Friday, May 6, 2016

What I'm Reading and Thinking about Now

Friends, I haven't posted anything in a long time. I'm too embarrassed to look up when my last post was. That doesn't mean I haven't been reading. In fact, I would say I'm reading more now than at almost any time in my life. That I can read dead-tree books, books on my Kindle, and listen to books in the car makes my life a constant flow of fiction. No, I don't read much non-fiction, unless you count the newspaper (but I won't go there about the possible fiction of journalism). I'm a story boy. I love a good story, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I love plot only.

Take the case of the books I am currently reading: John Wray's The Lost Time Accidents is a meandering, asynchronous journey through time and space, following the fate and fortunes of two brothers and their descendants, including one who is stuck in time, perched in an armchair on a particular day at a very particular time, unable to move but able to think and talk, as he tells his story to his absent lover, Mrs. Haven. It'd be totally antithetical to the point of the novel to get too hung up on the plot aspects of the story. It's all about time and meaning, cycles and spirals. Curiously, I am listening to this book—I wonder what it would be like to actually be reading it...

On my Kindle, I am reading another Jess Walter book, after finishing Citizen Vince last week. I really enjoy his writing. His characters are vivid, savvy, complicated souls in a constant search for identity and meaning. Citizen Vince uses the backdrop of the election of 1980 to explore a man's attempts at re-definition as a result of being in the witness protection program. However implausible the story is and the details of the program, I really enjoyed the humor and the characters. Interestingly, Vince shows up in The Financial Lives of Poets. I don't remember which was published first, but Vince appears briefly in the background as Marty, which had been Vince's real name, along with his wife and teenaged son. Fun to think that it's the same world.

But this is in a different place, if not a different world, a world filled with lost dreams and broken promises (in fact, it just occurred to me that this world isn't that different fromErnest Cline's Ready Player One). Matt's destroyed his simple middle-class life by going too far out on the broken and dying limb of journalism, and jumping off to pursue a ridiculous dream: a website devoted to financial advice, offered in poetry. The poems that appear throughout are depressing indictments of the plain and simple life—marriage, suburbia, parenthood—and offer comic and dark commentary to Matt's life as it spirals down the toilet. Going to lose the house? Why not try selling weed? Suspicious of your wife's late-night typing? Log into her Facebook account and see evidence of her cheating with her old boyfriend. Funny, sad, bittersweet...but as yet, offering no redemption. I don't see a way out of it all for Matt or for his family. We'll see.

I'm also reading Nathan Englander's novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, which I've wanted to read for a while and which I picked up after reading his spectacular collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. And I'm still dipping into Dickens' David Copperfield. I wish I could finish DC all at once, but I'm enjoying the slow dips and the steady returns after weeks away.

For my Swarthmore book group, we read Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. I've read the book three times now and I'm still amazed at the quality of the writing, the idiosyncratic voice I hear in her words. I can't tell if it's that I don't know enough about the New Testament or whether it's her frontier/pioneer/western orientation that makes her writing so unfamiliar and sometimes impenetrable for mer. But I still love her writing in this novel. Though many members of my group disagreed with me, I see it as a novel about conformity and about society much more than it's about madness or survival. Ruthie struggles so much to understand. She wished she could be like her sister Lucille, but she knows she's not. She'll never fit in and doesn't seem to even want to, while it's Lucille's goal to be like every else, to have what everybody seems to have—a stable family life, the right clothes, an adherence to tradition and commonality. Ruthie isn't like that and that's revealed even before the ever-roaming Sylvie shows up. Sylvie provides her with a model for how she can be happy while not necessarily being attached to anyone or anything. I don't think Sylvie's necessarily crazy—she just doesn't buy into everything that everyone else does. I like that about her and about Ruthie, too.

For my other book group we read Chris Cleave's Gold, a book I both hated and admired. It's a book about a friendship in very extreme circumstances, and one that not many people have ever experienced. Of course it's a fantasy, set against the upcoming 2012 Olympics in London. Two bike racers—three best friends, two women and the man one of them marries—are all set to compete in the trials for the Games. The best part of the book are the fanatical scenes of their daughter, 8 years old and undergoing cancer treatment. The only way she's able to survive is to picture the cancer as the Dark Force and her battle against his star cruisers and various armed soldiers.

So...I'm still reading, still thinking, still looking for themes and ties between all the works I'm consuming. More another time.