8.30.2005

What did you read this summer?

It's time to trot out our reading accomplishments. I'll start.

Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
I adored this hilarious romp through the old west, narrated by a sort of 19th century Forrest Gump. A white man raised by the Cheyenne, he moves back and forth between the white man's world and the Indian's without a shred of sentimentality or misplaced malice. Highly recommended.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Read this slim book in one day. Fairly impressive the way he inhabits the autistic narrator. Kind of a light read. Perfect in-flight book.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
What a frigging great adventure tale. Bigger than life, full of betrayals and vengeance, with a grand and massive plot that won't stop.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I reread it every few years, like The Great Gatsby. What struck me this time was just how annoying Tom Sawyer is. I really struggled with how Huck, despite his adventures and growth, did not challenge Tom in any of that little monster's cockamamie plans.

Lord of the Barnyard by Tristan Egolf
I'm about 100 pages into this one. Has anyone else read this? It's frightfully funny. I don't know that I've laughed so much at a book since A Confederacy of Dunces. I don't think the author, who killed himself not long ago, can keep up this level of quality, which starts out Impossibly High and has slid down to around Very Good by the point where I'm at now.

I leave you with an excerpt from the book's Prologue -- which reminded me for some reason of some of Vampiro's writing:

"... The Railway-Miscarriage/River-Rat Theory would have it that John was prematurely miscarried into a stainless-steel toilet bowl on a high-speed express train cutting through the woods due southwest of Baker, and that he ended up, battered and disoriented, though still alive, face-down on the Patokah railroad tracks with half a rail tie in his ass and two pounds of afterbirth scattered through the gravel for a mile to the south. His mother, reportedly a wealthy heiress from Chicago who was seven months into term, had gone to the lavatory after developing acute stomach pains. Ten minutes later a passing conductor heard a series of screams and a thrashing about in the commode. After trying the handle and finding it jammed, he kicked down the door. He found the lady in question in a bloody awful mess. She was straining and lurching with one leg hiked up on the sink and both fists wrapped around a pustulating umbilical cord leading from between her drawn legs downward into the bowl. The conductor flew into a panic. He squeezed through the doorway and grappled for a hold on the cord. He could make out the misshapen infant jammed in the chute and howling in a high-pitched wail on the other side of the drop flap, just over the tracks. The screams sounded out all over the passenger car. The mother finally lost her footing in the sauce and pitched over into the hallway. She lost consciousness, leaving the rest in the conductor's hands, literally. The conductor made one last effort at dislodging the maimed infant, but the cord soon snapped, and up came the broken end. It was a terrible scene. By the time the young mother came to her senses with a crowd of passengers standing over her, she wanted nothing more than to turn her back on the whole dreadful affair. Of course, no one thought for a second that the child might have actually survived..."

23 comments:

Brando said...

Good thread, Grendel. I read:

A Prayer for Owen Meany: I read this after seeing him speak at Frank's service. Unbelievable. Can't remember the last time I was so awestruck by a book.

Vernon God Little: Unbelievable in a completely different way. Worst book I've ever finished. Shows how low Euro opinion is of the US -- only serious America hatin' could get the Brits to give the Man-Booker to this awful book.

Gun, With Accompanying Music: J. Lethem's first book. Great beach read, just like the cover blurb says -- Chandler meets Phillip K. Dick.

So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star: Written by the drummer of Semisonic ("Closing Time"). A light but fascinating look at the record industry.

Everything Is Illuminated: I'm halfway through and laughing my ass off. The backstory is pretty good, the stuff narrated by Alex is just terrific.

bR said...

Thanks for posting this, Grendel. With the help of Netflix, I'm still getting mileage out of the "Top 10 movies" post from a couple of months back. This should prove equally valuable.

My list:

The Long Emergency: James Howard Kunstler's ramble on how the end of the oil age will drastically remake American society. A few intriguing chapters, but he tries to stretch the topic much farther than it wants to go.

The Secret Life of Bees: A well-written, Workshop-esque first novel. Largely deserving of the praise it's garnered. Good summer reading.

I, Fatty: You can't help comparing it to Niagara Falls All Over Again due to both the setting and the protagonist. Jerry Stahl doesn't quite have Elizabeth's talent for creating character empathy, but he comes close enough, and I loved the humor.

Nate said...

Yeah, great idea Grendel. Here goes:

What did you read

Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened the East, by Giles Milton
I love pop history, & this satisfied my appetite for the summer. A well-written account of the first English contacts with Japan in the 16th & 17th centuries. When William Adams shipwrecks on the island, the Portuguese Jesuits try to have him crucified, but through a bit of luck he ends up sufficiently impressing the emperor. He learns the language flawlessly & eventually becomes the first westerner to be granted the honorary samurai title. Meanwhile, the Portuguese, British & Dutch are constantly bickering over trading rights and the Japanese look on in a combination of disbelief and well-warranted contempt. A fascinating cultural whatthefuck!

Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound by Eric Tamm
Anyone who's spoken with me in the last three months knows I've been on a ridiculous Eno kick. Dude's a genius, plain & simple. This book, originally a doctoral thesis in musicology at Berkeley, is both intelligent & readable. It covers Eno's work up to the early 90s, and devotes a lot of well-spent pages to examining his philosophies of music and approaches to composition and studio work... fascinating for any music nut.

Straits, by Kenneth Koch
One of Koch's brilliant later books, the title poem is incredible... I could hardly finish it for sheer joy!

Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Anyone shy of existential crises should stay away from this novella. Ivan's dying & sudeenly realizes his perfect life was a sham. Tolstoy mine's this dude's psychology like a 49er. Pretty intense. Thank god they're not all as long as Karenina or War and Peace!

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Hilarious, tragic, pompous and stimulating. I loved this book. The books covers a few Londoners' interrelated wondering about on one day in the 20s, & build's a powerful narrative almost entirely via flashback. Structurally it skips from inner monologue to inner monologue as if they were lily pads in a big pond of double-decker buses and tea times.

Ferragus (from L'Histoire des treize [The history of the Thirteen]) by Honore de Balzac
Against the backdrop of the dark, dirty pre-Haussman Paris of the 1830s, Balzac develops his secret society The Thirteen. This, the first chapter, is sort of like a transplanted Othello. A blissful marriage goes down the tubes all because of the meddling of a jealous, Iago-like rival. When it turns out the jealous Iaogo-guy's suspicions involved Ferragus, chief this secret society, well, let's just say he gets what's coming... Balzac manages to mix local color with Romanticism and the crime/suspense/thriller. Pretty cool.

Guilliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Big people and little people are funny.

As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams by Lady Sarashina
A woman's journal from 11th century Japan, one of the few pre-20th century periods which saw a flourishing of woman writers (e.g. The Tale of the Genji)... I love the way journals can give that random slice of life. & if they're well written, as this one is, they can be quite poetic.

Earthling by Steve Heeley
Halfway through this one, Healey first book of poems, which is remarkable for its balance of weirdness and clarity. That's to say, Healey creates a strange sensation of control, even status quo, while sending the reader reeling through surreal images and lyrical pulses...

cek said...

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

A Changed Man - Francine Prose

Down These Mean Streets - Piri Thomas

War by Candlelight - Daniel Alarcon

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil - George Saunders (I got an advance copy, suckas!)

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell - John Crawford

Pete said...

Jon Messinger, books editor for Time Out Chicago basically decided what I read this summer. The only book I read for myself was Nowhere Man, which I enjoyed. And, to be honest, a bunch of those conspiracy theory mass market paperbacks from the 70s. Those are always fun.

chauncey swan said...

mrs. dalloway, virginia woolf:
it took me a while to get into it. i get that it is an ambitious mapping of consciousness and all that, but it seemed very manic and kind of high strung (the solitary traveler arriving at an inn deep in the meadow and all that sort of romantic lyricism kind of turned me off).


war by candlelight, daniel alarcon: i couldn't shake that local-boy-makes-good feeling.


hunger, lan samanthat chang a bunch of people told me this book was just so-so, maybe because of that whole star search 2005 controversy that went down. i loved the book and was totally absorbed from the jump.


a home at the end of the world, michael cunningham: i loved the east village 80's setting and the gay teens in the midwest. i saw the movie first though, and i kept imagining colin farrel in that terrible wig.


dry,augusten burroughs a troubled teen's memoirs. it tended to kind of go on (like this post), but the highlight for me was when he did it with a thirty year-old who lived in a shed behind his house.


also, i read a bunch of comics, including Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware.

TLB said...

Cristina, how was "Phil"?

segall said...

War Trash - Ha Jin
Courtoom 302 - Steve Bogira
Ice Haven - Dan Clowes
Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene
No Country for... never mind
The Tenants - Bernard Malamud
The Paris Review Book of People with Problems
Don Quixote - Cervantes
Pieces for the Left Hand - J. Robert Lennon (a nifty way to spend an afternoon of inclement weather)
And the summer ends, just as the White Sox season does, terrifyingly, bafflingly: Ghost Wars - Steve Coll

Grendel said...

I forgot:

Don Quixote
The Collected Stories of Wiliam Faulkner
Icebergs by Rebecca Johns - I got an advanced copy, suckas!

