In preparation for next week’s reading at the Brooklyn Winery, I decided to delve into Norman Lock’s Grim Tales. It’s a short collection of short, sometimes dreamlike stories, most of which have the simplicity and sting of folk tales and parables. What makes Grim Tales stand out, however, is its concentration: over the course of the book, the thematic focus of the tales shifts, narrowing in on specific avenues of frustration, betrayal, despair, and depression. In the end, the compositional weaving of themes makes the book work both on the level of its components and as an overarching work.
Also worth mentioning: many of the tales are immediately memorable — bittersweet or stinging or haunting, or all of the above. (In 2008, Blake Butler reviewed it for The Believer; said review may also be of interest, as might Matt Bell’s discussion of his introduction to this edition.)
As the Tournament of Books progresses, I’ve been making my way through some competitors that I hadn’t previously read. (Hat tip to WORD, who wisely have a display up with many of the books in question available; I’ve already paid it one visit this week, and am likely to do so again this weekend.) This week, I’ve read Anne Carson’s stunning Nox and James Hynes’s Next, which I’m reluctant to discuss all that much for reasons of spoilage and whatnot. And as of this morning, I’ve begun Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom; Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question is most likely next up.
Moments after we last spoke, Dear Reader, I pulled Don Delillo’s White Noise off the shelf in anticipation of a long bus ride. This is actually its second appearance in this column, having been reread by Jason in December. Blazing my way through it has been a too brief pleasure, and fills in one of the major “You’ve Never Read Such and Such?” gaps in my lit backlog. Incidentally, “Literary Gaps: The Stuff We’ve Secretly Never Read” might make a dope Indexing in future. People talk about Delillo as this dark sorcerer of all things post-war American, but he deserves his due for being extremely funny, and having astounding rhythm to his dialogue. A more delightfully “nightbus” book I can’t soon recall.
Otherwise shooting sparks into my eardrums and retinas: catching up to The Best Show on WFMU’s two-week Marathon Fundraiser (Viva Hodgman!), the Dum Dum Girls’ much-discussed EP He Gets Me High, PJ Harvey maturing like Pompeii with Let England Shake, and “Giving My Back to the Night I Heard You Lying to a Giant“, Davide Balliano’s gorgeously titled one-two punch of purdy drawings and performances centered around Prometheus’ blinding of the Cyclops at Location One on Greene Street.
On the road again, oh I can’t wait to get off the road again…
I thought traveling would allow me the opportunity to read more, but as I type this from a hotel lobby in Austin, trying to fight off the free booze shakes, I feel it’s okay to admit that I’ve been severely slacking off this week.
I did read Newton N. Minow’s Atlantic article, “A Vaster Wasteland,” and was shocked to find out that the S.S. Minow was named after him. Other than that, my life is a series of tweets involving music that I probably don’t want to listen to.
That’s about it. About to go visit David Foster Wallace at the University of Texas. I’ll say hello.