The (S)word in the Autumn Stone: What Are You Reading, Fall 2022?

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dow, Saturday, 24 September 2022 17:01 (one year ago) link

Link to the old thread, for good luck:

Bright Remarks and Throwing Shade: What Are You Reading, Summer 2022?

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 24 September 2022 17:21 (one year ago) link

I've nearly finished a memoir by Elaine Pagels entitled Why Religion?. I've been finding it interesting for reasons that might not greatly interest others here. She experienced two consecutive deep grief events in her mid-life, the death of her first child at six years of age and the death of her husband in mountaineering accident a couple of years later. So, the book is mostly about her grief and how she coped with it. The title is a bit misleading, in that religion was an aid in her struggle, but not in ways most people would recognize as 'taking comfort in religious belief'. This has some resemblances to my own life, Hence, my interest.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 24 September 2022 17:34 (one year ago) link

Sounds good. Many years ago, I read her The Gnostic Gospels, which indicated, however accurately, evidence that the teachings of Jesus were more broad-minded overall than the sum that made it into the Bible. Think her husband, Paul, also had a progressive interest in theology, but prob just knew of his writing via reviews.
A little later, at an opportune moment, I came across A Grief Observed, by CS Lewis, which was much less formal than its title and otherwise expected: about the sudden death of his wife. It was brief, concise, articulate, deeply felt---early days, but he seemed to be managing well enough.
(Also, more secular of course, but like the title says: Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.)

dow, Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:34 (one year ago) link

[Minor Detail - Adania Shibli/i]

Devastating. Starts just after the formation of Israel and then concludes decades later in Ramallah. 2 narrator's, one covers the first half of the book another the 2nd. the 2 halves are very different stylistically. despite knowing from the blurb that something horrifying happens in the first part and the narrator being in fact the perpetrator I still found this portion the easier read. the 2nd half was more challenging for me but once I got used to the rhythm it really conveyed the sense of dread and anxiety that one imagines living under occupation must feel like. I hadn't read anything quite like this before.

oscar bravo, Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:45 (one year ago) link

shoot messed up the italics tags

oscar bravo, Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:46 (one year ago) link

it's ok, this thread isn't relevant for another year anyway

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:48 (one year ago) link

Sorry, I just now put in request for correction.

dow, Saturday, 24 September 2022 20:16 (one year ago) link

Started Koko by Peter Straub this afternoon.

Les hommes de bonbons (cryptosicko), Saturday, 24 September 2022 20:31 (one year ago) link

Richard Brody - Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life Of Jean-Luc Godard
Christopher Ricks - Tennyson

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 24 September 2022 20:33 (one year ago) link

I read The Ax(e) by Donald Westlake. Such a great premise and so expertly carried out. 'Rooting for a psychopath' isn't exactly new but Burke is so up in late capitalism's face, it's hard not to identify with him and his, ah, project.

Joe Moran's If You Should Fail is a series of consolatory essays about the inevitability of failure. It's not de Botton, thankfully, and Moran's research is wide-ranging and unusual. The essays on Natalia Ginzburg and failed poet and Soho vagabond Paul Potts are a signature example of the form. Recommended for sure.

Now reading Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner. The majesty of Cruyff by way of Vermeer, Dutch situationism and spatial theory? I'm in.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Sunday, 25 September 2022 10:03 (one year ago) link

Barry Adamson Up Above the City, Down Below The Stars
memoir of Manchester post-punk bassist, Pretty well written, if this is all him he should think about writing more stuff.
So far I'm still in his childhood in the mid 60s. I hadn't heard about him having physical problems at birth that he has had to overcome.
Anyway this is great and I'm enjoying this looking forward to reading about the band stuff which is going to be 15 odd years away I guess.

Representation Stuart hall ed
Great book on the methods by which things are represented like,.
methodologies of language, semiology, and various other phenomena.
Pretty interesting.

INsurgent Empire

The invention of The White Race Theodore Allen
a look into the process by which the concept of the white race came about. First volume looks into the way that England tried out various processes they would use later in colonisation across the globe prototyped in Ireland in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was that that made me cue this as the next thing to read after having bought it a couple of years ago. I bought it thinking i would read it more immediately .I could have waited and got the omnibus edition of the 2 volumes of the book together from Verso but that was several months away from release when I grabbed this from them. I heard it being talked about a few years back, possibly on here and meant to get to read it.
THe subject of the trial runs of several colonial techniques here came up in a couple of discussions in a conference on Travellers last weekend.
I have only got about half way through the introduction so far but have hear dit is a classic so hope i do get to read it before long.

Stevolende, Sunday, 25 September 2022 11:05 (one year ago) link

my carry-along bag for the month I just spent away on business included Baldwin's Another Country, Bioy-Casares's The Invention of Morel, Imre Kertesz's The Union Jack, Duanwad Pimwana's Arid Dreams, and that was as far as I got during the month away which I knew would happen if I pivoted to a short story collection (Arid Dreams), the forward momentum is always hard to sustain for me. So I got a lot less read than I'd hoped but the Kertesz, brief as it is, left a huge impression, incredible style -- I grabbed several others in used bookstores as soon as I'd finished it.

Now enjoying my second book by Igor Stiks, The Judgement of Richard Richter. Amazon Crossing publishes some really good stuff and I have complicated lover-of-books-in-translation thoughts about that.

