Poetry uncovered, Fiction you never saw, All new writing delivered, Courtesy WINTER: 2019/2020 reading thread

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with the usual apologies to the antipodes, from whose firelands i have just returned.

Reinhardt's Garden by Mark Haber. Was really looking forward to this and I really disliked it! it's v much in the bernhard style, but that's a hell of hire wire act, and i'm not sure that bernhard isn't, like Nabokov, a dead end in terms of influence. It's largely set in South American jungle but as with Bernhard, the important environment is really the words of the narrator - the observations and misprisions of their relations with others around them - the sly mendacities, vulnerabilities and expressions of braggadocio. And it never quite works here, it's all a bit thin. Bernhard is able to work a line where the reader learns a sort of half trust in the narrator, their manners and mannerisms. The narrator is aware of some of these, and uses them duplicitously or in a self-serving fashion, and as a reader you gradually discover those and more of which the narrator is not aware. As a consequence you become aware of the authorial intelligence behind it all. In RG, the authorial presence never quite manages to detach itself from the narrator.

The frivolity reminds me of Pynchon a little, but it's not garlicky enough for Pynchon, it gives itself too much historical latitude. It's yet another unsuccessful example of literature without constraint imo.

[/i]Collected Short Stories[/i] and Border Districts - Gerald Murnane. This otoh i'm really enjoying. There's a slight element of Raymond Carver, who I'm not a huge fan of, in the plain suburbias and mundanity, but his prose is more allusive. there is an obsession with borderlands. i'm finding him extremely rewarding rn.
The Secret Commonwealth - Philip Pullman. Enjoyed this although there's always something about Pullman that makes me slightly uneasy. It's like he's an optimiser of the best of 20th century children's and adventure style. i'm not sure it matters, given what he's doing, which is writing v enjoyable stories. this isn't perhaps as unusual as the dawn treader/folk tale Belle Sauvage, but it's more generally successful and there are very notable sections, particularly in the Prague section:

The dark man who burned like a furnace stood with hands outstretched, palms upward, pleading. A row of little flames broke out from under the fingernails of his left hand, and he crushed them out in his right palm.

Fizzles, Saturday, 14 December 2019 08:45 (nine months ago) link

FUCK you shouldn't do these things when you're hungover. the '2019' part is going to be quite short lived.

Fizzles, Saturday, 14 December 2019 08:47 (nine months ago) link

Maybe we could cut and paste your OP back into the Autumn WAYR thread and wait until Jan 1 to start the winter 2020?

We could ask a mod to delete this one.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 14 December 2019 16:58 (nine months ago) link


the pinefox, Saturday, 14 December 2019 17:26 (nine months ago) link


the pinefox, Saturday, 14 December 2019 17:26 (nine months ago) link

Fleishman is in trouble
Boring and cliched but enjoyable

calstars, Saturday, 14 December 2019 18:17 (nine months ago) link

I finished Kubler-Ross's "On Death and Dying". It's a good book if you're interested in the topic. Most of it is transcripts of interviews conducted with terminally ill patients for her college seminar during the late '60s. They don't really talk that much directly about dying -- unsurprisingly even the terminally ill don't really like to think about dying -- but it's kind of interesting just reading about their experiences of being in the hospital, being sick, etc. Now, on a lighter note, I'm reading "After Claude" by Iris Owens.

o. nate, Sunday, 15 December 2019 03:04 (nine months ago) link

Just as "youth is wasted on the young", impending death is often wasted on the dying. They have no clue how to do what they are so clearly doing anyway.

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 15 December 2019 03:46 (nine months ago) link

finished rereading Wolf Hall. I feel like such a chump for being so enchanted with this book, and yet

Swilling Ambergris, Esq. (silby), Monday, 16 December 2019 19:40 (nine months ago) link

Nick White's How to Survive a Summer and Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Buried, Sing. Y'all have read the latter, no?

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 16 December 2019 19:44 (nine months ago) link

Reading Flight by Olga Tokarczuc. Much better than Primeval and Other Times. Yeah, it's Nobel worthy so far. It's really great.

Of course, I'm also reading up on Handke, so 'nobel worthy' is a low bar right now. 'A Sorrow Beyond Dreams'. It's quite good, but it's also the exact same style of his pro-genocide books, and it's so offputting. There's something wrong here! But oh well. He wrote some good scripts, I'll give him that.

Frederik B, Monday, 16 December 2019 20:03 (nine months ago) link

I have affection for Short Letter, Long Farewell .

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 16 December 2019 20:05 (nine months ago) link

The prose can try to be a bit cringily edgy at times but I'm into Nick Tosches "Dino" atm

The World According To.... (Michael B), Monday, 16 December 2019 23:23 (nine months ago) link

(after a bazillion thraeds, we still can't for the life of us decide on either all caps or italics for a book title, can we?)

(Re)read THE SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes. Strong start, very good middle part, disappointing and rather melodramatic, schmaltzy ending. When the focus shifted from the elusive Adrian - an interesting persona - to the I, nothing could deflect from how boring and trite - and, quite frankly, daft - the main character Tony is. I enjoyed a solid 2/3 of this, but how this won the Booker Prize is completely beyond me. Idk if it's reluctance on behalf of the editor, but the final third should really have been better, especially for Barnes.

