I have read some books! Many books, in fact. Let’s go through some of them quickly.
I do not know if Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements is good or not, since I listened to the audiobook and it was read by a stentorian older man (when you needed John Slattery from Mad Men) who tended to lapse into all the voices of the female characters in a manner that suggested a Kid in the Hall dressing up as a woman. This meant that it sounded like the narrator was making fun of every woman in the book, and so I wasn’t able to enjoy it the way it was meant, I suspect, but it’s still pretty obvious that Shipstead is a very good writer with a winning voice and a talent for sentences.
The audiobook is a weird sort of reckoning for books. Women make better audiobook readers; Laura Lippman books read by the amazing Linda Emond really work for me, for example.
Last month I went to a Q&A in Albany by Denis Johnson, which was awesome. He talked about his new book: made some jokes about being “Graham Greene,” said it was set in Uganda. He talked about growing up in Japan (he was an army brat) and how he was part of a “bad boys club” in elementary school where they said they’d protect kids if they gave them their lunch money or something, and how seeing Moby Dick, the Gregory Peck version, in the theatre knocked him on his ass and his first short story was called “The Whale” and was a straight ripoff. I expected him to be scary and intimidating, and he was a joker with a great smile, the sort of smile that you knew he used a lot to get out of trouble in his reckless youth. It carved deep parentheses into his face. You could believe in that smile. (Oh, god, I just had a thought: druggy Jesus’ Son Denis Johnson = Freaks and Geeks’ Daniel Desarrio. WHOA.) I read Train Dreams. It was good, but I really love Denis Johnson’s book of journalism, Seek, where he mostly goes to war zones because “that’s where I could go and get my foot in the door.” One essay is about waiting to meet Charles Taylor.
After a year or so of lugging it around, I finally read Moby Dick! That book is weird, long, homoerotic, hilarious, totally boring with whale minuta that isn’t even factually accurate, and filled with thrills and insights that will give you chills. I want to have it on my bedside table and read a bit of it every day like it’s The Bible. It’s a masterpiece. I love you, Herman Melville, and I want to disappear inside that book. I may go to Melville’s house this weekend, in fact.
The last book I read recently that got me in the heart was Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. You HAVE to read this book. It’s amazing. It has real insights about the human experience and human character; it’s a fabulous tribute to the glory of New York City. The white horse, Athansor, is a creature I wish I could meet. I really want to thrust this book out to everyone I know and make them read it. I have not felt this passionate or evangelical about a book in awhile. So it was kind of crazy reading this back to back with Moby Dick, which is also fabulous. READ IT. SO GOOD. (Winter’s Tale will be a movie come next year -probably Oscar bait - and you should probably read it NOW so the images in your head are YOUR images, not movie images.)
I am currently slogging my way through Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie and it is taking forever, he is a bore in this case. Can you believe it? I wish he didn’t write it in the third person, it just feels so disingenuous.