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Sunday, 25 September 2022 11:29 (one year ago) link

I read the Bioy-Casares over the holiday last year: a lot of fun.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 25 September 2022 12:05 (one year ago) link

I posted the first two responses to this thread and confirmed their existence, but they seem to have disappeared, which is interesting.

I am reading A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee and Motichur: Sultana's Dream and Other Writings of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (OUP translation).

youn, Sunday, 25 September 2022 14:46 (one year ago) link

I've read The Witness by Juan José Saer and I found the philosophical reflections muddy and a real mismatch with the events in the book, that have to do with a boy captured by a cannibalistic tribe in the New World. I haven't been too lucky with my Spanish/Latin reading ever since I picked up one each from Saer, Marias, Vila-Matas, Vallejo and stopped Hopscotch quarter-way. The Vallejo was real fun, a "treat", just no masterpiece.

I've also made excellent use of all your NYRB recs and I've read Leonora Carrington, J.L. Carr and John Williams with immense pleasure this year. Butcher's Crossing was the last one before the Saer and I still have Elliott Chaze lined up.

Nabozo, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:12 (one year ago) link

I've held the Carrington book in hand several times. I dig the drawings.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:15 (one year ago) link

I don't understand the thread title.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:34 (one year ago) link

As noted on other thread, vaccines have made me incapacitated and thus I've been reading a lot of things that I somehow found easier to manage.

Ross Macdonald, THE BARBAROUS COAST (1956) - notably more action-driven than the previous RM I read, maybe because it's earlier and the protagonist is younger.

Ross Macdonald, THE GOODBYE BOOK (1969) - less action, and the protagonist has an affair with a person of interest in the inquiry. I thought he was generally too principled for that.

The quality of writing in both is excellent in being terse, communicative but also capable of regular bursts of descriptive metaphor. These enliven the novel but don't overwhelm the story. The dialogue is also generally terrific.

It gradually occurs to me that fine detective writing like this is, in a way, better than other writers to which it compares, eg: on one hand Hemingway - who wrote the simple prose that detective authors use, but then didn't do anything *interesting* with it as they do; on the other hand stylists, like (anachronistically) Martin Amis, who can flex the metaphors but only really has those, the style, to offer, not the intrigue of story. Macdonald is in a way a more complete, balanced writer than either of those, before and after him.

I looked for another detective novel and found John le Carré's A MURDER OF QUALITY (1962). It's remarkable that JLC started as a detective writer, in effect. Again he makes great use of Smiley. My one problem here is that I'm not sure how well the murder mystery itself holds up, especially by the standards of 'fairness to the reader', relevance of clues and all the notional rules that on the one hand people claim are absurd but on the other we may feel are quite intuitive. Beyond that, the novel is a) a super satire of English class, at an extreme pitch - the arcane archaisms of a historic public school where the staff remark on a tradition and say 'of course, you probably know this', as if their traditions are famous; b) terrifically decorated with novelistic detail, observation, perception. I reflect that JLC was only about 30 here and already so good at the craft of the novelist.

Still not feeling great, I turned to the closest thing I could see to a detective novel, at a far lower calibre: Robert Arthur, ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS IN THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE (1967). This is a children's book; its prose is simple; sometimes it's marred by geez-whiz tones and excessive narration of a character's thoughts about something that's already obvious. It is about detection and involves some of the features we'd expect - a gradual deduction from clues - and it did surprise me by having more twists than expected. It shares with Macdonald's BARBAROUS COAST a Hollywood background, thus in both novels action sometimes takes place amid film sets, props etc. I'd quite like to read another in this series if I can justify it.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:49 (one year ago) link

* The second Macdonald is THE GOODBYE LOOK.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:50 (one year ago) link

I don't understand the thread title.

― the pinefox, Sunday, September 25, 2022

I never know if you're serious, and that's as it should be, but just in case, don't miss this: (That's all of "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," by JD Salinger, originally published in 1948.)

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:05 (one year ago) link

The Goodbye Luck would also be a good WAYR? title.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:07 (one year ago) link

recently learned that ross macdonald's wife, margaret millar, was also an award-winning mystery novelist. haven't yet read any of her stuff tho

mookieproof, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:11 (one year ago) link

(xpost The Goodbye Luck would also work for WAYR?)

Have only read her novella The Iron Gates, set in WWII Canada: a wintery hothouse, insular, well-to-do, well-fed, somewhat feverish older people for the most part (most younger men, and some women, are off in the military). Some glancing social critique works with stage magician's use of distraction re clues of this whodunnit. Apparently the kind of thing she was known for, and several of her books finally came back into print a few years ago. James Morrison is the Millar expert around here.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:24 (one year ago) link

It's too bad that she apparently did not make friends with Eudora Welty, her husband's penpal (a collection of their correspondence has been published, come to think of it).

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:27 (one year ago) link

I never know if you're serious, and that's as it should be

I'm afraid I don't understand this statement either.

I have read that Salinger story - over 20 years ago, and thus certainly don't remember every, or indeed any, phrase in it.

But even once one notes that the phrase is from Salinger, how does it fit with the thread ie: what are you reading in Fall, or, as some would say, Autumn?

