Monday, March 26, 2012

Resolution Update #8.

I am still reading one hundred pages per day. Almost three months now. Amazon loves me.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I finished it! I loved it! The best description of the late DFW's writing I've seen is that it captures the internal dialogue of everyone in his generation. You can't miss the paragraphs that begin "And but then..." A genius book. An entertaining book. A book that is hard to lift. What a tragedy that DFW is no more. Is this Ulysses for our day? It has certainly been shelved with my all-time favorites. I will never forget nuclear war acted out by boarding school students on a tennis court, or DFW's description of what life is like for a drug addict. I'll confess that when I got to the end my memory could not connect what I had read in the early pages and complete the circuit, but I can re-read. Brilliant.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I am of two minds here. I loved the main story to such a degree that I consumed the book in two days, most of it on the second day. My lost weekend with a big book. I adored the mystery of the house. As in, loved it to bits. I enjoyed the conceit that this was a real event that became well-known and was studied and researched. I enjoyed the footnotes that came with that conceit. What didn't work with me was the twin story of the young tattoo-shop employee who came across the research collected by a man who had himself been swept up by the story of this spectacularly mysterious house. That story seemed rather vulgar and unimportant compared to the family in the house, and it skewed the sense of time in the novel. Haunted house story: A, footnotes: A-, tattoo shop story: B.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. The long title should have given away the game: this is based on real events. And my only complaint is one common to such work: events have not been shuffled sufficiently to take advantage of thematic elements. Specifically, there is a sequence in which the well-being of animals is given much more consideration than the welfare of the humans. It comes too late and is on stage too briefly to deliver the punch it carries. But don't get me wrong— this is a book that carries a number of punches we need to receive.

Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Poor Joan Didion has been in for some criticism lately that she is too much of the 1% and environs to speak to the rest of us. That she is tone-deaf to the problems of the non-bi-coastal. No doubt this is exacerbated by the current economic disaster. Who wants to hear about the problems she has with her jet-set life when families are living in motels and cars? And indeed, I felt her least-successful essay began with complaints that the smog in L.A. had grown too heavy, so her family decamped for coastal Mexico for a few weeks. I want to read about the folks forced to remain in L.A., scramble for a buck, and catch pleurisy. Where she is most successful is in her straight reportage, and I will pursue her work in that area. Basically, wherever Joan Didion is not writing the story of Joan Didion.

New Burlingame: Life and Death of an American Village by John Baskin. Note the long title with colon: this is non-fiction. The midwestern town of New Burlington was doomed by a dam project, so writer John Baskin moved into town for a year to collect its history and stories. A magical book. Generations reaching back to stories of the Civil War and beyond. Old American farm families. Love stories, tragedies, facing the unknown future, this is a beautiful story from the heart of a changed America.

Waterline by Ross Raisin. A story of grief and how it drags down a proud man. I can say that this is the first book of the disintegration of a life from the middle class to homelessness that I found utterly credible. Credit wonderful character development. At no point did I look at this character and feel irritated that he did not do something that I (in my ignorance) thought he should do to reverse his decline. I utterly understood how this man fell apart. Add marvelous use of language and a perfectly-judged pace and ending, and this is a winning book. I shall be reading more from Ross Raisin.

Phew. Two more books going now on the Resolution, and another on audiobook, and this mad reading year continues....

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