What are you reading?

This topic contains 530 replies, has 60 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 1 month, 3 weeks ago.

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  • 03 Oct 2017 at 3:45 pm #9828


    The Patrick Melrose novels of the impossibly named Edward St Aubyn have provided strange comfort in strange times. The critics say PJ Wodehouse, Proust and Oscar Wilde. I would add Henry James – Portrait of Lady especially. Whatever. We are talking about a great prose stylist here.

    What else? I would say China Mieville’s book on the Russian Rev. is the best since John Reed, and that Dylan’s John Wesley Harding is as good as any book written. So there!

    03 Oct 2017 at 6:38 pm #9829

    Richard L.

    Thanks for that. I’m reading the Mieville now. I’d downloaded St. Aubyn’s A CLUE TO THE EXIT a few weeks ago, but have yet to get beyond the first few pages, which are very promising. He was recommended by a slew of good authors.

    I finished the two books on robots, mentioned in my last post. They are both highly recommended. I never thought I’d enjoy reading about robots or zombies, but as Stephen King pointed out long ago in DANSE MACABRE, ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. have become the modern tarot trumps in our books and movies, metaphors to explain modern narrative tropes.

    For instance, here’s the opening to Grady Hendrix’s HORRORSTOR: A NOVEL:

    It was dawn and the zombies were stumbling through the parking lot, streaming toward the massive beige box at the far end. Later they’d be resurrected by mega-doses of Starbucks, but for now they were the barely living dead.

    Their causes of death differed: hangovers, nightmares, strung out from epic online gaming sessions, circadian rhythms blown by late-night TV, children who couldn’t stop crying, neighbors partying til 4 a.m., broken hearts, unpaid bills, roads not taken, sick dogs, deployed daughters, ailing parents, midnight ice cream binges.

    But every morning, five days a week (seven during the holidays), they dragged themselves here, to the one thing in their lives that never changed, the one thing they could count on come rain or shine, dead pets or divorce: work.

    A very good book. I liked it better than Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater, which was also very good though not as relevant to my own life’s experience.

    Also reading now, recently read, or about to read:

    NOTHING: A MEMOIR OF INSOMNIA by Blake Butler. If you followed us over at the thread on Cormac McCarthy’s Nautilus article, you might also enjoy this one, about our thoughts there in bed, about what wakefulness means. I enjoyed it immensely, as a tandem read to the brilliant work below.

    WHY WE SLEEP by Matthew Walker, who has very high credentials. The answer to the title question is complex, but his studies reveal that one of the reasons we sleep is to clear the amyloid deposits out of the brain, without which we develop brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. This book was just released today, so you will probably soon be hearing about it on the news as well as on the TV health shows. Listen to this bit:

    “…I have always found it curious that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan–two heads of state that were very vocal, if not proud, about sleeping only four to five hours a night–both went on to develop the ruthless disease. The current US president, Donald Trump–also a vociferous proclaimer of sleeping just a few hours each night–may want to take note.”

    Of course, Dr. Walker’s book is far-reaching and you should read it all. Meanwhile, try to get your full forty winks.

    05 Oct 2017 at 12:21 pm #9830

    Richard L.

    The new October issue of Nautilus is entitled “Monsters,” appropriately enough for this month, and the lead article is by Max Tegmark, an excerpt of a book I reviewed above. The idea of an AI as a monster is nothing new, but Tegmark organizes his book in such a way to make it a compelling read.

    Another article ties the storms and cold weather of 1816, eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death, with the birth of Mary Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN.

    11 Oct 2017 at 2:15 pm #9839

    Richard L.

    I am trying to stick with seasonal reads, but was drawn into Joshua Cohen’s new novel, MOVING KINGS (2017), which was fun in places and thoughtful in places and ultimately, in my opinion, one of the best novels of the year.

    James Wood wrote a marvelous mixed review of it in The New Yorker:

    MOVING KINGS is a strange superbly unsuccessful novel. There’s not a page without some vital charge–a flash of metaphor, an idiomatic originality, a bastard neologism born of nothing. You could say that it is patch-worked with successes. . .This is a book of brilliant sentences, brilliant paragraphs, brilliant chapters. Here things flare up singly, a succession of flaring matches, and do not cast a more general illumination.

    Wood’s review is brilliant, but I am neither Jewish nor a New Yorker. To me, the book’s overall arc questions all of its stereotypes and makes the reader think about what it means to dispossess someone, drawing parallels to the New York-suddenly-evicted and the Palestinians. It flirts with Jewish liberality, but gives us realism without taking sides, or rather, taking both sides at different times–and that’s to make the reader think.

    It made me think.

    So I liked this novel better than James Wood. I’m still reading some seasonal novels, but tonight I’m going to read Joshua Cohen’s previous novel, BOOK OF NUMBERS.

    11 Oct 2017 at 2:36 pm #9840

    Rick Wallach

    I recently returned from a week in Germany where it was already getting cold and wet. Northern Europe is like that, with a climate suggesting another volcano blew up somewhere along the ring of fire and its ash is blocking out the sun again, the proverbial volcano winter.