That question is premised on the notion that previous threads (which I believe were mainly named by poster Aimless) had titles that were in some way appropriate to the seasons in question. Though I'm not sure how far back that small tradition goes.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 18:45 (one year ago) link

Thanks to another ILB tradition of linking back to the previous WAYR threads when starting a new one, I rambled back as far as Dec, 2013 and the split between seasonally appropriate and non-seasonal thread titles was about 50-50.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Sunday, 25 September 2022 19:03 (one year ago) link

really loved 'brilliant orange' when I read it years ago and lots of it made even more sense when reading Dennis Bergkamp's sorta autobio many years later

oscar bravo, Sunday, 25 September 2022 19:33 (one year ago) link

youn, interested to hear what you think of A Gesture Life. I believe I had to read it for summer reading before my junior year in high school— as was often the case in those days, I was the only one who liked the summer reading book.

broccoli rabe thomas (the table is the table), Sunday, 25 September 2022 19:44 (one year ago) link

Recent reads:

Either/Or - Elif Batuman
Simply what the campus novel should be. I liked it even more than The Idiot. A while back I wanted fiction that eschewed plot but held my interest with humor, insight, and detail, and those two books fit the bill. I'll be sad if she keeps her word and there is no third installment.

The Passion According to GH - Clarice Lispector
Just did not care for this, did not have time for it, and bailed before I had to suffer through the cockroach-eating scene. May be some class issues at play RE: my view of the narrator as well. Prior to this I had read some of Lispector's earliest short stories from that collection.

The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares
Borges-influenced classic novella that holds up.

Cuba: An American History - Ada Ferrer
A little over halfway through now -- young Castro has just gotten out of prison. One of those times you decide to pull the trigger on reading something if the right reviewers are calling it anti-American. A very well-written summation of the island's political history (there are references to the broader culture -- music, literary movements, etc. -- but she only mentions them in passing and doesn't delve into them).

Chris L, Sunday, 25 September 2022 21:50 (one year ago) link

xxxpost use of the zingy quote was just meant as a little fun with readers in general, including myself, that hopefully could be enjoyed by readers in general, and meant for all seasons. I figured it was likely that you had read the story, but like I said, posted the link just in case, because it's a good 'un.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:13 (one year ago) link

I never know if you're serious, and that's as it should be

I'm afraid I don't understand this statement either.
It's good that you keep us on our toes with your queries, as Fizzles recently said.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:19 (one year ago) link

That's what I meant, I mean.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:20 (one year ago) link

If anybody wants to change the title, it's okay by me.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:27 (one year ago) link

i don't care about the title, but this entire process is fully established as aimless's thing and one should wait for him to either make a new thread or abdicate the role

and he hasn't done the latter

mookieproof, Monday, 26 September 2022 00:43 (one year ago) link

B-but I've done it several times, so have Chinaski and some others. Take this one if you want it, Aimless, all good.

dow, Monday, 26 September 2022 00:50 (one year ago) link

My main complaint is that it’s much too long, but then again we’re all readers here, so whatever!

Reading Wanda Coleman and some others at the moment.

broccoli rabe thomas (the table is the table), Monday, 26 September 2022 01:00 (one year ago) link

this entire process is fully established as aimless's thing

nope. check the stats, mookieproof. it's a team effort.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 26 September 2022 03:40 (one year ago) link

okay man!

mookieproof, Monday, 26 September 2022 04:06 (one year ago) link

I'm far enough into Les Misérables that I think I'm officially "reading" it. Good so far.

jmm, Monday, 26 September 2022 04:10 (one year ago) link

Seeing by Jose Saramago - enjoyable but more whimsical, less profound - and less depressing - than Blindness.

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. A novel comprised of diary extracts, interviews, and the like, about a female artist, exasperated that her work is taken less seriously than that of men, who decides to hide her work behind 'masks' of other male artists. Brimming with philosophy, psychology, history, as well as imaginatively drawn characters.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk - I'm half way through, not sure if it's a serious study of a very thoughtful woman or a comic piece about a pathological overthinker. Maybe the ambiguity is intentional. Where the Outline trilogy was full of fascinating and often profound glimpses into other people's lives and thoughts, the narrators thoughts here are often opaque or cryptic - to me anyway - but not in an off-putting way, I want to figure them out.

ledge, Monday, 26 September 2022 08:30 (one year ago) link

It's remarkable that JLC started as a detective writer, in effect.

I think much spy fiction, certainly including JLC, is very close to detective fiction anyway: there's usually a mystery with lots of twists, and the noir vision of a fallen world where everyone's out for themselves and any moral man will be driven to despair fits like a glove to Cold War realpolitik.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:02 (one year ago) link


This one features an invasion of Gnomes.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:39 (one year ago) link

to me -- as a bit of a JLC sceptic (three good books tops) -- i do think it's interesting that he realised he had something with smiley as a character like right away (ie in call for the dead, his first book) and so wrote a folloow-up presumably feeling (i) that ordinary spy fiction didn't quite suit this character in the role he envisioned (or wouldn't interestingly sustain several books in the mode of call for the dead) a and (ii) maybe tec fiction could! he could dispense with one set of conventions and drag out another!

so he immediately switched to a gentleman-amateur whodunit and tried it out and evidently (equally immediately) decided that no, tec fiction wasn't going to be it (he's right, it's not one of his three good books) so he then straight went back to spy fiction and gradually fashioned a new mode of it where this character as he envisioned him could be successfully central (for at least one great book = tinker tailor; with actually a longtail aftermath of increasingly tiresome entries but by then he'd blocked himself in)*

smiley's roles in the spy books before TTSS are i guess a useful fashioning of backstory but it's not really of consequence that it's smiley undertaking them except as a token in a broader world-building (the circus)

