Just Above Sunset
March 19, 2006 - Vicarious Looks At The Life Of A Starving Artist

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Book Wrangler

March 20, 2006

by Bob Patterson


Last week in Just Above Sunset, there was a consideration of the John Fante's novel, Ask the Dust, and a recently released film adapted from it.


The Los Angeles Times indicated that the novel was a commendable book about being a starving artist in the Bunker Hill area of LA, in the thirties. 


Some years ago, Black Sparrow books released a reprint of Ask the Dust and I had purchased a copy (probably a reviewer's copy) in a used bookstore.  The book was eminently forgettable and (as I recall) I sold my copy at a slight profit. 


The movie, which I managed to see for free, was interesting for its ability to evoke  depression era Los Angeles on film, but it didn't impress me.


For the story of a starving artist, I preferred Knut Hamsen's Hunger. 


In my estimation, however, the best starving artist book ever was Hemingway's Moveable Feast.  If time travel ever becomes feasible Harry's New York Bar and Grill (Cinq rue Daunou) in Paris will be filled to overflowing every night in the last half of the twenties.  What book reader wouldn't love to walk in there and see if Hemingway was holding sway over the clientele?


In its own way, isn't Jack Kerouac's On the Road, a starving artist story?  He was a rookie writer searching for material and he fell in with a band of literary outlaws who hitchhiked around the USA frantically trying to take the cultural pulse of post war America.  That group of artists established a new style of writing and anointed every place they mentioned with a respectability that still draws tourists, biographers, and photographers.  Kerouac and his buddies had to take various jobs to live while gathering their material and trying to get published. 


Jack London's biography mentioned that one of the books he wrote detailed a trip he made early in his career, across America via the hobo style of train travel, and that might qualify it for a mention in the starving artist genre. 


Eric Blair (George Orwell) wrote Down and Out in London and Paris, but he seemed to be an established writer who went slumming with the reassurance of a safety net never far away. 


The film Adaptation is about a young struggling film scriptwriter who faces the challenge of producing a script based upon a lyrical book that lacked many of the elements of conflict that are often integral to successful movies. 


One book about the flip side of the coin is The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford, which is about a painter who becomes world famous for producing only one rarely seen work of art.


Other books that have been published more recently and, even though they may not be relevant to the starving artist file, might be of interest to readers looking for an excuse to make a trip to their local library or bookstore, are Very New Orleans: A Celebration of History, Culture, and Cajun Country Charm by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler ($16.95 Algonquin Books) and Roomanitarian by Henry Rollins ($12.95 paperback 2.13.61)


This is women's history month and so we'll plug Reckless: The Outrageous Lives of Nine Kick-Ass Women, by Gloria Mattioni ($14.95 paperback Seal Press) to give people an idea of some of the many books that are getting attention in March.


Book titles seem to be getting longer and longer.  Have you seen any book title that would beat Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things…: That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, ... Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out by the editors of McSweeney's ($22 McSweeney's) for the title of "book with the longest title"? 


Henry Miller also wrote about the life of an artist in Paris.  He said - "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive."


Now, if the disk jockey will play Melanie Safka's song Look What They've Done to My Song, we'll head for the kitchen because all the work of writing this column has left us hungry.  Have a super-sized week.




Copyright 2006 - Robert Patterson

Email the author at worldslaziestjournalist@yahoo.com





Editor's Note:


See also "Our Man in Paris" from October 24, 2004 - Kerry Gets Edge At Harry's for Ric Erickson's brief history of Harry's New York Bar, 5 rue Daunou (2e) and a photo.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
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