Sunday, August 17, 2008

Great Expectations: Can I Get A "LOC" On That?

Now that Nick Hornby has gone AWO my L from the pages of The Believer, I am sorely tempted to pick up the slack and post my own list of Books Bought/Books Read (A, A). Unfortunately I do not read or process the written word nearly as adroitly as Hornby does. Note the rotating images on the right sidebar of this blog. Everything “On The Floor” is what resides by my side of the bed. Note also that of the current four I've only bothered to comment on one. Of the remaining three, one is a periodical (the interview with Mike Davis is very beguiling, and has me searching for titles in his back-catalog), one is an artfully constructed pillow-book that keeps me from sleep (author Dennis Danvers explains why), and the last is a novel that intimidates me because (a) it is written by a contemporary who is (b) masterfully covering material and an era that I once, in a rare and prolonged fever of ambition and logorrhea, attempted to capture and portray.

Clearly I'd have a great deal more to say about books bought than I would about books read. I've just returned from Winnipeg with a suitcase full of books purchased from McNally Robinson (I couldn't seem to nail down a visit to Aqua Books or Nerman's — sorry guys), all of which I fully intend to read. It's not going to happen, of course — my eyes are bigger than my reading-lobe. But cue-up the sound of well-oiled suitcase hinges, and let's look at the contents because this is what a typical monthly entry might look like:

The Bicycling Guide To Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair (A). Hoo-boy: given my history of botching the simplest bicycle repairs, this surely qualifies as the hope that will not die. The price was right, and perhaps I've accrued enough unhappy experiences to be able to apply a little wisdom to any future attempts at handiness. Or maybe this book will simply be another testament to ambitions unrealized. Speaking of which...

The Successful Novelist by David Morrell (A). I recently rented and re-watched First Blood, then watched it with Morrell's commentary on. Two things struck me: (1) there was a time when Sylvester Stallone, or someone very close to him, had an impeccable sense of what made for a captivating story, and (2) David Morrell, whose novel was markedly different from the movie, has a very agreeable and pragmatic approach to craft. When I pulled this book from the shelf and opened it up I was pleased to see him quickly address and dispose of the usual (and often unspoken) reasons for writing fiction: wealth and fame. “As Rambo's creator, I have experience in that regard, and if your idea of a good time is to be forced to get an unlisted phone number, swear your friends to secrecy about your address, and make sure your doors are locked because of stalkers, you're welcome to it.” The guy still loves what he does — teaching and writing — so I'm looking forward to reading his thoughts on the process and the business. Likelihood of my reading it to completion: lead-pipe cinch.

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta (A). I thought Perrotta's Little Children was one of the better books I read last year, so I picked up his latest to be remaindered. Based on the bookflap alone, Perrotta's concept doesn't seem as likely to surprise me to the degree that Little Children did, but his narration is usually wry enough to get me laughing and cringing at the same time. Likelihood Of Completion: high.

The Translator by John Crowley (A). So far as his admirers are concerned, and I count myself among them, Crowley can do no wrong. But to be perfectly honest: after Little, Big I've had trouble making it past the finish line with his novels. This one is only 295 pages long, and I like the concept: “The Translator tells of the relationship between an exiled Russian poet and his American translator during the Cuban missile crisis, a time when a writer's words — especially forbidden ones — could be powerful enough to change the course of history.” LOC: better than Aegypt, not as good as Little, Big.

JPod by Douglas Coupland (A). There is a scene that occurs in the later pages of Microserfs where one of the characters, after being exposed to some of the more extreme instances of body-piercing, blurts out in a state of horror, “But your body is your hard-drive!” I laughed when I read that, because by that point of the novel I knew exactly what she meant. Depending on the critic, Coupland is either praised or decried for his devoted attention to the superficial. I'm in the “praise” camp, because he frequently plumbs surprising depths with his superficialness. LOC: so-so. I finish half the Coupland books I pick up. At the time of its publication Microserfs was an easy finish. JPod is its long-awaited follow-up, so you'd think my chances of completion should be good. However, since the book was published its material has cooled somewhat: the CBC produced a short-lived series based on the book. What little I saw certainly qualified as “superficial.” I'll have to shake off a few memories for me to finish this baby.

The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson (A). It's been a while since I last purchased popular history. When I was in my 20s I was in the habit of reading one such book every month. By the close of my 30s that had dwindled to one a year. LOC: pretty shaky.

The World's Religions by Huston Smith
(A). This is the spinach in my literary diet. I thought Smith's written response to his buddy Marcus Borg was uneven, but provocative enough to get me wondering what he made of the “competition” so I went ahead and bought this. LOC: fair to middling.

And how many of these are likely to be read by the end of this month? Mmmmm ... one, maybe two. So, no: a monthly attempt to ape Mr. Hornby should be avoided at all cost. It's best if I just return my blogular attention to the second disc of my summertime soundtrack.

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