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Ask the Dust

Ask the Dust

Author: John Fante
Rating: 6/10
Last Read: April 2014

Quick Summary: Arturo Bandini is a struggling writer in LA during the depression.  He's convinced of his own greatness, but can't seem to get the words onto the page correctly!  This follows his adventures (and madness) through the city, into love, and on a mad chase after his love into the desert.

I heard this book described as "The Great Gatsby of the West Coast."  I'm not totally sure about that one - I like Gatsby much more.  I didn't love the book, but it was still a decent read.  Perhaps I should give it a second chance one day.

I picked it up because one of my favorite poets - Charles Bukowski - loved this book.  One bonus for me was the fact that Bukowski wrote the foreword! What a surprise. 

My Takeaways

No matter how convinced you are of your own talent, if you cannot do the work and produce output, you are nothing.  Ego is your enemy.

My Highlights

But let me say that the way of his words and the way of his way are the same: strong and good and warm.

Almighty God, I am sorry I am now an atheist, but have You read Nietzsche? Ah, such a book!

“My advice to all young writers is quite simple. I would caution them never to evade a new experience. I would urge them to live life in the raw, to grapple with it bravely, to attack it with naked fists.”

every morning you’ll see the mighty sun, the eternal blue of the sky, and the streets will be full of sleek women you never will possess, and the hot semitropical nights will reek of romance you’ll never have, but you’ll still be in paradise, boys, in the land of sunshine.

You are nobody, and I might have been somebody, and the road to each of us is love.

God was such a dirty crook, such a contemptible skunk, that’s what he was for doing that thing to that woman. Come down out of the skies, you God, come on down and I’ll hammer your face all over the city of Los Angeles, you miserable unpardonable prankster. If it wasn’t for you, this woman would not be so maimed, and neither would the world

a Bandini with dynamite in his body and volcanic fire in his eyes, who goes to this Camilla Lopez and says: see here, young woman, I have been very patient with you, but now I have had enough of your impudence, and you will kindly oblige me by removing your clothes.

the world seemed a myth, a transparent plane, and all things upon it were here for only a little while; all of us, Bandini, and Hackmuth and Camilla and Vera, all of us were here for a little while, and then we were somewhere else; we were not alive at all; we approached living, but we never achieved it. We are going to die. Everybody was going to die.

The world was dust, and dust it would become.

What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?

“What’s the matter with him?”
“T. B.” she said.
“Tough.”
“He won’t live long.”
I didn’t give a damn. “We all have to die someday.”

He was going to die in a year, she said. He had left Los Angeles and gone to the edge of the Santa Ana desert. There he lived in a shack, writing feverishly. All his life he had wanted to write. Now, with such little time remaining, his chance had come.

There came over me a terrifying sense of understanding about the meaning and the pathetic destiny of men. The desert was always there, a patient white animal, waiting for men to die, for civilizations to flicker and pass into the darkness. Then men seemed brave to me, and I was proud to be numbered among them. All the evil of the world seemed not evil at all, but inevitable and good and part of that endless struggle to keep the desert down.

I looked southward in the direction of the big stars, and I knew that in that direction lay the Santa Ana desert, that under the big stars in a shack lay a man like myself, who would probably be swallowed by the desert sooner than I, and in my hand I held an effort of his, an expression of his struggle against the implacable silence toward which he was being hurled. Murderer or bartender or writer, it didn’t matter: his fate was the common fate of all, his finish my finish; and here tonight in this city of darkened windows were other millions like him and like me: as indistinguishable as dying blades of grass. Living was hard enough. Dying was a supreme task. And Sammy was soon to die.

To hell with that Hitler, this is more important than Hitler, this is about my book. It won’t shake the world, it won’t kill a soul, it won’t fire a gun, ah, but you’ll remember it to the day you die, you’ll lie there breathing your last, and you’ll smile as you remember the book.

This was the life for a man, to wander and stop and then go on, ever following the white line along the rambling coast, a time to relax at the wheel, light another cigaret, and grope stupidly for the meanings in that perplexing desert sky.

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