Blessed is he with too much to read, but I get a megaton bomb dropped on my head and much catching up to do. On Monday I received from a truly good egg a shipment of David Foster Wallaceness covering most of what I didn’t have on hand at the cribs: paperbacks of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and his essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and the hardcover version of his famed Kenyon College commencement speech entitled This is Water. Then on Wednesday a truly kind and gentle soul surprised me with an unexpected gift: the Judd Apatow curated humor anthology I Found This Funny from McSweeney’s.
All of these stand between me and the genuinely interesting but traumatically rhetorical tome I picked up at Book Thug Nation on Sunday: Jacques Derrida’s The Politics of Friendship. And while obtuse deconstruction of Aristotle’s thoughts on class warfare are a barrel of monkeys, I must confess that when reaching for something to read, it’s the been the Apatow that usually wins out. If nothing else, I Found This Funny earns high marks for including a lot of pretty bleak stuff from writers like Carver, Dubus, and O’Connor that in the saturnine views offer a handful of genuinely funny jokes, used like salt is to bring out a dessert’s natural flavors. Not to mention that Apatow has opted to print in full the pilot to Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel’s little-seen Adam West vehicle Lookwell!, which is in the running for one of the funniest half hours of television ever (not) produced.
Maybe in the end I should have heeded the advice of the Book Thug clerk who manning their desk that Sunday afternoon. “Oh man,” he said, sizing up the smarty-pants Verso Radical Thinkers tome I thought perfect for some research I’m doing. “Derrida? I can read Deleuze all day long, but Derrida? Fuck this guy!”
Most of my reading this week has continued in the vein of catching up on Tournament of Books competitors — specifically, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question. I ended up having mixed thoughts on both. While I would say that I liked both novels, I found that the nominal protagonist of Jacobson’s novel was (for me) the least interesting of his three principal characters, while the structure and pacing of Franzen’s book seemed oddly fractured. There are definitely things to admire in both, but for this reader, that admiration was tempered with frustration. All of which leaves Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad as my ToB favorite — and, as we enter the semifinals and Zombie round, I’ve read everything still in competition except for Aimee Bender’s The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake.
My current reading is Forecast, Shya Scanlon’s novel of futuristic surveillance. After that, I have a number of books picked up at the Read Only event at The Bell House earlier this week, including work from Jim Hanas, Chris Eaton, and Lynne Tillman. I also pre-ordered Kio Stark’s Follow Me Down from the fine people at Red Lemonade based on the section of it that she read. (Needless to say, I’m mightily excited for the proper debut of Red Lemonade, current home to both Stark and Tillman.)
And in an entirely non-literary vein, I tried a vegan cupcake from Babycakes for the first time on Saturday. It was delicious.