June 22, 2014

Frank Norris’s Octopus

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 3:03 pm by chuckredman

I’ve just finished one of the notable novels about the American West, The Octopus by Frank Norris. Norris, also a talented short story writer, finished the book around the age of thirty and, sadly, only survived the book’s 1901 publication by a year or two. Even so, I believe he proved himself one of the great novelists of his era. In its scope and Naturalism, The Octopus clearly paved the way for later generations of Western writers, like Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, or Wallace Stegner in The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The Octopus is a fictionalized saga of the conflict between the wheat farmers and the railroad monopoly that raged in California’s San Joaquin Valley in the two decades preceding the book’s publication. Although some critics may be right in finding Norris’s style occasionally too flowery and repetitive, those flaws did not spoil for me the superb storyline and character development. Those wheat farmers and their families became so real and important to me. Much of Norris’s prose is stunning and, though certainly less lyrical than Dickens or Eliot, I believe he may possess as great a command of the English language as any writer in any era – including a fair number of words I had never seen before in my life.

So, if you enjoy reading about the West, right versus might, progressive politics, and even a bit of romance thrown in, The Octopus would be high on my list of suggested novels. As a great novel should, it held my interest continuously, never flagging in its realism and humanity.

June 17, 2014

If, Then. . .

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:41 pm by chuckredman

I wrote this ranting essay a few years ago at the time of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear near-meltdown in Japan. I sent it to all the liberal newspapers I could think of and none were interested in it as an op-ed piece. Well, what’s the use of having a blog if you can’t post your own unpublished and unwanted rants? Here it is, thanks:

IF, THEN

by Chuck Redman

If we didn’t absolutely need electric hair dryers. . .

If we didn’t actually have to have electric shoe polishers or nose-hair trimmers . . .

If we could survive, somehow, without plug-in air fresheners containing built-in motion sensors and alternating fragrances. . .

If we could watch television enough without DVR’s that record multiple programs at once, while we watch yet another program. . . or without big screen TV’s, high definition and surround sound. . .

If we could be just as happy, perhaps, to go to our mailboxes and find only mail from people and businesses we know, rather than unwanted junk advertising. . .

If we could get through the day, perchance, without sipping $4.00 coffee, at a 1000% markup, through throw-away lids. . . or bottled water from Fresno, France, or Fiji. . .

If we could get places on time without 18-karat-gold watches that are waterproof to 99 feet. . .

If we could unabashedly venture into the public glare in sunglasses costing an hour’s salary instead of a day’s. . .

If we could smile with the lips, chins, eyes and noses that nature gave us, and support fewer plastic surgeons grinning to themselves while they scrub up for surgery. . .

If a car might take us places even though the front seats aren’t individually heated or cooled and you need an actual lever to adjust position, even though AM/FM radio and one speaker are all you have for amusement while you drive, and even though your passengers are forced to read or look out the window instead of watching the latest DVD’s. . .

If we didn’t spend billions widening the 405 to absorb more traffic instead of spending a fraction of that to install a dedicated bus lane in the middle. . .

If we stopped putting up high-rise office buildings, with windows you can’t open and air conditioning at full blast. . .

If we finally decided that we have enough shopping malls already, and that they’re too expensive to heat, cool, and light. . .

If, instead of pouring most of our agri-dollars into raising meat, we redirected those resources into healthier and hugely more productive foodstuffs . . .

If we suspended space exploration until we could better afford it. . .

If billionaires paid more taxes (which could help us produce alternative energy) and bought fewer villas, private jets, yachts, $500,000 showoff parties, or jewels that could choke an anaconda. . .

If big corporations weren’t bailed out. . .

If we didn’t gamble on military interventions that only heighten instability and suffering. . .

If drugs and prostitution were decriminalized, regulated and taxed. . .

If the billions spent on political ads to no one’s betterment were spent instead on safe energy alternatives and conservation. . .

Then maybe we wouldn’t need all those nuclear power plants.  Or nuclear weapons either, for that matter.