Monday, September 13, 2010

A Reader Writes....

what are you reading now

I've just finished What He's Poised To Do by Ben Greenman. It's a smart short-story collection with a 'gimmick' - each story has an epistolary element to it. The stories are also united by an enquiry into the way lovers fail to communicate - what is said, versus what is heard. A couple of the stories come off as finger exercises, but the majority are playful and emotionally revealing. I particularly admire Greenman's ability to cover a good deal of ground in a short space - his character's lives are fully realized in comparatively brief sketches, and though the stories aren't necessarily plot-driven, he moves the action with brilliant economy. He also manages to be witty and serious at the same time - not an easy thing to do. As a character tells his lover in Killing The Pink, 'You're the sad mask; I'm the happy mask. Takes both of us to put on a play.'

I've also been reading Terry Southern's scabrous Red Dirt Marijuana, at the behest of a friend. I'm lousy with people handing books to me - I always have a lengthy list of my own to get to, and generally I prefer to wade through those on my list. Finally, while waiting for new books to arrive, I've been dipping into Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes again. Sometimes when you've been having a difficult week with your own creativity it can be helpful to look at the work of a total train-wreck, and re-assure yourself that a brilliant, albeit dark work can come out of a space much darker than the one you're inhabiting.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

'Something by Faulkner' would probably have been my answer until recently. His sentences are notoriously difficult, and I've always wanted to make sure I was ready for him. But now I'm not so certain I'm interested enough. I'm sure I could get through it at this point, but it just seems like heavy lifting that I'm not interested in doing. Maybe Faulkner just falls outside my jurisdiction.

The next bona fide classic I'll read will probably be Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment,  which I've had in my hand several times recently. Also, Cormac Mcarthy's Blood Meridian - which takes us back to Faulkner, in a way.

last book you finished in a single sitting

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, though it's a monologue from a performance, so I'm not sure it really counts. The last book I polished off at 3 am was Lush Life by Richard Price.

most treasured book in your collection

I was pretty excited to own a first edition Love In The Time of Cholera, not least because I picked it up for 50 cents at a parking lot sale soon after it was released. But then I loaned it out, with great reluctance - which is the only way I loan books out - and my unpredictable friend held it hostage for a while. Just when I began to fear I wouldn't see it again, my friend died - was murdered, in fact. I harbored considerable guilt for a long time because I mourned not only the loss of the friend, but also the loss of the book. The book now takes it's rightful place as insignificant, but there it is.

There's no single book of importance now. I'm fond of my old English editions of F Scott Fitzgerald novels, Hemingway novels, because of their influence on me at an important time. At the other end of the scale, I'm also pretty attached to Where Do I Go From Here? the second of four 'autobiographies' written by the genius Irish footballer/alcoholic/womanizer George Best. I own all four, two of them signed, but this one is the best written of them, and the inscription is personalized.

book you borrowed and never returned

I can't think of one. I always return books I've borrowed, unless I'm told I can keep them. So should you.

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

Doubtless there have been many - but at least they've usually been books I was reading, or had recently read.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

Online, I subscribe to The Second Pass, to which I also contribute. Print - probably The Paris Review. I'm interested to see what the new editor does with it.

most influential books

Pretty much everything by and about Scott Fitzgerald. I was lucky enough to read most of it when I was 20 or so, when I was ripe to absorb the whole 'doomed romance' ethos hook, line and sinker.

Later, I went through a Raymond Carver/Richard Ford phase, as many did in the early 90's.

 More lasting though, I'd say mid-period Martin Amis (Money, London Fields). Amis, in turn, pointed me towards Saul Bellow. I can't think of a book I return to more often than Humboldt's Gift.

most anticipated upcoming release

Not even close - Saul Bellow: Letters  

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