Wednesday, August 9

Alright, Book-Loopers...

Let's get some activity going here. Let's hear everyone's favorite fiction work, non-fiction work, and a wild card, which you can use to talk about anything. I'll go first.

Fiction: Infinite Jest
I've read better novels than Infinite Jest, but the fact I finished the fucking thing makes me put it here: I still consider it an achievement. That said, it's a great novel, and I remember the details of it vividly even though I read it 8 years ago. It follows three stories concurrenly, if not temporally. The first is the story of young Hal Incandenza, a pot-addled teenager enrolled at the Enfield Tennis Academy in Boston, which is run by his mother, Avril, after the father's suicide. The second story is tha of ex-con Don Gately, who lives in a halfway house just down the hill from the Academy, and the third is a conversation between a wheelchair-bound assassin and somebody else on the American-Canadian border. Yep, it's a riot. On top of the 1100 pages of text, there are 100 pages of footnotes. This book is kind of like an acid trip in that I don't think I have the time and energy for it now, but I did back then, and I'm better for it. A really suberb experience.

Non-Fiction: The Power Broker
Quite simply the greatest book I have ever read. In recording the story of Robert Moses, New York's Parks Commissioner-turned-Czar, Robert Caro won a Pulitzer Prize and essentially wrote the post-Tammany Hall history of New York City. I would definitely say it helped to read the book while living in the city, just because every single part of the city, and how it was created, is discussed in the book, which like IJ is over 1000 pages. The amount of research is simply staggering, and it's baffling to think Caro wrote three (!) of these books on Lyndon Johnson, but that may be overkill. Maybe I'll get to them and like them more. But for now, this is the one.

Wild Card: Crappy Books
Yes, I could have gone with some Gabriel Garcia Marquez or some shit like that, but why? On occasion, I read crappy Robert Ludlum novels like The Prometheus Deception, which itself was a running joke between myself and BAG. While the plots of these books are standard (thirty-to-fourtysomething white hero, unnecessarily hot female along for the ride, predictable plot twist), it would be wrong to think you can't learn something by reading them. They're page-turners, which means they're almost uniformly well-written; they may be uninspired, but great ideas alone won't get you into Barnes and Noble. You need to keep people's attention, and I find I learn something about reading - which helps my writing - by tearing one of those books apart, and it only takes a couple hours. And there's guns and sex and stuff, which is fun.


Ben said...

(I thought about making my own post but I do not wish to take any of the spotlight away from the brilliant arrival of Louis. Welcome!)

I'm much more of a list guy than a favorite guy, but I'll do my best to follow the spirit of this exercise.

Fiction: The Adventures of Augie March
The book that brought me to Bellow. I will read more enjoyable books, maybe even better books, but for sentimental reasons this will always remain my favorite book. I read it at an important juncture in my life, during the summer betwixt my junior and senior years of university. My scholarly endeavors had left me uninspired to that point but this book rekindled an enjoyment in literature that had been almost entirely dormant since my days wrestling with Ambrose Bierce in the eighth grade. Martin Amis said of this Bellow masterpiee, "The Adventures of Augie March is the Great American Novel. Search no further." The novel, a bildungsroman (!!!), follows Augie March from Depression-Era Chicago around the globe in search of his identity and the right job. We meet a huge cast of characters along the way, many of whom succeed at taking advantage of Augie. The prose are verbose and energetic, snappy but sometimes tough to untangle. Bellow considered Augie March an optimistic novel, but I don't think it's quite that simple. Oh well, no need for a full book report.

Non-Fiction: The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers
I'm not much of a biography guy, though The Skeptic and The Rise of Theordore Roosevelt are damn good. This Book of Writers Talking to Writers is something I read a few months ago and I've been going back to it pretty regularly ever since. The book is a collection of twenty-three discussions that were originally published in the stellar, literary-focused periodical by the name of The Believer (thanks again, Mike!). Jonathan Lethem talks with Paul Auster, Zadie Smith talks with Ian McEwan, Sean Wilsey talks with Haruki Murakami, Dave Eggers talks with Joan Didion and much, much more. The talks vary in length and in style--some are quirky, some are philosophical, some focus largely on the writers' lives, some focus on the writers' works--but they're all fascinating. It's great to see how much these writers have to learn from one another, and to observe the differences and similarities in each writer's approach to their craft.

Crappy Book: The House of Mirth

My Wild Card: Favorite Book as a Youngster: The Phantom Tollbooth
Simply put, nobody's fuckin' with Milo, Tock and the gang. The Doldrums, Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, the Mountains of Ignorance. Everything about the book is brilliant. I didn't even let the fact that the book's illustrator, Jules Feiffer, was a complete dick to me when I sold him his Lambert's Cove Beach sticker taint my wonderful memories of reading this book a few times a year in my youth. A certain member of Book-Loop was given this book as a graduation gift and he has yet to read it. This pains me deeply. Also, they need to put the film version out on DVD posthaste.

LTS said...

Thank you both for the ideas and insightful commentaries.

Just one thing--in testifying to Bellow's greatest, need one invoke Martin Amis' opinion? A man of your good taste and critical acumen, Ben, I would hope could altogether dispense with that anus-as-'arbiter.'

Perhaps this will make for good Book-Loop fodder, though. Any Amis fans interested in 'backing that ass up?'

Bryan said...

I need to thank both of you. I started The Great American Novel this morning, and was hooked after the first paragraph. Amazing stuff, and I'm on page 13!

Ben said...

Book-Loop has had its first successful recommendation. I'm getting misty eyed.

What a brilliant opening blast to a book about baseball. I believe I read it while burrowing through the black sky along the Canadian border in in a Jet Blue flight to Boston. I was imbibing a bubbly beverage and biting on some bland biscuits with book in hand.

"And that's only the letter B, fans, only one of the Big Twenty-Six!"

Your point is well taken on Amis, Louis. I used that quote simply because it's on the back of the book, not because I have any great allegiance to Mr. Amis. I've read but one of his books (Times Arrow--inventively conceived but a little flimsy) so I'll refrain from passing judgement. I do know of his reputation as a brat and a show-off, but I don't really have anything to add.

LTS said...

Sorry, I snapped. Especially being a new member in the Loop, I'll try to keep things positive.

That said, Martin Amis is nothing but a dirty pornographer! I base this on having read all of three(!!!) of his books (see also Money and London Fields). I'd be happy to hear other viewpoints, however.

But pPerhaps I am saved, Ben, by the fact that the copy of The Great American Novel that Bryan is reading is none other than mine! Which makes another first, the first successful Book-Loop-loan!