(In Order of Completion)
1. Yasunari Kawabata. “The Sound of the Mountain.” I had read one or two of Kawabata’s novel before but must have forgotten his name because when a friend recommended this one, I bought it. It was good enough to make me think I should have paid more attention to the other(s). (No offense, but the Japanese are pretty weird though.)
2. Leesa Toscano & Janet Bodoff, eds. “Speaking of Atlantic City.” An anthology I’m in. I didn’t read my story or the poetry and I’ve written about the book before so I won’t say anything more about it here.
3. Naomi Zack. “The Handy Philosophical Answer Book.” This was loaned me by my previously mentioned philosopher neighbor. When I told him I’d read it, he was astounded. He hadn’t thought anyone would read it start-to-finish but would dip into it when questions arose. From my experience, that would be the better approach.
4. Ryszard Kapucinski. “Travels With Herodatus.” One of my favorite author-discoveries of the past couple decades. Alas, I think there is no more of his work available in English for me, and I doubt I’ll learn Polish. This is somewhat autobiographical with K recounting his first trips abroad as a reporter (India, Iran, China, Africa), interspersed with his thoughts on Herodatus and his work and time.
5. Laurent Binet. “The Seventh Function of Language.” Recommended by another friend. He loved it but I didn’t have enough familiarity with French politics or linguists or semiotics to get a kick from it. It’s a satiric novel and it’s always good to know the thing being satirized.
6. Drew Friedman. “Maverix and Lunatix.” A collection of full-page, pen-and-ink caricatures of notable underground cartoonists and associates with accompanying biographical test. The portraits seemed “soft” to me in comparison with Friedman’s other work. I guess he is fonder of these guys.
7. Diane Williams. “”How High? That High.” I read she was a master of the short-short story and I thought, Oh, good. Maybe I’ll be inspired to write short-short stories.” Boy, was I wrong. Got zero from it. As short-shorts go, I’ll take Lydia Davis.
8. Anthony Amsterdam. “Crass Cruelties.” When I was in law school, Amsterdam was the brightest of the bright young men on faculty. He was the kind of guy who, if he was at the next urinal, you’d expect to see holding an appellate court decision in his other hand. He never got s Supreme Court seat – politics – but he had a distinguished, exemplary career fighting the death penalty. I don’t know when he turned to poetry but a classmate sent me this volume. (“Surprise!” he said.) The first half-dozen or so poems are written as if by death-row inmates and they are something. Raw and strong and they rip your heart out. The rest of the poems have more traditional subject matter but the vision is still Dark, Dark, DARK. I guess a lifetime of his kind of work can do that to you. I hope the poetry brought him light.
9. William Hope Hodgson. “The Night Land.” There’s a story here too. I was told that William T. Vollman, whom I consider to be just-about America’s pre-eminent novelist, had written a 3000-page unpublishable novel for which this was one of his inspirations. It is a dystopian sci-fi novel written about a hundred years ago. Since it’s out of copyright, various editions are available and I made the mistake of buying one that had cut a couple hundred pages, so I had to go back and buy the complete one.
It is a schlog. It’s written, like, in 16th or 17th century prose, runs over 700-pages, is extremely repetitious, has no dialogue, spouts some problematic sexual attitudes, and just goes on and on. I can see why you’d want to cut it, but the edition I bought eliminated the first chapter (It flat out begins “Chapter 2″), which removes a crucial framing device for what follows, and then eliminates the end, erasing two critical events, erasing the entire spiritual/philosophical guts of the book, leaving it transformed and meaningless.
As hard as it was to read, once I got to the (actual) end, having read the (actual) beginning, I felt the experience worthwhile.
Without them, crap.
10. David Pozen, ed. “The Perilous Public Square.” A collection of essays by (mainly) law professors about the First Amendment in the internet age. I wouldn’t’ve read it except the editor is a cousin’s son and I’m a First Amendment fan. I can’t say I changed any previously held opinions but I became more aware of problems others will have to solve.
(In Order of Completion)