January 2012: What are you reading as you wait for the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse?
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Nearly half way through Wolf Hall, just read that HBO and The BBC are teaming up to do a series based on it a la The Tudors.
Still hacking away at On the Road. Not much left of it now. At times I really enjoy it, at other times I just wonder why I'm bothering. In that way it successfully mimics real road trips, which is commendable.
My biggest problem with the book is Dean Moriarty. I like Kerouac's stand-in (he's sort of hapless and endearing), but Dean...at his best, he's a vagabond; at his worst, he's a lowlife.
Burroughs showed up for a couple of chapters and stole the show. I'm going to have to read his biography at some point down the line.
The autobiographical nature of the work is what most interests me. Early on, Kerouac claims that he and Dean Moriarty are simple souls who dig life without cynicism, needing no more than food and a woman's company, yadda. Meanwhile, people like Ginsberg and Burroughs look on life from a stony intellectual distance. This distinction in the book struck me as eerie. The two simple guys spun out of control and died young; the ones with brains lived to be as old as the hills.
The rather wonderfully named The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam.
6: I read On the Road in high school during my Beatnik period. Probably the best time to enjoy it. Same goes for The Fountainhead, which I enjoyed in high school for its odes to individualism and Philosophical Goddamn Obviousness. I still appreciate Kerouac in terms of literary history and the Beats flipping off Ike's Beige America, along with extending First Amendment freedoms in literature. On the other hand, Ayn Rand is a morally bankrupt hack Stalin should have worked to death in a frikkin gulag. Ugh ... anyway ...
The Brethren by Bob Woodward is fascinating, especially for the cases covered, everything from Roe vs. Wade to Curt Flood's antitrust suit against professional baseball. Since I'm feeling rather ambitious with my book reviewing blog, I'm planning to read 2 more SCOTUS books after I'm done with "The Brethren." The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin and Scorpions by Noah Feldman
Das Kapital, Volume 2, has been back-burnered indefinitely. Seriously, for all its historical and theoretical importance in the critique of industrial free market capitalism, its bone dry boring as hell.
Infinite Jest. I'll probably be reading this for the rest of my life. Plus a bunch of books on video making and editing because I'm supposed to make a couple of short documentaries and I had never held a video camera in my hands until 3 weeks ago. And I have started Robert Alter's translation of The Five Books of Moses for a group read, which is a first for me (group read I mean).
Nearly finished the strange case of dr jekyll and mr hyde, on with why be happy when you could be normal - great read - I feel another run through oranges are not the only fruit may be inspired. Hoping to finish Bolano's Antwerp and start the Prague Cemetery later in the month to reawaken my Eco fetish!
I finished two of Patrick Leigh Fermor's European travels and have another Rebecca West to read. I also found a book called Reprisal by one Ethel Vance on the shelf of my local library, which looked like it hadn't been checked out since 1943 and since my library has very few old books I couldn't resist. It seems to be a fairly typical WWII era novel. There was a Book of the Month Club clipping tucked into the endpapers. Anyway, I'll see if it's anything interesting.
The Magician King by Lev Grossman. It goes a little too cute here & there, but I'm enjoying it.
Now getting around to The Sisters Brothers. We'll see if I agree with Cliff.
I liked it but wasn't blown away. Hope you find it a rewarding read.
So how did you find Austerlitz upon completion? I can't remember if you've posted about other Sebald titles, but am curious if the novel met or exceeded your expectations.
I'd read The Emigrants before, but this past year was the year I got around to Austerlitz and Rings of Saturn, and if I were to construct a personal top 5 list for 2011, both titles would be on it.
Beardo: I absolutely loved Austerlitz. I still think The Rings of Saturn is my favorite of Sebald's, but this one is a close second. I had been languishing 150 pages into a Murakami novel and picked up Austerlitz, and I was like "Ah, that's what literature is!" The first page and a half were worth infinitely more than the 150 of Murakami.
If you like those two Sebald books, I would recommend Open City by Teju Cole. He's obviously read Sebald and is transplanting some of those concerns into an American/black/urban context. I think it's just about as good as Sebald.
