera zoomed in on me and I gave the TV audience a good taste of my special TV magic.

Bemusement becomes me.

Some movie stars and TV actors make love to the camera. I have a different style. I make awkward to it, and I do it well. I offered the camera what could best be called a bemused smile and wagered $1000. I have been asked why I didn’t risk everything when I was doing so well in the category thus far. At this point I had two thoughts in mind. First, I did not want to return to the negative. The pain of being unable to ring in when I knew the answers earlier haunted me and I was afraid if I got behind again I might not be able to make it back. Second, I thought the category had been too easy. Surely the Daily Double would be more obscure. As confident as I was, I was still gun-shy. The question turned out to be an easy one, and I answered correctly with Eric Clapton. I now had the lead and my confidence was back. I made a little bit more awkward to the camera and then went to Literary Adjectives. I knew the $200 answer but Matt beat me to it. He went with the National Park category and I stole control with a correct answer. Back to Literary Adjectives and another answer I knew stolen by Matt. It was finally time for the first commercial break.

Interview with a Vamp… err…. Game Show Legend

We returned from commercial and it was time for the contestant interviews with Alex. He is given a card with three interesting facts about each contestant. The wranglers circle their favorite and then Alex picks which one he wants to talk about. I had chosen not to tell them about my airplane mishap on the trip out and stuck with the stories I had already submitted. They assured me that Alex would probably ask about the time I refused a hair cut as a child because I thought I was Cinderella. I was completely prepared to become America’s new sweetheart with this endearing and self-deprecating tale. I thought Alex might ask me about my second most interesting fact, so I prepared myself mentally to talk about the time I broke both arms simultaneously in high school. Instead, he surprised me by asking about my blog. I managed to respond without seeming surprised, but neglected to say the name of the blog (of course!). He advised me to read shorter books, to which I responded “Absolutely. Dr. Seuss.” That’s the best I could come up with? Dr. Freaking Seuss? It turns out that the cord on the buzzer isn’t quite long enough to wrap around your own neck.

Are we too old for the Kid’s Tournament?

We returned to the game and went through a very rough patch. Matt and I traded off a few times but we wound up with nine Triple Stumpers in the first round. Not exactly an impressive showing. There were one or two that I knew but was too much of a chicken to guess because I wasn’t completely sure. The round ended with me leading Matt $4000 to $3600. Misha was in third with -$1000. at this point, I had answered 9 correctly and 1 wrong. Matt had answered 10 correctly and 2 wrong. Misha had answered 2 correctly and 2 wrong. Surely Double Jeopardy would be better.

That board scared the Dickens out of me.

We began the second round by uncovering the categories, a theme board based on…. Charles Dickens! You know, that guy who is so famous and yet I have read a whopping one of his books. I muttered a few obscenities under my breath and prepared for a rough round. We set to work and it turned out to be a decent board. We were all fairly competitive, but I was again plagued by buzzer problems. There were so many questions in this round that I just couldn’t manage to get in on. Matt found one daily double in the middle of the round and answered correctly to tie me for the lead at $10,000. We continued until only three clues were left, this time with only one Triple Stumper. I got the second to last question correct, and was left with two choices: Dickens Bicentennial for $1600 or $2000. One of them had the Daily Double. I guessed $1600, hoping to have found a way to catch Matt, now leading me $16,000 to $13,200. Unfortunately, it was not the Daily Double. I was able to ring in but missed with an absolute guess of Oliver Twist. Matt got the right answer and thus the Daily Double. I felt completely sunk at this point.

A Ray of Hope?

Matt was given the Daily Double, which read as follows: This city named for its “harbor entrance” location re-created the dance at which Elizabeth Dickens’ water broke. I knew without hesitation. I am an avid fan of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin books, which center on the Royal Navy. Many scenes have transpired in this particular city. If only I were able to answer. Matt wagered $5300 and guessed Liverpool. The correct answer was Portsmouth. He dropped down to 12,300, a lead of only $700 going in to Final Jeopardy. Our category would be Famous Relatives. We went to commercial and made our wagers. I bet everything but $10. I knew I had to hope for an incorrect answer on Matt’s part.

We came back and were given this clue: In 2011, his daughter Svetlana, living in the US under the name Lana Peters, died in Wisconsin at age 85. I knew it was Stalin immediately. I could only hope that Matt didn’t. Alex revealed Misha’s answer of Stalin, with a wager of $9000, doubling up to $18,000 and briefly taking the lead. He revealed my answer and wager, and I took the lead with $23,190. Finally it was time for Matt’s answer. Alex said that he seemed to struggle with it before revealing the answer of… Stalin. With a wager of $10,901 for a total of $23,201 and the win. By eleven dollars. All told, I answered 20 correctly and 2 wrong. Matt answered 20 correct and 3 wrong. Misha answered 9 correct and 2 wrong. Unable to bear watching the later games, I left the studio with my entourage and had a nice day of sightseeing capped by a steak dinner with my Dad and younger brother.