Le Bateau Ivre, Monday, 16 December 2019 23:43 (nine months ago) link

i'm about 70 pages into octavia butler - parable of the sower and totally in love with it.

i got through about 30 pages of stoner by john williams and it's beautifully written but i didn't want to get into the part about his parents disapproving of his new collegiate direction for whatever reason.

i tried borderlands for about 50 pages but it just wasn't doing much for me.

ingredience (map), Tuesday, 17 December 2019 01:14 (nine months ago) link

sorry, border districts by murnane

ingredience (map), Tuesday, 17 December 2019 01:14 (nine months ago) link

as i looked over my penultimate post i recalled fizzles' opening post and a trace of longing appeared in my thoughts as i remembered his positive response to the book, surely reminiscent of my own wish to be entranced by the author whose allusiveness i had seen described in an article, possibly in the los angeles review of books or the new york times review of books, i can't exactly recall, some months ago. as i finished that last sentence i scrolled upward on my computer screen to remind myself of fizzles' exact words describing his experience with the novel and realized i had mistitled it.

ingredience (map), Tuesday, 17 December 2019 01:23 (nine months ago) link

hence explaining my apology and correction.

ingredience (map), Tuesday, 17 December 2019 01:25 (nine months ago) link

my own asshole is a kaleidoscope

ingredience (map), Tuesday, 17 December 2019 01:26 (nine months ago) link

brothers karamazov

started out extremely strong, but suddenly plunged into 20 pages of debates about 19th c Russian ecclesiastical courts

flopson, Tuesday, 17 December 2019 14:51 (nine months ago) link

WOLF HALL is terrific.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 17 December 2019 15:08 (nine months ago) link

also returned for a little bit to Martin Eve: LITERATURE AGAINST CRITICISM - a book about contemporary fiction.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 18 December 2019 10:45 (nine months ago) link

I finished my first Eric Ambler novel,Judgment on Deltchev, and found it adequately entertaining, with a sufficiently dizzying set of plot twists to keep one off balance in regard to the outcome.

This particular novel may not be among his best, but I have no others to compare it to, yet. I thought the storyline required too much naivety on the part of the main character and too much credulity on the part of the reader. I supplied as much credulity as I could muster, but my incredulity kept popping up inconveniently and asking questions that interrupted my suspension of disbelief. Then I'd dismiss those questions as quickly as I could and read on, because for heaven's sake it was only designed as light entertainment.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 18 December 2019 17:59 (nine months ago) link

Dune, Frank Herbert

xmas respecter (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 19 December 2019 17:57 (nine months ago) link


by which i *obviously* meant an ability to create a salmagundi of factual history, terminology, jokes, playfulness, science and language that produces a sense of specific reference despite the ragbag qualities of it all, which make it exhilarating and well, *garlicky*, to read.

come on, shape up, pinefox.

and thanks to whichever mod it was who adjusted my clumsiness with the year. winter starts before christmas for me, and in my hungover stare, scrolling through the autumn thread, i said to myself oh come on it’s winter, nearly the longest day ffs.

The March of Folly - Barbara Tuchman. lots of side-eye at this despite people i like recommending it. but now i find myself quite happily flicking through the unsubstantiated summaries of key periods of “folly” in history. i think much of its thrust is what i might term RONG but am ion a pub and will need to elaborate tomorrow.

Fizzles, Thursday, 19 December 2019 18:12 (nine months ago) link

what i like about ambler is his extraordinary compression. so much happens in the first two pages. it’s extraordinary.

Fizzles, Thursday, 19 December 2019 18:13 (nine months ago) link

also it’s extraordinary.

Fizzles, Thursday, 19 December 2019 18:13 (nine months ago) link

Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby is a bit of a go-to film at this time of year as it's vaguely literary and fits with stuff I teach on America in the 30s (via Steinbeck, naturally). I've grown to really quite like it but was concerned it was supplanting the text in my head so I've been re-reading it.

Things I've noticed this time around: it's in thrall to Joyce, mostly the Joyce of Dubliners; it feels modern in that it seems to reach out and encompass great swathes of stuff that have succeeded it; the child, jesus, the child - in a book of absences, this has to be the absence around which the others swirl (to stretch a metaphor, she's like Bertha, hidden away); I'd forgotten how expository big chunks are - sure, Carroway is the mariner's wedding guest, and is beholden to pass on the tale, but he sure spends a lot of time simply *telling*; Fitzgerald loves the adjective 'turbulent', which is I guess a kind of code-breaker for the text; I'm noticing more neologisms this time: unrestfully is the one that springs to mind, alongside the obvious orgastic.

I think I'm more suspicious of Fitzgerald's prose than I used to be (it slides past too often and he's a child of Emerson and Whitman in his reading of the American myth) but he still makes me catch my breath:

Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something - an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard a long time ago. For a moment a phrase would tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man's, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.