    Appropriately enough, my boon companion for the trip, on the flights in both directions (ten and a half hours going, eleven and a half coming back into a headwind) and for reading succor at bedtime was one Wallis R. Sanborn via his heirloom manuscript The Klondike Stampede as it Appeared to One of the Thousands of Cheechacos who Participated in the Mad Rush of 1898-1899. Wallis’ grandson, our own Wallis R. Sanborn III, is a professor of English and other cultural excrescences like film and mass media at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. The manuscript had been passed down from Sanborn to Sanborn for three generations until the current Wallis iteration edited it, included a bunch of his grandpa’s sketches and memorabilia (the old man, a trained engineer, was a skilled draftsman) and published the book a few weeks ago.

    This is a period and a subject which has interested me since I watched John Wayne, Ernie Kovacs, Steward Granger and Capucine go at it in North to Alaska when I was a kid. Wallis I, though, is no blowhard roisterer; he is an eloquent, good humored and meticulous chronicler of a period whose challenges and spiritual rewards grandly exceeded my knowledge or insights about the time and the place. Wallis III has done a wonderful job of shaping his grandfather’s “for future generations” bequest into marvelous reading.

    Among the many items detailed in this book, beyond the accounts of how to dig for, wash in a handmade sluice box, and pick out “color,” as they called it, were some of the homier aspects of surviving in a really hostile environment. Like what? Well, like how to build raw furniture for a cabin in the wilderness, not to mention how to build the cabin itself (all of this fascinating to read), or how to haul tons of supplies over a mountain pass when your sled dogs are flipping you off for having the temerity to suggest they do it. The descriptions of these mushers and tenderfeet lugging their loads up the snowy trails and over the passes reminded me of nothing so much as the tribal shepherds hauling their flocks over the mountains to their winter pasturage in Merrian C. (King Kong) Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack’s pioneering 1925 documentary Grass.

    Sanborn also includes – bless him – menus of the things they were able to cook and eat. Yes, there were moose (as opposed to mousse) and rabbit stew and bear steaks, but also references to “johnnycakes” (rough cornmeal pancakes fried in bacon) and…ready for this one?…oatmeal with lima beans. I made the johnnycakes yesterday from a basic recipe I found (using coarse cornmeal to preserve authenticity) and ate them with honey and Canadian bacon. They have now joined our standard household breakfast regimen. As for the latter, I wasn’t sure whether Wallis meant oatmeal with a side of lima beans or oatmeal mixed with lima beans so, naturally, this morning I tried it mixed and you know what? It’s good that way! And all this when “shopping” meant a twelve mile walk in each direction through snow or over frozen rivers or lakes to the nearest trading post or general store.

    I loved this book and recommend it highly. Weenter is icumen in – it dropped into the upper seventies here in Macondo last night – and this is just the thing with which to curl up by the fire.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Rick Wallach.
    11 Oct 2017 at 10:28 pm #9842


    Great post, Rick. Loved it.

    I have the October book by Mieville in the queue, and also American Gods by Gaiman. Everyone should read the Crews book on McCarthy. Do check it out.

    Off topic, but I caught the last hour of the 1961 film Angel Baby yesterday and was intrigued by how much the tent revival scene near the end of the movie reminded me of the Rev. Green episode in Blood Meridian.

    Weirdly, one of the characters, whose voice was used for the devil in the possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, pointed her finger at Jenny (Angel Baby), who was engaged in fraudulent faith healing at the time, and said, “This woman is the devil.” Mayhem ensued with the revival tent collapsing shortly thereafter.

    Thanks for all the interesting recommendations.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Glass.
    13 Oct 2017 at 12:55 pm #9844

    Richard L.

    Wow, thanks for mentioning Michael Lynn Crews’ new book, BOOKS ARE MADE OUT OF BOOKS (2017). Somehow I had missed it until now. It looks spectacular and the intro notes and table of contents convince me that I am in for a pleasant McCarthyesque day again tomorrow.

    Not that every day isn’t just another day in paradise, it is; and we are very grateful.

    Joshua Cohen’s BOOK OF NUMBERS turns out to be playful, deep, and a another joy to read, Biblical, numerical, speculative, gossipy, somewhat Catch-22, somewhat Infinite Jest. It is deeper and less comical than MOVING KINGS, but I like deep and there is plenty of humor here as well.

    Cohen uses 0’s and 1’s for chapter numbers, which reminds me that C. Robert Cargill in his nifty robot novel, SEA OF RUST, used Fibonacci numbers for chapter numbers. Or maybe just ones and zeros. Both good ideas. We live in the age of quantum novels and I would not be surprised to discover that someone has found a way to use the square root of minus one in his marginalia.

    As long as novelists like Peter Heller and Joshua Cohen are still at work in this country, who can say that the book form is dead?

    13 Oct 2017 at 8:59 pm #9847


    This is worth looking at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/13/under-fire-how-cinemas-new-breed-of-cowboys-are-taking-aim-at-the-old-west

    The author describes the still unfilmed Blood Meridian as “the greatest of all western novels.” I don’t think there’ll be too much caviling here on that point.

    14 Oct 2017 at 5:54 pm #9849

    Richard L.


