The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (2018) There is something about Denis Johnson's fiction that always makes me think it's not only autobiographical in nature, but just straight non-fiction, verifiable truth down to the smallest detail, even when I know it's fiction all along. He's like a magician. I'll end up googling names of characters only to find the only reference to them is people discussing these stories. When I'm really connecting to one of his stories, he's my favorite. I'm really sad that he died. Is it possible someone might discover tons of unpublished stuff? Probably not. I have the feeling that he worked terribly hard on the writing that's presented to us, and there are only so many hours in a day, but who knows? There are a lot of his books I haven't read, at least. Jesus' Son (1992) was a huge book for me, of course. Some of his stuff I don't connect to all, but it's like that with any writer, I guess. I never hear anyone talk about The Name of the World (2000), but I'm kind of obsessed with that short novel, have read it twice, and will probably read it again. I didn't really connect with the middle three stories in this book, but I'll try again sometime. The first one, “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,” I loved, though, and even re-read it before I finished the book, and I'm going to re-read it again right now. For having read it twice, I can't tell you what it was about or why I liked it so much, but it kind of did something to my brain. I just finished the last story, “Doppelgänger, Poltergeist,” which is another one that made me feel like, “this can't be just out of his imagination, can it?” It's about a professor's friendship with a slightly younger student and poet who has a secret obsession with Elvis' stillborn twin. It's a very weird story—and it resonated with me quite a bit because of several relationships with friends, gone now—I can maybe go into it more in person, if you're my friend, and I'm talking to you over coffee. And I need to re-read this one, too. There is a novel's worth of stuff in this longish short story. It almost has the quality of being a kind of weird epitaph, too, one fitting Denis Johnson. Maybe I re-read to a fault, but I'll argue with anyone that it's worthwhile, re-reading things, and this is especially true with DJ, and I do imagine you'll find one of his books by the side of my deathbed.
Books I've Finished Reading
Aja by Don Breithaupt (2007) This is one of those 33 1/3 book series, “pocket-size” books, each one by a different author about a different LP record, which is a great project (there are well over 100 of them now), but I've found that you've really got to love the record, or otherwise even these relatively short texts can feel stretched beyond normal attention spans. This book is by Don Breithaupt, a Canadian musician and music writer; an interesting side note: he's referred to, briefly, in Jonathan Lethem's novel Chronic City, and Lethem has also written a 33 1/3 book. Well, I love Steely Dan's Aja (1977), and I happily read this entire book, even though I didn't have a lot of patience with the large portion of the chapters that are hardcore music theory that's frankly miles over my head. For somebody, though, it must be a dream come true. The chapters here cover various themes, as reflected on the album—like, production, process, lyrics, sidemen, etc., and a lot of this relates to all of Steely Dan—and it does go into depth. There are also various appendices, including a “Glossary” I find particularly fun. If they keep publishing these 33 1/3 books, which I think and hope they will, there is plenty of room, eventually, in my opinion, for books about all of Steely Dan, and especially the first seven albums—and they may all want to refer to this one—and I'll buy all seven.
A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864) I started reading this classic—that I'm sure everyone is familiar with—as research for my novel about traveling to the center of the Earth (I admit, one of my favorite subjects)—and everyone knows, or should, that there is no procrastination quite like “research”—in fact, one could easily research one's life away, and many do. It was an enjoyable yarn, nonetheless, even if it got me no closer to my own journey. I can confidently say that the best stories have at least a character named “The Professor,” or a narrator named “Axel,” or an Icelandic guide named “Hans,” and this one has all three, and pretty much no one else—just the journey. I don't envy Jules Verne writing this thing, it's pretty relentless forward movement (or downward, inward) with little to draw on but the imagination (or other “research”). It must have taken quite a few bowls of tobacco and a lot of black coffee, and he didn't even have the luxury of thinking of James Mason's speaking voice whenever the Professor talks (which isn't often). Hans is pretty much silent, and most of the speaking is done internally, by Axel (is that even his name, I'm not sure now?) and it's a pain to write that stuff when your own concerns are nothing like your character's. But I was in this guy's head for awhile, and it was as much of a relief to get out of it as it was to emerge, finally, onto the surface, into daylight and warmth and fig trees.
Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson (1958) This is one of the most important children's books for me, that I read several times when I was a kid, and have re-read as an adult. I feel like it's not dated at all, but I don't know if young kids would feel that way. At this point it's maybe an adult book, and it's written in a way that it appeals to adults, I think, as well as kids. I think the adventure parts probably appeal more to kids, and the humor more to adults. Of course, for me it's impossible to separate it from my nostalgia for it. It's about a young boy, Henry Reed, whose parents are diplomats, so he lives overseas, but comes back to stay with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey for the summer and decides to keep a journal of his summer—so it's written in journal form. I think this is the first thing that influenced me to keep a journal, when I was 12, and I've done it ever since. Henry meets his only similarly aged neighbor (they're pretty much in a rural setting), a girl named Midge, and they start a “research” firm together, kind of a summer business, but also for fun. They have quite a bit of success all around. One thing that is impressive to me, reading it now, is the really full portrait you get of these two kids, and the idea of how as people mature, one aspect of their personalty matures faster than the other, which leads to interesting misinterpretations and miscommunication. Henry is like a little a adult in a way, very smart, but still kind of clueless in other ways, like what's behind some of his own motives. One of the running jokes is Henry not getting Midge's sense of humor, which is much more advanced and adult-like than his. Despite their differences, though, they do become close friends, and there are sequels to this book on the horizon. Keith Robertson is one of my favorite children's authors, and I've read many books by him and probably will re-read more. One other note—there have been a lot of re-printings of this book over the years, but you can still find the Viking hardcover, which I recommend. At the very least you must get a version with the original illustrations by Robert McCloskey (the great children's author, and illustrator)—as they are absolutely integral to the book.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (2009) I read this book just after it was published, while I was living in New York, and it's very much a New York book. It's kind of an alternate reality story that focuses on several outsiderish (to varying degrees) characters, and it's ultimately somewhat ambiguous about the level of reality we are meant to interpret. All of that really appeals to me, so much so that I read it a second time. Some of the magic had worn off the second time around, and I was more trying to figure some things out about the story, maybe discover something new—though I wasn't able to relive, too much, the kind of weird discoveries the first time around. One of my favorite things about it is the way it uses actual people, occasionally, and actual places, a lot. While I was reading it the first time I had fun visiting some of the places referred to, like the Jackson Hole hamburger joint around the corner from Brandy's Piano Bar on the upper east side. I ate there once, almost feeling like I'd see the characters in the novel walk in. Later in the book it was destroyed, and later when I tried to visit again, it had turned into something else. I remembered hearing that Jonathan Lethem did some kind of marathon reading of this novel when it came out—I'm not sure if the whole thing (it's kind of long!) at multiple locations. I think that might have been the best way to experience this book—it's kind of a rock star idea—and very much in keeping with the spirt of the book. I would love to talk to that guy. Sometimes his writing infuriates me, and sometimes it intimidates me—but overall, I like the writing, and feel like I'd like him (it's an easy bet I would) but of course, it's probably a mistake to think you know him, from reading a novel. You get to know some great characters, though (though it's part of the nature of this book that you don't really know if you know them). I was expecting to see immediate news of a film version happening—you almost can't help casting it, in your mind—but at the time of writing this, that doesn't seem to be happening.
