Read: Fiction

PS from Paris — Marc Levy (2017)

As close to a pure romance as I am like­ly to read. Two dis­af­fect­ed char­ac­ters: a writer hid­ing from his past suc­cess and an actress hid­ing from her cur­rent mar­i­tal prob­lems. The twist is amus­ing — the writer, an Amer­i­can liv­ing in Paris — is pop­u­lar most­ly in Korea, for what seem like inex­plic­a­ble rea­sons. But there in lies the secret to that char­ac­ter’s path to redemp­tion. Remem­ber this is a romance and the guy needs to have an epiphany to make him wor­thy of the female char­ac­ter. Who is kind of not real­ly worth being wor­thy of in my opin­ion. She’s just suf­fer­ing from fame and all that. Kind of cute but the tra­jec­to­ry is inevitabl

* beach read *


Lincoln in the Bardo — George Saunders (2017)

A tale told entire­ly in dia­logue among dead peo­ple and excerpts from both true and fic­tion­al accounts of the pres­i­den­cy of Abra­ham Lincoln.
You need to know The Bar­do is before the book makes sense. In Tibetan lore it is the inter­me­di­ate state between one life and the next. In which all sorts of odd things to hap­pen to the “self” includ­ing illu­sions and delusions.
It seems that you can remain tied to the earth is you are will­ing to believe that you are “Sick” rather than dead. The char­ac­ters in this par­tic­u­lar grave yard are grotesque par­o­dies of the earth­ly selves with phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics that hint at their ful­filled and unful­filled secret desires while alive.
Abra­ham Lin­coln comes to vis­it his son Willie’s grave and seeks solace in the young beau­ti­ful corpse. Young Willie is trapped in the Bar­do by his yearn­ing to com­fort his father. It’s kind of grue­some but made com­plete­ly under­stand­able. and then is
The for­mat of the nov­el is exper­i­men­tal. There are two meth­ods of mov­ing the sto­ry for­ward: the dia­log and inter­nal dia­log of the char­ac­ters in the Bar­do, and excerpts both actu­al and fic­tion­al from the accounts of the Lin­col­n’s pres­i­den­cy. Many of these accounts dis­agree with one anoth­er but serve to give a back­ground against which you can mea­sure the state of the Pres­i­den­t’s mind. And it’s his mind that in the end is the cru­cial turn­ing point of the book. His hes­i­tan­cy and grief become a bea­con to the folks in the Bar­do and they attempt to per­suade him first to let his son go and then … is this spoil­ing the book? To say that the black res­i­dents of the black ceme­tery — next to the fenced white ceme­tery final­ly get their look in and influ­ence Lin­col­n’s resolve re the Civ­il War and it’s caus­es and need­ed outcomes.
I’m not sure where this book’s rep­u­ta­tion for dif­fi­cult­ly is com­ing from. It’s com­plex and mul­ti­lay­ered for sure. But dif­fi­cult? No. Oth­er than requir­ing that you actu­al­ly pay atten­tion to who is speak­ing and the moti­va­tions and past sins of the speak­ers. I sup­pose a lot of the dif­fi­cul­ty comes from the non­tra­di­tion­al for­mat. Dia­log along side the excerpts defies tra­di­tions. It works just fine is you read it like play with the reviews inter­spersed. Some peo­ple are com­par­ing this to Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s just not that dif­fi­cult. Maybe I am “spe­cial” in that it only took me 10 or 15 pages to “get” the way the book is written.

* oh, just read it *

Trajectory — Richard Russo (2017)

Short sto­ries by one of my favorite cre­ators of char­ac­ters. The mid­dle sto­ry is a longish novel­la that I could­n’t man­age to make my way through. Retired pro­fes­sor makes a mess of a class and his rela­tion­ship with a “spe­cial” stu­dent and then goes to Italy where his broth­er does a bun­co on him. That’s as far as I got. No idea what was actu­al­ly up with the greasy broth­er did­n’t care.
The oth­er sto­ries are clas­sic Rus­so and worth your time. I espe­cial­ly liked Mil­ton and Mar­cus — Hol­ly­wood fol­lies are always good for lay­ing open char­ac­ter. Though Rus­so is bet­ter at longer lengths were he can stretch out and take his time build­ing his characters.

* wait­ing for the next novel * 


Life A User’s Manual — George Perec (1978)

I’m lost. Utter­ly and all the time. Yet, I’m still enjoy­ing read­ing this tale of a french apart­ment build­ing and it’s occu­pants. It’s immense and is tak­ing quite a while to get through. But I love how the pieces fit togeth­er like the jig­saw puz­zles that are at the heart of one man’s sto­ry. Room by room and apart­ment by apart­ment there are lives and loves and a cer­tain amount enmi­ty. Lin­coln in the Bar­do has been com­pared to Joyce’s Ulysses. This is a much bet­ter match for that com­par­i­son. Both Perec and Joyce write cir­cuitous nov­els that will leave you with many puz­zles to solve.

* a book to be read more than once? * 


Read: NonFiction

The Moth Presents All These Wonders — Catherine Burns (2017)

A known fran­chise. The Moth series of events presents quick takes from peo­ple’s lives on themes such as “Pulling Focus: Tales of Insight” and “Into the Wild: Sto­ries of Strange Lands” broad­ly inter­pret­ed. These are the small plates of the essay world and can be relied on for effec­tive and effect­ing pieces.
* bite sized wonders * 




American Originality Essays on Poetry — Louise Gluck (2017)

A hand­ful of essays on var­i­ous poets and oth­er writ­ers in the first two sections.(Including an essay on Bud­den­brooks that near­ly bored me to tears.) A sec­tion of 10 of her intro­duc­tions to books in the Yale Younger Poets Series and then a short sec­tion that includes essays on the writ­ing of poet­ry. For me this is most­ly a book that illus­trates how the acad­e­my talks about poet­ry. Use­ful in that way but not one that excites the poet in me. I did dis­cov­er a cou­ple of new to me poets through her intro­duc­tions. Much here appeared in the Three Pen­ny Review pre­vi­ous­ly. TPR is one of those things. I ought to enjoy it when I read it, I rarely do.
* too much navel gaz­ing Amer­i­can exceptionalism * 


Fish Whistle — Daniel Pinkwater (1990)

Tiny lit­tle humor­ous essays that Pinkwa­ter did for NPR’s “All Things Con­sid­ered.” There are gems here and as in any col­lec­tion of this many things a few clunk­ers. Sized just right for 10 minute reads. I was look­ing for a par­tic­u­lar essay on read­ing and writ­ing that had been rec­om­mend­ed to me but it was­n’t in here. Still look­ing for Pinkwa­ter on writing.
* NPR humor is strange * 




All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists — Terry Gross (2005)

Ter­ry Gross’s inter­views on Fresh Air are well-known. These are most­ly from the 90s and they do feel a bit dat­ed. Who cares about Nicholas Cage any­more? Her infa­mous dust-up with Gene Sim­mons is includ­ed. It only con­firms my opin­ion that the fel­low is three bricks shy of a wall and just about a whole wall shy of human­i­ty. Oth­er sub­jects includ­ing sev­er­al of the mer­i­to­ri­ous dead. Among them John­ny Cash and Mau­rice Sendak (that one is par­tic­u­lar­ly enlight­en­ing) as well as liv­ing pop­u­lar cul­ture icons. My only real wish is that a cou­ple of the inter­views had gone on longer than they did. Often the top­ic gets changed just as an inter­est­ing insight is on the hori­zon. It’s also enlight­en­ing to see exact­ly how short a half hour inter­view is on the page.
* I’ll be look­ing for more up to date material *