Kenneth Rexroth
(New Directions)
Some of us grew up listening to Rexroth as the voice of books on Berkeley radio in the 50's. He'd go on and on about whatever obscure title he had at hand, muttering and grouching about the type or the footnotes, his voice often barely audible on the tape (sometimes he would he'd toddle off to answer the telephone, leaving the tape recorder running.)

He seemed to know everything there was to know about books, and after awhile --- he took some getting used to --- you figured that he had heard of and read all the obscure and not-obscure writers of all the centuries. But he was no dry scholastic: when he wasn't reviewing books, or translating Chinese classics, or writing, he was off to the cellars of San Francisco to expose himself, a goatish sexagenarian on stage, reading poetry with the Beats, with jazz.

Comes now this reissue, treating sixty of the classics, from Gilgamesh to the plays of Chekhov. And it's a humdinger. For example, this on The Canterbury Tales:

    Like a dream told to a psychoanalyst, each Tale reveals the deepest complexities of character. The Tales judge the narrators...


    Whitman's philosophy may resemble that of the Upanishads as rewritten by Thomas Jefferson.

Or this, on The Oresteia:

    Aristotle said that what elevates the language of the characters of Aeschylus is not rhetoric but a kind of transcendent politics. The actors are caught up in the shimmering flux of a kind of political ecstasy. Athens in the days of Aeschylus, like London in the days of Shakespeare, experienced a true dramatization of life.

    Whether Aeschylus invented tragedy or not, he is the first Western writer to understand process --- the essence of drama. The Athenian community of his day was continually discovering new realms of value in its own interpersonal relationships. Aeschylus gives expression to a civic dynamism more intense than Western man would ever see again. Meaning was won from Time...

Our only problem with this whole opus is that we don't have the dadblatted time to read all the works that Rexroth makes so alluring in this chef d'oeuvre.

His Life
And Art

David Robinson
According to Variety, Chaplin is a "labor of love" --- but it is also a labor to read. Chaplin's life, like the lives of all of us, was complex and tangled --- more so, because he was The First Beatle, a man who was projected, by the media, into the hearts and minds of millions of people.

We are damned if every music-hall appearance, each and every one- and two-reeler, all his many loves (not excluding the long-winded and evil secret investigation by the FBI) demands Robinson's exhaustive (and our exhausted) attention. True, there are fascinating facts uncovered: Chaplin's first produced --- not directed --- film was "A Woman of Paris," hidden away until recently; or the lost-forever "The Professor" (1919); or two telling scenes cut from "City Lights."

For the fact is that the art of one media always translates poorly into another. Robinson wants his words to add to our appreciation of a man who created a film character, created him with considerable genius, restraint, and mystery. To do that well, Robinson would have to create a work of art. He didn't: prolix infected him and it downs, and drowns, him.

By the way, W. C. Fields said of Chaplin:

    The son-of-a-bitch is a ballet dancer...He's the best ballet dancer that ever lived, and if I get a good chance I'll kill him with my bare hands.

The Eternal Legacy
An Introduction to
The Canonical Literature
Of Buddhism

It's rough seas here for those who are interested in Buddhism of a lower level. Many obscure tracts with names like Patisambhida-magga and Sariputra-abhidharma-sastra bend the eye and bother the ear. However, for those who have patience and interest, it can be fascinating. In one sutra, Buddha is

    ... lying between the twin Sal trees. He is surrounded by eighty billion hundred thousand great bhikshus. It is early morning. In a voice that fills the entire world, and reaches up to the highest heaven, the Buddha announced his impending parinivana, at the same time sending out from his mouth rays of five different colours --- blue, yellow, white, crystal, and agate. These rays light up the entire three thousand great-thousandfold world system, taking away the sins of the beings in all six realms of existence...

Robert Peters
Peters is an incessant, unceasing, unstopping, unstoppable writer, apparently willing to undertake anything under the sun. This, his latest of twenty (or thirty, or forty) works, is a tale of one of those drab explorers of the 19th Century who insisted on going into the Arctic to develop frostbite, eat his shoes and his dogs, and otherwise make life unpleasant for himself and his companions.

Peters wants us to see, taste, and smell, say, the chopping off of blackened feet, the smell of gangrene:

    I slice easily
    through the external joints.
    You can't push a saw through bone!...
    A severed foot thuds to the floor.
    A rush of dogs:
    the whips, the whimpering.

We'd suggest there are probably more pleasant ways to idle away a summer's eve than performing (or reading about) such chill capers.

In The Orchard
Charles W. Pratt
Pratt is one of those country poets who tells us more than we would want to know about stars, and apples, and wild blueberries; there are daisies in such profusion that those of us who abjure country living wonder "Why Bother?" Still, there is something attractive about this volume. It's probably that we get a bellyfull of the stink and worry of rural living:

    Dressed like an astronaut or lunatic
    Religious in hooded
    Waterproof, respirator, goggles...
    Haze drifts over tree,
    Grass, sprayer, tractor, me,
    Fogs my goggles till I stumble
    As though through some foreign element...
    Hating the wind, hating even
    The apple trees and especially
    My own incompetent self...

Reaching Up,
Reaching Out
For What You Want
Leland Pulley
The key is author-view-of- reader. At least, that's how we see it after our 600th self-help, you're-gonna-get-better, jes-give-life-a-chance tome.
Since most of these authors believe their readers to be dumb, they are telling us something very important about themselves. For example, Pulley wants us to REACH FOR THE BETTER THINGS IN LIFE, but he keeps dragging in the old saws



These superego strictures probably worked fine in the days of Orestes Caldwell and Fulton J. Sheen --- but late in this century, they are a bit too much.

To show his aplomb, the author sent the following marching orders to us:

    After completing your review, provide a copy of it. If the book is not reviewed, please give specific reasons why and return it to us [no postage provided.]

Now, that's reaching!

--- R. R. Doister

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