Sorry for the slow updates. Like CAAF, I find it nearly impossible to balance nose-to-the-grindstone novel writing and paying work with the kind of blogging schedule I tend to keep around here. (And as our handshake deadline looms, my long-distance writing partner is expecting far more than the original 500 words/day from me.) From now through the start of August, posting will be intermittent.
Yesterday the good people at Open Source invited Dennis Johnson (of the venerable Moby Lives and Melville House Books), writer Steve Almond, the strikingly knowledgeable Margo Longwood, and me to talk about summer reading. (I swear, unless he wrote everything out beforehand, Almond is a masterful extemporaneous speaker. Listen to his quick, passionate monologue on reading to alleviate loneliness, and you’ll see what I mean.)
First I put in a good word for Rupert Thomson’s classification-defying Divided Kingdom (discussed here and here). Later I praised Peter De Vries’ The Blood of the Lamb, recently reissued by the University of Chicago Press. When discussing the latter, I emphasized the hilarity of the opening, but didn’t have time to explain that the novel ultimately is a dark meditation on death and the loss of faith. I read the book partly because my friend Terry Teachout is a fan. I devoured it last week in two sittings and then emailed him to say:
It has its defects — not least of which are pacing issues in the middle — but it is a remarkable achievement.
Yes, it’s by no means perfect — he’s way too close to the material, it’s too raw and hurtful for him to control it — but it works anyway, doesn’t it?
He’s exactly right. When reading, you understand that the author has all but sliced his wrists to let personal sorrows run right from his veins onto the page. In this immediacy lies the book’s power, but also its sloppiness and unmitigated rage.
I’d hoped to suggest a few other books. Alas, the cadence of my speech is more plodding Texan (not the accent, folks, the cadence) than speedy New Yawker, and it took me too long to spit my thoughts out. So here are some other books I wanted to mention:
- The Untelling, by Tayari Jones, reviewed and discussed elsewhere. (I should mention that Lauren Cerand, who handles weekly events postings for this site, is Jones’ publicist, and that she arranged for me to read with Jones, and pressed The Untelling into my hands. But I read with lots of authors, and people suggest plenty of books, and I don’t endorse any of them unless I think they’re good. I mean, on the strength of the New Yorker excerpt, I expected to like that Sean Wilsey book. I was sorely disappointed.) Here’s a post I wrote, when I first started reading Jones’ novel, comparing Jones’ and Jonathan Lethem’s treatment of gentrification.
- The Task of this Translator, by Todd Hasak-Lowy. Eventually I’ll get around to finishing and posting my profile of this author, but for now I’ll punt you to my prior thoughts here, someone else’s endorsement here, and a Gainesville Sun profile. While I don’t admire all of the stories equally, the standouts are exemplary — as good as any American fiction I’ve read in the last few years. My favorite story in this debut collection depicts a journalist who, as part of an assignment, agrees to allow a dietary bodyguard to prevent him from overeating.
- Paradise, by A.L. Kennedy. I gave this harrowing and frequently sidesplitting portrayal of a massively fucked-up alcoholic a positive review for Newsday. Several people have written to me since then to report that they read and liked it. In fact, Tito Perez emailed today to say that he had some quibbles with the book — maybe he’ll talk about them at his site — but ultimately reports “everything else was top shelf, if I may use a poor pun.”
- The Miami Riot of 1980, by Bruce Porter and Marvin Dunn. Out of print, unfortunately. I bought this book as a historical source for my novel — it’s been 25 years since 1980, after all, and my memory of that time is rusty — and didn’t know what to expect. When it arrived last Friday, Mr. Maud and I read the first pages together on the subway, and I read the rest of it over the weekend. No doubt the book will prove far less interesting to folks who didn’t grow up in South Florida, but it predates even the Rodney King riots, and the recent unrest in Cincinnati, and provides a thoughtful assessment, frozen in time, of the way white Miamians’ blithe disdain for and mistreatment of the city’s black population, over decades, paved the way for a violent uprising.
I could go on. I’m rereading Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, and I marveled at Donna Tartt’s “The Ambush,” published in the Guardian last weekend. Next up, on a friend’s recommendation and the strength of the first few pages: Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. But I should compose these sorts of endorsements with more care than I am right now.
If you’d like to give or receive a personalized recommendation, contemporary or classic, please send a description of your tastes to recommendations at maudnewton.com. I’ll do my best to respond to all email, but please be patient. I’m several weeks behind.