Beloved

Plants of the Gods - Shultes and Ratch

King James Bible - Just started this, seems interesting

Started but abandoned:

The World According to Garp - This does not hold up, it's too time-bound or something

Clan of the Cave Bear - I needed to read this for research, but it is abysmally written, unreadable

cek said...

"Phil" was vintage Saunders in many ways--totally kooky, harebrained, inspired, brilliant. Interesting to see how he's moved from work like Pastoralia to something like this, which is infinitely more political. The object of the satire seemed to be very specific, although interestingly I came away with two different theories about what that specific object was. The packaging is beautiful, with illustrations throughout (even the author photo is actually a drawing of the author). It will take you all of a few hours to read it--it feels a bit like a pocket edition--but if you like his work, it's worth the purchase price. Recommended.

cek said...

I heard "Icebergs" is supposed to be great.

cj said...

I read an interesting thing: "Hapworth 16, 1924" by J.D. Salinger. It's a novella-length piece that Salinger published in the New Yorker in the sixties, but never published in book form. (He reached a deal to publish it eight or nine years ago, but the deal dragged out and finally fell through.) To read it, you have to dig up the old New Yorker issue (though people have also illegally posted the entire text on various websites). It's a long letter from Seymour Glass to his family, written from camp when he was 7 years old (though of course he has the intellect of a highly evolved adult -- which makes camp a pretty miserable experience for him). I can't say it was great, but I was glad I read it -- which is how I feel about a lot of Salinger. I always come away with a lot of respect for his uniqueness. It will be disappointing, though, if more of his work does not eventually (I guess posthumously) get published -- as it is, the Glass family pieces seem like little fragments of what was meant to be a much larger body of work.

TLB said...

Hmm. I'm sure I'll buy "Phil," then. I envy your friendship with Saunders--I'm too chicken to even ask people to give me blurbs, much less correspond with me. Timidity is a shitty trait in a writer, I've decided.

My recent reads:

Selected Stories--Alice Munro

How to Breathe Underwater--Julie Orringer

Inheritance--Sam

Cloud Atlas--David Mitchell

Osprey Island--Thisbe

And am currently in the middle of The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Actually, Icebergs is the new frontrunner for the National Book Award. Didn't you hear?

Grendel said...

I keep revising this comment...

I read Icebergs in an editorial capacity, so I didn't undergo the normal reading experience. Kinda like trying to notice the beauty of a house as you frantically measure the blueprint specs before it's shipped off to the builder. It's of course dubious to plug our own members' books here, but I can say it is broad in scope, rich in character, subtle in emotion, and inspired and satisfying in plot.

TLB said...

...and much less stupendously crappy than it otherwise would have been with Grendel's expertise. Having a fellow writer copyedit my mss. was a wonderful experience, truly.

Also, how could I forget my reading event of the summer, The English Patient, a terrific book with a terrible ending.

SER said...

I've been reading something called The New York Times - it's mostly well written, but the plot looks as if it's going to end in some kind of apocalypse.

Other things I've read:

The World at Night by Alan Furst - noir thriller set in WWII France. Enjoyable and gripping, if somewhat forgettable.

The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern - I was all excited to read this after seeing an article on Steve Stern in the aforementioned NYT. The gist of the article was that he was a great-but-underappreciated writer. Well, I didn't love this book. It lacked discipline and really turned out to be a desultory picaresque that would have needed a really devastating ending in order to pull it all together (and it didn't). The writing is often good, but I wasn't impressed with the total package - it left me frustrated.

I can't remember what else I've read right now. I'm currently reading Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo, which I'm enjoying so far, even though it's still in the set-up stage after 150 or so pages.

ian said...

I was going to read Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but then I heard that there was going to be an expensive new adaptation on television, so I just decided to wait for that. It's on CNN as I write this. It's making me sick to the stomach.

Nate said...

Why doesn't anyone read poetry? Is it so bad? So insular and unapproachable? I thought this was a literary blog... Call me crazy, but last time I looked, literature went well beyond New Yorker fiction.

kclou said...

it's not exactly new, nate, and it's not entirely in verse, but i did read lowell's life studies a few weeks ago. and i bought wright's black zodiac the other day. what do you recommend from the past year?

Nate said...

I'm really digging Steve Healey's book, Earling (Coffee House Press). Also, Polar, by Doby Gibson (Alice James Books), should will get you in a mind for winter!

Nate said...

Black Zodiac's pretty rad, if I remember. Did you check out History of the Shadow, the book that came out about the time he read at Iowa? How was Life Studies?

El Gordo de Amore said...

The only poetry I read is Billy Corgan.

Nate said...

I think he's giving a seminar on rock poets at the workshop next spring. Reading list includes Henry Rollins, Jim MOrrison & Jewel. Sign up early!