Life is a meaningless nightmare of suffering...save string (Chinaski), Thursday, 19 December 2019 19:52 (nine months ago) link

The March of Folly - Barbara Tuchman

This was a book where I also think she faltered badly. The concept was born straight out of an historian's desire to use her prestige to disseminate those infamous "lessons of Vietnam" and perhaps instruct the nation. The concept was too broad and too shallowly executed. The book fails in its stated objective.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 20 December 2019 02:18 (nine months ago) link

"Garlicky" reminds me of Martin Amis writing about Antony Burgess's "garlicky puns": the phrase seems vividly memorable but irritatingly opaque. I was never sure if that made it a success or a failure.

Recently more Maigret, The Abbess of Crewe (very characteristic of Spark in her more idiosyncratic mode but only partially successful) The Driver's Seat (coming from the same place but much better, quite brilliant).

Now reading The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead. Psychological it's wonderful but with self-indulgences that make it an occasionally stodgy read: given its length I'm not sure I'll stay with it to the end. It's a pity I didn't read it when younger when I'd have had much more tolerance for its weaknesses.

frankiemachine, Friday, 20 December 2019 14:00 (nine months ago) link

that may even have been where i picked it up actually.

Fizzles, Friday, 20 December 2019 14:03 (nine months ago) link

Fizzles: your description of Pynchon has reminded me of my dislike of him.

Chinaski: yes - agree on the prose and everything - but where exactly do you see the DUBLINERS element? Something about things unstated or understated?

the pinefox, Friday, 20 December 2019 14:05 (nine months ago) link

I don't think I can think of one thing in Pynchon that is funny.

the pinefox, Friday, 20 December 2019 14:05 (nine months ago) link

I'd say stick with the Stead. It is maddeningly self-indulgent in places, but it's part of the imitative function of the prose alongside Pollit's manic, wheeling character. And there's something almost Roth-like in the way it ends.

Pinefox - the Joyce thing is a more a feeling, really. I don't think Fitzgerald has Joyce's frigid intelligence and what remains unsaid is very much more foregrounded in Gatsby. Instead, I think it's in Fitzgerald's rhythms as much as anything. Joyce's voice isn't sui generis, exactly, but there's something new in Dubliners that seems to flower in Fitzgerald, albeit with more opulence. It's not an exact opinion by any means!

Life is a meaningless nightmare of suffering...save string (Chinaski), Friday, 20 December 2019 14:30 (nine months ago) link

'Frigid intelligence' is like Amis' 'garlicky puns' in its opaqueness but it's the best I got.

Life is a meaningless nightmare of suffering...save string (Chinaski), Friday, 20 December 2019 14:32 (nine months ago) link

Last night I picked up The Dog of the South, Charles Portis. I've been looking for lighter entertainment to shake off the after effects of imbibing too much information about the James Madison Administration. This fits the bill.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 20 December 2019 16:39 (nine months ago) link

Fizzles: your description of Pynchon has reminded me of my dislike of him.

ha! i always quite like it when criticisms of a thing remind me why i like it and i guess this is the reverse of that.

Fizzles, Friday, 20 December 2019 16:50 (nine months ago) link

Last night I picked up /The Dog of the South/, Charles Portis. I've been looking for lighter entertainment to shake off the after effects of imbibing too much information about the James Madison Administration. This fits the bill.

karl malone put me on to portia, which was a great service. haven’t read this one, but it’s good to know there’s more there for me to read.

Fizzles, Friday, 20 December 2019 16:51 (nine months ago) link

I don't think I can think of one thing in Pynchon that is funny.

i mean the image of you forcing your unsmiling way through pynchon’s ouevre made me laugh does that count?

Fizzles, Friday, 20 December 2019 16:55 (nine months ago) link

_Last night I picked up /The Dog of the South/, Charles Portis. I've been looking for lighter entertainment to shake off the after effects of imbibing too much information about the James Madison Administration. This fits the bill._

karl malone put me on to portia, which was a great service. haven’t read this one, but it’s good to know there’s more there for me to read.

portis autocorrecting to portia is oddly literary of my phone.

Fizzles, Friday, 20 December 2019 16:56 (nine months ago) link

I’ve been wanting to read Dog of the South for a while. Curious to hear how you like it.

o. nate, Friday, 20 December 2019 18:08 (nine months ago) link

"Garlicky" reminds me of Martin Amis writing about Antony Burgess's "garlicky puns": the phrase seems vividly memorable but irritatingly opaque.

When JG Ballard died amis wrote an obit where he praised JB’s “creamy prose” which struck me at the time as a very rong and blaggy description

Baby yoda laid an egg (wins), Friday, 20 December 2019 21:02 (nine months ago) link

ugh that’s awful.

Fizzles, Friday, 20 December 2019 21:05 (nine months ago) link

Ballard's prose isn't creamy at all! It's machine tooled.

Life is a meaningless nightmare of suffering...save string (Chinaski), Friday, 20 December 2019 21:06 (nine months ago) link


Baby yoda laid an egg (wins), Friday, 20 December 2019 22:47 (nine months ago) link

If it had been Kingsley Amis who wrote that about Ballard's "creamy prose" I'd just figure he was drunk and didn't give a flip. I've never paid any attention to Martin.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 21 December 2019 00:34 (nine months ago) link

Now reading The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead. Psychological it's wonderful but with self-indulgences that make it an occasionally stodgy read: given its length I'm not sure I'll stay with it to the end. It's a pity I didn't read it when younger when I'd have had much more tolerance for its weaknesses.