The Sweet Ride by William Murray (1967) I had a paperback copy of this for years, but I guess I was afraid to read it, since it's the novel my favorite movie of all time is based on. The book came out about the same time as the movie, so you wonder if someone was working on the screenplay before it was even published. Anyway, Murray was a pretty successful author, it sounds like, but you won't find a lot about this book. It's pretty interesting to read, knowing the movie, because some of it is identical, almost word for word, but in a lot of cases the book naturally elaborates more and goes deeper. The book is also much more graphic, hardcore, cynical and, especially regarding the outcome of the story, much darker. I'm not going to go into the plot of either one, but quickly, it's about three guys who rent a house near Malibu in the mid-Sixties—a tennis hustler, a jazz musician, and a surfer, Denny, who meets a young Hollywood actress who is later nearly murdered. The movie focuses more on Denny's story, asking us identify with him, but the novel is told mostly first person from the hustler's (a slightly older guy named Collie) point of view, which made me really happy. Sometimes we get a more omniscient viewpoint, but it's often as if Collie is retelling what he heard from another of the characters. We get a lot more details about Collie's hustling in the book, and we get a lot of stuff about surfing from Denny, and a lot about the actress, Vickie, as told to Denny (then presumably told to Collie). There's a lot about biker gangs, too, but the version in the book is a lot more gritty and unpleasant than the cleaned up version in the movie. After a run-in with some bikers and their right-wing neighbor, Parker, Choo Choo (the musician) points out how Parker hates the bikers, but in their shared racism, doesn't realize they're his natural allies. Also, there was side trip to Las Vegas in the movie, which is very much more elaborated on in the book—especially a part where Collie ends up by himself in an eccentric local bar, and makes one of his kind of hipster philosophical, cynical observations: “That's it, the American essence! A great towering pyramid of love, equality and good times built solidly on a deep foundation of loathing.”
Hunting for Hidden Gold by Franklin W. Dixon (1928) My least favorite Hardy Boy books were the ones where they went far from their home of Bayport—that's just my preference—and this one is mostly in Montana—but also, my favorites are the ones that take place in winter, as does this book, the 5th of the series. It starts out when a simple ice skating outing on a frozen pond nearly turns deadly, due to a ridiculous storm, which the Hardys and their chums barely survive by taking refuge in a cottage that has been blown off a cliff and landed intact, complete with an old codger, a miner from Montana who ends up being central to the mystery at hand. When the the Hardys get summoned to join their detective dad, Fenton, out west, the old guy warns them, “It ain't all beer and skittles.” Fenton's laid up with an injury, so he has the boys working on the case, and the first day out they're nearly killed in a mine cave-in and captured by the criminal gang. Fenton decides to let them go on with the investigation, though, if they're more careful, which they're not, and they are almost killed again, this time in a blizzard, which they survive only to be attacked by wolves in a mine, escaping only because they have a pistol they took from one of the gang. I didn't like them shooting the wolves, who are after all just hungry dogs, but they do, of course, eventually find the hidden gold and capture the gang. The best part of the book, though, is when they take the train out west to meet their dad. It's their first train trip and the descriptions of train travel, and their observations of Chicago are really excellent. They're also involved in some Hitchcock level intrigue in which some improbably clever, far-reaching members of the criminal gang try to fool them, put them on the wrong train, back in the the wrong direction, to a backwoods nightmarish kidnapping scheme where they are finally saved by good-hearted black guys—chicken farmers. Then back to another layover in Chicago, and this time they don disguises and barely make it out of town once again. This is the kind of crazy stuff that makes the old, original text versions of the Hardy Boys worth re-reading.
Jughead No. 204 – May 1972 Archie Series 16126. One of my comic books from when I was 12 years old—Archie comics were my favorite, over superhero and other stuff, and Jughead was my favorite of the Archie gang, because of his disinterest in girls, his laziness, and his passion for eating—even though I was more interested in girls than food, myself, and I was far from lazy. I think I recognized, even at that young age, that Jughead was some kind of a zen-master—kind of a version of “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski (1998). On the cover, the kids are all in the lunchroom, wearing those exaggerated colorful, wild design, big collared Seventies shirts, and Jughead has on a white shirt and red tie and says, “Dig the very latest...” Everyone looks confused, but Jughead knows that non-conformity quickly becomes conformity, and the real non-conformists are a step or two ahead—and often baffle everyone. Real Punks Don't Wear Black (the title of another book on my reading list). There are the usual Jughead vs. Veronica stories here—besides competing for the affections of Archie, they just didn't like each other. My next favorite character was probably Betty—I both had a crush on her and related to her. There is a story here where Jughead helps Betty win Archie away from Veronica, and it's almost heartwarming. There's also a story from Hotdog's (Jughead's dog) point of view—an odd one—that more or less lays out the Jughead philosophy, and could almost be called “Jughead Comes Out”—of course, Jughead isn't “boy crazy” (though his love for Archie is obvious)—what he does is displaces sexual feelings with the friendship of his dog—and his passion for food and Zzzz's. This edition is light on the stories about (and pictures of!) food—but I'll re-read and review one of my favorites of those sometime in the future.
