read lately

Some of the books I've read since September:

Mina Loy: The Lost Lunar Baedecker, Stories and Essays: Exhilarating, exasperating, confusing and occasionally brilliant. I liked the poems best. The essays have LOTS of EMPHATIC CAPITALIZATION and frightening hints about life for women before the sexual revolution.

Jeffrey Eugenides: The Marriage Plot:  A fat book that's thin and clever (ugh). I expected more. Entertaining enough for airport layovers or a dentist's office.

Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions, Selected Poems, Selected Non-Fictions: In my dream old age, I live down the street from a bar where the patrons discuss a single Borges story, poem or essay every day. We drink together and contemplate tigers.

Susan Howe: My Emily Dickinson: A thin book fat with interesting thoughts, focused but not narrow, absolutely electrifying to read. I don't often think of writing books, but if I did, I'd want to write one like this.

Edmund de Waal: The Hare With Amber Eyes: Traces the history of a family through a collection of netsuke. Unsentimental, shocking and marvelous. I can't wait to get the illustrated edition.

Walter Benjamin: Illuminations: Like climbing a small, difficult mountain. I often felt like I couldn't keep going, and then the view would open up. Worth the effort.

G.K. Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday: Involves secret societies, an elephant chase and crafty disguises.

Tomi Ungerer: Far Out Isn't Far Enough: A picture book for grown-ups that tells the story of a farm in Nova Scotia. The takeaway: no Green Acres for me.

Adam Gopnik: Winter: Five Windows on a Season: Talky essays on the theme of winter. Nice little nuggets scattered throughout (my favorite was on eisblumen).

John Jeremiah Sullivan: Pulphead: Essays 3, 6, 9, 10, and 11 knocked me flat. The rest was merely very good.

Helen Oeyemi: Mr. Fox: So, ok. I only hate certain flavors of clever. This is clever I like: sly, smart, circling riffs on the Bluebeard story played out by a writer, his wife, and his imagined muse.

H.L. Mencken: The Vintage Mencken: Sharp, sour, funny and fascinating takes on the news of the day, liberally stuffed with ten dollar words and the occasional time-jarring, eerie insight. It must have been fun to write for the papers back then. Disreputable and glamorous.

Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh: Strange and brilliant. Like reading a time-traveler's report: a 20th century mind reporting from the 19th, systematically flaying all sorts of Victorian niceties. It can't have been easy to be Samuel Butler.

Charlotte Bronte: Villette: Reading this felt a little like being smothered or drowned. I love Jane Eyre, but this is another order of brilliant.

Margaret Leech: Reveille in Washington: Massive amounts of research smoothly and impressively digested.

Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner: The Gilded Age: Larded with depressingly timeless, insightful nuggets about credit, character and U.S. politics. I suppose it is nice to know that awfulness is consistent.

Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales: A collection of folk and fairy tales from around the world that feature women protagonists.

Most recently: I am 200 pages into Gormenghast. I abandoned ship on The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - brilliant and boring.


Jarne Gissel: Woman reading. 1962.