Sunday, May 07, 2017

What I'm Reading Now

It's the end of the semester, the GOP is more and more brazen about revealing their true motives and natures, and I continue to read obsessively.

Though yesterday we did go to Fayetteville to celebrate the kid's birthday -- she's nineteen, if you can believe that. I cannot. She used to be five. She used to be seven. Once she was thirteen. What is this behavior, turning nineteen? Yet here she is, an adult, earning money with her art, heading off to the university. Kids. Whattaya gonna do.

What I'm reading:

Claire North, End of the Day

I can't decide about this one. It's been getting excellent reviews and good reactions all over the net, and there were some amazing moments in it. Plus the premise is just great -- Charlie gets hired to be the Harbinger of Death. That is, Death (or rather, Death's agent) sends him out to deliver certain gifts to people. Maybe these people are going to die, or maybe not. (The gift can be a warning or a courtesy, Charlie explains.)

A lot happens in the book, and North writes well. Charlie travels everywhere, the arctic, Africa, Syria, the USA, and we meet not just people but all four Horsemen.

Also, when I say "North writes well," that's just -- there are moments in this book that changed me. That broke me apart and reshaped the way I looked at the world. That's not just "writing well."

But the execution is a problem. The book has no real through line. It's one episode after the next. We never really get to know Charlie as a human being. He's a cipher, an empty space through which we experience the events of the book. I don't know what he wants, or why he's taken this job. It's hard to care what happens to him. Maybe that's the point, I don't know, but it did hurt the book, I think. And there's another major character who keeps showing up, and I'm just not sure why he's there. (It might be I missed the point about why he's there.)

It's a book that's worth reading. I'll re-read it again in nine or ten months and see if the odd bits make more sense.

Richard Russo, Trajectory

This was readable, as Russo always is. Four short stories, three about academics and writers, one about a real estate agent, all at the end of their lives -- all of them in their late fifties or early sixties, all of them living in the current disastrous American economy, none of them entirely hopeless.

They're not bad stories, and if you like Russo (as I do) they're worth reading. But Russo is at his best when he's writing novels. He just doesn't have enough room in the short story to exercise his gifts. Of the four stories in this slim volume, I liked the last, which is about a screenwriter who has lost his health insurance, the best. It's also the one which has the most to say about the current world. The others seem to be speaking more about the world of the 20th century.

Ursula Le Guin, The Found and the Lost

This is a collection of Le Guin novellas. Le Guin might well be at her best in the novella form. Certainly this is an excellent collection, and these are almost uniformly wonderful.

I had read most of these before -- in fact, some of them, including Paradise Lost and The Matter of Seggri are among my favorites of Le Guin's works. Several I had not read before, though, which made discovering this collection a delight.

A collection from a master in the field, spanning her entire career. Well worth buying.

J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zoey

I read this because one of my writing students wrote a story about karma and reincarnation. "You should read 'Teddy,'" I told him. "By Salinger. Have you read that? It's in Nine Stories."

He hadn't, so I was hunting for my copy of Nine Stories to lend him. I know I own a copy, but I couldn't find it. (One day we have to organize these books...) Instead, I found Franny and Zoey. Well, that would do him no good, but I read it the next evening instead.

Oh, Salinger. He certainly could write. But someone should have been standing behind him every day of his life smacking him across the ear and telling him to stop it with the Jesus stuff.  Holy crow, buddy, come on.

Like Harper Lee, he was probably a one-book writer. I mean, I love reading him. But yeah.

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