dirac

What are you reading?

397 posts in this topic

I read “Death Kit” and “The Volcano Lover” and figured that was plenty. “On Photography” is one of my favorites – really remarkable stuff in that.
"The Volcano Lover" is the only one of her novels I've read. I so wanted to love it, but have to admit I found it tough going. Not because it's difficult--it's not--but because it just didn't engage me deeply on any level. I read her play "Alice in Bed" and didn't understand a word of it. She seems to have had no talent for expressing ideas through narrative, characterization, evocation of period. She was much, much better as an essayist.

Getting back on subject, I just finished Luciano Berio's "Remembering the Future." It's the print edition of his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, and a completely absorbing read by one of the great creative (and intellectual) minds of recent times. An instant classic. It's interesting that great artists have often written great essays, but great essayists don't, if they're bold enough to try, usually make good art.

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I actually enjoyed "The Volcano Lover," being a sap for intelligent and well-rearched historical novels.

I agree that it is not particularly engaging as a story. At least not for the contemporary market. Perhaps that's because of Sontag's decision to focus, not on the obvious choice, Emma Hamilton, but on her odd, intellectual, and very 18th-century husband, Sir William.

I wonder how many readers -- drawn to the book by memories of Vivian Leigh and Lawrence Olivier (as Nelson) in "That Hamilton Woman" -- became quickly puzzled and disoriented by what Sontag actually produced.

P.S. The Hamilton-Nelson menage might have made a passable MacMillen full-evening ballet -- a kind of "Manon," but with a much larger cast. AND an active volcano.

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I was bothered less by content than the tone of the thing – I don’t have time to look it up, but at the time the adjective ‘snotty’ seemed like an accurate characterization.

It probably was snotty. I think the London Times's obituary was entitled "Derrida 'Dies"'. These weren't nice things to do, but probably inevitable--as if impossible now to go back to speaking without reference to 'differance' and all the rest, due to intimidation by this kind of refinement.

Anthony--it's hard to know where the good essayists and artists leave off another. Mailer, Martin Amis, Didion and Vargas Llosa have all done fine essays and 'made good art.' Maybe it's that the essayists who write less about art also 'write better art' than those who write primarily about art in their essays. The best art is perhaps not 'arty,' and essayists like Sontag, who write mostly or largely about art, tend to sound very arty when they set about trying to write real fiction: It can come across as mere erudition and rearrangement of some sort of connoisseurship and highbrow taste rather than something without too many citations (these can be very hard to edit out, even if you exclude most of the proper names.)

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papeetepatrick writes:

It can come across as mere erudition and rearrangement of some sort of connoisseurship and highbrow taste rather than something without too many citations (these can be very hard to edit out, even if you exclude most of the proper names.)

I wonder if “Death Kit” might not have been better if Sontag hadn’t been quite so well read and up on the latest thing. I had the impression there was a good bit of conventional naturalism in there screaming to be let out, to paraphrase Cyril Connolly.

richard53dog writes:

She seems to have had no talent for expressing ideas through narrative, characterization, evocation of period. She was much, much better as an essayist.

A critic may be more erudite, have greater analytic powers, and be just plain smarter than a given novelist, but there’s no substitute for creative imagination, an unforgivably foggy phrase but I can’t think of anything better at the moment. I think also of “The Memoirs of Hecate County” by Edmund Wilson (although that was pretty good in its way). I do think that such attempts are honorable and useful; you don’t have to be a novelist to understand a novelist’s craft, but it can help.

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I mentioned above that I was going to be reading Lawrence Wright's 'The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11'. I have just finished it and it is certainly (for me) as important a book as I have ever read. Not until this 5th year anniversary did I finally really get in touch with the grief I went through from seeing the Towers fall from West 13th Street out my south window and subsequently finding that a friend of mine had died in the Pentagon crash. There was a trauma from the very first, but that does a lot of paralyzing. This meant partially that I never was even able to master some of the most basic facts about the catastrophe, so this book was extraordinarily valuable. It's an incredible history, threaded with the fate of John O'Neill, the FBI counterterrorist man who lead the investigation on the USS Cole, who might have been able to get the CIA to stop withholding information which could perhaps have prevented 9/11 if he'd not been thwarted, and who died in the collapse of the South Tower, where he'd started a new job a few days earlier.

I may say more later, but here are 2 recent reviews of the book, currently a hardcover NYTimes bestseller. I haven't gotten to the NYRB one yet.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/books/01...50f1248&ei=5070

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19433

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I picked up a signed copy of Yvonne Rainer's new autobiography/memoir collection, Feelings are Facts. It's terribly interesting, and very easy to read, though it does skip around a bit, and it's hard to keep all of the people straight.

