You should feel absolutely free to assume that my not having updated this in the last 6 months or whatever, and for that matter the scarce paucity of books which I’ve read in that time, are the consequence of my being mind-numbingly busy with a truly bewildering array of successes professional, artistic, and romantic. I’ve come to a lot of pretty heavy personal decisions in the last few weeks, major life changes, the main one for our purposes being I’m getting rid of as many of my books as I can possibly convince myself to get rid of, as well as a firm no-shit commitment to not keeping books I don’t really like or feel a need to own in the future. I’m 33, but like a really foolish 33, so it’s a big step for me, back the fuck off. The end result of all of this is that my previously light hearted rating system will now turn pitiless as the thumb of a degenerate Roman emperor, all books to be either enshrined on my hallowed shelves as works of profound genius or consigned to the stoop as mediocrities unworthy of attention. Alas, it’s been a while since I read a lot of these, dating back to the implausibly distant period of February last (ahh, were we ever so young?), and I don’t remember them so well as maybe I ought to for making the final aesthetic decision these novels will ever receive. Ah, well, life’s not fair.
Thus Were Their Faces: Selected Short Stories by SIlvina Ocampo – This one I do remember, however. Ho ho, there are some that you do remember, that scar their notch against your brain, and she was one of them – sexy, funny, utterly unconcerned with genre or literary distinctions, and savagely, cuttingly, mean. Having read these, I was shocked I have never hear of Ms. Ocampo -is this simply a facet of my unknowably vast, indeed, by all-appearances ever growing swell of ignorance, or does she simply not receive her just due? Based on these short stories, the latter at least seems all but impossible. Strong recommendation. Will I Keep it: Obviously.
The Russian Girl by Kingsley Amis – Jesus, I carried this one around forever. It’s fine, it’s not bad, it’s like 20 other Kingsley Amis books, an aging academic and a cast of oversexed women and a hint of espionage. Will I Keep It: Doesn’t seem like it, no.
The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys– Yeah… uhhhh….Napoleon’s last attempt to free France from the tyranny of perfidious Albion falls apart and Napoleon is forced to live out the final brief shred of his life as a humble Parisian fruit seller. It’s slight and sweet and short. Will I Keep It: It’s an NYRB classic, they just look so goddamn pretty on my shelf I can’t help it.
Southern Reach Trilogy – Yeah, these were cool. I mean I got nothing bad to say about them. New weird I think kind of doesn’t quite do it for me, I tend to want my genre stuff a little rawer. I’m a really fucking weird guy, I either want like, the most oddly abstract, nonsensically complex stuff, or I want to have my face straight up shoved into a gun wound. Or something. I dunno. Mainly all this made me think about is the degree to which, like, Lovecraft still looms so utterly preeminent in horror, no one seems really to have been able to come up with a creepier idea than his ‘what if there was no god but only a devil and also the devil has tentacles and also the devil doesn’t care about you’. I guess maybe what sort of I didn’t altogether love about this, and obviously this is ceding like, technical skill, a reasonable degree of originality of thought, is that I maybe couldn’t quite figure out what exactly is it’s point? It feints a lot at having a broader critique but doesn’t exactly arrive at much beyond, like, secretive government technocrats are shitty, and empathy is good? Which, maybe that is enough of a point, I dunno. I dunno about a lot of things lately. Will I Keep Them: I think I just convinced myself, yes.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson – Being, like anyone not a complete fucking retard, terrified at the prospect (certainty) of climate change, I really wanted to like this, which essentially is an optimistic view of a post-sea level rise American as encapsulated by a handful of occupants of a water-logged Manhattan apartment building. Robinson is a good science writer, and a thoughtful guy, and I admire his willingness to try and conceive of the actual effects of climate change rather than just feel super sad like I do (Wah!), I think that’s a valuable goal for the science fiction of this generation, but this is a little bit of a mess. The characterization is sloppy and the story lists kind of plotlessly and the ending is so oddly perfunctory you feel like even the author is kind of bored with the thing. Also, I fundamentally think the world is a much worse place than Robinson does, humanity a sin-ridden, vile species, self-awareness a mistake and perhaps one best fixed by a vigorous bathing, as to remove lice from a dog.
Haha I’m just kidding we’re OK. Anybody watching Ozark? It’s not bad.
Will I Keep It: No.
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver – I’m sorry but this just bored the living fucking shit out of me, I respect the craft but I kept wanting to bang my head against the wall, these discrete suburban madnesses SOMEONE FUCKING SHOOT SOMEONE JESUS GODDAMN CHRIST. It’s been like 6 weeks since I read this but I can’t remember any specific story in it. Good title, though. Will I Keep It: No, it turns out I really just don’t like Raymond Carver.
Close Range by Annie Proulx – Not to get like I just ate a bag full of madeleines, but to square the memory of a thing with the broader narrative that thing played in your life is an impossible difficulty -- inevitably the knowledge of the cliff to come imprints itself on your recollection of the road leading to it. I’ve been drinking. The point is, I really quite liked this book, but my second Proulx (Accordion Crimes, as it happens) I found at once so comically awful and peculiarly reminiscent of this that I now struggle to gin up much affection for it. There is something…kind of shlocky about Proulx, an exaggerated commitment towards nastiness less within the storylines themselves, maybe (though there is plenty of this) than in the writing itself, the metaphors and asides all tending in these very specific directions. Is it possible that it was just maybe the moment, the day, some trick of the light, that I never loved her, that it was not real at all?
No, fuck that, I’m an optimist, a romantic, I tell you. There are some good ones in here, some real winners – I quite liked 59 miles to the pump, I think it was called, and the one about the belt buckle. Will I Keep It: You’re God Damn Right.