*ok i do quite enjoy smiley's people as a sequence of setpiece scenes (and toby has good stuff in it) but it's sentimental fan service at best (even the toby stuff if im really real abt it) plus karla's daughter is a classic jlc dud (he can write women but if they approach any intensity of damaged sexiness that right there is his achilles heel)

mark s, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:42 (one year ago) link

i am so pleased you are reading the THREE INVESTIGATORS books pinefox, even if it means you are probably not better yet -- get well soon!

mark s, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:43 (one year ago) link

Thanks Mark S, I greatly appreciate your last post.

I have one more THREE INVESTIGATORS on the shelf which I may yet manage.

But why do you think A MURDER OF QUALITY is not good?

I think it is excellent except in that I am not certain that the murder mystery quite adds up. The surrounding description etc I find very fine.

It is funny that Smiley is in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (the next book), but in a supporting role. Very curious for an author to do that with his main creation.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:59 (one year ago) link

I've always liked the thought of Hitchcock being called away from setting up a shot on eg Topaz to help out the Three Investigators with the case of the stuttering parrot.

Ward Fowler, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:00 (one year ago) link

I am sure that I have read the Parrot one, which is flagged as next at the end of TERROR CASTLE. But I don't seem to have a copy of it anymore.

The Hitchcock Introduction to VANISHING TREASURE is truly desultory. But the lady with the Gnomes is supposed to be a friend of his.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:03 (one year ago) link

it's 20-plus years since i read a murder of quality so i don't remember anything beyond a general impatient disappointment and no wish ever to reread it, even when it came time to reread all the smiley books (which are very variable)

if i hazard a partial guess i am out of the sympathy with the milieu it's set in (tho this doesn't for example set me off with christie or sayers) and i am never terribly invested in the fine clockwork of the precision of a good whodunit itself, but both of these arise from the shape of the wider genre and not of the book itself. and tbh i would generally say i am fine with the wider genre, even if i come at it from a slight angle (i don't really care who dun it)

but most of my books are packed up right now so a diagnostic reread will have to wait

mark s, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:16 (one year ago) link

On milieu: the milieu, ie: the old private school, is alienating, and this could put a reader off -- but it becomes very clear that JLC is at odds with this, rather than promoting it. His satire of the vicious snobbery is quite direct.

One tic that worked well for me was a schoolmaster repeatedly telling Smiley something about the school's rituals and adding 'of course, you probably know this already' - ie: assuming the fame of his own institution. JLC doesn't comment on this but lets us observe it. I have been in slightly similar conversations myself, when briefly stepping into unfamiliar cultural zones like this. Like Smiley I nod and imply, as far as possible, whatever they want to think.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:24 (one year ago) link

Also not sure that Euro-derivative means in this context. To me De Assis reminds me a bit of Balzac and a bit of Mark Twain, but only vaguely.

o. nate, Wednesday, 28 December 2022 15:43 (one year ago) link

Here in the waning days of 2022 I am reading The Third Horseman: A Story of Weather, War and the Famine History Forgot, William Rosen. The subtitle is a bit disingenuous because, while the author does pull in various facts about the anomalous Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age that immediately followed it, the vast bulk of the first third of the book is a fairly conventional English history centered on the many battles between Edwards I & II and a motley cast of Scottish aristocracy, among whom was the minimally aristocratic William Wallace (aka Mel Gibson). This is hardly "forgotten history".

The famine part of the book has yet to be developed by page 100, but any historical acknowledgment of the Little Ice Age requires mentioning its catastrophic effects on food crops, so it doesn't quite fit the 'forgotten' label, either. It's good marketing, though, and the book is OK, too. I may finish it before New Year's Day.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Wednesday, 28 December 2022 22:46 (one year ago) link

I finished Amina Cain's debut novel Indelicacy and R.J. Smith's just fabulous Chuck Berry bio.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 28 December 2022 22:49 (one year ago) link

Will have to give the latter a go - loved his biography of James Brown (same dude, right?).

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Wednesday, 28 December 2022 23:55 (one year ago) link

The reviewer I was paraphrasing, re *hothouse* Euro-derivative, seemed to think the early stories were too arch, insular, in a received, not-really-wordly-wise manner: he hadn't earned his hothouse! I wouldn't mind judging the big Collected Stories for myself, but sounds like o. nate's found a good gateway

dow, Thursday, 29 December 2022 00:20 (one year ago) link

I've started reading John Freeman (ed), The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story:

1970-2020 or so. My sense is that the stories are often going to be so short as to lack substance. Grace Paley's, the second in the volume, about crafting a story for her father, was of interest. I'll read it all, in due course.

the pinefox, Thursday, 29 December 2022 11:15 (one year ago) link

That story's a marvel. I reread it last month.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 29 December 2022 11:19 (one year ago) link

I also started reading Bono's memoir SURRENDER. Roughly as I'd expect: eloquent in a gauche, rough-hewn way; bold, brash, direct; good-humoured and self-undermining even as it necessarily aggrandises the self. Very readable. Probably a better book, in truth, than THE PHILOSOPHY OF MODERN SONG, though I suppose they're not really alike.