The final result.

I have a growth…

Now that it is all over, I have to reflect on the experience. I will admit that I was upset after the game. I felt like I had blown the opportunity to win and was not pleased with myself. There was some weeping and some gnashing of teeth. Ultimately there was also the awareness that I had realized one of my long-standing dreams. It still stings a little bit to watch my episode, but I think I am coping well. A younger version of myself would have imploded over this disappointment but I recognize the honor of being invited to compete and truly enjoyed the experience. It has been fun having a bit of minor celebrity (I even got interviewed by The Jeopardy! Fan blog today, to be posted Saturday). This whole ‘focus on the positive’ thing borders dangerously close on personal growth.

Matt: Not as much of a Dickensian as my friends think.

Matt was a nice guy and a gracious winner (despite what some of my friends think based on his facial expression). I will continue to watch Jeopardy and soak up as much random knowledge as possible. In answer to the question everyone seems to have: No, I do not intend to try out for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?, or any other game show. Jeopardy! is the best and most difficult game show and represents the sum of my trivia based ambitions. Maybe after Alex retires and I am eligible I will give it another shot. Until then, I will enjoy the life of a game show almost-was. Second in the game but first in the hearts of my fans (I love you too Grandma and Mom).

Watch me on Jeopardy tomorrow!

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Copyright Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Months after my epic trip to Los Angeles to film my run on Jeopardy!, the air date is finally here.  Tomorrow my first episode will air.  If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, it airs on CBS 11 at 11 AM.  If you live elsewhere and don’t know when to watch, visit this page to find out.  You can also see my extremely corny promo for the Dallas market, known as a  Hometown Howdy, here.  Just click on Taylor Norwood to see the awesomeness.  Watch all of them to see that I wasn’t the only nervous one that morning!

#30: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

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Preparing for the GRE seems to have sapped all of my mental energy and thus more than a week has passed since I finished reading the final book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  This novel opens with Lisbeth Salander near death after being shot in the head by Russian gangster Zalachenko.  She is accused of attempted murder of Zalachenko and seems certain to go to jail.  Her only hope is for Mikael Blomkvist and an assortment of her friends to uncover a sinister plot within the secret police to keep Salander committed to an institution in order to hide the doings of a small group of individuals known as The Section.  Blomkvist’s investigations put his own life in danger, and he must try to help Salander while protecting his other friends.  Again, this is a very abbreviated summary.  If you have read the book, you know what I mean.  If you haven’t, I have deliberately kept from ruining it for you, so read it!

I enjoyed this book the most out of the Millenium trilogy.  Part of the reason is probably because this is the only one of which I had not already seen a movie version.  I also enjoy espionage novels, and the hunt for the Section reminded me a bit of Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Larsson’s talent for building suspense is on full display in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  It is the longest of the three novels (and could have done without a few sections), but reads like a much shorter book.  I highly recommend the entire trilogy.

The Current Count

30 Read, 70 To Go

Watch me on Jeopardy in two weeks!

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Photo Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

In just two short weeks I will appear on the classic TV game show Jeopardy!  I received my official picture with Alex Trebek a while back but had yet to post it on the blog.  Despite taking a chair to the face, I thought the picture turned out pretty well.  I am not allowed to say how I did, but check out the first half of my story here.  I will post the second half after my stint on the show finishes airing.  Mark your calendars for my first episode (of one? of many?), airing Monday, July 2!

#29: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

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I knocked out book twenty-nine four days ago, but as usual have been a bit slow in posting my review.  As with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I will keep my summary of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire  brief so that I don’t spoil the surprise for the uninitiated.  The second novel in Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy returns us to investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and oddball hacker Lisbeth Salander.  When a couple researching a prostitution ring for Blomkvist’s magazine are murdered, Salander is named the prime suspect.  A third murder is also tied to her.  All of Sweden seems certain that she is guilty, and a widespread manhunt ensues.  Blomkvist is certain of his friend’s innocence and launches his own investigation.  There is also a shadowy presence lurking over the crimes, known only by the name Zala.  As Salander prepares to defend herself, her friends risk everything to save her.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the first in the series.  The main reason is probably that I knew the big secret of the book before reading it.  I had already seen the Swedish version of this film and therefore knew the conclusion.  That definitely detracted from the experience.  It was enjoyable, but a bit less so as a result of my knowledge.  I would still recommend the book, but mostly as preparation for the third installment (which I am almost finished with!).

