Multitasking

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.

Mean­while, here’s a ter­rific inter­view about Ladies and Gen­tle­men from The Rum­pus as well as a review of the col­lec­tion in Chattanooga’s Times Free Press.

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.