The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places – Nancy Kennedy, editor (1950, 1955) This is the first volume (and revised volume) of my very favorite-ever national (USA) restaurant guidebook, later to be known as the “Ford Times Cookbook.” My parents had this one, and I was obsessed with it as a kid. It's a collection of brief restaurant listings from around the country that were first published in Ford Times magazine, a post-war publication, I guess (I've never seen one) encouraging auto travel. This collection is arranged by region and state. Each restaurant listing contains a recipe from the menu (many are odd and dated), but most significantly, an artist's rendition of the place, sometimes exterior, sometime inside. The style of the art is all over the place and fascinating—from naturalistic color painting, to ink sketch, to stylized magazine style illustration, to just plain weird, impressionistic renderings—it's somewhat of a compendium of this kind of thing. My favorites are the nostalgic, formal paintings that you could imagine hanging in the establishment itself. Some of these restaurants are still around, and some gone, of course, but I try to visit the existing ones, or the site, when traveling, which I've occasionally documented in a blog called Restaurant Time Tunnel. I included the 1950 and 1955 editions here because they have the same cover (if you can find the original dust jacket, it folds out to a cool restaurant map of the US), and mostly the same content, though there are a few omissions and additions in that later revised edition. When they published these, I think they were surprised at it's popularity, and later came out with additional volumes, which I'll review later.
Where to Drink Coffee by Liz Clayton and Avidan Ross (2017) This is one of those Phaidon guidebooks (Where to Eat Pizza, etc.)—the idea of which are kind of absurd, but I'd love to own all of—fun to look through, and perhaps consult before traveling somewhere. With this coffee one I, of course, looked up the cities I was familiar with and found it to be pretty much what I'd expect. I'm sure it's well-researched and smart, but seeing how the scope is global—kind of insane, because... the world is actually a pretty big place. As a sunrise to sunset coffee drinker, if I dedicated myself to merely the Milwaukee area, and was able to do that as a job—I might be able to be pretty thorough—but I'd still always be one coffee shop away from being complete. Which is actually a comforting thought. Anyway, I came across this book in an odd way. I was looking at this old zine called Wind-Up Butter-Cow, a one time thing all about Ohio, but I think centered on music scenes. It was put out by Liz Clayton, who I don't know. It's a great zine—I should re-read it and review it, here—I will! Anyway, remembering it led me to looking up the Liz Claytons of the worlds online, and then I saw this book. Is it the same person? I don't know—but unless I decide to write to her (or them) or otherwise make an acquaintance, I guess it doesn't really matter. Anyway, coffee is a ridiculously complex subject, and the world is big, so this book is impressive.
