Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Book Pile as of September 30th, 2015

I am very much a polyamorous reader. I'm always reading multiple books, sometimes up to a dozen. There are a few reasons why I prefer to read from a pile, instead of focus on one book in particular. As a bookseller, I try to be as aware of and knowledgeable of as many books as possible, even books I don't end up reading, or finishing, or even liking, and juggling a bunch of books extends my libromancing awareness. I also review books both for this blog and for other venues, so along with reading books I'm actually reviewing, I like to test drive books I might pitch for reviews. Reviewing a book takes time and effort and you have to spend that time and effort whether you like the book or not. Sometimes I like to have a sense of whether or not I'll like a book before pitching reviews of it. Finally, as a reader, I have different moods, different energy levels, different whims at different times and in different situations, so I try to make sure I have a book handy for every mood, energy level, whim and situation. So, I read in piles.

Here is the second installment in my infrequent series detailing current book piles. (If you're curious about the first installment.) From top to bottom.

The Familiar: Vol 2 by Mark Z. Danielewski
I reviewed Volume 1 here, and I want this project to continue so I'm reading Volume 2. So far it continues apace from Volume 1, though the connections between the various story arcs are slowly being revealed. Given the scope of the project, I wouldn't be surprised if the opening “movement” of the story is three or four books long and, personally, I plan to stick with The Familiar at least that long. I think Danielewski is a brilliant and important author and I want to live in a world where 20+ volume serial novels are written and read and sticking with Danielewski's The Familiar is one way to make that world.

The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward
I think The Maltese Falcon belongs in the canon right next to The Great Gatsby and given how important TMF was for my novel, a book about Hammett's life as detective and how that influenced his writing is obviously going to be interesting. It also falls into the category of “maybe someone will pay me to review it for them so let's see if it's a book I actually want to work with.” So far so good. Apparently, Pinkerton detectives were constantly required to write reports back to their superiors about their research and activities for the day, and, their superiors often actually edited those reports before passing them on to the clients. In many ways, the Pinkertons acted like a newspaper and, even though there are no records of Hammett's reports, it's not hard to imagine how that report writing would contribute to the greatest novel in the detective genre.

Target in the Night by Ricardo Piglia
Weird detective novel from South America with a Dupinian detective and a slippery sense of identity and community. Sign me the fuck up! So far I'm reminded of Where There's Love, There's Hate, the moments of sustained “sanity” in some of Cesar Aira work, and the more detective-y mytery-y sections of If On a Winter's Night a Traveler. Another weird, awesome book from Deep Vellum. Home by Leila S. Chudori will be in the next pile.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro
Maybe I'm a weird guy, but sometimes I find nothing more relaxing to read before calling it a day than a gigantic fucking work of history. Honestly, I don't get it either. So I found myself in need of one of these monstrosities and in discussing this with some of the other booksellers, it was also revealed that I hadn't read any Robert Caro. Sarah from the bookstore kindly lent me The Power Broker and the second volume in his LBJ epic and I decided to go with Moses. Reactions thus far: This is exactly what I look for from giant, dense history books; Caro can write the hell out of a sentence; Moses embodies pretty much everything wrong with white “progressive” reformers. Seriously, what a bastard.

Chelsea Girls and I Must Be Living Twice by Eileen Myles
Eileen Myles is about to blow up. (Or has blown up, depending on when I get around to posting this.) She's a writer I've always been aware existed, but never read anything by her. Then a couple of weeks ago, her publisher Ecco sent me finished copies of their reissue of Chelsea Girls and a new and collected work of poetry, I Must Be Living Twice. I could probably write a whole wonky post on how brilliant a publicity move that was, but basically, the fact of the mailing made me say to myself, “Huh, Eileen Myles must be about to blow up.” So far, I Must Be Living Twice reminds me a lot of Bukowski in that Myles seems to have extended the best parts of Bukowski's reportage voice. In terms of Chelsea Girls, when I'm an eccentric millionaire and have all the time in the world to write all the critical essays that kick around in my head, it's in the middle between Insel and Green Girl on a spectrum demonstrating the disintegration of agency from modernism to post-modernism.

Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Twenty-First Century by Nato Thompson
As an artist, who is politically active, I do believe I have a responsibility to be political with my work. However, in a world where corporate media can appropriate any fashion or image in weeks and where directly didactic literature is read with suspicion, I have no idea how to be effectively political in my work. I'm not sure Nato Thompson knows either, but he's been directly engaged with this question at a level far beyond anything I've done. And when I noticed it was a Melville House title, I figured I'd be able to wrangle myself a copy.

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