    Michael Lynn Crews has made a solid contribution to the essential, I mean must-have, Cormac McCarthy crit-lit. Of course many of these connections have been discussed here in this forum over the years, but Crews is a professional scholar and draws the line, only discussing the authors whom are documented McCarthy associations in the Archives. I greatly admire him for that.

    Not only that, but Crews is adequately read in the extant critical literature and gives credit where credit is due. Also he presents his own discoveries, and they are something to see. And not only that, Crews himself writes with verve and grace.

    McCarthy’s major influences are well known but for those of us who have seen such as Peter Devries, Nelson Algren’s CHICAGO, and Saul Bellow’s HERZOG in there will be glad to find them documented here. I see no one has reviewed this at Amazon yet, but as soon as I finish it (and I intend to read everything slowly, looking stuff up as I go), I shall review it at Amazon myself.

    It deserves all of our support.

    16 Oct 2017 at 8:49 pm #9850

    Richard L.

    Again, Re: BOOKS ARE MADE OF BOOKS by Michael Lynn Crews

    I swear, there is so much to comment on in here, the text contains so many quotes new to me, from McCarthy’s letters and notes, that the pleasure is almost like reading a new work by McCarthy himself. The long luscious endnotes are not to be missed either.

    Also reading now:

    Peter DeVries’ THE TENTS OF WICKEDNESS, a Kindle download. A hell of a good book, and Cormac McCarthy thinks so too, as indicated by his notes in the Archives. I collected all of DeVries books in first edition and lately took this one, along with all of his others, to Half Priced Books, who probably gave me 50 cents or a dollar apiece for them. All were in fine/fine condition in Brodart covers. I only spared THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, which I still have.

    DeVries used THE TENTS OF WICKEDNESS to talk about books, mostly Joyce and Faulkner, but also Hemingway, John P. Marquand, Emily Dickinson, THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS, and a few others. Funny insightful backhanded humor. It seems that McCarthy was especially interested in the book’s lines about James Joyce, Faulkner, southern Gothic, and style, which are worth reading again.

    Crews, in BOOKS ARE MADE OF BOOKS, points out that McCarthy took a phrase here, a word or two there, from a multitude of books–which qualifies as research, not theft–or rather, it is forgivable theft.

    In THE TENTS OF WICKEDNESS, there is the story about a student whose prize-winning essay is later disqualified because it borrowed too much from the words of Daniel Webster, and I don’t know what McCarthy thought when he read that, but he made a note in the Suttree Papers referring to DeVries’s parody, below which McCarthy writes his own parody of Joyce. Which didn’t make it into the published SUTTREE.


    DeVries, like E. B. White and James Thurber, was once a well known figure, but no one reads him anymore except old guys like me. I notice that no one has yet written a biography of the man, though he wrote his own autobiography in THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, cursing God the way that A. B. Guthrie did in THE BLUE HEN’S CHICK.

    H. M. Pulham, Esquire by John P. Marquand. Marquand won the Pulitzer Prize for his best novel, THE LATE GEORGE APLEY back in 1938. He is not as good as DeVries, but every once in a while he writes something that makes it all worthwhile.


    Narrator: [Opening Narration] Maple Street, U.S.A. Late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 P.M. on Maple Street.

    Narrator: [Continued Opening Narration subsequent to character dialogue] This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street in the last calm and reflective moment – before the monsters came.

    That’s from the script. The story, which Rod Serling penned himself, not constrained by a half-hour show chopped up with commercials, is more leisurely and lets us enjoy the beauties of the October afternoon:

    It was Saturday afternoon on Maple Street and the late sun retained some of the warmth of a persistent Indian summer. People along the street marveled at winter’s delay and took advantage of it. Lawns were being mowed, cars polished, kids played hopscotch on the sidewalks. Old Mr. Van Horn, the patriarch of the street, who lived alone, ad moved his power saw out on his lawn and was fashioning new pickets for his fence.

    A Good Humor man bicycled in around the corner and was inundated by children and by shouts of “Wait a minute!” from small boys hurrying to con nickels from their parents. It was 4:40 P.M. A football game blared from a portable radio on a front porch, blending with the other sounds of a Saturday afternoon in October. Maple Street. 4:40 P.M. Maple Street in its last calm and reflective moments–before the monsters came.

    I watched the television show of that first-run. I suppose the paranoia in it made me paranoid some, not that I feared aliens but rather, the 1950s forces of conformity. Around the community, I was an alien, a reader of strange books, this being one of them. I carted around H. L. Mencken and Jack London and Alan Watts and Colin Wilson’s THE OUTSIDER–when I could find them. When Eric Hoffer’s THE TRUE BELIEVER appeared in a new paperback edition, I read that too and took it to heart.

    My reading, including THE MONSTERS ARE DUE ON MAPLE STREET, stuck with me, and made me something of an elitist, leery of others, claustrophobic in crowds. As I reread it now, and have year after year, I am a much changed man, yet what is Halloween but a chance to revisit our old fears.

    Cormac McCarthy, by the way, also read Eric Hoffer and there is a discussion of Hoffer in BOOKS ARE MADE OF BOOKS.

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