A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
And so, the year begins to draw to a close; and thus, I find myself trying to read noteworthy books from 2012 so as to make my “best of 2012” list relatively comprehensive. (Alternately, consider it pre-preparation for reading along with the next Tournament of Books.) I’ll have thoughts on some — including a pair of books released by The Dorothy Project — as standalone pieces in the coming weeks.
Jon Raymond’s Rain Dragon, about a couple from Los Angeles who move to Oregon to work at an organic food company, is a stranger book than it first seems. Some of the drama seems low-key: the fracturing of a relationship amidst quiet corporate drama. Ultimately, this novel is less about the ethical questions it raises (or the business theories some of its characters espouse) than it is about its narrator’s inability to embrace change. At times it’s an odd amalgamation of the novel of ideas and a quiet chamber drama, but it works.
Elizabeth’s Crane’s We Only Know So Much is the story of a family, told in an offhand and relaxed manner that camouflages the occasionally wrenching events within. And in the end, the happy endings that some of the characters get feel earned — no small accomplishment. The edition I have comes with a long essay by Crane (whose short fiction I’ve long admired) detailing the process of creating the book; it was, I’d say, pretty informative.
For an essay in the works, I’m reading a lot of Jane Jacobs, noted urban theorist and unrepentant hater of the automobile. She was certainly a fan of the sidewalk: “Not TV or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities,” she said in her last book, Dark Age Ahead. I think she may have disliked Los Angeles.
I also just started reading The Portrait of a Lady. That book pushes all my buttons. For a few days I was constantly emailing a friend, also a James lover, with nothing but quotes or character names followed by excessive numbers of exclamation points. (I’ve since stopped, but not because I don’t intend to continue.) I’ll pick it up again in earnest when I’m done with Jacobs.
I also have open in a tab Jenny Hendrix’s essay for Slate on Evelyn Waugh’s Catholic novels. “Tory, class apologist, snob, born-again Catholic, anti-Semite, admirer of Mussolini and Franco, employer in the mid-1960s of a Victorian ear trumpet, and general Pooterish misanthrope, Arthur Evelyn (‘Eve-‘ like ‘Christmas Eve’) St. John (‘Sin-jin,’ like in Mad Men) Waugh (‘waw,’ as a British person might say ‘war’) is a difficult man to love.” Jesus Christ, a Victorian ear trumpet? And he was an English fascist! (Every woman adores one.) Anyway, I love Jenny Hendrix. Everyone should read what Jenny Hendrix writes.
A 26-hour round trip Thanksgiving drive had me in straits. I’d be driving some, but I’d need something else as well. I can’t write on these trips, I’ve done it a few times, but really I just can’t, so books it is. There’s always my normal stack of various library check-outs, but on these trips I usually can’t go for what’s been sitting around (that’s a sign to take it back, I know). I made a dive for something different and picked up Justin Cronin’s The Passage. I don’t usually read books, well, this popular, and I don’t usually read about vampires, but two things prompted me to do this: it had been sitting at my work desk for literally a year, and one of my favorite pop culture podcasts discussed it, in lieu of its sequel, The Twelve.
Cronin was known before this I guess as a short story writer and that’s pretty obvious from the start. Even though the book aims for big, the story isn’t the thrill-a-minute style of Patterson, but rather each chapter takes a careful dive into a character, and even weaves what in my mind could be a stand-alone story.
All that said, I’m only about 150 pages in and have picked up once since Sunday. We’ll see.
Otherwise, I peeked into Joan Didion’s White Album for the first time.
I finished The New York Tyrant #4, and that review should be on this site shortly.
Business books may be taboo on this site, but I’ll tell you one anyway: The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry is great for suggestions on how to really burrow in on imaginative work–rather individually or in teams, and he gives tons about how to cultivate creative accountability and relationships with others.
I closed the last book I had to read for work purposes this year. Even though I have pieces due in January, the December lag gives me time to catch up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I started with a beat up copy Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (along with some of Mann’s other short stories), and now I’m moving on to Arthur Schnitzler’s Night Games collection. I figured I should keep it as German as possible.
I’ve also been working on two newer books, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Salvatore Pane’s Last Call in the City of Bridges. Both books are fantastic, and I’m only disappointed I took this long to get to them.