It made me reflect a little on the prevalence of pop music memoirs in the last decade or more. Almost every major pop musician, and many minor ones, has now written a book. Sometimes they write multiple books. Sometimes these books seem very good in their own right; many of us agree that CHRONICLES was; I have a good impression of Brett Anderson's (two!) memoirs, though haven't properly read them yet.

And yet, along with the knowledge that these people have turned to books as more reliable than record sales now, I also have a sense that pop music books are likely to be received unusually uncritically, mainly because their readership isn't especially literary. It's a version of the old 'people who can't write writing about people who can't talk for people who can't read'. The readership of many of these books (Cocker's recent GOOD POP BAD POP for instance), I picture owning a fair amount of popular science and economics, but not so much Baudelaire or Maupassant, Sterne or Mina Loy. Perhaps in some instances that's wrong and some big pop-book readers are indeed very literary people.

But there seems to be something too circular, too automatic, about the process. Miki Berenyi writes a book (I have to hand it to her for doing anything at all at this point in time), people (mostly old Lush fans - like me in fact) like it and go and listen to her and put it on books of the year lists. There doesn't seem much friction in the circuit, much readiness for anyone to say not 'I liked this pop star so I like this book' but 'this book is flawed for the following reasons'. The ONLY person I can think of who was received in a properly critical way was ... Morrissey. Critic after critic said that his first 100pp were excellent, the next 300 bad and banal. Then they panned his novel also. But no-one else in this field ever seems subject to similar scrutiny.

Maybe they just have good editors, who are good at making books that fit the mould? We've been hearing about the decline of editors for years but maybe this is where they're still earning their keep.

the pinefox, Thursday, 29 December 2022 11:27 (one year ago) link

('A conversation with my father', 1972 - that's the one.)

the pinefox, Thursday, 29 December 2022 11:28 (one year ago) link

Actually I forgot to mention someone who seems to me egregious in this field: Tracey Thorn. She's written FOUR books! I don't think the world needed four books from Tracey Thorn. Strong sense of publisher or agent saying 'OK, Tracey, this one's gone well, we need a follow-up!', and Thorn coming out with something quite arbitrary, like a book about living in suburbia (the one thing that literally everyone already knows all about).

Then she gets to go on a fourth promo tour with Q&A sessions with Caitlin Moran and Chris Addison. It doesn't quite seem to be how writing should work.

the pinefox, Thursday, 29 December 2022 11:32 (one year ago) link

Ngl, it’s kind of amazing to read someone writing that a book of short stories won’t be of much substance because the stories are “so short,” then in the next breath say they are reading Bono’s memoir.

Goose Bigelow, Fowl Gigolo (the table is the table), Thursday, 29 December 2022 12:56 (one year ago) link

Actually I forgot to mention someone who seems to me egregious in this field: Tracey Thorn. She's written FOUR books! I don't think the world needed four books from Tracey Thorn.

Tracey Thorn's books are not all the same! You have to be clear what you mean by "four books."

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 29 December 2022 13:01 (one year ago) link

My sense is that the stories are often going to be so short as to lack substance.

Have you read Lydia Davis or Joy Williams?

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 29 December 2022 13:01 (one year ago) link

Has she not written four books?

Those are the ones I mean by 'four books'.

the pinefox, Thursday, 29 December 2022 13:02 (one year ago) link

Each one approaches its subject in a different way -- it's not just "Oh, here's Tracey with another memoir."

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 29 December 2022 13:03 (one year ago) link

For example, her book about Lindy Morrison doubles as an account of their friendship but more importantly as an examination of the machismo permeating '80s indie culture. I thought it an invaluable account of a subject often ignored.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 29 December 2022 13:04 (one year ago) link

That does not sound promising to me.

Nor does a book about that omnipresent fact suburbia.

re your previous post: I don't much like Davis, but could be persuadable. (Last thing by her in the LRB was very dull.) I don't remember reading Williams. I've read some Diane Williams, FWIW, and find her disappointing verging on dire.

Sometimes very short prose can be excellent, effective, powerful. But there is a range of possible scales for the short story - up to 'The Dead', say - and one's sense of what the short story can do can be skewed if all the examples are unusually short.

In this particular volume the editor refers more than once to 'flash fiction' and stories that are 300-400 words long. Those stories might be good. But I don't think that they'd be representative of the potential of the genre.

As I noted, I intend to read this whole volume, and will eventually have a fuller sense of how good or bad it is. It includes some big names (Carver, Le Guin) but omits some others (Moore). I think it's a useful anthology if you're interested in more diversity and inclusivity than some other earlier anthologies.

the pinefox, Thursday, 29 December 2022 13:10 (one year ago) link

I guess most music memoirs are not literary events. I mostly see them as raw material for actual writers/biographers to use in the future.
Joe Jackson's A Cure for Gravity from 1999 was a great memoir from someone whose music I don't especially love. Lots of keen observations and scenes, and it basically ends in 1978 as he records his first album.
Ray Davies is a much greater songwriter and musician, but it wasn't until his third book Americana that his writing managed to feel natural instead of awkward.

Halfway there but for you, Thursday, 29 December 2022 15:35 (one year ago) link

Still doesn’t really respond to my observation that user pinefox subtly disses an anthology of short stories featuring some of the greats of the form but takes seriously the probably-ghostwritten memoir of a pompous laughingstock like Bono.