― frankiemachine, Friday, December 20, 2019 9:00 AM

Stick with it! One of the few novels about which I'll say its weaknesses improve its verisimilitude.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 21 December 2019 00:41 (nine months ago) link

Chinaski: I like this about Joycean rhythms. I'd like to read that analysis at convincing length, from someone.

Fizzles: yes I think I see the humour in that. Though not in Pynchon.

I agree also that 'creamy' sounds wrong though I suppose MA was trying to get at unflappable smoothness of some kind - which would go with motorways, airports, function, in its own way?

But who really is 'creamy'? Maybe Proust? We'd need to decide what on earth the adjective really meant re: language anyway.

the pinefox, Saturday, 21 December 2019 12:10 (nine months ago) link

I finished After Claude. Kind of a strange book in that the first half and the second half, despite featuring the same narrator and following a continuous sequence of events, feel so different in tone as to almost be separate books. The first half is scabrous and funny, and although you begin to feel there's something a bit off about the narrator, she still has your trust. In the second half, the same self-destructive tendencies that were funny in the first half become alarming and ominous. Thematically, it reminded me a bit of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Now I'm reading Dreams from My Father by Obama.

o. nate, Thursday, 26 December 2019 03:25 (nine months ago) link

I started the Nick Lowe bio and Joseph Roth's The Hundred Days.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 26 December 2019 11:44 (nine months ago) link

I predict you wont like it

(Mostly cuz i love it lol)

Οὖτις, Friday, 13 March 2020 02:23 (six months ago) link

sp: Jonathan Lethem

the pinefox, Friday, 13 March 2020 08:32 (six months ago) link

Colm Toibin's The Blackwater Lightship. It's a hugely propulsive narrative and it struck me that Toibin barely uses any figurative language - everything is driven by action and character dialogue. Even when he does have recourse to description, he'll be perfunctory (the day is 'mild and sunny' a light switch is 'firm and hard'). My knowledge of Ireland and Irish life feels scanty and cliched, but is it fair to say that Toibin is both sentimental and excoriating about Ireland? There is a huge amount of (undoubtedly righteous) anger in the book - mainly at the silences and secrets in family and wider social life, particularly with regards to homosexuality.

I also saw the film of Brooklyn recently (sentimental, excoriating). Lord, but I couldn't take my eyes off Saoirse Ronan.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Sunday, 15 March 2020 20:26 (six months ago) link

Been reading Ernie's War the compiled WWII articles/columns by Ernie Pyle a US war correspondent.
I think I've seen him played in a film by Henry Fonda.
THink I saw a similar anthology on the shelves of the local 2nd hand/remainder bookshop and then bought this through amazon marketplace.
It i spretty good now taht i'm getting into it.

Started Outlaw the book on the Country stars Kris Kristofferson , Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

Also started the Soul of an Octopus which has been travelling around in my bag for the last few weeks but I've been listening to podcasts too much to read on buses etc.

Stevolende, Sunday, 15 March 2020 22:12 (six months ago) link

I started reading The Waning of the Middle Ages by J. Huizinga, which had been on my shelf for ages, and I'm also dipping into stories from the George Saunders collection Civilwarland in Bad Decline.

o. nate, Monday, 16 March 2020 01:46 (six months ago) link

During the move from a beach vacation to coming home, rushing to a hospital and coming home again in a few hours, I can't locate my copy of Amnesia Moon anywhere. My major impression of it when I was only half-finished with it was that it seemed like Lethem was recycling a lot of short story ideas into a novel. But the device holding them together was adequate to keep it feeling like one story and his narrative ability was strong enough to keep the ball rolling.

Now I have no idea when, or if, I will be able to finish it properly. :-(

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 16 March 2020 03:09 (six months ago) link

Stevolende - I read some of Pyle's pieces when I was going through the Modern Library's book of WWII reporting. I don't know how I'd do with a whole book of his writing, but it was interesting to see his very unpolished and rather corny, but still effective style contrasted with the more writerly pieces.

Just finished Luis Sagasti's Fireflies, a short book where each chapter is just the author drawing some connections between disparate historical events, writing, art, concepts, etc. Most of it works, though there are occasional jarring moments where he clearly gets something wrong, and I'm not sure if it's intentional or not. Endorsed by Enrique Vila-Matas on the cover, definitely reminded me stylistically of Bartleby & Co.

Also just finished England's Hidden Reverse. Pretty fun, even though I've barely scratched the surface of any of the groups being written about. The story of John Balance getting in trouble at age 12 for astral projection sounded like it came out of a Daniel Pinkwater novel.

JoeStork, Monday, 16 March 2020 04:08 (six months ago) link

Chinaski: I think you're right about Toibin's writing style. I don't think that BROOKLYN the film manages to be very excoriating. My recollection is that compared to the book it rather sentimentally fudges the ending.

Aimless: You're quite correct about AMNESIA MOON - JL has stated that it did originate that way. It's a relatively wild collage of ideas, perhaps to the point of lacking coherence, but I think it does hold together and keep propulsion and purpose.

the pinefox, Monday, 16 March 2020 09:24 (six months ago) link

I finally finished Empson's chapter on ALICE and have put SOME VERSIONS OF PASTORAL aside. Such an odd book - barely coherent as a 'book' at all, it seems to me. I admit that my problem as a reader is not knowing the primary material well enough, but then that didn't stop me getting through the even denser SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY. A difference is that that debut does at least announce what it's about, whereas SOME VERSIONS has no Introduction, let alone any Conclusion, and never gives a readily understandable idea of what it means by Pastoral or why that word would be a good one to unify what it's talking about.

