3.22.2005

What are you reading now? March edition

I got a lot of good book tips the last time we had a thread on what we're reading. I'll start it off:

Beloved. Shame on me for never reading this before now. It's blowing me away. I know little about Toni Morrison, but she is so good she's scary. Clearly read a lot of Faulkner (and actually gained from it). How old will I be when I stop discovering stunningly talented writers? Dead, I think.

Love in the Time of Cholera. My fourth attempt, and this time I'm going to make it. Realizing that with Garcia Marquez, practically every paragraph is a story. He's one of the few that I can actually feel trying to influence me when I work on my own book. Back, Gabe, back!

Notable American Women. I can only handle a few pages at a time, but I always come back for more. Surreal and funny and dense.

Uncle Tom's Cabin. Second read-thru (novel research). It does not succeed as art. It's more like propaganda. There are plenty of reasons it's not in the "canon": It's simplistic, preachy, overwrought, not near ugly enough, too authorial, and it really, really needed an editor. And it was the bestselling novel of the 19th Century and ended up changing the country. Is it the last time a novel did that? Hence the research.

42 comments:

TLB said...

I always read several things at once, so I can choose according to my mood. On my nightstand right now:

Selected Stories by Alice Munro. Catching up on what everyone else already knew was amazing. She always makes me think I will never be good enough to publish anything ever again.

Prep Just got through the chapter on the game of "Assassin." The structure of the story really follows the school year, stopping on important moments. What I like is that Curtis really takes the time to let the story unfold in all its minutiae, a method that I find takes more guts than you'd think.

Believers by Charles Baxter. Thought I'd finish the rest of the stories in the collection. Wasn't a big fan of "Kiss Away," but the title story is as good as anything I've ever read.

Gilead I've been saving this one for when I finished my own book but just couldn't wait any longer. The thing I noticed about it, from the first paragraph, is that Marilynne's style hasn't changed substantially since Housekeeping. I would have thought it would, but it didn't.

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. I picked this up thinking it was nonfiction because I've been doing a lot of plague reading lately. Possibly the deadly dullest thing I've read in a long time, I'm going through it very slowly because it's the one thing I'm reading that puts me to sleep.

How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orrigner. LOVED the opening story, "Pilgrims." Just when you're sure you know where it's going, it changes on you.

SER said...

Why aren't you all reading The Line of Beauty, as I demanded? It's awesome.

I feel like a slacker for only reading two books at once, but here goes:

Consciousness and the Novel by David Lodge. It's a book of essays I read about on Maud Newton, and Maud's favorite novel is The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, and that's my favorite novel, too, so I figured that if she liked the Lodge book, I would like it, too. It's really fascinating, but I will not post anything about it until I'm done.

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. I'm not that far in, but at present it has the dread of Appointment in Samarra, but in a richer, more exotic setting.

El Gordo de Amore said...

Cloud Atlas -- totally wicked.

And, Invisible Cities is now my favorite book (and my favorite book hasn't changed from CivilWarLand in like ten years).

Housekeeping -- didn't think I'd like, but I liked a lot.

Lucifer (comic book) -- great single issue storyline about how hard it is to be God.

Wanted (comic book) -- best new comic series since The Watchmen. Incredibly, incredibly great.

kclou said...

_Everything Is Illuminated_ I'm really curious as to what people think of this one. I like it. I really, really like the parts narrated by Alex (about 50% of the book) and like the rest okay; it certainly strains, in my opinion. The author, Foer, was in Charlottesville for the VA Festival of the Book, and I got to talk to him for a bit. I thought he came off as a cool guy: bright, genuinely thoughtful, modest. I thought he seemed that way in the NY Times Magazine profile, as well.

_Invisible Cities_ Again. It's a complete jolt to my brain. I think I buy more copies of this book to send to other people than any other book.

_Cloud Atlas_ Slowly. I don't feel prepared to comment yet.

Inexplicably, my list seems rather similar to El Gordo's.

dunkeys said...

DFW's Oblivion.

And soon, W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn.

Sidenote: the way I feel about books like Under the Volcano and Invisible Cities -- that EVERYONE should read them -- is how I feel about the only book of Sebald's I've read, Austerlitz. I'll ask again: has anyone else read this guy?

Notable American Woman has stalled on me . . . the form and concept are fun, but I don't feel like finishing it because the emotion is cold; yeah, I get it, quite nicely crafted, let's move along.

MSF said...

Death of an Ordinary Man by Glen Duncan. Takes a premise you'd think Alice Sebold would have made you sick of and does some very interesting things with it, though I'm a little weary of books where the narrator hides the ball, as in...