The Haunted Attic by Margaret Sutton (1932) This is the second book of the Judy Bolton series, and it follows directly from where the first one left off, after the dam broke, and Judy's family had to find a new home. They move to the nearby town of Farringdon into an old house that is rumored to be haunted. Judy and her brother Horace are not disturbed by the stories about the creepy old house and are determined to make it their home and even plan a Halloween party in which they intend to expose the hauntings as a hoax. They are pretty unnerved, though, once they arrive; there are strange sounds and other ghostly manifestations, and they are slow to explore the truly creepy old attic—given the description of it, I'd have been slow to explore it, too! Judy is really more bothered, however, by the difficulties socially with her new friends in the local high school. She then makes friends with a girl on the poor side of town, where the millworkers live—and really, the portrait of the town and its social-economic divides is as interesting as the ghost story. Anyway, it ends with the big Halloween party, so this is a good book to read in the fall—though because of the nature of the continuous time running through this series, you will do best if you read them in order. I really like Judy Bolton, so I'm planning on reading more.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2015) I first heard of Maggie Nelson's book Bluets (2009) and put it on my list of books to check out—because it sounded like my kind of thing—between poetry, prose, essay, memoir... but starting out with being about the color blue (which reminds me, someone stole my copy of Derek Jarman's Chroma—please return!) The Argonauts is an even more irresistible title, especially when you read about (which I'll leave for the reader to discover) her inspiration to use that title. A great title goes a long way, at least with fools like me. So like a fool I dove into this book, hearing nothing beforehand, and found out it's like a virtual compendium of subjects that not only make me profoundly uncomfortable, but also I avoid like there's no tomorrow. Sex, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, children, death, love, gender reassignment, surgery, academia, those philosophers I haven't read, and even (as a confirmed bachelor, cisgender, old-guy) companionship. And did I say love? And for all that, the part about dealing with a stalker terrified me the most. As soon as I got reading, on about page 1, I realized this book wasn't for me. But there was something about her writing—perhaps that elusive quality I lamely describe as “good writing”—evident on about page 1—that kept me going. I felt like I was getting to know Maggie Nelson, and I committed to reading the entire book. Then two weird things happened—one was that while I was reading it, I started to hear about it everywhere, from the media to people I know. It was one of those things—the book everyone's talking about. The other thing is I was enjoying it immensely. The reason it took me so long to read (it's a pretty short book, word-wise) is that it's also very dense—first in ideas, but more in emotions. A single paragraph can fill you up for an entire day, or longer. Also, I'm like the world's slowest reader. Also, while I was reading this is when I got re-interested in the idea of “memoir” and the memoir form, and the problems inherent with and beautiful things about memoir. So that really made it all immediate, as well, and along with that, my interest in writers who not only cross over genre lines but just recognize no lines at all, as with this book. All that is very exciting to me, and in the meantime I read about all those (above) subjects (cringing, sighing, dreaming) that I normally avoid like the plague.
Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut (1997) For whatever reason, I decided to read (and in some cases, reread) all of Kurt Vonnegut's novels (and maybe a few of the other books) in order—but after reading his first, Player Piano, I decided to read this, his last novel, next, out of curiosity, and in case I didn't get through them all. Written when he was in his seventies, it feels like a last novel, or a kind of summing up. It's in part about a failed novel, which was his original attempt at “Timequake”—about a glitch in the Universe that reverted everyone back ten years, from 2001 to 1991, at which time we all have to relive the previous ten years. I don't know about you, but that kind of jumping around in time makes a lot of sense to me—I guess—in a world, and life, that is often hard to make any sense of. Besides the sci-fi, fantasy, and absurdist elements, this book is also somewhat of a memoir, or could even be looked at as an unconventional autobiography. It's also a final jaunt with his goofy alter-ego, Kilgore Trout. A lot of it is very funny, and a lot of it is very sad. Overall, it kind of made me happy, though—at least in a subdued way. You want to feel like Kurt Vonnegut is your friend, even though sometimes he's a maddening old fart—and he's the first to admit that. But he's also the kind of friend that really helps you (or me, anyway, maybe not you) deal with what we all know life is (well, I speak for myself)—you know: Pain! Fear! Suffering! Wow, that donut's good! Death! Nothingness!
The Clue in Blue by Betsy Allen (1948) This is the first book of the Connie Blair Mystery Series—all of the books have a color in the title—the next being The Riddle in Red, and so on. I like that kind of thing. There are 12 books in all, in a ten year run, and the first 11 were written by Betty Cavanna, using Betsy Allen as a pen name, so says Internet. Some or all of the books use Connie's current job as a backdrop for the mystery. In this first book, summer after high school, Connie accompanies her Aunt Bet, a career woman she looks up to, to Philadelphia to work as a model in a department store. We don't get to know that much about Connie's family before she leaves, including her twin sister Kit, and younger brother. She's immediately enveloped in a mystery in this huge, old style department store—where items have taken to disappearing—when she's whacked over the head and knocked unconscious in a kind of weird and shocking situation (stranger still because no one believes her!) Without going into details, she's thrust into issues of women in the workplace, as well as class, and sensitive personal politics—very subtly presented, perhaps, but present. There's also a little romance, and romance for the city experience, seen through the eyes of someone new to it. The mystery part of the story is solid, too, and compelling—I've definitely become a Connie Blair fan and I'm going to look for the next book.
