Lit / Fall reading list

Flickr photo

Some­how a recent NYT Book Review con­vinced me that I need­ed to read this season's hott new thing, Spe­cial Top­ics in Calami­ty Physics by a much-blogged-about lit­er­ary debu­tante, Mar­isha Pessl. It's no Secret His­to­ry, if that's what you're look­ing for. It's not bad, but on the oth­er hand it's not espe­cial­ly deli­cious, nor smart, nor scary. It also con­tains a few draw­ings done by the author, none of which are very inter­est­ing; the draw­ings are ran­dom­ly scat­tered, not espe­cial­ly reveal­ing, and actu­al­ly in these regards, they sum up my ambiva­lence about the book. Also on the list: Noth­ing If Not Crit­i­cal, a col­lec­tion of art crit­i­cism by Time crit­ic Robert Hugh­es. In gen­er­al, I dis­like "crit­i­cism" as a genre because it so fre­quent­ly comes across as insu­lat­ed from, I guess, real­i­ty. The very few suc­cess­ful crit­ics suc­ceed because their writ­ing expos­es the object of crit­i­cism to new light, a fresh per­spec­tive — and the list is short: Lester Bangs and Robert Hugh­es, maybe Antho­ny Lane. Hughes's review of Julian Schnabel's auto­bi­og­ra­phy made me laugh out loud, repeat­ed­ly, even as I await­ed a den­tist appoint­ment: "Schn­abel is to paint­ing what Stal­lone is to act­ing — a lurch­ing dis­play of oily pec­torals — except that Schn­abel makes big­ger pub­lic claims for him­self." Ziing! Now that's crit­i­cism! In 2003, the UK's Guardian pub­lished an inter­est­ing bit on Schnabel's endeav­ors to res­ur­rect his career. Post Office by Charles Bukows­ki is both bet­ter and worse than I remem­bered it. I read it in my ear­ly 20's, a time when I could iden­ti­fy (or thought I could, any­way) with being down and out, so I admired the cranky tone, the dis­dain for the "straight" world and all the "suck­ers" who buy into it. Nowa­days, I would prob­a­bly qual­i­fy as a suck­er, and I can con­firm that the straight world real­ly is as bor­ing and soul-crush­ing as Bukows­ki presents it. As I was read­ing it, I kept think­ing: What would Bukows­ki do in my sit­u­a­tion? At the very least, he would stash a bot­tle of booze in his desk. And prob­a­bly duck out for a stiff drink or two in between meetings.Finally, the best of the lot is Eric Newby's (mis)adventure clas­sic A Short Walk in the Hin­du Kush. What hap­pens when two refined British gen­tle­men with no moutaineer­ing expe­ri­ence decide (on a lark) to climb an 18,000-foot moun­tain in Nuris­tan, a war­lord-con­trolled region of Afghanistan? The book chron­i­cles this mid-1950's boon­dog­gle, includ­ing Newby's means of trav­el­ing to Afghanistan — an auto­mo­tive jour­ney through Europe and the Mid­dle East. [A sad note: New­by recent­ly passed away. The BBC obit.]