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I didn't have high hopes for this one, which is about the mom of a Columbine-type kid writing letters to her estranged husband after the fact, but there was some amazing stuff in it. Plays into all my fears about having children, thanks very much. And while we're on the subject of murderous teens...

Project X by Jim Shepard. Good, but not as good as I'd hoped--would have liked more to it. I really felt for the kid but everything felt abstract because we got so little outside the moment, you know? And speaking of abstract...

Madeleine is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. I definitely recommend checking this out--it's lovely in many parts, and sad and shocking in others, and very different than anything I've read lately. I enjoyed it a lot.

ian said...

dunkeys, Sebald has been my favorite author since I read Austerlitz. There's no one else like him. I highly recommend—to everyone here—The Emigrants, one of the most beautiful novels (really, four interlinked novellas) ever.

I haven't read much in a while—do baseball previews and tourney updates count?—but waiting in the on-deck circle are Gilead and McEwan's Saturday.

kclou, I admire your generous spirit: I think you're the first person I've seen have something positive to say about that NYT profile of Safran Foer. I'll withhold my opinion of JSF, except to say that any interest I might have had in his new book dissipated when I saw what he'd turned into a "flip book" at the novel's end. Emperors, new clothes, etc. Guess that's not really withholding my opinion, tho.

chad said...

Well friedns this is my first post here. I'm hoping to weigh in more often.

I'm:

Sad Little Breathing Machine, Mattea Harvey. Poems crips as celery that taste like veal.

Ada, Mr. Nabakov. F me

Donald Justice Collected Poems. A good book of poems for my fictiony company--clear, deft, controled, but also manic and disturbing

Elegy on Toy Piano, Dean Young's new book. Can't ask for much more in a book of poems--funny sad creul. Favorite bit:
There are parts of the human brain/even carp spit out.

PJKM said...

I agree with Ian about Sebald's The Emigrants - I have a copy of Vertigo, too, which I'm planning to read soon. (It's long, that planning-to-read-soon list.)

Recently finished the fabulous Saturday by Ian McEwan.

Reading now, to review:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; Outside Valentine by Liza Ward; and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City which sounds like it should be by the lovely Brando, but is in fact the work of Nick Flynn. I'll report on all three when I stop slacking and finish them.

SER - T.Middy just read The Line of Beauty and loved it.

Pete said...

"The Ox-bow Incident"

"Inamorata"

Not at the same time though. I don't know how you guys do that. Do you cheat on your lovers as well?

Dunks- a lot of the poets in the 04 class like Sebald, which makes sense. I think Catherine Theis turned me onto him.

TLB said...

Just on my husband, Pete, never on the lovers.

kclou said...

Nick Flynn's first book of poetry, _Some Ether_, is definitely worth a look. I think it came out four years ago. Good stuff.

Sebald is on my list. Thanks all for the tip.

segall said...

I'll third the endorsements of Sebald, who's reaching almost Tupacian levels of posthumous output. Let me vouch for two of them: After Nature and On the Natural History of Destruction. Such haunting beauty. Such wonderful stuff. There's a new book of essays out right now called Campo Bello; if anyone's taken a look please tell.

dunkeys said...

Chad! How is Ada (or Ardor)? That's one of the more intimidating books I've opened and quickly shut. And I taught one of Harvey's poems last fall . . . it had some goofy symbol in the title, but it was good words.

Ian: Bill Simmons's running diary last Thursday and Friday was pretty solid (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/simmons/index), and almost as long as The Great Gatsby. Go Cats.

ian said...

I read Ada a few years ago. Still not sure what the hell I read. Is it possible Nabokov was too brilliant sometimes?

Has anyone else read Aleksandar Hemon's Nowhere Man? I read it a month ago and thought it terrific.

Segall, haven't bought Campo Bello yet, but some of it looks like rehash of On the Natural History..., both the bombing essays and the German literature. Can't tell if they're the same essays or just similar.

chad said...

S: it's ridiculous. My Enlgish dictionry often doesn't have the words I look up and the french dictionary is about 50/50. Luckily he glosses most of the russian. I'm about half way through and it's overwhelming in the best way. When you catch him at his game you feel like a genius, but he has so many balls in the air I'm sure some are hitting the ground. It would be useless to paraphrase much more. The one liners are choice:
"He touched her wrist, like a dying doctor."

"I denounce the philistine's postcoital cigarette both as a doctor and as an artist."