I moved on to read, at last, James Wood's essay on Keith Moon in THE FUN STUFF.

the pinefox, Monday, 16 March 2020 09:26 (six months ago) link

last part of latest enewsletter from The Crime Lady (AKA Sarah Weinman, good writer and editor, for inst. of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, the stand-alone anth, and Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, the Library of America boxed set, incl. novels mentioned on prev WAYRs):

So many authors are seeing their book tours canceled, years of dreams supplanted. Amy Klein, who has a book coming up in April, on https://electricliterature.com/what-its-like-to-try-to-promote-a-book-in-the-middle-of-a-pandemic/ and alternative ways of doing so.

Which is also why I want to stump for my favorite books of 2020 so far, some that aren’t yet published yet:

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg (I reviewed it here: https://airmail.news/issues/2020-1-25/chasing-rainbows)

Weather by Jenny Offill — a timely novel that’s only going to get more classic over time.

Pretty As A Picture by Elizabeth Little — the voice! The insight into moviemaking! The scathing commentary about sexual politics and true crime! The teens! We did an event at Chevalier’s Books last month and I’ve never wanted an event to go on for many more hours. That’s what the book is like.

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong — a brilliant collection as a whole, but I was particularly taken with her piece on the life and murder of Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha, an artist I’ve long wanted to write about (Dictee is one of my favorite books of all time) but now I don’t have to.

Lurking by Joanne McNeil — for the Internet old-timers, for those who want to know when the Internet was good, why it went bad, how it can foster community, it’s just a wonderful, thoughtful book.

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson — for pure confection, post-modern mystery escapism.

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar — my favorite debut crime novel of 2020 (out in April), just spot on about transforming life into art and who gets sacrificed — particularly women — as a result.

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker — Lost Girls was a stone masterpiece and so is this book, out in April.

Wandering in Strange Lands by Morgan Jerkins (it’s out in May, and it singed my soul for how good it is)

My Life as a Villainess by Laura Lippman — chances are you’ve read some of the essays already published in venues like Longreads and Glamour, but trust me, the entire collection — also out in May — is dynamite. I’ll be thinking about the final piece for a long, long, time.

These Women by Ivy Pochoda (also out in May, and it reverse-engineers the serial killer narrative from the vantage point of all the women — victims, loved ones, those on the margins — who don’t end up in his orbit, but supersede his orbit.)

Life Events by Karolina Waclawiak (also out in May!) — I loved how it mined a woman’s drifting ambivalence through life, marriage, travel, and there are no easy answers, nor should there be.

Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman (out June 23) — this novel had me questioning all of my life choices, and it wrung me dry. I felt changed reading this.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Duchess Goldblatt (out in July) — it stole my heart and is a damn good memoir about creating a new identity to save yourself.

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby (out in July) — my other favorite debut crime novel of 2020.

The Devil’s Harvest by Jessica Garrison (out August 4) — I blurbed this because it’s a propulsive and incisive look at a hired killer who targeted those on the margins — often poor, undocumented immigrants living in the Central Valley — told with necessary compassion.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman (out September 29) — another book I blurbed because it made me understand the complex, hard-to-pin-down man that was Marvel Comics’ id and superego, and the archival research is amazing.

There will be more added to this list, of course. Let’s keep reading, let’s keep supporting authors, in this time and at all times.

dow, Wednesday, 18 March 2020 00:17 (six months ago) link

Still can't locate my copy of Amnesia Moon. Now reading The Highland Clearances, John Prebble. Who needs stinkin' dystopian fiction when there's history to read?

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 18 March 2020 06:28 (six months ago) link

Who needs stinkin' dystopian fiction when there's history newspapers

Webcam Du Bois (Hadrian VIII), Wednesday, 18 March 2020 12:32 (six months ago) link

Was gonna say

Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette Alone) (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 18 March 2020 16:45 (six months ago) link

A True Novel, by Minae Mizumura

I bought this but it's now stranded in our workplace mailroom :(

avellano medio inglés (f. hazel), Thursday, 19 March 2020 03:14 (six months ago) link

At last I've started Joseph Conrad's NOSTROMO.

the pinefox, Thursday, 19 March 2020 11:34 (six months ago) link

I've been doing well with short books so far this year, reading 15 so far. I was thinking of starting The Decameron as more of a challenge. Is it a book to occasionally read a story from, or is it worth reading all the way through over a few months?

wasdnuos (abanana), Friday, 20 March 2020 13:52 (six months ago) link

I was also considering that, and I’m sure we aren’t the only ones! I got a Lydia Davis collection out the library that I now won’t have to return until doomsday; and I keep thinking with all this spare time I should go back to cancer ward but it’s not too appealing to read about life in a shabby hospital for some reason

felt jute gyte delete later (wins), Friday, 20 March 2020 13:59 (six months ago) link

i plucked off my shelf calvin tompkins bio of robert rauschenberg 'off the wall' ~ really enjoying it, hope tompkins is presently ok

johnny crunch, Friday, 20 March 2020 15:48 (six months ago) link

barely posted in this thread recently, so thought it was worth updating gradually with a few of things i've been reading, in no particular order:

Plastic Emotions - Shiromi Pinto, a novel freely interpreting the life of 20th C architect Minette de Silva, and a relationship with Le Corbusier. I am not enjoying this book and don't think I will finish it. Lots of short sentences starting pronoun verb.

