Books Read 30 1/2
Since I’m looking over them anyway, here’s the so-far of books I’ve read in this, the 30th year of myself. There’s The Most Beautiful Walk In The World by John Baxter and Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which were the last things I read in the must-read-about-Paris-always phase of working on the novella and short stories, but by November, I was tired of (writing and reading about) Paris, so there are a few books I meant to read but will have to wait until after I’ve gone without long enough. Even then, I sandwiched the audiobook ofKitchen Confidential between the two to give myself a break, but then reread A Moveable Feast (Hemingway), which kind of ruined the effect I was going for. Vonnegut’s Look At The Birdie had a few flashes of his best short fiction, but nothing really on par, and the same went for While Mortals Sleep, which makes me wonder if they’re getting into the Kilgore Trout material over there at the Vonnegut Estate. If so, they should do what magazines did in the first place and not publish them. Man Without A Country, at least in audiobook form, also didn’t live up to older essay collections by Vonnegut, but it’s nice to still be able to hear his voice five years after his death.
I reread The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby, because I’m an asshole. They’re both still great, and I’m still surprised every time I read them that they manage to stay great, which isn’t really any feat, since they just sit there, holding the same words, for all time, although this was the first time I’d read the “Authorized Text” ofGatsby. I didn’t know I was reading an authorized text all this time. Thank god the authorities didn’t catch me. A little later, I read Flappers & Philosophers, and I have zero recollection of it, so it’s not as good as every other Fitzgerald short story collection, all of which I remember vividly.
Then I stretched myself out with the first bit of David Foster Wallace I’ve ever attempted, Girl With Curious Hair, and it took two stories before I stopped thinking that Wallace actively hated his readers and wanted to punish them for buying his books. The first story was mind-bendingly obnoxious. There was another story that was completely unreadable. The novella at the end fought me the entire way, but I cling to it like a bull-rider and made it through, and I’m glad I did. That’s why I ended up with the audiobook of Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, the full recordings of David Lipsky interviewing Wallace for an article that never ultimately happened.
Short fiction from Joseph Heller followed, and it was okay. I wasn’t blown away by Catch As Catch Can, for sure, not the way I’m already getting re-blown (!) away by Something Happened, which I’m rereading right now. Speaking of disappointing, Mere Anarchy by Woody Allen had almost zero spark, zero cleverness, zero anything I’ve come to expect from his books. Not disappointing: The Long Walk by Stephen King, read of course for the Constant Readers project. As good as ever. Maybe better. My thoughts on the The Dead Zoneare pretty much public knowledge at this point.
I have a sexy spot in my heart and head and pants for George Saunders, and while The Brief And Frightening Reign Of Phil featured characters I couldn’t picture without smelling burnt toast and wondering if I should call an ambulance, In Persuasion Nation was diabolically good. Manhood For Amateurs (Chabon) was not as good, although I liked a lot of it. It just wasn’t as good as Maps & Legends, which was amazing.
Paris slipped back in (along with the south of France) when I read A Sport And A Pastime by James Salter, which, whatever. If I had wanted to reread Tropic Of Cancer, I would have just reread Tropic Of Cancer. There was also Paris aplenty in You Deserve Nothing, but as I pointed out when I read it, no semblance of consistent comma use. The Fallback Plan involved zero Paris whatsoever but enjoyed a similar level of comma insanity to Maksik’s book, although at least the pages didn’t fall out of the book. They’re both debut novels and worth reading, although you will likely lose about 50 pages from You Deserve Nothing if a strong wind blows on the book.
You know when you know a person and their writing is annoyingly good? And you like it and them so much you can’t muster up even a little hatred or jealousy? If you knew D.W. Wilson, and read the stories in Once You Break A Knuckle, you’d know exactly what I mean.
Christopher Hitchens knew exactly what I wanted to know about why believing in God or any god is lunacy, and it was nice to hear him make the arguments in that accent of his in the God Is Not Great audiobook, and it’s a shame he’s dead, but as Vonnegut said of Isaac Asimov, “Well, Hitch is in heaven now.”
Gravity’s Rainbow fucked up everything I ever believed about sentence construction and description and dialogue and I haven’t really recovered from it yet, but Thomas Pynchon is a motherfucker of a writer, and I can see why the fiction committee unanimously voted the book for the 1974 Pulitzer (it’s a genre-busting, game-changing, revolutionary book), and I can see why the Pulitzer committee said they’d rather not give the prize out that year than give it to Gravity’s Rainbow (it’s mostly about a guy whose boners make V-2 rockets fall out of the sky).
I’m not entirely sure why A Confederacy Of Dunces won John Kennedy Toole a Pulitzer Prize in the year of my birth, but I loved the book and am now possessed of a sense of what the fuck Southern Gothic means, although Wikipedia is telling me it’s not Southern Gothic, it’s “tragicomedy” and “picaresque,” one of which is accurate and the other of which makes me want to throw up in my hat.
I reread High Fidelity, for personal reasons, and I’m glad I did, because the book has this wealth of potential to suck, at least in my head, and every time I read it again, I’m relieved that it never sucks and is always not only better than I remembered it, but way better. I suspect Something Happened, which I’m rereading right now, and which fucked my whole brain up when I first read it.