"...crying out in three languages--the three greatest in all the world--pet words upon which a dictionary of secret diminutives was to be based and go through many revisions till the definative edition of 1967."

dunkeys said...

C, come gamble! That postcoital cigarette line is great. I love Nabokov mucho, mas que todos las escrituras, but I'm almost certain that he was too smart -- too certain -- for his own good. Certainty is certain to lead to certain . . . dumbness? That's a longer conversation for another place (featuring beer), though. I'm still afraid of Ada. I picked it up last summer after finishing Ulysses of all things, thinking my brain was ready. Nope.

Ian, Nowhere Man is A-W-E-S-O-M-E, though that last story/chapter is pure weirdness. Q of Bruno ain't so hot, that I can tell (d'know Hemon's already won a MacArthur!?!).

Grendel said...

Re: Vlad the Linguistic Impaler, I'm much better about buying his books than reading them. So if you had Speak, Memory, Despair, Glory, Pale Fire, and Invitation to a Beheading on your shelf, which is the one to reach for first?

Vampiro said...

I also loved Nowhere Man, and I did mostly like Question of Bruno. Hemon lives somewhere in my neighborhood. I keep looking for him on the train. If someone can explain the ending of Nowhere Man to me, I'll be obliged, and I'll also quit looking for Hemon.

Just finished Blood Meridian a couple weeks ago, and I'm wondering why on earth someone didn't punch me in the stomach every day until I finally read the thing. Astonishing book. An ending no other book could possibly pull off.

I wanted to stay in Texas, so I moved on to:

Carmelo, the first novel by Sandra Cisneros. I've loved her stories, so I was happy to start her first long work. I gave it 100 pages before I finally quit. Just too cutesy and nostalgic. (But, I think The Sound and the Fury might seem cutesy and nostalgic after BM).

Brownsville by Oscar Cesares, Iowa alum. I picked this up after Richard Abate's Q&A in the dungeon of the Dey House where he famously said, "Sincerity is the new irony." Cesares is pretty sincere, I guess. It's sort of a stripped down Carver-esque collection set on the border of Mexico. Personally, I prefer Dagobero Gilb or Sandra Cisneros for my Texas Latino short story fix. But there are a couple good stories and the occasional paragraph that shows he's a writer with some promise.

You Sebald people need to cut it out. My To-Read list is already too long.

semanticist said...

...and now, a word from The Chairman.

Hi everyone! I'm so glad that Grando asked me what we're reading! Here's what's on ole Pat's reading roster these days. (AHEM!!)

1. Who Moved My Catsup? - As we move into the 22nd century, this is the management handbook we'll all be reading. (can somebody get me a towel? I'm schvitzing everywhere!)

It's like 7 Habits meets The Great Gatsby - only East Egg is your brain, and Daisy Buchanan is the internet!! (Who does that make me? Meyer Wolfsheim? Whoa, Nelly!!)

F. Scott Fitzsimmons, drink your heart out!

2. Sears Catalogs from the late 1980s. Have you read these things?? I mean really read them? Jeebus H. Chrysler Building, who was the genius behind this stuff? Take a gander:

Wheelbarrow. Item 44567wb-gn. Move your heavy items around the yard with ease using this durable, 2.5-bushel, three-point wheelbarrow.

Of course it's a rotten, fucked-up thing when page 1 of your negative experiences wouldn't begin to fit in a hundred wheelbarrows. So buy this wheelbarrow, or, better yet, bundle up your belongings and look for the place where the destiny you think you deserve collides with the lies you've always told yourself.


When I bought the Internet in 1986, Jack Kilkurkland told me, "It's all about the content." Boy, was he Reichstag!

3. The Inadvertant, vol. I, no. 3. Here's when they reeeeelly got it right. "Confessions of a Tipton Porn Addict" and "Signs You Might Be About to Internally Combust" are the highlights from this issue.

Well, now! I'd love to stay and chat, but ole Pat's got mergers to acquire and rights to copy! Until next month, I remain, as I hope unto you,

Pat McBlog

cek said...

okay, i'm not actually currently reading all of these, but i have intentions. and they're all on my nightstand. so that counts, doesn't it?

gilead - i DID read this one. i just finished it yesterday, in fact. it's the sort of book i'll return to again and again, i know. and i had to stop dogearing pages after i realized i was dogearing nearly every single one. completely luminous.

the known world - halfway through and liking it very much, although it's taking me forever. to say a nerdy-MFA thing, the pov shifts in it are fascinating and, for me, instructive.

lost in the city - haven't started.

what's the matter with kansas - just started.

old issue of zoetrope (with ian's story in it!)

i'm also waiting for the library user who currently has wake up, sir checked out to return it so i can read that, because i heard jonathan ames at the texas book festival and he cracked me up. CRACKED ME UP, i say.

