Fight Club (1996) by Chuck Palahniuk. Pointless. This is the second book I’ve read by Palahniuk, and I think I get the gist: although he doesn’t care much about writing, it is a good way to make a living.
Other reading for the month: Made some progress on A Prayer for Owen Meaney. Also started Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, as well as the classic Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read Brenda Richardson’s essay in Jennifer Bartlett, Early Plate Work, which unfortunately diminished my enthusiasm for her work somewhat. And I have a copy of Steven Pinker’s latest “linguistic” exploration, The Stuff of Thought. Here’s a taste, from the introductory chapter:
A name points to a person in the world in the same way that I can point to a rock in front of me right now.
What a wretched analogy.
After reviewing my 2007 reading list I felt I needed to boost the quality of my reading. This happens every now and then. And so I naively return to the famous authors, those brilliant Pulitzer and Nobel earners, to see what I have missed.
Sula (1973) by Toni Morrison. More of a sketch for a novel than a fully realized novel.
The Sportswriter (1986) by Richard Ford. I found little of interest in the story. I kept reading past the first two chapters because I wanted to see how much of the plot had been stolen for the 2005 film The Weather Man. Not too much, it turns out, aside from the translation of a superficial sportswriter into a superficial weather man, and a scene where the protagonist secretly parks outside of his ex-wife’s home and talks to his son.
Rabbit, Run (1960) by John Updike.
The holidays gave me some time to catch up on my reading. I didn’t start anything new, but I did finish Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, which I started in October of 2006. At times Styron’s writing is very forced, those times when he has quite obviously pulled out the thesaurus to find another word for “desirable”. On a larger scale, the story itself is quite stunning.
The 1982 film version is far too short to explore the full story.
I have made some progress on Against the Day, which has been languishing on my desk for the past few months. I am now up to page 648.
Over the weekend I decided Against the Day was a little too bulky for airplane travel, so I resumed John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany over the course of a short trip to Texas. I am about 2/3 done with this.
Reread of Postmortem (1990) by Patricia Cornwell. The first Kay Scarpetta novel, which is now up to fifteen books. I first read this in 1996 or 1997, just before I started work on Dr. K—.
The Spriggan Mirror (2006) by Lawrence Watt-Evans. A chance purchase at the bookstore, I was just checking to see what if any books of his are on the shelves these days. A fun read, if a little self-indulgent — recycled characters, following up on books from 1987 and 1993.
Appointment in Samarra (1934) by John O’Hara. Number 22 on the Modern Library list.
Abandoned books: Death of the Heart (1938) by Elizabeth Bowen. Too wordy, no likable characters in the first 100 pages, time for something else.
Ah, such a silent blog. Does anybody stop by anymore? I can’t tell, because no one can leave comments.
In September I read:
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. The writing gets better after the first hundred pages, sloppy editing I guess. I’ve read the plot summaries for the rest of the series on Wikipedia, so I won’t be continuing this series unless, for some strange reason, I find myself with nothing to read.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini’s first novel was largely written by the editors at Riverhead Books. This one didn’t get worked on quite as much, so it drags a bit. My one sentence summary: A beautiful girl and a resourceful cripple find pastoral happiness thanks to the painful sacrifices of the innocent, set against a backdrop of a country that certainly sounds like Afghanistan but it doesn’t really matter.
I am in progress on two books, and have finished two books in the past two months.
In progress: Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. Currently on page 406 (the end of part 2).
In progress: 20th Century Chemistry by Joseph I. Routh, 1953. Yes, a 54 year old chemistry book that predates the moon landings and most of the Cold War, intended for high school seniors or college students. But in truth it provides some good information on many industrial processes — today’s equivalent would be a super glossy textbook filled with color photos and illustrations, with a special column explaining the environmental dangers posed by each industry, and who wants to read that for fun?
The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (1966), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1967.
In progress: Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. At 1000+ pages and over one hundred characters this will be a long-term project.
In April I picked up Disgrace by J M Coetzee, which won the 1999 Man Booker prize. It is written very sparsely — so much so that significant racial distinctions between the characters are not clear at the outset — and the story is rather grim. The Man Booker people sure do love their post-Colonial fiction.
In May I read Howard’s End by E. M. Forster (#38 on the Modern Library list). This book was published in 1910, and at almost one hundred years old it is difficult to say in what ways the story is still relevant. One really has to read this book alongside other Edwardian Era/End of the Century novels (say, The House of Mirth and The Magnificent Ambersons) to get a feel for the period and its social mores.
Also read: Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This is another Man Booker winner, and one of the more readable (and enjoyable) Booker selections I have come across. A bit unpolished, there are a couple of devices that could’ve been worked in a little better, like the reason for there being 100 chapters, or the parallel narrative that disappears after the first section.
In progress: I also picked up a copy of Pynchon’s newest novel on May 24.
Saturday (2005) by Ian McEwan. “Henry Perowne is a contented man, a successful neurosurgeon, the devoted husband of Rosalind and the proud father of two grown-up children, one a promising poet, the other a talented blues musician.” Bleh. Just a total bleh.
In progress: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.
Choke (2001) by Chuck Palahniuk. Chuck is something of a cult phenomenon, so I figured I should sample his work. For all the perverse goings-on in this book — sex addiction, drug users, mutated chickens — the central storyline is surprisingly sentimental: a narrator trying to cope with the loss of his mother. Take away the style and you have a middling novel by Douglas Coupland. Could it be that the primary features of Gen X literature are going to be nothing more than drawn out emotions and nostalgia? Let’s hope not.
That was the only complete novel I read this month. I have two books still in progress: Henderson the Rain King (1959) by Saul Bellow, and Saturday (2005) by Ian McEwan.
I have also been perusing The Jester by James Patterson and Andrew Gross (Patterson writes the outlines, the ghost writer fleshes out the chapters) which was a NYT bestseller in 2003. I wanted to know what it was like to read something from the Patterson francise, and it is pretty much Goosebumps for the business traveller — about a ninth grade reading level, with no chapters longer than 4 pages. This one is supposed to be an historic adventure set during the Crusades, but the narrative voice is unflinchingly modern:
Beside the tree, I saw my staff. It must have toppled there in my fall. I reached for it, though it wasn’t much of a weapon.
I stared at the angry, snorting boar. “Come at me, offal. Come at me! Finish what you started.”
A national bestseller.
Also during the past month, I started to read the first book of Robin Hobb’s new trilogy, Shaman’s Crossing. After 200 pages it is, alas, not interesting enough to finish. A pre-industrial world where artillery weapons are being perfected, a socially rigid culture attempting to expand its empire, an oppressed and dying native population with mysterious magic… the narrative of a teenage son who heads off to a military academy founded by his father, a former officer turned into a nobleman. And in 200 pages there are only faint whiffs that something interesting is going to happen. Skimming ahead, the boy clashes with the older nobility, life is hard, plague strikes, and the future is no longer certain.
Nine books ago Hobb (Megan Lindholm) made a name for herself with Assassin’s Apprentice. Now she is simply cranking out the words to keep the publishers happy.