I’m a terrible blogger and a good friend recently harangued me for this, so I promised him I’d dedicate a few minutes a weekday to writing a post.
The last five books I’ve read:
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Big Miss by Hank Haney
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Books I’m eyeing:
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams (she happens to be a former high school classmate)
Drown by Junot Diaz
Canada by Richard Ford
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
But first up, Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. He’s appearing at UT October 29th and I’m making the drive east to hear him. If you haven’t read his story collection Emporium, get a life. Can’t wait to read his North Korean epic.
No losers in the five I’ve completed, fyi. I’ve talked to friends who bailed on Gilead because they found it static whereas I found it bracing, its intelligence searing. I pull this passage at random: “The thump in my chest goes on and on like some old cow chewing her cud, that same dull endlessness and contentment, so it seems to me. I wake up at night, and I hear it. Again, it says. Again, again, again.” Claire Vaye Watkin’s Battleborn—its ten stories are howls out of Nevada—announces a real talent. I did a Q & A with her for chapter16.org and her answers were fascinating. I had the pleasure of serving on a panel with Jennifer Egan at this year’s Festival America and her Pulitizer-winning novel pulls its disparate stories together elegantly and movingly (I especially dug the power point chapter). Could not put down Haney’s tell-all on coaching Tiger. Came away from it shaking my head regarding the sacrifices and deformities that go with the pursuit of greatness. Diaz’s collection is flat-out fun and three stories in there—“Otravida, Otravez,” “The Pura Principle,” and “Invierno”—are knockout. Reading Diaz, I’m reminded of a recent quote by Martin Amis:
“But most novelists I think are much more aware than they used to be of the need for forward motion, for propulsion in a novel. Novelists are people too, and they’re responding to this just as the reader is. It sounds schmaltzy to say but fiction is more to do with love than people admit or acknowledge. The novelist has to not only love his characters–which you do, without even thinking about it, just as you love your children. But also to love the reader and that is what I mean by the pleasure principle. The difference between a Nabokov, who in almost all of his novels, nineteen novels, give you his best chair and best wine and his best conversation…compare that to Joyce, who, when you arrive at his house, is nowhere to be found, and then you stumble upon him, making some disgusting drink of peat and dandelion in the kitchen. He doesn’t really care about you. Henry James ended up that way. They fall out of love with the reader. And the writing becomes a little distant.”
At the Festival America I got panel and/or hang with Chad Harbach, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Dee, Dinaw Mingetsu, Wells Tower, Karen Russell, Jennifer Egan, Teju Cole, and Gary Shytengart to name just a few. It was a ball and has me stoked for this weekend’s Southern Festival of Books, whose lineup is also remarkable and includes Junot Diaz and Ben Fountain (congrats on their NBA finalist nods). Plus I get to have dinner with Gillian Flynn at an undisclosed location.
Also had the pleasure of catching Michael Chabon’s Nashville appearance at our Salon@615 reading series. My favorite moment apart from his reading? Someone asked: What have you learned in 25 years of writing? Nothing really, he answered. It doesn’t get any easier and, if anything, you lack the stupid confidence you had at 25. Telegraph Avenue took him five years to write.
To end: Although my story “In the Basement” did not win the BBC International Story Award (*sniff*), I was certainly flattered to be on the shortlist. It’s cool to hear your work performed by an actor, produced, in the parlance of radio. And a year in to drafting my new novel, I am happy to report that I haven’t committed suicide or applied to nursing school. Yet.