Lila said...

Grendel --
I would go for Pale Fire. I love it.

I just finished Birds of America, by Mary McCarthy, which was supposed to be bad but which was not bad. It was good, in fact. Very contemporary, although it was written forty years ago.

Also, check out John P. Marquand. He won a Pulitzer sometime in the '30s and now most of his books are out of print. I read B.F.'s Daughter a while ago and loved it. Clearly a precursor to Cheeves, Updike, etc.

cek said...

Can someone please provide the proper pronuncication of Gilead?

cek said...

er... pronunciation. sheesh, the one time i didn't preview first.

Grendel said...

Gilly-add, emphasis on "gill"

ian said...

Yeah, I didn't get the ending of Nowhere Man at all. Yet it *felt* right. No idea why. Vampiro, if you do see Hemon on the train, ask him about a story he had in the New Yorker maybe three or four months ago. It was very good, but then ended—or, rather, it just plain stopped—with a fistfight. I almost threw the magazine across my living room in disappoitnment.

Is there hope? Walked into Borders yesterday for the new McEwan novel and there it was, in several neat stacks on the new arrivals table right inside the front door. If you wanted the new Danielle Steele or The Purpose-Driven Life, you had to walk around to the other side of the table.

Grendel said...

Pat McBlog, aka Semanticist, aka my arch-villain!!! From Hell's heart, I stab at thee!

SER said...

Ian: that McEwan book is getting tons of marketing dollars - there was a full-page ad on the back of the NYT arts section yesterday.

I also had the same feeling about that recent Hemon story - the fistfight didn't seem quite right, maybe because the story had built to such a high pitch of obsession and intrigue that I expected something astonishing. I don't know. I loved that the IWP and the IC played a key role, however.

Two other recent reads of mine:
Cloud Atlas - loved it, but found The Line of Beauty to be a superior book, indicating that the Booker judges did a good job choosing.

Out by Natsuo Kirino - noir thriller from Japan's leading crime writer. Full of depressing atmosphere and interesting ideas, even if the writing (or the translation) is a bit plagued by cliches.

dunkeys said...

Grendel, as far as Nabokov goes, Pale Fire and Speak, Memory are the strongest of those four (S,M is absolutely amazing. Maybe better than Lolita) . . . so you might want to start with Despair (amusing and murderous) and Invitation (also amusing + Kafka-esque) before reading the great ones. Depends on how you want to approach it. I like to eat my dessert last, personally.

Has anyone read the other books by David Mitchell? I read a review that argued Cloud Atlas is a beautiful failure, while another, Ghostwritten, is easily his best work so far.

segall said...

Nabokovally I agree with the shouts out for Despair and Pale Fire. I also love The Eye, which is the closest you'll get to VN writing a detective story (to me, that's three times dope). Pnin is also terribly funny, terribly sad.

MSF said...

i read number9dream, which i enjoyed very much. i feel like i might have written something about it before--it's a shameless ripoff of/homage to murakami's norwegian wood, with a similar feel. i went out and bought ghostwritten and cloud atlas immediately on finishing, but i haven't read them yet.

Brando said...

Unlike my book-hopping wife TLB, who seeks pleasure from multiple literary sources at the same time, I am a monogamous reader.

I'm currently reading Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien. Goes without saying that's it's astounding. Bonus points because my copy has notes from a college-age TLB (e.g., Brando is so dreamy.)

Recently finished Observatory Mansions and Jesus's Son, which were both delightfully fucked up. Up next: Jim Crace's Quarantine and the non-fiction, Celtic nipple-sucking stylings of How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Nice to see a Bill Simmons shout-out. He is my favorite columnist, sports or otherwise.

bR said...

I'm currently working through Graham Swift's Last Orders. It's slow-going--because of the mid-century working class English dialect, I'm having to read every third paragraph twice--but the characters are astonishingly well developed. Swift's approach reminds me a bit, I must say, of some of kclou's stories.

Vampiro said...

I read Quarantine right after Crace came to Iowa, mostly because I found him to be a pretty delightful person. But that book pissed me off, for reasons I cannot remember. Did anyone else have a similar reaction?