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I just finished rereading Patti Smith's Early Work: 1970-79. As the name implies, this volume is a collection of her writings from the 1970s, when she rose to prominence as punk rock's "poet laureate".

Since its release in 1994, I've returned to this book every so often to see if the writings contained within it have become more accessible in the intervening years. Sorry to say that they haven't -- much of her 70s output is still very difficult even for someone like me who is familar with her recorded output. I think many of these pieces only work in performance -- hearing Smith perform them in that ultra-distinctive South Jersey drawl of hers is a more rewarding experience than trying to read them on the printed page.

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I've been reading Czeslaw Milosz's little book "The Witness of Poetry," reading poems by Jane Kenyon in "Otherwise," plus dipping into Antonia Fraser's "Marie Antoinette: The Journey" and redipping into Lincoln Kirstein's Thirty Years: The New York City Ballet." My father recently gave me "Celtic Dawn: A Portrait of the Irish Literary Renaissance," but first I have to read the manuscript he's just sent me of his Revolutionary War novel. Oh, and my wife and I are reading aloud G.K. Chesterton's "Everlasting Man." Yikes!

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Thanks to all of you for keeping this thread going.

whitelight writes: It's terribly interesting, and very easy to read, though it does skip around a bit,

A common and very helpful evasive tactic when composing a memoir. :blushing:

miliosr writes:

I think many of these pieces only work in performance -- hearing Smith perform them in that ultra-distinctive South Jersey drawl of hers is a more rewarding experience than trying to read them on the printed page.

Agreed. They’re meant to be set to music or spoken aloud – there are no echoes when you read them to yourself.

kfw writes:

my wife and I are reading aloud G.K. Chesterton's "Everlasting Man."

I’ve never read any of Chesterton’s apologetics save in snippets but I did enjoy his Father Brown stories in the long ago, and of course his memorable versified rebuke to the future Lord Birkenhead. I'm sure your father did a fine job. On what aspect of the era does his novel focus?

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DeLillo's 'The Body Artist.' This is a small, fierce thing (124 pp.) Dancers should find it fascinating, as it is written in an extremely stylized way and details very highly charged space and minute movement within it. The body artist character Lauren Hartke suggests somewhat those performance artists like Orlan and Stelarc, although without the extremes of mutilation. Many DeLillo fans did not care for this 2001 pared-down and very abstruse style, which he continued in 'Cosmopolis' from 2003, because of the previous lush books like 'Underworld'. I just read this and tend to still think that DeLillo can do no wrong; I am not alone in thinking that he is the most powerful living American fiction writer.

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I was heartened to see the mention of Sarah Vowell -- I just finished reading Partly Cloudy Patriot to my 12 year old for bedtime reading (that is actually where I do most of my non-dance reading). I liked her Assasination Vacation very much.

I read On Photography while I was a grad student and was swept away Sontag's respect for the act of looking, which stays with me today as I watch dance. I don't know that I would feel the same way if I were to re-read it, though it stays in a very prominent place on my shelves.

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I'm revisiting Marilynne Robinson's "Housekeeping" currently, and dipping into a book on heraldry.

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I´m reading the sixith Harry Potter book, harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it´s exiting but my favorite one is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I love to read books about ballet :beg: and enjoy books about baking.

I love baking it´s very fun :beg:

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I'm revisiting Marilynne Robinson's "Housekeeping" currently, and dipping into a book on heraldry.

I'll have to try "Housekeeping" someday. I loved "Gilead" at first, with its ever so wise and humble and affable first person protagonist, but after awhile as he just went on being So wise and So humble and So . . . I put it down for awhile and had to force myself to finish. I admire her creation of the character more than I enjoyed much of the book, and a friend felt the same way.

I did enjoy the several essays I've read from her collection, "The Death of Adam."

As for my father's novel, it begins on Saturday, April 8, 1775 and ends on Tuesday, June 6, 1775.

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I bought 'Gilead' but haven't begun it yet. It received glowing reviews, but I had the impression they weren't so much for the book (or only for the book, let's say) as they were for Robinson -- everyone was so pleased to have her back. :) 'Housekeeping' is a beautiful book. Robinson also has a piece in the current Harper's, reviewing Richard Dawkins' latest book.

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I'm reading Saving Fish From Drowning right now. I know, I know it's a book from last year, not new but I'm always lagging behind anyway.

After that I have The Confession by James McGreevey. I don't know how much national interest there is in this one, but here in NJ , it's a hot book.

A second bio of a NJ gov was also recently published, Governor Tom Kean. I wonder if the publish date was timed to coincide with his son's bid for one of the NJ Senate seats??

