Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 58


Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Trader Joe’s Brand

I’m of two minds on Julian Barnes. The Sense of an Ending is the first book I’ve read by him so I guess I’m really just talking about that. It had some interesting twists but also it felt cheap. Needless to say, I’m going to spoil the book, so be warned.

Tony thinks he’s a better person than he is. If this were an 8th Grade reading comprehension test, that would be the one-line wringer for ‘plot.’ And if Mrs. Pritchard is getting really tricky asking for ‘theme,’ it’s that memory is imperfect.

Basically, the story follows the narrator (Tony)’s own account of his life, particularly as it concerns an ex he dated in college and a friend who killed himself (also in college). He starts out hating the ex and revering the friend until he realizes his friend was offing himself to avoid an unplanned fatherhood and his ex was traumatized by abusive parents. Predictable things, ultimately, but Barnes writes in a way to make you buy-in to the falsehoods as you go along. That’s pretty interesting.

What’s not so interesting is that the great revelation – ‘I’m not as good as I thought I was’ – happens four or five separate times. Tony keeps thinking he’s got it, keeps getting it wrong. And after the first or second of these happenings it starts to get absurd (and not in a good way). He goes so far as to consistently mistake the identity of his dead friend’s son. Meanwhile, all the characters around him abjectly refuse to give him any answers to questions about their shared past despite his asking. He comes off more a pathetic idiot than a complicated human being. Like I said, cheap.

Unless Barnes knows exactly what he’s doing. I came away from the book not being quite sure. There’s so much tropism that you start to expect the tropes are intentional. There’s a man blinded by patriarchy, women who are single-use saviours or foils, etc. The true purpose of the book might be to point out just how idiotic men – or at least, men in literature – often are. That said, I never found an ‘ah-hah!’ moment of authorship that confirms it.

So I’m of two minds: The Sense of an Ending is worth a read. It might be very clever. Or it might be too clever for it’s own good.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain; I started reading this years ago and got side-tracked; I’ve had trouble picking it back up after Bourdain’s suicide; I’ve been in the mood to confront something, so I’m picking it up again; we’ll see how far I get this time

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What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 31


Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

There was a thunderstorm today. While it was on, I opened the windows and read a book. Isn’t that exactly what you’re supposed to do in such a situation?

I’m working my way through ‘The Sense of an Ending.’ I like it better than I had to begin with but still find it overly wrought and pretentious. Maybe it’s supposed to be. That said, being true to yourself doesn’t fix everything.

Anyway, the narrator is constantly caught up in philosophies. He and his friends pick apart life for the logical core – a tootsie pop, but with no humor. And less owls.

That all got me thinking about different intelligences. For the bulk of my life, I considered myself rational. Hell, I got a degree in Philosophy, for God’s(s) sake. To a younger me, it seemed being rational – and rationally intelligent – was key to living a good life. More than that, it was the only key. You were either someone who thought critically or you were making deep mistakes about yourself. What I was missing – and what all of western patriarchy so carefully misses – is that reason is only one small way to understand the world.

I remember having this conversation with an ex about feminism. She said one of the ways women are discounted is by being labeled emotional. Well, I knew that much, and I was on board. But she went on to say that there are these broader ways of looking at a situation – through emotional, psychological, social, etc lenses – that get completely ignored by the competitive mainstream. And by ignoring them, you exclude people who may not have been given the keys to the Castle on the Hill, but who have very real, valid, meaningful experience to bring to the table.

Anyway, the Narrator of “The Sense of an Ending” goes on and on about this girl who broke his heart. And he’s constantly trying to pick apart his memories of her to figure out who she really was and why she did some things she did. But what I think he’s missing – and maybe so is Barnes – is that a lot of action, by both men and women, is not taken like a fruit from some tree of logically consistent causality, but from any other sort of vibrant garden, whose bushes grow great branches without every caring about a things like reason or intelligibility.

Novel Count: 34,291

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 23


Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand; I think these beans have it in for me. On the second cup, I got the jitters. On the third, I was queasy. I spent the whole day not wanting to eat anything. My gut evacuated – bad news, best to get out of dodge. That said, the taste was fine.

I’m sitting ankle-deep in writer’s block. Or – I know what to write next, I just don’t feel like writing it. Instead, I’ll talk about something that bothers me:

Every other book I read feels artificial.

I won a copy of “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes at an open mic. This was months ago, I just got around to reading it. Before I get any further, I should say I’m only a quarter in. But that quarter left a sour taste in my mouth.

For those that don’t know, “The Sense of an Ending” won the Man Booker. Etc, etc. The story so far follows a group of friends through a private high school. They’re all eclectic, aggressively so. The writing takes simple scenes and puts a lot of wax on them. Barnes is always going on about something. It’s meticulous, literary, sort of impressive.

To me, it stinks. What truth is there in a bunch of prep kids talking philosophy and sneering at their teachers? Why are so many writers obsessed with asserting some kind of carefully constructed world-view?

Today, I did nothing. I sat and moped. I wanted to write but couldn’t. No-one was around. I played video games. I got groceries. When it was time to exercise, I drank two beers instead. There’s no greater meaning in any of that – just a drudgery. But damn if it didn’t feel inescapably real.

My favorite passage of one of my favorite books spends a long describing the inside of a Denny’s. It’s an ordinary Denny’s. It’s an ordinary night. The protagonist sits inside that ordinariness. And that’s it – no big revelations. What more do you need? The truth is this: ordinary life is the most strange, beautiful, sad, gripping, dangerous thing of all.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

The music playing at low volume is “Go Away Little Girl” by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. No one is listening, of course. Many different kinds of people are taking meals and drinking coffee in this late-night Denny’s, but she is the only female there alone. She raises her face from her book now and then to glance at her watch, but she seems dissatisfied with the slow passage of time. Not that she appears to be waiting for anyone: she doesn’t look around the restaurant or train her eyes on the front door. She just keeps reading her book, lighting an occasional cigarette, mechanically tipping back her coffee cup, and hoping for the time to pass a little faster. Needless to say, dawn will not be here for hours.

After Dark, Haruki Murakami