Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kudzu, Kannibals, and Kosher Sushi

And now for recent reading highlights ...

Best book that never quite seemed to develop a plot: Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. Really, what happens in this book? A lonely dude mooses around New York missing his estranged wife, dealing with his natural dreaminess (Frank Bascombe, meet your Dutch-boy soul mate), and interacting with a vast multicultural stream of characters. But who needs a plot when you have New York City, disquisitions on how to produce kosher sushi, and a quest to turn cricket into a national sport?

Best book that will make you want to shoot yourself, in between bouts of wondering whether human flesh really tastes like chicken: Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

(I dragged my husband to the movie during the holidays, too. Sorry, honey. It wasn't exactly festive. But I generally agree with Kafka's idea that we should read "only the kind of books that wound and stab us ... books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves ... book must be the axe to the frozen sea inside us." To which I've long been sure Kafka meant to add, "Oh, and books that make us laugh till a little bit of pee comes out.")

Which brings me to:

Best book I read, flat out: Beth Ann Fennelly's collection Unmentionables. It's funny, naughty in parts, imbued with a nice southerny tongue-in-cheek-iness that I liked a lot. But for all the southern bits (the kudzu poems are terrific, and you can see a cool video art version of them here), my favorite part is the sequence on Berthe Morisot.

Other bits of note: Katie Roiphe's fascinating essay on sex and the American male novelist in the last New York Times Book Review. A friend of mine pointed out that, in An American Dream, Mailer throws a woman out the window after raping her, and that therefore she couldn't find it in herself to work up much nostalgia for this older generation of scribblers. My first instinct was to agree, but then it occurred to me that it wasn't Mailer but Stephen Rojack who threw someone out a window, so given the novelist's common role of cultural critic, it seems a less clear feminist cause to me (though Mailer's own taste for the human ear is well-documented). In any case, the essay's definitely worth a read. Did you read it? What did you think?

Now starting into Ron Slate's The Great Wave and Jane Hamilton's Disobedience. See you on the other side.

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