Ian, I didn't read that Hemon story, but what you described of it sounds much like the way Nowhere Man's ending felt for me (though, I suppose the penultimate chapter did bring things close to closure first). Some of the stories in Q of B have oddnesses like that, too. Maybe if I see him on the train, I'll ask him what's up then throttle him before he can answer. (not really)

Grendel said...

While we're at it, from the past year I can recommend Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors as a very funny memoir. He was raised by an insane therapist father who basically said he was on his own at 5. It's The Brady Bunch on acid.

And if you haven't read Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, you're depriving yourself of some first-class squirming and awe. His book of stories, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, is as close to a perfect story collection as I've seen.

I have a very large soft spot for Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, which won the Pulitzer somewhere back in the 80s. If you;ve ever wanted to read a western, it's definitely the one. 1000 pages and I couldn't put it down. I was extremely sad when it ended.

Disappointments of 2004, ones I wouldn't bother with if I were you, and it pains me to say this, but they include Denis Johnson's Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole, Magnus Mills' The Restraint of Beasts, DeLillo's Americana, and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent.

Lila said...

Uh oh. Don't tell Kistulentz about Hanged Man, Grendel. He swears by it, and even gifted me a copy when I was on my way to Ptown. I just met DJ recently -- he was hear at FAWC putting on one of his plays with a bunch of actors (including the awesome Lili Taylor, g-friend of Nick Flynn, and Will Patton, of Mothman, etc.) He was cool -- had a lot of interesting things to say about writing, which I can't remember well enough to reproduce faithfully here.

I liked Americana, but I was young and foolish when I read it.

Grendel said...

Lila, yeah but did you read it? Of course, Hanged Man takes place in Provincetown. Dunno if that has anything to do with it. I prefer Jesus' Son, which takes place in the IC, and I do wonder if that has anything to do with it. Of course, DJ is a brilliant prince of the pen, but I do have a boring threshold, and darned if Hanged Man didn't prance right across it and hang out on the couch eating my chips. Whereas Jesus' Son flew off in the other direction, like a kite I had to stumble over myself to keep up with. I did finish HM, but with reluctance, and yes, disappointment. As Frank said, taste is beyond dispute.

And you're right, if I'd read Americana in college, say, I would have worshipped Don Delillo. But I read it in my mid-30s, ahem, and by page 50 was bored by language tricks without heart, by pyrotechnics without soul, by cleverness without character.

SER said...

Here is what is wrong with Americana, in my opinion:

It's pretty fucking interesting and engaging for the first three parts, but much of my enjoyment came from trust in the author - that he was taking us somewhere purposefully, that all of these threads where building to something. And then you get to the fourth part, where everything collapses, thereby betraying that all that preceded it wasn't as intentional as I'd thought. Talk about wanting to throw a book at the wall - sheesh!

On the plus side, it was his first novel, and I felt encouraged that one could write such a frustating book and then go on to write some that I thought were quite good - books whose set-ups paid off. In retrospect, maybe the fact that I'd read several of DeLillo's later novels before Americana inflated my expectations, but I think that Americana would have frustrated me, regardless.

Pete said...

Very recently, I reread Jesus' Son. I still liked it a lot, but for different reasons than I did when I was 19. More than anything, though, the thrill is gone. Not since I saw a centerfold birthdate more recent than my own has there been such hard evidence of my getting older.

Hanged Man, on the other hand, just sucks. You can tell Stevey Kisses I said that. I enjoy arguing with that guy.

Has anyone read "Seek"? Now that I liked.

Toad Press said...

Glamour
Allure
Vogue
Jubilat
Bright Existence (Brenda Hillman)
Notable American Women (giving me nightmares. I'm very tired of Ben Marcus's big bald head)
We're going to Portland in a few days and plan to live at Powell's (city of books, if you don't know). Any suggestions for books to buy? I'm asking you, Chad. Any everyone else.

Toad Press said...

Not that everything you all have already written won't be taken as a suggestion. But, poetry?

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend Ring of Fire by Lisa Jarnot. http://www.durationpress.com/authors
/jarnot/brooklyn.html
Don’t just read her latest Black Dog Songs, I’d read Some Other Kind of Mission and Ring of Fire first to get the aesthetic switch in Dogs.

And since few seem to have read these favorites:
The Europe of Trusts by Susan Howe

Sleeping With the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen

Rocks on a Platter by Barbara Guest (experimental/disjunctive with soul and a subtle sense of humor—a rare thing)

For Love by Robert Creeley

and if you’d like a challenge Conference by Stacy Doris

Also, I’ve found over the last few years the bestselling poetry section at spdbooks.org is a good place to find the most interesting newly published poetry.