31 December, 2017

Eight Books I Spent My Fall Reading

Birthday season, perennial bringer of many excellent literary gifts from loved ones and strangers alike, did not leave me without reading material worth crowing about. Sure, I finally got around to the Sherman Alexie collection Blasphemy (shipped to me six months prior, by Tom at Prospero's Books in Kansas City) and Anthony Doerr's magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See. But more meaningful were the books sent by the people who care what literature enriches my days.

To wit: ever so thoughtful and generous, Emily C. ordered a trifecta of marvels into my hands. First was Joe Wenderoth's insanely clever (or, perhaps, merely insane) Letters to Wendy's, which includes such gems as
SEPTEMBER 18, 1996
I don't think Wendy's coffee has such a good taste. This is not to say I don't like it. I like it very much. Its poor taste keeps my intentions clear; I drink coffee for the enthusiasm-prod, not the taste. The taste, when it is too pleasant, can distract one from what matters most — the deep writhing jolt. Of course some taste is necessary so the jolt seems, at bottom, inadvertent.
and the poignant
APRIL 4, 1997
One is accused of sensationalism when one focuses on pain. Rightly so when one is using pain to re-create a pre-existing sensation. But in truth pain has never been before, exactly, and its shadow has always concealed its coming fullness. To know this is to haul out the most fundamental question a speaking animal can attempt. The question is not: what is creating pain? The question is: what is pain creating?
Then were the stimulating quasi-realities depicted in the short-story collections Tenth of December, by George Saunders, and Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel and Theodore Goossen). Both delivered just the type of eccentric, plausibility-agnostic tales I often need in my life.

Following those, I descended into playwright Jeff Jackson's dark, fraught novel Mira Corpora, a gift from the good Lady V., who'd never, ironically, read such a harrowing, nihilistic misadventure of wayward youth herself. Then I moved to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories, translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter — a gift from my mother, who read Mann in the original German long ago enough as to hardly remember his luxurious descriptive power or frank homoeroticism. Discussion followed.

Lana C.'s surprise to me was an Amazon package containing three books from my wish list.  Greedily, I propelled myself myself through Still Life with Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins, before year's end. Robbins was one of my father's favorites — and now I finally know why. Fun, philosophical stuff.

2018 finds me with several more promising books on hand, and a few on the list to borrow. I can hardly wait.

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