She scans the parking lot... She wonders at her audacity... She sighs... She will not offer...

Endless paras of the stuff, and it's not at all clear a lot of the time why you are being told this stuff.

It's a voice that reminds me of 'what i did in the holidays' school essays, and a proxy some writers use to convey a privileged sensuous immediacy with the world - I assume because the voice is somewhat childlike. I tried to resist this immediate reaction – my learned critical instincts were forged largely around white male western writers. I'm super wary of dismissing a woman writer, with Sri Lankan background, because of voice. I wrote a bit here about how we may need to reconfigure or work a bit harder at what our conception of 'good' is if we are to allow other types of writers into literary spaces.

However, wherever on the scale of personal irritation or critical annoyance this is, I'm struggling. I was drawn to the book because i quite liked the idea of a romance framed through architecture, which is what the title and brief description suggested. I continued despite immediately recognising that I was going to struggle, because I happened to pick up at the same time Seeing Like a State by James C Scott, which is part covers Chandigarh, which as designed by Le Corbusier also features in Pinto's book. and the coincidence piqued me to think that approaching the same subject from two radically different angles wd be interesting.

The imaginary letters to Le Corbusier are painfully bad, as they are part filled with exposition and narrative, for the benefit of the reader. It's hard to read them as letters.

I will persist for a bit longer. Maybe skim a bit.

Fizzles, Sunday, 22 March 2020 17:10 (six months ago) link

Came across this brief, fervent thread: Obit: Larry Brown What should I read by him? Also by Harry Crews?

dow, Sunday, 22 March 2020 19:50 (six months ago) link

I've been trundling through Wolf Hall again, struggling again, ahead of reading The Mirror and the Light, but in the knowledge that I never finished Bring Up the Bodies. I wish I knew why I struggled. I'm clear from the quality of the writing it only reflects badly upon me. it may just be that i've got lazy. In fact I have an inkling, but i'll leave that for the moment, because this paragraph is utterly wonderful, the very best writing and almost a poem in itself:

There was a moment when Anne gave him all her attention: her skewering dark glance. The king, too, knows how to look; blue eyes, their mildness deceptive. Is this how they look at each other? Or in some other way? For a second he understands it; then he doesn’t. He stands by a window. A flock of starlings settles among the tight blackbuds of a bare tree. Then, like black buds unfolding, they open their wings; they flutter and sing, stirring everything into motion, air, wings, black notes in music. He becomes aware that he is watching them with pleasure: that something almost extinct, some small gesture towards the future, is ready to welcome the spring; in some spare, desperate way, he is looking forward to Easter, the end of Lenten fasting, the end of penitence. There is a world beyond this black world. There is a world of the possible. A world where Anne can be queen is a world where Cromwell can be Cromwell. He sees it; then he doesn’t. The moment is fleeting. But insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were in before.

a paragraph of pairs - anne and henry, now and just then, now and beyond. it starts with a single quite powerful observation - how do two people you know who are intimate look at each other? he sees it momentarily, instinctively, which note is then sounded at the end again. in between those two notes, the paragraph breaks out through the flocking starlings, into the future, into prescience and the beyond, before returning to that single contemplate note, but not in the same place where you started – reflecting the meaning of the paragraph.

the paragraphs Plastic Emotions regularly seem to be about nothing - this paragraph is about many things, it bursts open then closes neatly again, but moved on. in the well-captured moment when something very lucid slips from your mind immediately, it contains one of the great strengths of the book and of Cromwell as a character – the very close perception of psychology, allowed because its so well materialised, like the historical context around it and conveying it.

it reminded me of a paragraph i've read a number of times - i'll quote it in the excellent translation's english, but it's really in the french that it comes alive, so i'll quote that after, and I'll also give it the context of the para before:


It is to some secondhand chronicles, to the General Statistics of the Vendée published in Fontenay-le-Comte in 1844, and to a belated happenstance in my own life that I owe the tale I am about to relate.

It is the year 976. Ancient Gaul is a hotchpotch of names bolted to lands, which are themselves names: Normandy belongs to Guillaume, Guillaume Long-Sword; Poitou belongs to Guillaume, Guillaume Towhead; France belongs to Eudes, duke of France; the crown, that trinket, belongs to Lothaire, the king, which is to say squire of Beauvais and Laon. For Anjou and the Marches it's Robert the Calf and Hugues the Abbot. Alain of the Twisted Beard controls Brittany. And the diocese of Limoges is in the hands and under the miter of Èble, brother of Guillaume, not the Long-Sword, but the fair-haired, frizzled Towhead. The towhead has two characteristics: it is too fair and too full; it blazes up in an instant. Guillaume is too fair and his anger gallops like fire. Èble has his brother's towhead but without the tow's two qualities: beneath the miter of the one and the helmet of the other you can see the same hirsute swirl of frosted locks, the same frothing fuzz, the same crushed straw with short curls, but on Èbles head the tow does not catch fire at the least impediment; on Guillaume's head it does.