Read my first Agatha Christie in about two sittings: And Then There Were None, the best selling mystery novel of all time. I can see why. A disturbing little book. The scenario, on close inspection, fell to pieces, but I was too engrossed to notice at the time. I did guess who the murderer was, but I also fell for Christie's red herring. The writing was a bit sub-standard, but not distractingly so. Overall, I was highly impressed.
I always point to Sebald as proof that post-modern fiction can make you cry. Everytime I read Austerlitz I sob over the scene where the mother goes off to deportation willingly because since she gave up her son nothing else matters. (At least, this is my interpretation of her behavior.)
Finished The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers. Not a big fan of Tom Sawyer-ish type fiction, though it contains the odd moment of lovely writing. I'll give The Heart is a Lonely Hunter a go at some point, but if I don't like that I'll not bother with any more of hers.
Started Bodies by Jed Mercurio. His Ascent is superb and American Adulterer very good indeed, but Bodies is plainly a first novel. It's also pretty gruesome as well.
Read a wonderful little history called White Christmas: The Story of an American Song. Concise, informative, droll and understanding. The topic is trite on the surface, but the book goes into Irving Berlin's life, the society that created Tin Pan Alley and White Christmas' knock-out success in World War Two. As non-fiction goes, it's pretty light stuff - but there's a place for that in the world.
Maybe I'll start Spengler's Decline of the West next....
22: I read Spengler. Heavy going, but well worth it.
Read through and looked at Open All Night by Ken Miller, text by William Vollmann. Unflinching and beautiful perspective at the down and out.
Now he does wedding photography:
I'm reading The Art of Fielding because I miss baseball. So far I have absolutely NO IDEA how this piece of trash got such good writeups. This is one of those that I will finish just because I can't believe it could be this bad.
I'm currently reading a fascinating novel about a New Zealand soldier, jumping about in time from his service in WW1 (Gallipoli AND France, he didn't have it easy) and his return to NZ and his later years. The title might give you an idea of the emotional trauma: Traitor.
WW1 books are never easy reads, we lost far too many young men then.
I'm having far too many depressing reads this month. They've been great books, but I'll need something cheerful soon.
Finished an Old West account called TOUGH TRIP THROUGH PARADISE by Andrew Garcia. A true story, filled with close calls and tragedy, set in the 1870's. Surprisingly good, since the author was an unschooled man, writing years after the fact. The manuscript was discovered following his death and provides a first hand view of life in that era.
27: I would recommend Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. A farcical novel with plenty of dry wit.
Reprisal turned out to be pretty good, though it had a Hollywood-ish ending. (I'm sure it was made in to a movie -- I can just see Veronica Lake or some other mid-level actress, and Paul Muni in it.) It's set in French village about the time it was written, 1942, and is about the murder of a German soldier and the subsequent taking of hostages by the Nazis, with the threat to shoot them if the murderer doesn't come forward. It also delves into French politics leading up to the surrender and the Occupation, sort of "how did we get here?". Generally well-written and much better than similar books like The Moon is Down.
#29> Karl, I did have a big binge on Waugh when I was at school (kickstarted by studying The Loved One in English class). Not sure if I've read Decline and Fall or not, I don't seem to have it catalogued here on LT which means that if I have read it, the copy has been lost. But good call, Waugh is excellent reading and it's been a while between his books.
With the upcoming cinema release of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", I've finally got my act into gear and am about to start reading the Smiley novels, starting with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. (I know there are apparently two before that, but I haven't been able to source them, and word on the 'net is this is a perfectly good place to start.) Been meaning to read Smiley for *years*, glad I'm finally started.
Le Carre's THE PERFECT SPY is, to me, his best book. That one puts even the "Smiley" series to shame.
#36 For me it was the The Honourable Schooboy. It reads like a modern Conrad who must have been a big influence on le Carre.
Used up a gift card at the local Chapters store (Canadian big-box book retailer - well, there's lots of Christmas cards and journalling accessories too) and purchased Open City by Teju Cole.
18: I'm half-way through right now, but I'll get back to you when finished. You weren't kidding about Cole having read some Sebald. Good stuff so far.
# 36 A Perfect Spy was certainly his most autobiographical. Apparently Le Carre's father was a lot like Magnus Pym's father; and Le Carre's career was somewhat like Pym's. My favorite non-Smiley-Karla novel is The Russia House.