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Still proceeding slowly through Claire Messud's "The Emperor's Children." It's very intelligently written, but the topic -- centering on a number of young-ish Manhattanites immediately proceeding 9/11 -- seems that it could apply equally well to the mid-1960s, when I was one of a similar group of people.

I actually had a great deal of identification, and could remember individual friends at the time who seemed to be well "caught" here. However, she does not handle male characters at all as well as female, something not often noted in reviews of this kind of literature.

So, I've taken a break to read three short novels about ... Napoleon. (Maybe the word "Emperor" in Messud's title gave me a subliminal idea.) They're translations of Patrick Rambaud's trilogy: The Battle (about the Aspern-Essling battle outisde Vienna in 1809), The Retreat (about the invasion of Russia in 1812), and Napoleon's Exile (on Elba, not the one on St. Helena).

Rambaud, who has won a Prix Goncourt, combines historical characters (very accurately, it seems to me) and fictional participants. There are wonderful insights into Napoleon's character and personallity -- and into the process by which his associates, although becoming more and more appalled by how out of touch with reality he was becoming, and how unwilling he was to adjust his preconceptions to new realities, remained fatally in thrall to him nonetheless.

Rambaud led me back to Alan Schom's biography of Napoleon, certainly the most overtly hostile of the really serious scholarly books about this topic. Schom, who considers Napoleon to have been the most destructive European political figure since Attilla, relies rather undiscriminately on some hostile and possibly inaccurate memoires of those who knew Napoleon, but makes a pretty convincing case.

Napoleon in power showed a truly imperial disregard for human life -- an inability to be self-critical -- a contempt for and unwillingness to consider any reality that countered his prior judgments -- and a tendency towards maudlin self-pity when faced with criticism or hostility. These qualties make him seem a rather "modern" national leader indeed. :clapping:

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I'm reading Saving Fish From Drowning right now. I know, I know it's a book from last year, not new but I'm always lagging behind anyway.

I read relatively few new books, myself. I tend to come to them a year or two later, at least, and I don't rush out and buy something because it's selling well and getting great reviews -- I'll likely check out a library copy, unless I'm in a bookstore and make an impulse purchase, which happens regularly.

.

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buy something because it's selling well and getting great reviews -- I'll likely check out a library copy, unless I'm in a bookstore and make an impulse purchase, which happens regularly.

.

I now WORK in a college library and process all the books that come in. So I know just what will show up on the "new books" shelves

:tiphat::devil::devil:

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I just started rereading Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet . I first read the four books in this series at the time that PBS was airing its miniseries, The Jewel in the Crown (first book in the series).These books taught me all I knew at the time of British imperialism in India and I remember that I loved the prose. Now, all these years later, with many more years of Middle Eastern events having occurred and, hopefully, with my own increased awareness and perhaps some wisdom, I realized it's just the right time to revisit the series.

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I just started rereading Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet . I first read the four books in this series at the time that PBS was airing its miniseries, The Jewel in the Crown (first book in the series).These books taught me all I knew at the time of British imperialism in India and I remember that I loved the prose. Now, all these years later, with many more years of Middle Eastern events having occurred and, hopefully, with my own increased awareness and perhaps some wisdom, I realized it's just the right time to revisit the series.

I've only read 'The Jewel in the Crown,' which I admired greatly and learned a lot from. (At the time, I had taken so strongly to the character of Daphne and what happened to Hari and her so upset me that I didn't want to pick up the next book. Very sentimental of me. I should try again.)

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Now, all these years later, with many more years of Middle Eastern events having occurred and, hopefully, with my own increased awareness and perhaps some wisdom, I realized it's just the right time to revisit the series.
Revisiting is one of the greatest joys of reading. It reconnects me to an earlier self, and -- more important -- it's a great marker that helps me see how much I've changed ... or not changed ... and in what areas.

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Now, all these years later, with many more years of Middle Eastern events having occurred and, hopefully, with my own increased awareness and perhaps some wisdom, I realized it's just the right time to revisit the series.

Revisiting is one of the greatest joys of reading. It reconnects me to an earlier self, and -- more important -- it's a great marker that helps me see how much I've changed ... or not changed ... and in what areas.

Very true. I went back to The Once and Future King not long ago, and it can be read at any age and you will get something different and new out of it.

Of course, on other occasions I'm just being lazy. :wallbash:

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I just read Ann Beattie's 'Follies' from 2005, or rather finished them, since I'd read most of them a while back and then reread some and finished the rest. These are wonderful stories. It's taken me a while to get used to her loopy prose style, but I get it now.

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In a fit of penitance, I read America's Competitive Secret: Women Managers, a book about how men work to maintain the "glass ceiling". (Actually, I had bought it online not knowing what it was about and thinking that it might be useful for the 25-ish woman who was promoted to manage one of the projects that I work on.)

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