You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames (2013) Awhile back I purchased this short novel on my liquid crystal reading device—I must have just read something about or by Jonathan Ames, and it was likely quite inexpensive. Then I forgot about it until last spring when I saw the movie (by the same name; there is a review of it on this website) adapted from this novel, and I remembered that I had an Ames book waiting for me, looked, and to my delight, it was this one. Normally I'd prefer to read the novel before seeing the movie, but it didn't happen that way this time—and it was impossible to read it without thinking about the choices and changes made in the adaptation. I didn't think too much, though, because I zipped right through this book, like eating a bag of Cheetos after work. I read or heard that Ames said he wanted to write a kind of traditional “page turner”—he certainly did that. The book is concise, well-written, and wastes no words whatsoever—never gets too fancy or cute—and even though he gives you background on this character—a damaged veteran who is highly specialized in recovering children who've been sold into prostitution—it never bogs down in any kind of excessive backstory or development. It's pretty much non-stop action, consistently suspenseful, and extremely violent. I think the matter-of-fact description of how the guy operates keeps if from feeling too disturbing though, and it's fascinating throughout. I'm not a fan of violence—I've had to stop watching several highly thought-of television series' because, yes, I thought they were actually harming me. Also, I'm suspicious of the “page turner” novel—the last time I read one was Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch—and as much as I liked it, I felt I was being manipulated by an excellent craftsperson. But I'll read more by her, who I'm pretty fascinated with, and by Jonathan Ames, who I'm also pretty fascinated with—hey, maybe these two should date.
The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene (1930) This is the second Nancy Drew book, and one supposedly most loved by fans. I've noticed that many series books have a “haunted house” episode early on (if not several) which is often some version of a criminal “haunting” an old house in order to scare people away while they use it as cover for their nefarious activities. Very Scooby-Doo. Naturally, their intentions backfire, as the “ghosts” do nothing but attract youthful investigators. This book has very little plot, actually, and really only one setting: a supposedly haunted house, lived in by two old women—and Nancy goes to stay with them to figure out what's up. She doesn't believe in ghosts. It's more atmosphere than story, but the cool thing about it is imagining the geography/architecture of the place. I did like it, but it's not my favorite Nancy Drew. I read the 1930 version, written by Mildred Wirt Benson, which was supposedly adapted as a 1939 movie; I've never seen it, but would like to. There is a new version of this story in cinema production now (or recently), no doubt based on the 1959 rewrite of this book (or rewrites of the rewrite). I was hoping, without much hope, that they would make either a 1930 period version or a 1950s period version, but based on a production still I saw, it's contemporary. What is the point, really?—except that Nancy Drew is, I guess, a “brand.” In the 1930 version, to protect herself, Nancy takes along a handgun. In this new movie version, I suppose the interesting questions to be answered will be: how many ethnicities and sexual orientations will be covered by her friends; what current music will they listen to; what kind of cars will they drive; what phones will they use; which social media will they be on; and will Nancy use a Taser (like Veronica Mars), pepper spray, or just her wits.
Counter Intelligence by Jonathan Gold (2000) I picked up a copy of this book a few years ago and read a little here and a little there—I'll never read it from cover to cover, but I'll probably read a lot over and over. It's essentially a guide to Los Angeles restaurants, focusing on cuisine diversity, which also, often, means affordable. An 18 year old guide is hopelessly outdated, but Gold's writing is so enjoyable, informed, and intelligent, I read it first of all just to learn about how to write, and second, to learn about varieties of food. It's organized alphabetically and indexed by cuisine's country of origin. I'm sure you know that Jonathan Gold died last month; he was considered by many the best at what he was doing, and he was my favorite writer about food. You can find endless writing by him online, of course. His focus was the greater Los Angeles area, really endless in its immensity. Another reason I have for reading this, and other restaurant guides, is I like to track down listings in older guides to see if the place is still there, or what has replaced it. I document some of this exploration on a sadly neglected blog called Restaurant Time Tunnel; if I get around to reviving it, I'll put a link on the title/news page of this website. If I ever make it out to Los Angeles again, I'll have this book with me, re-read much of it, and hunt down some of the addresses. I suppose for some time, for me as well as his many fans, any trip to LA will be a kind of Jonathan Gold pilgrimage.