42: I have been meaning to read Zeitoun. Looking forward to hearing your reaction.
Finished On the Road.
End result: it's not as bad as the detractors would have me believe. You might not like Kerouac's style, but at least he had a style; he wasn't content aping Thomas Wolfe all his life.
On the other hand, I don't believe it's one of the all-time great American novels. Minor characters completely stole the show from the protagonists and the writing was uneven. Still, it was entertaining and I'm willing to forgive its failings. I'd like to try some of Kerouac's more obscure stuff later on.
Right now, however, I'm going to try Burroughs. I'm going to start with Queer, which is short and has a very lucid style. If I like it, I'll try Junky. If I like that, I'll look into his radical prose.
#46> That's one lucky toddler. How I wish someone would read me Oliver Jeffers! Delightful stuff.
Completed The Alchemist. It was all surface, very New Age-y and quaint. It required no brain cells and was very relaxing to read.
I think it makes a good opportunity for trying out Hesse, so I'll be reading Siddhartha for comparison.
Meanwhile, Nietzsche rocks. His prose style is like music - bombastic, rapturous, sweeping and decisive. With a bit of extrapolation, his theory of art is also very thought-provoking. I want to read it slowly and savour the language, but it may not be possible...
Finished reading Wolf Hall. I think it's the best historical novel I have ever read. I hear a sequel is out in the Fall.
56> That's good to hear. I think Wolf Hall is somewhere in my TBR pile...
In the spirit of this topic title, I just finished A Sea In Flames. It was bit ranty and choppy. Expected, considering the outrageous Deepwater Horizon disaster and the speed at which Safina got this to press.
53: I really enjoyed it! It's a little more directly political than Midnight's Children - two of the main characters are stand-ins for General Zia-ul-Haq and Zulkifar Ali Bhutto, two of Pakistan's prime ministers during the 70s and 80s. It requires following two family trees as convoluted as 100 Years of Solitude's Buendia clan, but I enjoy that kind of stuff. I'm still not 100% sold on the ending, but there's amazing prose and amusing characters throughout.
59: Midnight's Children is one of my favorites. I also highly recommend The Satanic Verses -- I dare you to make that "airport reading" -- and The Moor's Last Sigh Alas, The Ground Beneath Her Feet was a disappointment.
The Brethren by Bob Woodward is excellent. All the more for reading about the machinations behind 70s-era obscenity cases, especially when they were decided by 9 elderly men completely out of touch with reality. Thurgood Marshall and William O. Douglas seem to be only justices who don't come across as prudish slimebags. It was interesting to learn how John Brennan, a Catholic, and Harry Blackmun, former counsel of The Mayo Clinic, were instrumental in writing the Roe v Wade decision.
Citizens by Simon Schama continues to be awesome. A wonderful, well-researched revisionist history of the French Revolution. In the words of the Dude, "Things were ... uh ... uh ... complex."
Don't forget CITIES OF THE RED NIGHT--it's his best book. And see if you can find recordings of his readings. This site should help you out:
60: I was disappointed to hear that about The Ground Beneath Her Feet, just because it seems like I'd like the subject matter. Oh well.
Started G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who was Thursday on my kindle. Clever espionage book with anarchists and Scotland Yard - some of the twists so far have made me grin.
Is Price involved with "The Wire"? I knew George Pelecanos was but Price too?
He wrote five episodes, I think, over the course of the series. Pelecanos wrote and produced.
Price is one of those guys who was good and would've gotten even better--but a bad marriage breakup, alimony & financial setbacks have forced him to write for money and I think that's going to have a bad effect on his career...and his literary legacy.
68: The same thing happened to former Kids in the Hall member Dave Foley.
Reading The Pale King, and one advantage to it being published posthumously and unfinished is that I don't find myself trying too hard to figure out who's speaking or what's really going on, allowing me to just enjoy the ideas and the language.
Of course, I'd rather DFW were alive and finished it and it was driving me nuts and I'd have to reread it.
nymith (and others): you might be interested in a letter from Burroughs to T. Capote reproduced in this month's Harper's. Burroughs destroys Capote for In Cold Blood, accusing him of wasting his early talent and selling out. (It's not known whether the letter was ever sent.) Sorry I don't have the issue in front of me, or I'd offer a couple choice bits. And the Harper's website is, as always, stingy.
