Last 10 Books Read (xxiv)

In Order of Completion

Introductory Note: This list has been influenced by my café pal Fran, who tries to push tomes of experimental fiction on me. I read some. I start and put others down. I push others back across the table, unopened. All the while, I am learning what I like in books and what I don’t. I see that at my age I have limited room and time for expansion. Anyway…

1. Ivana Armanini, ed. “Komikaze 2023.” An anthology of European comix in which the visual excellence and excitements outshines the verbal. A mind-expander as to the possibilities of the form – and a contradiction of my statement above that I can’t broaden my tastes.

2. “The Letters of William Gaddis.” Recommended by a clerk at Moe’s who saw me approaching with “JR (See below). I’ve been enthralled by Gaddis for months. The earlier letters, being primarily to his mother during years in which a young man is not likely to share certain experiences with his mother, are of limited interest, but the later ones make me feel I don’t need to read his biography. Gaddis, great as he was, reassuringly maintained gripes and grievances that were familiar and amusing.

3. “Jack Green” (Not his real name). “Fire the Bastards.” Green, an eccentric Greenwich Village resident, published his own newspaper in which he championed Gaddis’s “The Recognitions.” This book collects pieces in which Green calls out Gaddis’s critics by name, excoriating those whose familiarity with the book came entirely from its jacket flaps, who misunderstood what they did read, who were blinded by atupidity and prejudice. Great fun.

4. Cormac McCarthy. “The Passenger.” McCarthy is among my favorite contemporary authors. I’ve read all his novels and this and the simultaneously published “Stella Maris” (See below) are his last. It begins like a conventional enough thriller but soon turns into a series of existential conversations between the protagonist, Western, an unlikely ex-physicist, former Grand Prix driver, and salvage diver, and equally colorful characters of his acquaintance, criminal and legitimate. Some of these are deep and thought provoking, but the only one I know something about, the JFK assassination, is nonsense. I regret the book didn’t continue as it began, but that mayn be my limitations speaking. McCarthy, at the end of his life, seemingly had more important thoughts he felt the need to set down.

5. John DiSanto. “The Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame.” A collection of a photo of and a paragraph of prose about a sampling of members. There are a lot. One needn’t possess a winning record, let alone a championship belt, to merit inclusion, it seems, and the presence of Blinky Palermo means there is no “good character” requirement for eligibility.

6. Carter Scholz. “Magic.” A Fran recommendation. It is a collection of “hard” science fiction and a couple op-edish entries, which I skipped. I liked the premise of the title story and an epistalatory one that followed, but I am not a sci-fi fan and this did not entrance me.

7. William Gaddis. “JR.” Perhaps Gaddis’s finest novel. After finishing I almost began it again. (But it’s 750-pages, and other matters called.) I often lost track of who was who, what exactly was going on, and how things were working out for whom, but it was magnificent. I am sure I will return to it.

8. Carter Scholz and Jonathem Lethem. “Kafka Americana.” Passages were engaging. Encountering Kafka, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Walter Keane, “The Trial,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” was entertaining, but like Gully Jimson said to Lady Beeder in “The Horse’s Mouth” about the “clever,” it’s like “farting Annie Laurie through a keyhole…. (I)s it worth the trouble?” Where’s the consequence? I grant you this may be my arterio-scleroticized brain speaking.

9. Thich Nhat Hanh. “Only Connect.” (Second time.) Everybody ought to keep a little Buddhism bedside. A read a snatch most mornings to prime my day.

10. Cormac McCarthy. “Stella Maris.” (See Number 4, above.) Now the conversations are between a patient in a mental hospital, a mathematician (and sister of the salvage diver) and her psychiatrist, with the former getting the best of the exchanges. (It isn’t close.) These exchanges are about math, physics, psychiatry, the nature of reality (and hallucinations) and life. It is under 200 pages and I will go through again, taking notes so I can discuss it with Fran.