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (2009) I had read a couple of Thomas Pynchon novels, including Gravity's Rainbow, which was an experience I'll not talk about here. This book is considered Pynchon “lite” by some, I guess, but I think that's a bit snobbish, and also, while more accessible than some of his other books, it's still very dense and fairly impossible to totally get to the bottom of. It's essentially a detective novel set in the 1970s—but it's about much more than the mystery at hand, of course. It's also very funny. It was adapted as a 2014 movie by Paul Thomas Anderson, which follows the book remarkably closely. I read the book, then saw the movie, which I loved, several times, then read the book again. Of course, now the two are forever linked in my mind. I highly recommend either and both to anyone, but as with all movie adaptations of books, you should read the book first. An aside: there is a brief bit in this book, a short conversation, that is almost word for word identical to a bit I wrote in my novel, The Doughnuts (in a part that was taken from a screenplay I wrote a good five years earlier). In the event that anyone ever reads The Doughnuts, they might think I stole it from this novel—but not so! I know that sounds like crazy-person talk, but anyone who knows me knows I'm neither crazy nor a liar. These things happen—but it is very odd.
Air & other Stories by Lauren Leja (2017) This is a fairly short collection of five stories that are all first person, I think, and all taking the form of the autobiographical—though you have to remind yourself that it's fiction, or maybe not—I personally don't think there is a line between fiction and autobiography, but a lot of people aren't comfortable with that idea. These are stories of, I guess it's adolescence—that really uncomfortable and magical time between being a kid and an adult—when you're neither, but actually both. I say short, but there's a lot of weight here, and I'm glad when the pages aren't so many, because lately I've been reading a lot of things twice—like, I need to read things twice, at least things l like—sometimes with a break between readings and sometimes again right away. The stories are from the point of view of a woman looking back, but also from the person in the stories, so there is both an understanding that age brings and the exciting confusion of the time that, for most people, gets eradicated by the understanding, later. Most or all of the stories take place when it's summer, and hot, and the time period and place sounds much like when I was younger, the Seventies, and anywhere pretty much, suburbs, maybe. Even though these experiences are very odd and particular, and very much a young woman's experience, I could relate to a lot of it, as they are those heightened, visceral sensations you get from everything when everything in your world takes on some kind of sexual significance. Maybe it's the time when the sensuous and the sensual are the same thing, before you get older and start putting things it their well-defined, safe categories, which is kind of sad, I guess, but, I guess, necessary.
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1952) In some other book I was reading there was a description of Kurt Vonnegut novels on a shelf, those old Dell paperbacks, each with a different color, and that made me want to read these books, which I haven't in many years, or even remember what I read, including this one. But I always got the feeling that Kurt Vonnegut enjoyed writing—as much as I wish to—and whether or not that is true, I admire the feeling that comes through, and his sense of humor, behind which there is some real sadness. This was his first novel, somewhat different in style than he would settle into, but it's pretty amazing for someone's first novel, and also amazing for 1952. It's about a future time, set in Upstate New York, after the third world war, and a society in which miracles of automation have eliminated a large amount of labor, and so there has become an increased and well-defined class division. There are a lot of characters, some parallel stories, and a lot happens. It took me a few chapters to get into it, but once I was, this was one of those reading experiences where picking up the book was the high point of each day. It kept surprising me. The world he describes is at the same time an older, recognizable world, an imagined future that hasn't happened, and also, in many respects, a frighteningly accurate description of now. This made want to read (and re-read) more Kurt Vonnegut, and even though there is so much to read, and so little time, I'm going to.