David Mitchell has been impressing me lately. I read the thousand autumns of Jacob de zoet and black swan green last year and they were fantastic. Picked cloud atlas up recently, and I love the radically different types of prose in each segment. Though I'm kind of dreading the Sloosha's Crossing bit...
Started reading The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell Still too early to draw any conclusions -- I'm on page 30 of 975 -- but the prose is sharp. It is fascinating since one of the earliest scenes is the main character trying to interpret his orders, given the bureaucratic thicket of the SS and Wehmacht hierarchies. Darkly humorous how the Germans were setting up institutionalized murder yet everyone in the bureaucracy had to make sure they had "cover sheets on their TPS reports." (The book should be an interesting contrast to The Company by Robert Littell, his father.)
Working my way through John Hawkes' last novel An Irish Eye. It's quite lucid and entertaining, though the story it tells proves his imagination never lost its disturbing qualities.
Also reading Siddhartha and am not very impressed. Brief passages sustain interest, but the overall story does not enthrall. It seems unsubstantial. Maybe these spiritual path fables just aren't for me.
Geoff: it's a pity I don't subscribe to Harper's, since the site won't let me view the letter unless I pay. Not sure where else I could find it, but I'd certainly like to have a look at it.
Finished Zeitoun. I thought the book was excellent. The writing was restrained. Just a bit padded here and there. The story however is just plain scary. The fact that this was just a minor incident makes it all the more scary, I think, because it suggests many other possible scenarios. I think I had blocked most of the Bush era and this brought it back.
Finished another western, the two JOSEY WALES novels by Forrest Carter. Clint Eastwood's adaptation is astonishingly true to the spirit of the books.
80: I did enjoy Zeitoun, but one detail nagged at me: the book went over everything Zeitoun himself went through - a month in that open cage prison or whatever - but at the end it mentioned that one of the other detainees was held for six months in those deplorable conditions. I was like, damn, Zeitoun himself went through some hell, but what about that other poor guy?
Cloud Atlas is brilliant, still, by the way - folks familiar with the publishing world would love the "Timothy Cavendish" section....
*spoiler alert* That's what I meant. This is really just a minor incident. But it underlines the way the way the government operates. And the implications of having FEMA and Homeland Security working together. I'm sure there are stories that are way more horrific than the guy that spent six -or was it eight-months. In fact the book mentions some in passing.
I did love Cloud Atlas, I should think about re-reading it. Was less happy with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - I liked bits of it, but not it as a whole. And apparently I own all his other works, but haven't actually read them yet.
The Ground Beneath Her Feet was my first Rushdie, and I loved it (although I know I'm in the minority there). And then I read Midnight's Children and was completely blown away. Yet to read on with any of his other books, although (of course), I have several waiting for me on the shelves.
I finished Cannery Row this morning, and it was incredibly good. Looking forward to more Steinbeck this year!
And I'm hoping to start The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt this afternoon. I really liked her last two novels, so have fairly raised expectations for this one!
nymith: If you want to message me with your email, I could PDF the letter for you on the copier here at work and send it along.
Finished An Irish Eye and am at work on a review. Hawkes fits my definition of a cult writer - almost nobody seems to read him, despite the critical admiration and the awards from the French. This one had a considerably more lucid style than The Lime Twig, but despite its ostensibly cheerful narration, it managed to seem even more twisted than his earlier book.
Interesting little novel.
Now I get to decide what to read next. I'm swayed toward the shiny copy of Decline and Fall that just came in the mail. I could do with something amusing to counteract the Hugo and Nietzsche (and the Spengler I finally had the nerve to start).
I am currently on hiatus from the original Decline and Fall and I stared at 89 for a minute trying to process the term "amusing" and failing, until I remembered that you and ksw had been talking about Waugh's book. Boy oh boy.
89 - 90: Decline and Fall, not to be confused by the Evelyn Waugh farce of the same title. But highly recommended. Waugh isn't his usual mean-spirited anti-lower classes-hating sanctimonious douche in this one. The novel is Wodehouse-esque, full of loveable idle rich dingbats and silly situations.