Whether Èble's towhead might blaze for other reasons, this tale will tell.

I think it's the pace at which it moves from the dry context and that brief 'It is the year 976' and then it just explodes through a family tree that circles and repeats until it catches ablaze through its fantastical names and images. look how Michon gets from 'It is the year 976' to 'Whether Èble's towhead might blaze for other reasons, this tale will tell', and look at the manner in which he gets there - an exuberant chronicle, completely showing off.

The reason it's worth quoting the French is that what is added to the mix is a beautiful poetic economy and rhythm, almost lyrical. I also struggle with the word 'towhead' and while it's quite clear that's pretty much the only translation, its absence in the original is welcome. I should add before I quote that my french is execrable, and i had to pore over this with a dictionary in hand *and* the translation above to get anywhere. it is written in the literary historical tense, which is not spoken, which i imagine gives it a certain flavour all to itself. I have not got to the bottom of 'Je tiens', with which every one of the stories in Abées starts - I am holding, yes, but is this rather in the meaning we might (at a push) say 'It is held that...' etc? Not sure. For those of you whose French is even worse than mine, I think you get a perfectly decent impression of the poetic lyricism and concision by seeing the rhythm of the punctuation and the comparatively few words between the punctuation and the names, the balance of the clauses:

Je tiens de chroniques de seconde main, de la Statistique générale de la Vendée imprimée à Fontenay-le-Comte en 1844, et d'un hasard tardif de ma propre vie, le récit que je m'apprête à raconter.

L'an 976. Le vieille Gaule est un fatras de noms enclavés à des terres, qui sont elles-mêmes des noms: La Normandie est à Guillaume, Guillaume Longue-épée; le Poitou est à Guillaume, Guillaume Tête d'étoupe; la France est à Eudes, duc de France; la couronne, le colifichet, est à Lothaire, roi, c'est-à-dire sieur de Beauvais et da Laon. Sur L'Anjou, sur la Marche, c'est Robert le Veau et Hugues l'Abbé. Alain à la Barbe torte tient la Bretagne. Et l'évêché de Limoges est entre les main et sous la mitre d'Èble, frère de Guillaume, non pas la Longue-épée, mais le frisé, le blond, la Tête d'étoupe. L'étoupe a deux qualités: elle est trop blonde et volumineuse, elle flambe d'un seul coup. Guillaume est trop blond et sa colère galope comme le feu. De son frère, Èble a bien la tete d'étoupe: sous la mitre de l'un comme sous le casque de l'autre on voit le meme tourbillon hirsute de poils gelés, la mousse crêpelée, la paille concassée à boucles brèves; mais sur la tête d'Èble l'étoupe ne prend pas feu à la moindre contrariété; sur celle de Guillaume, si.

Que l'étoupe d'Èble s'enflamme peut-être pour d'autres causes, le récit le dira.

Three examples - I think all in a sense to do with positioning and balance:

'Sur L'Anjou, sur la Marche' - the gliding, rather full 'L'Anjou' followed by the strict iambic taps and heavy final word of 'sur la Marche' - it creates real momentum for the next roll of names, it's a delight to say, to read.

Same trick, extended, here, after a rather prosaic section starting 'Et l'évêché de Limoges'...

'frère de Guillaume, non pas la Longue-épée, mais le frisé, le blond, la Tête d'étoupe' <- after the 'frère', a long-ish clause, then the sharp short clauses, then the final rat-tat-tat emphasising the key image of 'la Tête d'étoupe', and look at the almost palindromic sounds in that phrase.

and immediately after the analytic, forensic: 'L'étoupe a deus qualities' - needs to be said I think with that lovely and slightly airy precision 'kali'tay' (sorry for the barbarous phonetics).

So, yes, add to the wonder present in the english translation, the cadences of the original french.

anyway both paras seem to fill you up and then deposit you back down, ready to continue, but with very much more than you had before. both are fantastic pieces of writing.

Fizzles, Sunday, 22 March 2020 19:52 (six months ago) link

Quality post, Fizzles. I usually avoid this thread because I've developed a bit of a phobia of literature over the past couple of years as a consequence of having studied it in too much depth, with no professional prospects to show for, but you should grace us with your presence on 'Je déteste tout'.

coco vide (pomenitul), Sunday, 22 March 2020 20:04 (six months ago) link

thanks! and thanks for the gracious invitation to hop over to je déteste tout, but really my french is too dire to speak of, let alone speak (or write) with, and my reading is just about tolerable. even allowing for that as i say, i *pored* over that paragraph for some time with a biro and pad on one side, and a french-english dictionary on the other.

Fizzles, Sunday, 22 March 2020 20:22 (six months ago) link

Are you familiar with Pascal Quignard? I think it's fair to say that he's one of the finest living French writers, with a proclivity for historical and linguistic leaps, from fragment to fragment, especially in his ongoing Last Kingdom series. He's very fond of collating and methodically, poetically glossing 'secondhand chronicles' such as the one you quoted.

coco vide (pomenitul), Sunday, 22 March 2020 20:33 (six months ago) link

i am not - thanks for the recommendation. sounds v much up my street.