Goose Bigelow, Fowl Gigolo (the table is the table), Thursday, 29 December 2022 17:45 (one year ago) link

Fwiw, I’m not trying to be aggressive, I just don’t get it.

Goose Bigelow, Fowl Gigolo (the table is the table), Thursday, 29 December 2022 17:46 (one year ago) link

Joe Jackson's A Cure for Gravity from 1999 was a great memoir from someone whose music I don't especially love.
I can imagine that I might think the same of Bono's book, given pinefox's description (and regardless of ghost-writing---also, it might be built up from interviews, which can work pretty well). Had that experience with Don "Fingers" Felder's epic Between Heaven and Hell, centered on his experiences with the Eagles,in striking context of his whole life, up to the point of publication (Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce/Ex-Beatles-paced litigation and all).
Was even roused to give my presentation of it here:
A Good Day In Hell - The Official ILM Track-By-Track EAGLES Listening Thread
That's one of the better examples of the standard Behind The Music soap opera approach, in a ton of books, so it wouldn't be surprising if they don't get much critical scrutiny ("Pattern recognition gets us all in the end," said music writer Jane Dark long ago, but kept writing). Jumping to the new Dylan book, I think it has gotten some close inspection---see pinfox and the linked Ian Penman review and my own takes and quotes over on Is Bob Dylan overrated?
Also on there:
one thing that hit reading penman, that's interesting about dylan, maybe the biggest tribute to him, is that we still EXPECT something from him. like when he puts out an album people will talk about it and debate it and analyze it and call it out as genius or total bullshit (or this book, too) but pretty much every other star of his vintage people just seem happy they are still around...
Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown)

Which, as I said later on there, might be a or the main motivation for putting this book together: to find validation, to show that people still care enough to get all shook up.

dow, Thursday, 29 December 2022 20:13 (one year ago) link

For example, her book about Lindy Morrison doubles as an account of their friendship but more importantly as an examination of the machismo permeating '80s indie culture. I thought it an invaluable account of a subject often ignored.
Would like to take a look at that. Also, hasn't Viv Albertine written another book? Heard great stuff about the first.

dow, Thursday, 29 December 2022 20:18 (one year ago) link

Poster table writes:

>>> Still doesn’t really respond to my observation that user pinefox subtly disses an anthology of short stories featuring some of the greats of the form but takes seriously the probably-ghostwritten memoir of a pompous laughingstock like Bono.

I didn't 'subtly diss' a book. I bought it and started reading it - unlike, as far as I know, anyone else on the board. I'll read it all, 400 pages or so - perhaps unlike everyone else on the board. I'll probably keep commenting on it, for good or ill. Maybe much of it will be good. Maybe not. I'm not very far in at all.

On the question of length in short stories, which can be variable, I've said enough above.

The book of short stories has virtually nothing to do with Bono's book. They're two entirely different books which I, personally, am reading for different reasons.

Is Bono's book ghostwritten? I doubt it. Bono is eloquent, in a way that some Irish people are. I don't think he, of all people, needs a ghostwriter.

Probably he had an editor. I get the impression that he is fairly characteristically ready to praise his assistants and guides on this work. As I noted above, I think that the relative success of lots of music memoirs may relate to editors.

Personally I like some of Bono's old records a lot. His later records, not so much. Different people, naturally, will have different feelings about those records. Some like none of them. I'm very content with that.

I think I'll quite like parts, at least, of his book.

the pinefox, Friday, 30 December 2022 00:49 (one year ago) link

yeah I get the sense Bono actually wrote this thing.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 30 December 2022 01:02 (one year ago) link

I guess maybe a point being made (not to speak for the table...) is that despite their length, each of the short stories in that collection comes with its own separate creative context and universe, worthy of the same gravitas (if not more) that Bono's process has been offered here. Joy Williams is considered a master of short story writing (and different from Diane Williams, despite them being... women with the same common surname), in her own right, as is Grace Paley, and so on. The approaches to concision are different. It feels a bit like grouping Ulysses and Lord of the Rings as 'too long'.

The music memoir question is an interesting one. I read an article recently that suggested that even books by niche artists are now bankers for publishers who can predict the audience who will buy them, a bit like a box set. Sometimes I think prose can suffer but the stories are interesting enough to back it. Often the smaller-scale the musician, the more likely they are to take creative control and have their own go at making something interesting.

Offering people like Tracey Thorn and Viv Albertine a second or third (or fourth) contract has enabled them to keep going with a new form and produce books that are more interesting than the initial recounting of their career, or Brett Anderson, Jarvis Cocker and Miki Berenyi to sell memoirs that dwell on their pre-pop history instead of listing hits. A world where Kristin Hersh's weird use of language can make her some income where her records never did can only be a good one, imo. Big artists like Beastie Boys and Debbie Harry produced lovingly created photo books (and unusual audio book formats) where they might have churned out pure product and sold the same.

In a different climate, 20 years ago, Bono might have pumped out something ghostwritten himself, but there's more respect for the music bio now, and I suspect that's thanks to the smaller names paving the way.

verhexen, Friday, 30 December 2022 10:14 (one year ago) link

I interviewed Tracey T for a book tour q&a a couple of years ago and I have to say this particular book - Another Planet, about growing up in Hertfordshire - is resolutely, almost comically, inessential. But nevertheless hundreds of people showed up to hear her talk and get their book signed! I guess you can't underestimate the market for this kind of 6 music nostalgia.