The Current Count

29 Read, 71 To Go

#28: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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I have previously discussed my reluctance to read any book that has achieved widespread popular acclaim. I am a book snob, plain and simple. If the common folk like a book, then it must be beneath the intellectual giant that is me (I know, I am a little bit of an ass). This rule has worked to my benefit on several occasions, having protected me from the teenage titillation of Twilight and the harebrained poppycock of Harry Potter (I worked hard on that sentence). It has also very nearly done me a great disservice on multiple occasions. It was this snobbery that almost kept me from Cormac McCarthy (thanks to Daniel and Seth at Surf Waco for setting me straight). It was also this snobbery that almost kept me from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Despite watching and enjoying both the Swedish and American film versions of this novel, I was hesitant to pick it up. Thanks to my wife’s insistence, I finally did so.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is part crime novel and part onion. There are several plot lines layered together into an incredibly entertaining whole. The core plot revolves around the disappearance and suspected murder of teenager Harriet Vanger in the 1960’s. Harriet’s uncle, wealthy industrial Henrik Vanger, hires Mikael Blomkvist to look into her case in the hope of turning up new information before Henrik succumbs to his advanced age. With the help of talented but troubled researcher Lisbeth Salander, Blomkvist uncovers a shocking chain of grisly murders that leads him to the truth about Harriet. There are several subplots that explain the psychology and backgrounds of both Blomkvist and Salander, creating sincere and believable characters. I won’t summarize in any greater detail because most of the universe has already read this book, and I don’t want to spoil it for those precious few who lag behind even me in jumping on this bandwagon.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo deserves every bit of the acclaim surrounding it. It is both well written and well translated. Although it is graphically violent and graphically sexual in parts, these sections seem neither gratuitous nor glorifying. Larsson’s plot draws the reader in so deeply that it is nearly impossible to put the book down once it is begun. I read the 644 page novel in a day and a half. Despite knowing the plot (thanks to the two movie versions), I was absolutely captivated. This is one case in which I happily acknowledge the error of my ways. If you have resisted this book out of a snobbishness akin to my own, give in to current of popular acclaim. You will not regret it.

The Current Count

28 Read, 72 To Go

#27: Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes

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Nietzsche has dominated my philosophical readings of late, so I decided to shift gears and try a new thinker.  A quick trip to Half Price Books and I was ready to delve into Descartes.  I had some familiarity with Descartes but had never read any of his writings.  His Discourse on Method seemed like the perfect place to start.

The full title of this work is actually Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and for Seeking the Truth in the Sciences.  For some reason, it is more commonly known simply as the Discourse on Method.  In this short treatise, Descartes outlines his plan to examine all of the things he held to be true and determine whether they can be known with certainty through nothing more than reason and demonstration.  He distinguishes his efforts from classical skepticism by recognizing that there are some truths that can be absolutely known.  The most basic of these is his famous “I think, therefore I am”.  He goes on to demonstrate the necessary existence and perfection of God, and then to generally discuss certain truths about man, the heavens, and the physical world. 

This book has long been considered one of the most important works in modern philosophy, and with good reason.  Descartes’ method for examining the truths of the world has had a tremendous influence on the methods of later philosophers and the methods of natural scientists.  He writes with a clarity and honesty that is refreshing compared to many other philosophers.  While I disagree with some of the logic he employs to arrive at some of his supposedly incontrovertible truths, I applaud his efforts and admire his methods.  I specifically disagree with his proof of the existence of God.  It is essentially, Anselm of Canterbury’s ontological proof restated in a slightly different formula.  While interesting and apparently sound from a logical standpoint, this method of proving the existence of God requires that the individual making the argument believe in God to begin with.  It is a bit of philosophical reverse engineering.  If you believe that God exists, then the ontological proof seems valid.  If you doubt that God exists, the ontological proof will not persuade you.  This critique is certainly not reason enough to disregard Descartes’ Discourse.  I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in philosophy.

The Current Count

27 Read, 73 To Go

#26: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

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A few years ago I began trying to put together a list of every book I have ever read.  While I cannot hope to remember all of them (especially those from my childhood), I have done a pretty fair job of recalling most of them.  The list currently stands at 434 different books (not counting books that I have read on multiple occasions).  There are a few books that stand out in my memory as truly great.  Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is one favorite.  Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is another.  Plato’s Republic, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra will have lasting impacts on my intellect.  Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5 will always have a special place in my heart, as will the recently deceased Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.  Yet out of all of these books there is one that has earned the distinction of the best book I have ever read.  That book is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, book number twenty-six this year.

