01 February 2009

What I'm Reading

This is the stack, subdivided into in-the-middle-of, checked-out-from-work, galleys (by month), fiction, and non. I look at it like little lovely Amelie Poulain looks at a sack of grain, anticipating the feel of all those words slipping smoothly over my hands. Except that Meg Rosoff galley, which is more a matter of form. Reviews = free sandwiches, after all.

Some notes on the year so far:

3 January: Some Danger Involved, Will Thomas
First installment of the Barker & Llewelyn Victorian mystery series. I picked this out as a vacation read for my mom last September, ate it up myself, and my dad's reading it now. Won't change the world or anything, but it's a fun hybrid of prim Holmesian deduction and two-fisted Raymond Chandler badassery.

18 January: Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, ed. Richard Greene (no relation)
Greene's one of my top ten (maybe top 5? Way up there, anyway). I think a selected-letters is the best form of biography for a writer, for whom (I'm projecting) the distinction between prose-as-art and prose-as-communication is whisker-thin. My favorite missives were Greene's correspondence with Evelyn Waugh (definitely top 5)--no surprise they knew each other, being English Catholic novelists born in the early 1900s, but I hadn't known they were such fierce and affectionate friends. I'll have to hunt up a selected of Waugh's to read the responses.

23 January: The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
Last summer I read Ogawa's The Diving Pool, three spare, eerie novellas where fat baby thighs, American grapefruits, and color-changing tulips take on strange significances. Housekeeper, to my surprise, wasn't surreal at all, but a sweet (and I mean "sweet" before the Age of Irony, where sentiment was not automatically cause for contempt) tale of memory, math, baseball, and improvised family. Absolutely perfect.

25 January: The First Circle, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
Stating first that I AM NOT DRAWING A MORAL EQUIVALENCE HERE, INTERNET: it's a little freaky how modern enviromental legislation echoes Soviet attempts to put deadlines on scientific progress. A 40% improvement in gas mileage by 2020? What if that's not possible?

25 January: My Little Red Book, ed. Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
Ugh. I like the premise--essays on first periods--but it's too transparently trying to be the next Vagina Monologues in Bringing This Very Important Issue (pun!) To Light Oh Let's Embrace Our Bodies. I think I would have liked it an entire star more without the biographical notes on the contributors, all of whom seemed to be diversity consultants or feminist conceptual artists. After a while I just skipped over them.

26 January: Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
America's favorite gay ex-patriate!

Right now I'm reading two fantastic books (I've discovered I can handle doubling up if one's non-fiction; otherwise the narratives fragment each other): an Everyman's Library Richard Yates that contains Revolutionary Road--I read this last year when the publisher sent out "Hey, there's a movie coming out!" galleys and it floored me. I wrote on my work blog:
The book's about an intellectual (self-styled, at least, which is part of the problem) young couple, Frank and April Wheeler, living in suburban Connecticut in 1955 and filled with dreams of escape and future greatness. Bluntly written, with great characterization. I empathized with their desperation at the dull, conformist lives they found themselves falling into, and similarly felt contempt and guilt over their constant need to feel better than the people around them, based only on their aspirations and not any real achievements.
The Everyman also has 1976's The Easter Parade, which is if possible even more brutal, and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, a 1962 collection of short stories.

And then there's Simon Critchley (OMG Britishest name ever. Besides my co-worker Mark's drag-name-should-he-ever-need-one, Mollie Panter-Downes) The Book of Dead Philosophers. Critchley's Chair of Philosophy at the New School, so he's got chops; he's run with Cicero's classic idea that "to philosophize is to learn how to die" and has assembled brief entries on the lives, thoughts, but mostly demises of 190 philosophers from Thales to (I just flipped ahead to find out) Simon Critchley (entire entry: "Exit, pursued by a bear."). It's funny and informative and also a serious attempt to understand the way out of fear of death.

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