Gun With Occasional Music By Johnathan Lethem: Yeah, I mean, it’s fine. I enjoyed reading it, and I’ve been so pathetically fucking lazy lately when it comes to my reading that this kind of mean something, I have all the moral strength of a…haha, well of a weak person, the slightest mental effort and I just veer off into something else, whoosh. Anyway. It’s funny and it goes by quick but it didn’t dig into me in any particular way and I sometimes found him guilty of that thing ‘literary genre’ authors do of kind of half assing plot details cause you know no one really gives a shit. Will I Keep It: Nah, man, this profound journey of self-discovery I’m on, only kind of casually not disliking a book is not a good enough reason to keep it. Three cheers for me!
Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar -- Did you? When I said three cheers for me, did you do them, or did you just say you were going to do them! Liar! Liar! Oh, God, how can I ever trust you again. This book is about…a woman who gets an inheritance and uses it to buy a house in a town outside of London and the ability to recreate herself outside of her usual milieu along with a sudden influx of money allows her to go progressively more insane. Actually, this was good, and weird, I liked it. Will I Keep It: Yeah, I am actually, but also it’s small and obviously I fetishize NYRB Classics.
Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier – Yeah. Uhhh…I can’t really remember if I had so much trouble finishing this because I’m a lazy, miserable person or because they weren’t the most riveting collection of stories. It certainly should have fit the bill, forgotten mid-century American magical realism (or whatever), and there were some strong ones now that I pull them out of my memory…I was reading these when I was in Utah, I was faculty at this beautiful resort in the mountains there, I had like a cabin, in the morning I would drink coffee and write some of a book I will never publish and listen to the silence (it is not silent in New York, this is part of the reason I am going to leave, not that I hear LA is so quiet neither) and sometimes I would hold this up and peek at the mountains over top of it. And then I guess I carried it with me when I drove to Denver unexpectedly, God there’s some beauty out West, and I hadn’t known I was going to do it and that’s the main thing really, not to know, to remind yourself that you don’t know, you can never know, there are things waiting around the corner for you. Will I Keep It: Yeah, I guess so.
Things I Like About America by Poe Ballantine – For a long time I held as my life’s ambition to be lost, to look at unfamiliar scenery and strange people, a very tiny thing carried onward by the wind, counting each mile and footstep. It’s not at all a rare preoccupation, and Poe Ballantine, and the fellow who gave me this Poe Ballantine book, are likewise devotees of this smiling, silent god. These are a collection of shorts about being on busses and working shitty jobs so that you have the money to get on other busses. They are well enough written but mostly I can’t say I found myself stopping in awe at the prose. Ballantine’s hook is that he is/was a real no shit legitimate vagabond, not a put on, and I respect that even if I can’t do it anymore. Anyway, I liked this fine. Will I Keep It: Yeah, but only because it a friend’s favorite book.
The Vintage Mencken H.L. Mencken – Yeah, I mean, he’s funny and he’s got some fabulous one liners but on balance he’s a classic troll, cantankerous for its own sake and to prove his individuality, obsessed with personal vendettas which were likely pointless at the time and are now utterly opaque (how much do you know about the American political scene of say, 1926? Because it turns out I don’t actually know anything either). It’s sort of illegitimate to compare a newspaperman to a ‘straight’ writer, their primary obligation is to be constantly saying shit of some kind, but his record as revealed here is pretty weak and that’s coming from someone essentially sympathetic to pre-WWII ideas of American isolationism. Will I Keep It: No.
The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso – My older fucking brother frankly has been talking this book up forever, but like forever forever, like a decade forever, and I really went in like oh shit, what you doing son, which is generally a bad way to go into a book, or to visit a place, or to meet a woman. Where was I? I didn’t like this like I had intended myself to. It’s basically just the author spitballing endlessly about Greek myth, and some times I was like ‘cool, clever’, and other times I was like ‘what, no, that’s…what?’ that doesn’t make any sense at all. To my mind it was a poetic but not particularly illuminating and indeed in some cases seemed outright false in its depiction of classical Greek myth. I was also bored a fair bit. Will I Keep It: No.
Count Zero By William Gibson – He’s not really trying on the plot, and probably you could shave off say…20-30% of the fake proper nouns and you’d maintain the same effect, but it’s weird and original and Gibson warrants his spot. That said, it’s pretty damn similar to Neuromancer which likewise does not include plot as a great strength but is cleaner and more coherent. Will I Keep It: Uhhhh…yeah, I will, for the moment, but I think I probably the day will come when I feel like I need to own one William Gibson book and when it does this one will go.
The Queue by Vladamir Sorokin – Hahhahahahhahahahahahhahahhahahahahhahahahahhahah. Will I Keep It: Yes.
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Cesares – Uhhhhh. Nah. It would have been not my favorite short story and it didn’t improve as a novella. If you are going to enjoy one book by a friend of Borges that I mention in this post read Ocampo, I already fucking told you. Will I Keep It: One of the rare few NYRB Classics that I dump.
The Mangan Inheritance by Brian Moore– Shit! Damn! I love a book that really truly subverts genre stuff, where you’ve got no goddamn idea what’s happening next. Legitimately, disturbing, weird, erotic, dope, totally read this. Will I Keep It: I done just told you I was, didn’t I?
Black Wings Has My Angel – A second rate Jim Thompson. Will I Keep It: Yup! Even a second-rate Jim Thompson is worth a read.
Anyway, friends and associates and anyone else who somehow wondered in here, that’s what I read barring a few I can’t remember and a few I’d rather forget. Good luck with what you got going, even if you don’t quite deserve it.