It was not a month more conducive for reading than the last. Then, atleast, I could claim I was bereft. Now I am forced to admit it’s likely all sloth. Oh well. Here is what I did read. The only reading it doesn’t include are the articles I read for class- I listed the books, because they were a significant chunk of my reading time, but listing the articles would elevate an exercise in organization to sheer pedantism.
1. Mary McCarthy, The Group. One of my hobbies is starting essays I never finish. It justifies all kinds of bizarre behavior. Last month I was going to, in a blaze of originality, write about Girls. And so I read this, which was a wiser idea than the idea it was intended to support. I enjoyed her vivid wit, but was prevented from truly liking the book itself by reading her Intellectual Memoirs alongside. I joked on twitter a few weeks ago that I ought steal Lena Dunham’s brainwave of carving herself up into four contradictory women. Clearly Dunham stole the idea herself, which proves how good it is. I respect Mary McCarthy for having such a full, eclectic life. I just wish she had restrained herself from describing it twice over. My girls-writing career was dead on arrival, thank the gods. I love plump naked women as much as anyone, but I really would like them to be slightly less dull. ‘Sides as a 20 something women in New York (though admittedly not in Brooklyn) I find it abhorrent that the world might conclude I have this much emotional energy.
2. Dianna Wynne Jones, A Sudden Wild Magic. I love this book. It’s a parody of Feminism and Ivory Towers and Romance and practically everything I hold sacred and it features the phrase “kamikaze sex” multiple times. I read it long before Fire and Hemlock and then I lost my copy and the day I found another it felt like the trees were singing specially for me. I mean. What are the odds the Strand decides to discard both the DWJs you love best on the very day you happen to stroll by?
3. Sarah Caudwell, The Sirens Sang Murder. I’m a bit puzzled about classifying this. I began reading it in mid-Feb, but I lost my place and started reading it again on Saturday, 2rd March, and it saved me on a desolate day and as soon as I finished it I began The Shortest Way to Hades. They are both excellent, hilarious detective novels featuring zany lawyers and a pompous historian and pretty much the best thing ever. I like Hades marginally more, but Sirens has the best sex scene I have read all month and is all very meta and quite splendid.
1. Edith Wharton, The Rembrandt. I’ve recommended this to several people in several workshops as a perfect plotless story. Which tells you a lot about my workshops, I suppose.
2. I reread almost, but not all, of Invisible Cities. I do this every month. I mention this now, as is customary citation practice, but never again. Id forever. This month I was taken by Octavia, partly because I miss Random’s pet spiders and partly because I have been thinking a lot about the fatal economy of irrelevant information. In December Mummy told me a family history in jewelry when she was persuading me into wearing rubies. I am not a jewelry person and was politely indifferent. Yet there I was, nine weeks later, sharing her stories, feeling very much like a very small fly suspended within a very large web.
3. Jamaica Kincaid, Talk Stories. I attended a Jamaica Kincaid interview on my mother’s birthday. It felt, it felt.. like coming home. She was predictably amazing, and said that she developed many of her narrative strategies in her Talk of the Town pieces, which this anthologizes, and there was a great thrill in knowing (viscerally, for the first time) that it is possible to move from bloggy, gossipy essays to Serious Novels. I am no Jamaica Kincaid, not even no early Jamaica Kincaid, but suddenly the chasm between us seems less yawning.
4. Elizabeth Hardwick, Seduction and Betrayal. I read this in Jan. I read it again in Feb, when I was thinking through my reaction to the China Miéville flap that my twitter revived (?) a few weeks ago. Like any great essay, this one felt personal to the situation that impelled me to read it. (I can’t find the link, but a journalist wrote a rather incoherent blogpost about how he had, well, seduced and betrayed her and how it was #feministfail and how Literature at Large was full of scumbags) Here is one sentence that spoke to me: “There is, as in Don Giovanni, [from the Mozart opera] an absence of motive and an exorbitance of emotion.”
5. Elizabeth Hardwick, Zelda. It told me many things I didn’t know about Zelda Fitzgerald (she found Hemingway “bogus”, amen sister!) and some things I did (that she was a dancer and spent much of her life trying to unsuccessfully prove she was sane). Most of all, it reminded me I had to read Heroines, and soon. Before I do, here is Subashini’s stunning review.
6. John D’Agata and Jim Fingall, The Lifespan of a Fact. We spent, by my count, nine hours discussing this book in class. Not only it, but mostly it, which is a huge burden for a slim book of farce to undertake. It is, essentially, a dialogue between a truculent writer and a neurotic fact-checker. The first chapter turns on one sentence. My brain gets exhausted every time I look at this book, and I have long ceased to have any opinions about it, or the debate, or indeed life itself.
7. Lawrence Weschler, My Grandfather’s Last Tale. Weschler is teaching me this semester. He wrote an essay called this, about his composer grandfather. QED.
Narrative Non Fiction.
1. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Random Family. This is such a meticulous book. I am in utter awe of it. It’s about two women in the South Bronx, the drug dealers that love (and hate) them and a culture so fascinating and so alien that I finally understand why Behind the Beautiful Forevers is such a sensation in this country. Perhaps it has the same problems as Boo’s book, I wouldn’t know, but this is the kind of book I could never write and will always want to.
2. George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia. I hardly need an incentive to reread this, but my professors kindly provided me one, and I love it as uncritically as ever. But I have already said, at length, everything I need to about it.
That’s about it, then. I forgot, as usual, to keep notes about a week in, so this list is mostly me looking about my shelves and trying to figure out what happened with my life last month. Almost all the reading was in bursts, with one productive night followed by a week of surfing and laying about being useless and walking around clutching Tonight No Poetry Will Serve like a talisman. Again I read plenty of poetry, following some arcane impulse, the logic of which perenially eludes me. My favorites in Feb, judging by my diary, were Edna St Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie, Elizabeth Jennings, W.S. Merwin, Adil Jussawalla and, of course, Rich and Larkin.
Make of them what you will.