At Nashville’s Station Inn last night, caught The Time Travelers, who were joined by the incomparable Vince Gill. They called up a guest from the audience, a gorgeous Swede named Miranda, the lead singer, she explained, of a country/western band back home and, in an accent so heavy the crowd feared for her upcoming performance, described her thrill at being on stage in Nashville with such luminaries, and then belted a rendition of “You’re Cheatin’ Heart” that was so blow-the-roof-off great that Gill muttered into the microphone, “Amy Grant, Amy Grant, Amy Grant.” Gill then treated the crowd to Pocket Full of Gold. Priceless.
I’m reading multiple books right now, an occasional practice and an approach not suited to my disposition (I’m the single task-oriented type); however, I recommend all of them. First, Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, an analysis/history/meditation on the form, is very stimulating, worth the cover price alone for the chapter, “The Psychology of the Novel,” along with her short critiques of the 100 novels she read in one year. She’s a forceful critic and her assessments of Lolita, Heart of Darkness, and The Great Gatsby, for instance, have made me reconsider their merits as novels qua novels, though I’m struck, at times, by how inured she seems to these writers’ stylistic gifts, the amplitude of their language. Still, the erudition and critical intelligence on display is formidable and I feel like an undergraduate all over again, woefully behind in canonical grasp (Remembrance of Things Past, anyone? The Man Without Qualities? War and Peace). I’m also halfway through Dominic Sandbrook’s Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of Populist Right. The last nonfiction book I’d read was Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore and so Sandbrook suffers the comparison: the latter’s powers of description are remarkable, his narrative sweeping, his subject mesmerizing. As a catalogue of the times and a description of the zeitgeist, however, Mad is terrific. Finally, there’s Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, my first go with him (I’ve heard great things about his upcoming The Marriage Plot). I like the structure and the nifty way his protagonist/narrator Cal is at once a first– and third-person narrator, interpolating herself during different time sequences, at once omniscient voice and character.
And another reminder: I’ll be speaking at Vanderbilt’s University Club at 6 p.m., August 25, giving a reading/discussion about Mr. Peanut and Ladies and Gentlemen at Hillsboro Village’s Fido, also at 6 p.m., an event done in conjunction with Bookman/Bookwoman bookstore on August 28. Finally, I’ll be appearing with novelists Blake Butler and Jesse Ball (that’s him on the left) at the Decatur Book Festival Labor Day weekend. Read his novel The Curfew. An interesting bit of business.