Piedie Gimbel, Friday, 30 December 2022 10:26 (one year ago) link

Terrific post, verhexen.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 30 December 2022 10:30 (one year ago) link

Through The Language Glass by Guy Deutscher
book I picked up when perusing the shelves in one of the 2 major bookshops in town which is now convenient to the workshop of teh course I'm on.
I thought it was going to be about linguistic relativity which is part of what is addressed I think but this has other focuses.
It starts with Gladstone talking about Homer's lack of talking about colour when one would expect it to be something which would crop up heavily. Gladstone talking in the middle of the 19th century and prior to Darwin's the Origin of Species among other things read this to mean an actual absence of colour at the time. Deutscher goes on to talk about the Swedish train collision which prompted investigation leading to the beginning of understanding of colourblindness which became a given reason for the absence fo colour in Classical times, previous reason given had been the development of differentiation of colour shades etc over 2000 years of practise. That is to say a general public who had not developed research processes into the subject had a few general agreed beliefs on the matter.

Interesting book which I'm finding quite well written. Only got as far as teh first few chapters so far since i started it a couple of days ago.

Richard Koloda Holy Ghost
Read this through now. Pretty great biography of Albert Ayler.
Very nice to have a coherent narrative for the background on an artist I've listened to for 4 decades.
Have also now just watched My Name is Albert Ayler the documentary from Swedish tv in 2005 though did so without having the Swedish speakers subtitled. & I think I dozed off for a while which is not great. So will need to rewatch. It does contain the only footage I've seen of Ayler playing and singing. Hope the full footage does turn up at some point cos would love to get to see it in full.
Anyway deeply recommended.

Howard Zinn A People's History of The United States of America
Just finished him talking about the Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr eras which has me up to p 600 which I thought I'd reached before.
He is pretty scathing about all of them including Carter who seems to have bneen less than truthful in his campaign promises, presumably just like every other person running for President. But does seem to have gone directly against things one would hope he would have helped. He seems to be seen as a bit of a Saint at the moment. Zinn talks about his support of resource exploiting companies which goes aginst the solar panel loving man of teh people image a bit innit.
He's obviously no Reagan so not creating Contras etc.& this has the invasion of Grenada posited as a distraction for events in the Lebanon which were themselves extremely underhanded. Probably should have already been aware of that. Doesn't ,mention Clint Eastwood making the one film that glorified the invasion of Grenada in Heartbreak Ridge.

Stevolende, Friday, 30 December 2022 10:34 (one year ago) link

Isn't the musician autobio/memoir just a sub-genre of the Celebrity Autobio, which afaict is one of the biggest markets in publishing, in the UK at least? I imagine a lot of it goes as xmas gifts, and I think on that level alone I'd rather get a memoir from a musician I enjoy than that dreaded other option, a book of the published lyrics.

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 30 December 2022 10:40 (one year ago) link

Yes. Some of these books are quite enjoyable.

I agree with poster verhexen that they basically fill a commercial niche which suits author and publisher. They clearly fill a gap lost to record sales, as touring can also do, but in a more sedate and Radio 4 way than working yourself up to play a gig.

I imagine, a guess, that if you work at a publisher than hearing that an editor colleague is working with, say ... Justine Frischmann, Damon Albarn, or whoever, still has a slight frisson of excitement, greater than regular authors, even if you don't really care for the music.

If other people think this book of the US short story is so great and essential and everyone should be talking about it very respectfully, then ... that's good. Maybe some people, other than me, will even ... even ... buy it. I bought it from my favourite independent bookshop.

If they don't want to do that, which is also fine, then it's very funny, in every sense, that the one person who's actually reading it is supposed to be the one giving it insufficient kudos.

I mentioned Diane Williams because poster Arugula was talking about people who write very short stories, microstories perhaps, and I happen to have read her doing that.

It turns out that Joy Williams is in the book, with a story called 'Taking Care'. Is it good? I'll find out in due course.

I commented on what might just about be called 'Bono's process' because another poster challenged my interest in his book and said it was ghostwritten. I'm very happy not to talk more about said process, about which I know little. The book itself is quite good to read. That's enough for me.

The comparison between that book of short stories and Bono's memoir is non-existent. I didn't make it. The two books have virtually nothing in common. But I happen, for a moment, to have some interest in both, for entirely unrelated reasons.

I strongly share poster Gimbel's view of author Thorn, which is very well expressed.

the pinefox, Friday, 30 December 2022 11:36 (one year ago) link

Without any knowledge of the stories, pinefox said he feared they would be ‘so short as to lack substance,’ and then in the next post went on to praise a book by a pop star who is also a pompous asshole, to say the least.

Sorry that such contrast doesn’t wash with me, but it doesn’t.

Goose Bigelow, Fowl Gigolo (the table is the table), Friday, 30 December 2022 12:22 (one year ago) link

Everyone on ilb purchase and read this specific anthology challenge 2023

It’s the only way lads

pilk/pall revolting odors (wins), Friday, 30 December 2022 12:51 (one year ago) link

Tastes don't have to square, tabes, and I'm surprised you keep insisting on it. Sort of the point of taste.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 30 December 2022 12:57 (one year ago) link

Some people have it and some people don't. The table is like Le Bec Fin of ILB.

