Random rambles

Books in Whose Home Stretch I’m Lollygagging

In the Woods, Tana French (Penguin, $15.00) There are places in this book where the author reaches out and slaps the reader with, THIS is the thing I plan to accomplish on this page, but for the most part, it’s extremely strong, and quite beautiful in parts, too. Some of her basic observations about human behavior are profound enough that they’ve actually made me put the book down so that I could stare off into space, eat cheese, ponder. Wonderful stuff, and I’m about 30 pages from the end. I may just let it sit on my bed for a couple of days and test my powers. A bookseller from Maine told me he got into this book because it’s the best first page he’s ever read, and I’m completely on board with that. It is beautiful, and a stunner. It made me sit up straight. I probably read it twenty times before I could finally move on.

Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor, Rick Marin (Hyperion, $19.00) I’m a sucker for all sorts of confessions, and I picked this up because it was shelved right next to a book I’m supposed to read, and then because it looked funny. It’s not. Some of the confessions are so self-punishing, so bile-inducing, that I almost wonder if Mr. Marin hasn’t broken a few rules of the boys club, you do NOT talk about boys club, but nonetheless, it’s fairly hard to put down. Everything about the tone of the book makes me think there’s some sort of redemption at the end (“and then, suddenly, I was good and kind”) but it’s going to take some serious magic to get there. I’ll give him this. He’s read everything. You know how there are those people who have read everything, and pepper their conversation with effortless allusions, and then there are those people who are making those desperate leaps for Google, hiding in the bathroom with their Blackberries, so they can SOUND smart? He’s the former. It’s the real thing. He’s a terrific writer, and he’s unbelievably smart. But then, I’ve always wondered if the less nice people out there make better writers. I’ve seen lots of uncomfortable proof to this effect, both in my own life and flashing out there in the literary luminary world. Philip Roth, anyone? But that bias is another story for another day. The thing that ultimately gets me about this book is how frank Marin is about his own feelings regarding his charm, his powers, his prowess, his harsh judgments about things like “a pair of socks no man should be allowed to see.” Like I said, there are moments of bile, but still, this is dicey, unsafe territory, and my hat is off to him for being almost completely shameless.

Books I Just Finished

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith (Vintage / Coward-McCann?, 1955, a few bucks) Very into this one, as well. Often felt as though I was reading a comic book, but every scene simultaneously felt utterly, adverbially real, as well. Definitely dated. Liked it for this reason. Interesting to note that the movie (if I’m remembering right) was much more mean-spirited than the book, somehow. Meanness makes for better cinema than a pathology. Also, a couple of characters in the movie were created out of whole cloth. I know. Shocking. For book club.

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky (Broadway Books, $16.99) About David Foster Wallace. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

In Pursuit of Silence, by George Prochnik (Doubleday, $26.00) One of those books that makes you face your pathetic comforts and longstanding weaknesses, but then you realize everybody else is exactly the same way and everything is alright because we’re all going to die together and it’s probably going to be very, very noisy when we do. No, it’s uplifting. Really! Uplifting. And scientific.

The Heights, Peter Hedges (Penguin, $25.95) Wanted to throw it against a wall. But in a good way. (Not at all in the same way I wanted to throw The Unconsoled by Ishiguro against a wall, and then burn it.) Ultimately, couldn’t put it down. Or throw it.

What I’m Reading Now

The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall (Norton, $26.95) Funnier and much more moving than I expected.

The Fall of Rome, Martha Southgate (Scribner, $14.00) She’s pretty much shameless about dashing my heart against the rocks. Love it.

Day Out of Days, Sam Shepard (Knopf, $25.95) Would do anything for Sam Shepard. I suspect he’s one of three or so people (the others being Alice Munro and T.C. Boyle) who call up The New Yorker and say, “Yo. I’ve been fiddling with this story, and…” and The New Yorker says, “Yes. Just, yes.”

Amateur Barbarians, Robert Cohen (Scribner, $27.00) One of those writers who throws out tiny little philosophical sentences no less powerful than bullets. Okay, I don’t know the first thing about bullets. No less powerful than really good cheese.

Breaking the Sound Barrier, Amy Goodman (Haymarket Books, $16.00) She’s a warrior, and I’m not just saying that because the word barrier makes me think of the word warrior.

The Infinities, John Banville (Knopf, $25.95) I pretty much want to be John Banville when I grow up.

Four Freedoms, John Crowley (William Morrow, $25.99) In over my head with this one, but will keep trudging through until I die. Or take a nap. Or find some really good cheese.

Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals, Jonathan Balcombe (Palgrave Macmillan, $27.00) Foreword by Coetzee. Good to be reminded of the role of humility. “It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English–up to fifty words used in correct context–no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.” —Carl Sagan

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin (Scribner, PB: 2010, $15) I’m completely absorbed by the story, although the prose is, or seems, astonishingly plain. I don’t mean to shortchange the book in any way, and plain prose may in fact be the hardest trick ever. I think it would be impossible for me to tell such a great story without flowering everything up.

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One Response to Random rambles

  1. Okie says:

    What a great list. Thanks for the quick overview on a bunch of good books. 🙂

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