A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
A lot of work prevented me from doing any reading until I was on an airplane, which is where I have gotten a lot of important reading done in the past, weirdly enough. I read Wuthering Heights, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Asterios Polyp, The Road, and countless others for the first time on a plane, all in one go. Something about the limitation of movement puts my brain into action. I guess this is the tradeoff for not being able to sleep in the air, particularly upright.
This time I finished These Dreams of You, after putting it aside a few weeks ago when the plot began to bother me. It definitely has its flaws but it’s a beautiful book in so many ways that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. And I started Ask the Dust by John Fante, since I’m going to Los Angeles and wanted some themed reading. I guess there will always be something seductive about this kind of desperate voice, the one that wanders around a big city and fears and wants everything at the same time. I don’t know if I care too much for the Bukowski introduction to the book, since my attraction to his brand of that voice has waned significantly, but I do think he is right about something. It’s already a pretty remarkable book, and I don’t know why I haven’t read it before.
This week, I had the good fortune to revisit Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz for the book group at WORD that Daphne Carr and I host. It’s nominally a work about music, but it’s largely a series of vignettes about the lives of jazz musicians, with Dyer consciously engaging in a sort of literary improvisation on those lives. It’s deeply moving — most of the musicians covered here struggle with addiction or debilitating mental or physical illnesses — and prompts some of the most lyrical prose Dyer has ever written. (The close of the section on Thelonious Monk may be one of the greatest passages about New York City I’ve ever read.) Highly, highly, highly recommended — and, as with most of Dyer’s books, it also engages with his other works in intriguing ways.
For another book group at WORD, I read Richard Hughes’s The Fox In The Attic, about which I had mixed feelings. Taken as a novel, it’s frustrating: there are plentiful details about certain characters who don’t have much to do, occasions where Hughes lectures the reader on political theory, and discussions of Tory/Liberal conflicts in 1920s Britain. And yet I found myself wanting to read more from Hughes after I’d finished — in part because his novel A High Wind in Jamaica comes recommended by many a friend of mine, and in part because The Fox In The Attic is the first part of a longer work — perhaps the issues I had with it will pay off down the line.
And I made my first foray into the writings of Albert Cossery, with A Splendid Conspiracy. I had mixed feelings on this at first, as it follows a group of idle men in an Egyptian city, even as rumors of violence and police intrusions occasionally filter into their lives. Cossery’s perspective leaps from character to character, creating an interesting panorama of their society. In the end, the sense of menace that has lurked below the surface of the action (and inaction) makes an appearance, though in a decidedly unexpected way; as a result, Cossery won me over.
Also of note: FSG’s The Originals series, which paired Amelia Gray and the band Hospitality at Public Assembly. Host David Rees cited the latter’s cover of Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” which in turn prompted Gray to give the band (and the audience) a quick history lesson on the literary originals of the song in question. (And, because I’m in mind self-promotion mode right now, I might as well link my review of Gray’s novel Threats.)
I saw Zola Jesus at The Guggenheim. I wrote about it elsewhere.
I finished up The Ivory Tower by Henry James and started on Rich Cohen’s The Fish That Ate the Whale. Have I ever mentioned what a huge Cohen fan I am? He’s got a knack for taking historical subjects and telling their stories in a way that nobody else can. Obviously the
Also, still working on Traveler of the Century by Andres Neuman. Hopefully will finish that one up this week. I had put down The World Without You by Joshua Henkin to read it, not because Henkin’s book wasn’t fantastic, but Neuman’s book is already out and I’m hoping to review it asap.
Spent most of the past two weeks in Elizabeth Ellen’s Fast Machine. It’s as good as advertised, though I think it could have been shorter. The Dave Eggers piece in it is amazing, I had read it before online and have read it twice since. It sent me on a nostalgia trip and I finally hunted around online and found a bootleg Google Books pdf of the n+1 Gary Baum/Friend of Eggers! piece from so long ago. I might actually read AHWOSG again, for the first time in like 9 years.
Besides that, two new “Michael” galleys have me intrigued: Chabon and Kimball.