A Kestrel for a Neve (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 30 December 2022 16:17 (one year ago) link

Bono can only hope that everyone who voted in U2 - Songs of Innocence POLL will go out and buy his book.

Halfway there but for you, Friday, 30 December 2022 19:08 (one year ago) link

While we are on the subject of autobiographies of musicians, I'll put in another plug for Debbie Harry's book, Face It. It's very readable and entertaining, and her voice comes across as authentic. I'm still laughing about her David Bowie anecdote.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Friday, 30 December 2022 19:11 (one year ago) link

Some of the SONGS OF INNOCENCE songs and titles do figure in the very early chapters of SURRENDER (the little I've read), because much of that LP is a deliberate, perhaps strained, attempt to sing about early life, Dublin c.1970s.

the pinefox, Friday, 30 December 2022 20:00 (one year ago) link

I'm also a reading walker! it's pretty unsafe tbh but sometimes it's just the thing. it's funny when I'm reading some giant book but I do it anyway.

here's me this year:

The Last Man, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Home: New Arabic Poems (anthology), Two Lines Press
Tales of Hoffman, ETA Hoffman, tr. Hollindale
Real Easy, Marie Rutkowski
Homecoming, Magda Isanos, forgot to note translator
Post Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Antoine Volodine, tr. Mahaney
Bardo or Not Bardo, Antoine Volodine, tr. Mahaney
War and Peace, Tolstoy, tr. Briggs
Leeches, David Albahari, tr. Elias-Bursac
Bartleby & Co., Enrique Vila-Matas, tr. Dunne
Obscure Destinies, Willa Cather
Bloodlines, Melissa del Bosque
Go Tell It On the Mountain, James Baldwin
Another Country, James Baldwin
The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy-Casares, tr. Simms
The Good Conscience, Carlos Fuentes, tr. not listed anywhere in early paperback ed.!!
The Union Jack, Imre Kertesz, tr. Wilkinson
The Judgment of Richard Richter, Igor Stiks, tr. Elias-Bursac
After the Banquet, Yukio Mishima. tr. Keene
The Islamist Phoenix, Loretta Napoleoni
Ways of Going Home, Alejandro Zambra, tr. Mcdurell
The Art of Flight, Sergio Pitól, tr. George Henson
Detective Story, Imre Kertesz, tr. Wilkinson
A Brief History of Portable Literature, Enrique Vila-Matas, tr. Bunstead & McLean
The Devil's Home on Leave, Derek Raymond
Destroy, She Said, Marguerite Duras, tr. Bray
The Journey, Sergio Pitól, tr. George Henson
Introduction to Emptiness, Guy Newman
The Autobiography of Phra Ajaan Lee, tr. name illegible in my notebook
The Master of Knots, Massimo Carlotto, tr. Woodall

I'll probably finish By Bus, the truly delightful book by Erica Van Horn I'm presently reading, tonight or tomorrow, and then tomorrow I'll fret about whether to read a super short book in one day to get one more in, or start in on something ambitious.

Wonderful year in reading for me. Music and literature, as magnificent and eternally new to me still as they were when I first discovered them as a child.

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Friday, 30 December 2022 23:23 (one year ago) link


Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 30 December 2022 23:33 (one year ago) link

A Brief History of Portable Literature sounds intriguing. Was it as charmingly entertaining as the blurbs make it sound?

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 31 December 2022 01:41 (one year ago) link

it's good, and sometimes seems more than good, though Bartleby & Co. is richer, I think

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Saturday, 31 December 2022 01:44 (one year ago) link


more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 31 December 2022 01:45 (one year ago) link

War and Peace, Tolstoy, tr. Briggs
Have been advised that Briggs tr. is best modern, was thinking that W&P was about due for re-read anyway.
The Good Conscience, Carlos Fuentes, tr. not listed anywhere in early paperback ed.!!
And the old uncredited ones that I find are always good to read, which is--disconcerting, somehow.

dow, Saturday, 31 December 2022 02:26 (one year ago) link

The Last Man, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
O Hell Yes.

dow, Saturday, 31 December 2022 02:30 (one year ago) link

at the risk of being all morbs

Please use the receptacle provided: What are you reading as 2023 begins?

mookieproof, Saturday, 31 December 2022 02:49 (one year ago) link

I usually post a link to the newest WAYR, but I figured there might be some 'clean up' on this needed for the ongoing discussions on this one before 2022 officially ended so I put it off a bit.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 31 December 2022 04:01 (one year ago) link

Ursula Le Guin -- S/D, etc.

the pinefox, Saturday, 31 December 2022 11:11 (one year ago) link

The Whole New Yorker Raymond Carver Thing

the pinefox, Saturday, 31 December 2022 11:20 (one year ago) link

for xmas i was given THE FALL OF NÚMENOR (by various tolkiens and others), written up here: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series

mark s, Saturday, 31 December 2022 13:02 (one year ago) link

I'd like to be able to comment on that, Mark S, but haven't read this stuff properly since THE SILMARILLION when I was ... 13? I feel that I set myself rather an unnecessarily difficult and dreary challenge in that instance. I did read it all. I should have focused more on just properly reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The comic book (c.1990?) of THE HOBBIT is very good.

the pinefox, Saturday, 31 December 2022 13:17 (one year ago) link

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