Blood Meridian is the story of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who runs away from his abusive and alcoholic father in roughly 1848.  The Kid makes his way to Texas, eventually finding himself at a religious revival in Nacogdoches.  Here he meets Judge Holden, an enormous and entirely hairless man who will emerge as the novel’s antagonist.  Holden accuses the reverend holding the revival of impure acts with both an 11-year-old girl and a goat in Fort Smith, Arkansas, enraging the crowd and inciting them to kill the preacher.  Holden later reveals that he made up the accusations.  The Kid continues his travels, working his way down to San Antonio.  He signs on with an expedition of ex-US Army soldiers intent on reclaiming territory returned to the Mexican government following the end of the Mexican-American War.  Shortly after crossing into Mexico the party is attacked by Comanches and most of the soldiers are killed.  The Kid makes it to Chihuahua, where he is arrested for participating in the illegal enterprise.

The Kid and two other Americans secure their release by signing on with a scalphunting operation headed by a man named Glanton.  The scalphunters have a contract with the Chihuahuan state to protect villagers from Indian attacks (specifically Apache), and are paid for each scalp they bring in.  Judge Holden is Glanton’s unofficial co-commander and is looked at with awe by most of his fellow marauders.  The Kid learns that Glanton’s gang found the Judge in the middle of the desert when they were fleeing from a band of Apaches.  The gang was out of gunpowder, but Holden brought them to a burned out volcano where he proceeded to mix a batch of gunpowder from the elements available.  This allowed the gang to slaughter the Apaches and established Holden as an almost superhuman figure.  The Kid also learns that every other member of the gang (except for Tobin, an ex-priest) claims to have met the Judge somewhere else prior to signing on with Glanton.  The gang proceeds to engage the Apaches when possible, but eventually descend into butchery of anyone who crosses their path, including innocent villagers, peaceful Indians, and Mexican National Guardsmen.  When word gets back to the Chihuahuan authorities, the gang flees to the borderland between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora.

In the area around Yuma, Arizona the gang seizes a ferry on the Colorado River.  They use the ferry to rob and abuse travelers headed for California and fortify their position as a base from which to raid the nearby Yuma Indians.  Eventually the Yumas mount an attack and slaughter the gang, scalping Glanton in the process.  The Kid escapes with the ex-priest Tobin, and Holden escapes separately.  Holden encounters the Kid and Tobin in the desert, and tries to talk the Kid out of his gun.  The Kid refuses and sets out with Tobin.  Holden eventually gets two rifles from other survivors and tracks the Kid and Tobin in the desert.  After the Kid passes on several opportunities to shoot Holden, they successfully hide from Holden (although Tobin is shot in the neck).  The Kid and Tobin make their way to San Diego, where they are separated and the Kid is imprisoned.  He is visited in his cell by Holden, who tells him that the authorities belive the Kid to be responsible for the demise of the Glanton gang (due to Holden’s testimony).  The Kid reveals the true circumstances to his jailers and is eventually released. 

The final chapter takes the reader to 1878, where the Kid is now known as the Man.  The Man encounters Holden in a Fort Griffin, Texas saloon.  Holden does not appear to have aged at all.  Holden tells the Man that his sympathy for the Indians was the seed that ultimately led to the demise of the gang.  There is no room for sympathy or clemency in a world ruled by violence and bloodshed.  He implies that the Man exists only for the purpose of doing violence, which the Man denies.  The two go their separate ways.  Later that evening, the Man enters an outhouse to find the enormous and hairless Holden waiting for him naked.  The events in the outhouse are left vague, with two other men later entering and reacting with horror to what they see.  The novel ends with Judge Holden dancing and fiddling back at the saloon, declaring to his fellow revelers that he will never die.

Blood Meridian is not a fun book to read.  It is unbelievably violent and deeply disturbing.  It is also beautifully written in prose that seems Biblical at times.  McCarthy has a singular gift for creating characters and landscapes that seem larger than real life and yet entirely believable.  Judge Holden is one of the most remarkable characters I have encountered in all of my reading.  His seems to represent wisdom and erudition at the same time that he represents violence and depravity.  The best word I can think of to describe him is haunting.  He will stay with you for a very long time.  He somehow exudes a magnetic quality that draws the other characters (and the reader) to him despite his despicable deeds.  The Kid manages to be a sort of hero despite engaging in many of the same violent acts that are so easy to condemn in the Judge.  His ultimate demise at the hands of Holden seems to imply that evil and violence will eventually extinguish even the tiniest shred of goodness in this world. 

Blood Meridian is painful and depressing.  It is violent and horrifying.  It is exhausting and excruciating.  It is also the greatest book from the greatest living American author.  Read it (and then adopt a puppy to feel joy in your life again).

The Current Count

26 Read, 74 To Go

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