I started with big plans for the new year and then what happened? Two excuses have kept me away from writing here at bookeywookey. The first has been the post-PhD job hunt, which is entailing a good deal of writing and research. The second has been a case of sciatic nerve compression. If you haven't had the pleasure, don't. It's worse than it sounds, and completely took over my life for two weeks. I haven't been reading as little as it seems, but it has been too painful to sit down and write anything about it.
Uncharacteristically, I think I'll do a little works-in-progress round-up instead of an essay-length write-ups.
Thomas, but I must have been in the wrong mood for Barbara Pym this January. I finished it, but found Excellent Women (Plume, 1952/1978), which was hailed by critics for Austen-like wit, even called "high comedy," and "very funny," a crashing bore. It didn't drag a chuckle out of me. I found the heroine - Mildred Lathbury's - threshold for over-stimulation stultifying low, and her self-awareness stunningly absent in a way that made me want to scream - NO MORE TEA.
The Leonard Bernstein Letters (Yale, 2013)- a terrific holiday gift from my in-laws. His energy has been a welcome antidote to Pym's tea-sodden domestic travails. He knew everyone: letters fly to and from Kousevitzky, Aaoron Copeland, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Judy Holiday, Bette Davis, Dmitri Mitropoulos... I would have finished it weeks ago, but it is so energetic that I can't read it before going to sleep - it keeps me awake.
Year Zero. 100 pages in, the thread that I have been looking forward to, Buruma's story about his father, who was a prisoner of the Nazis in occupied Holland, has not yet been focal. I am interested to see how the personal merges with the international.
Orfeo. Powers is one of my favorite authors. His books always combine something scientific and something artistic to capture some aspect of our zeitgeist. Talk about a writer made for bookeywookey. Here his soup is one part experimental classical music and one part recombinant DNA, with a dash of terrorism. It's beautifully written, and a more credible amalgamation than Generosity. I may have even admired it more than The Echo Maker. I plan to write about it at more length.
Eustace Chisholm and the Works. Purdy is a writer's writer, an American who wrote from the 1950s - 1980s. His voice is distilled, sparse, and it combines the fantastical with the brutally real. He was gay, and although his books did not exclusively depict gay characters, he was most certainly a voice of society's outcasts. Nearly all of his novels are out of print, although a collection of his stories was recently published. I hope its enthusiastic reception will precipitate the re-release of this underappreciated writer's novels. I will give some exclusive space to this strong, singular reading experience, some time soon.
Lastly, Henry Holt and Co. were kind enough to send me an advance copy of The Book of Jonah by Joshua Max Feldman. I'm going to reserve judgment until I have had a chance to get deeper into this contemporary debut novel with biblical allusions.
I wish you happy reading this superbowl Sunday.