Finished Siddhartha. That's the most disappointing book I've read in ages. There were some nice prose passages, but it was mostly the story of an arrogant, self-involved man wandering through life, making no concessions to anyone, discarding everyone and eventually learning to smile at even the tragedies of life. If that's enlightenment, count me out. The fact that this book was popular with the hippies and is still considered a major novel makes for a rather disheartening realisation now that I've actually read the blasted thing.
Bottom line: not impressed. On to the next book...
There were some nice prose passages, but it was mostly the story of an arrogant, self-involved man wandering through life, making no concessions to anyone, discarding everyone and eventually learning to smile at even the tragedies of life
Sounds like a summary of Decision Points
94: The ones that his ghostwriters wrote. That's what they're there for. Here, take a look:
Like the ghostwriter in Doonesbury said, "do you want it to have literary quality?" The guy goes "what does that mean?" "You know, adverbs."
I'm reading Roth's The Human Stain, which should rehabilitate my estimation of him after I read some of his recent stuff.
Last night I started Wheat that Springeth Green by J.F. Powers. It's sort of like Updike, if Updike wrote about priests. I'm enjoying it, though.
Decline and Fall and practically all of Waugh have been touchstone books for me all my life. I discovered them when I was a teen and they were among the first really grown-up fiction I ever read. His collected Letters and Diary are guidebooks to English lit in the mid-20th century. Also his grandson's memoir, Fathers and Sons, which covers 4 generations or so of Waughs, is very good.
Perhaps its partiality but I've always thought that the conservative, crotchety Waugh of legend is just that -- legend (self-invented and self-promoted). The reality is more complicated.
Powers is a truly great novelist - deeply funny, ironic as well as a masterful stylist. He is also scandalously under-appreciated - in part, because less-imaginative readers of his work have pigeon-holed him as a "Catholic" novelist. If you haven't already, his short stories and Morte D'Urban are worth tracking down.
102: Sometime this year, I want to return to Faulkner ... after a long absence ... with his short story, "The Bear," and then tackle of his experimental novels like Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom
The Brethren by Bob Woodward is endlessly fascinating. The machinations and pressure for SCOTUS to come up with a viable decision for Nixon turning over the Watergate tapes was riveting. Another blow-by-blow story of how a different branch of the govt works. A fascinating contrast to Kissinger's account in Years of Upheaval It is fun reading about a branch of govt based on interpretation, negotiation, and intellectual rigor -- at least with some of the Justices, there were a few lazy ones. Reminds me of this group a lot.
I would dearly love to read Morte D'Urban now but I think it was published too long ago for my library to have it. I'll have to find another source.
Material Request Services
I was curious what library system you used and found this page. :)
Thomas Bernhard is up to his usual tricks in The Loser. Excellent stuff through 20 pages.
Decline and Fall is marvelous and refreshingly different than what I usually read. It's like the dark cousin of Wodehouse. It makes a very nice escape from the heavier prose stylists. Waugh's writing is all snap and zing, and I can almost hear him chortling as he invents silly names to amuse himself. "Church and Gargoyle?" "Lady Circumference?"
Decline of the West is taking a great deal of concentration and the effect is almost hypnotic. There is such a density of concepts and information in each sentence that I'm having to re-read as I go. Of course, to get the most out of it I'd have to be far better read in history and philosophy, at least. So I'll read it, get as much as I can from it, and plan on revisiting it in 15 or 20 years...
Young Milton had a talent for epitaphs. So far, I've enjoyed those more than anything else from his college years.
And after some 600+ pages of Les Miserables, the title phrase finally appeared in the narrative. Since I began the book months ago I found such an allusion thrilling. I'm over halfway now. (Applause)
Currently reading The Plot Against America. Plenty of wonderful, neurotic characters, even the kids.
108: May I suggest the Man in the High Castle by PKD when you're done with that.
I just finished The Tin Drum and Cloud Atlas - both of which were fantastic. It was my second time through Atlas and this time I enjoyed it a lot more. The first time through I thought it was a little too disconnected, but it gelled nicely this time around.
Starting Going After Cacciato and Middlemarch to head into February...
Have read a good portion of Blake Bailey's CHEEVER: A LIFE. Very fine so far.
#113 I'll second that. THE INTUITIONIST is one of the finest debut novels I've ever read. A 10 on the "WOW" meter.
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