Last Ten Books Read XVIII
(Listed in order of completion)
1. Miranda July. The First Bad Man. Several years ago, an aspiring novelist friend adapted a new name, took on a new e-mail address, and became his own literary agent. After selling two of his novels in this fashion, he took on a second client – me. The closest we came to a sale was a publisher which liked my book (The Schiz), but it was too similar to one it was already publishing by Miranda July. Time passed; I got over my jealousy and resentment; I saw this novel sitting in a Little Free Library box. It was terrific. I would have published it instead of The Schiz too.
2. Per Petterson. Out Stealing Horses. A novel highly regarded by a highly regarded friend. (She is reading it for the fourth time.) I found it extremely well-written in a sort-of ultra-Hemingway-esq, precise-description-of nature-light-and-man-alone stuff way, but I had a problem with the narrator withholding a great deal of information he has become in possession of since the events he is describing, and I wondered about the “morality” of an author withholding this simply to torment the reader.
3. David Foster Wallace. This is Water. A mini-book reproducing, with edits, Wallace’s commencement address at Oberlin College in 2005. Nearly every sentence is allotted its own page. The thoughts expressed will be familiar to anyone with even as shallow a familiarity with Buddhism as mine, but it is always nice to have them recirculating in one’s brain.
4. Janet Malcolm. Still Pictures. As faithful readers know, Malcolm (and Joan Didion) were my two favorite writers. Now both are gone and unless managers of their estates cobble something together, this will be the last book from either. It’s a collection of autobiographical short pieces organized around family snap shots in lieu of an autobiography or memoir. It’s wonderful.
5. Norman Pearlstine. Off the Record. Norman, a law school classmate, has had an impressive career at the highest levels of American journalism. He headed Time, Inc. at the time of the outing of Valerie Plane, and the buck stopped with him when it came to whether or not to reveal its source for the story. He took a public blistering at the time for his decision, but he has presented an impressively-balanced-and-thorough-in -light-of-this-blistering, and hard-to-disagree with account of what led to his decision.
6. Janet Malcolm. Diana and Nikon. Second reading. (See #5, above.) It got me thinking about photography and since I was expecting to have a Zoom conversation with a woman I’d known from high school who’d become a photographer, I decided to bone up on the subject. The Zoom never occurred but I had interesting thoughts about what makes photography art, if indeed it is.
7. Lawrence Wright. The Plague Year. A fine journalistic history of Covid in the United States and the politics thereof. My bet is it’s too close in time to the events described to explain in depth and with the accuracy later accounts will develop, but Wright is good at what he does and this was a solid piece of work.
8. Richard Sala. The Chuckling Whatsit. I was once asked to write about Sala and I would have, except he refused to be interviewed. I think he was somewhat reclusive at this point and his books alone weren’t enough to make me want to take on the project. Now I feel bad about that. I think this book was in progress as a comic at the time and now it’s a graphic novel. It feels more substantial in one volume than it did when I was reading it issue-by-issue. The book has it all together and is whacky, macabre fun, from character names, to renderings, to plot. It’s grisly fun.
9. Jane Boot. Edge Play. A gift from Norman’s (See #5, above) wife. (It came bound with a shockingly pink chord.) It’s a novel about a woman who, after being let go by the hedge fund that employed her, takes a job as a dominatrix. Neither hedge funds nor S&M are my thing, but if either (or both) are yours… I learned a bit about both areas of my non-expertise, and there was also the most significant character named “Levin” I have run into since War and Peace.
10.. Susan Orlean. The Orchid Thief. Like with her book on the LA library fire, Orlean latches onto an oddball character and a “crime,” and goes wherever it takes her. Here, it’s a chunk of pre-DeSantis Florida, and the result is wondrously enjoyable – and made me really curious what they did with this for the movie based on it (Adaptation), which I recall liking too.
Last Ten Books Read XVIII