Fizzles, Sunday, 22 March 2020 20:35 (six months ago) link

it reminded me of a paragraph i've read a number of times - i'll quote it in the excellent translation's english What is this from?

dow, Monday, 23 March 2020 01:03 (six months ago) link

It's from Pierre Michon's Abbés / Abbots.

coco vide (pomenitul), Monday, 23 March 2020 01:07 (six months ago) link

I'm not feeling up to any truly adventurous reading these days. I will probably read less and pull out some old favorites as "comfort" reading for a while.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 23 March 2020 01:52 (six months ago) link

rereading a couple of things this weekend: wodehouse's joy in the morning and vidal's 1876. both are bringing me some much-needed cheer.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 23 March 2020 02:40 (six months ago) link

Love Joy in the Morning

Robbie Shakespeare’s Sister Lovers (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 23 March 2020 03:07 (six months ago) link

I have never heard of JE DETESTE TOUT.

the pinefox, Monday, 23 March 2020 11:55 (six months ago) link

Tbf il ne veut pas être trouvé; il vous trouvera.

Great post up here Fizzles! And thank you Pom for recommending Quignard. I need to get on that.

Le Bateau Ivre, Monday, 23 March 2020 12:35 (six months ago) link

Joy in the Morning is my favourite Wodehouse, which, I guess, makes it one of my favourite things ever. Very glad there’s a copy in the house right now.

I’m just reading Psmith Journalist, which is terrific and features very un-Wodehousian things like the acknowledgment of working-class poverty, a vivid sense of place, and actual dramatic stakes. The jokes are the weakest part, but it’s up there with his best IMO.

For some reason I’m also reading Franzen’s Strong Motion, which started well then puttered off drastically, but I’m halfway through now and resigned to finishing.

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 00:49 (six months ago) link

50 pages into NOSTROMO. Not especially easy going. A long way to go - about 400 pages in fact.

I'd probably be doing better with Thomas Hardy.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 11:32 (six months ago) link

Conrad pumps away at his obscurities like an organist in a cathedral. Nostromo's worth the trouble, though. When finished, pinefox, find Edward Said's work on that novel and Conrad generally.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 24 March 2020 11:37 (six months ago) link

Last night I started in reading Parting the Waters, the history of the civil rights movement by Taylor Branch covering the years 1954-63. It is well-written and engaging so far, but just holding this behemoth of a book will challenge my wrists. (And yes, I am aware of e-readers. Don't @ me.)

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 24 March 2020 17:04 (six months ago) link

nearing the end of Marcus Grey's Clash bio "Last Gang in Town" (he is not a good writer) and Joanna Russ's short fiction collection "The Zanzibar Cat" (she is an incredible writer).

unfortunately after that I'm fresh out of new things to read, being almost entirely dependent on the local library, which is now closed. Bookstores aren't really filling orders (though I have placed several), so looks like I'm going to have to resort to re-reading things in my personal library. The collected works of Naguib Mahfouz? Or Italo Calvino? Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 17:12 (six months ago) link

All of them!

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 24 March 2020 17:35 (six months ago) link

That Clash bio is interminable. I tried twice to get through it and failed.

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 24 March 2020 17:36 (six months ago) link

Came across this brief, fervent thread: Obit: Larry Brown What should I read by him? Also by Harry Crews? Still hoping for some help!

dow, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 18:07 (six months ago) link

trying to finish 'bring up the bodies' so i am only bringing 'the mirror and the light' on the plane

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Tuesday, 24 March 2020 20:01 (six months ago) link

Harry Crews' A Childhood: The Biography of a Place is his best book. Of his novels, I'd start with A Feast of Snakes.

Brad C., Tuesday, 24 March 2020 20:24 (six months ago) link

feast of snakes seconded

mookieproof, Tuesday, 24 March 2020 22:07 (six months ago) link

i have a soft spot for body

Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 05:46 (six months ago) link

Are we ready for a Spring thread...?

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 14:03 (six months ago) link

Yes. Tradition must be served.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 15:38 (six months ago) link

Started reading William Golding's Adventures in the Screen Tradea fter having it sitting on my shelf way too long.
Very interesting. Not sure what I've read by him outsid eof this, did read princess bride a couple of years back and Lord fo the Flies way back but not sure what else.
Oh he gave lovelock the name Gaia.
But this is a great look into various aspects of the film making scene

The Philosopher's Stone:A Quest for the Secrets of Alchemy by Peter Marshall
Picked this up in a sale an age ago have started reading it a couple of times then moved over onto something else. I think its an interesting subject so hopefully going to stick with it this time.
He's currently talking about early Chinese Alchemy at the moment around 10th century and especially the significance of sex. Tantric like rites and things.

Stevolende, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:46 (six months ago) link

All-new, exciting 'Springtime Collection' thread is linked right above your post. Try it on for size!

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:48 (six months ago) link

Adventures in the screen trade, princess bride = William Goldman

Lord of the flies = William Golding

felt jute gyte delete later (wins), Wednesday, 25 March 2020 16:50 (six months ago) link

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