I’ve been reading.
One of the few perks of working for a bureaucracy and staying out of grad school is all the free time. Most of it is squandered. Some of it isn’t. I’ve been pretty good about not watching television for the past two years, a habit that was killing me and making me feel terrible about myself. A helpful first step in shirking the tube (for those of you so inclined) is to only, and I mean ONLY, turn it on for specific programs. Channel surfing leads to zombisim. Tell your friends.
Anyway, all the free time has allowed me to indulge any and every reading whim that whispers in my ear. I’ll see a name, do a little searching, and order the book. Clockwork. I’ve stumbled upon and read so many obscure, small press, forgotten, and little-known-but-wonderful novels in the past year and a half. Some were busts, sure, but my frame of reference has been expanded exponentially, and that can only lead to more quality reading.
My surrealism/dada/symbolist/avant kick has been particularly fruitful. Andrei Bely, Rodenbach, Tzara, Severo Sarduy (from whom God hid nothing and of whom there is quite the dearth of info on the internet…), Robbe-Grillet (who is less avant than nouveau, I suppose, and that in the ’60s), Daumal… all authors who were little more than neato-sounding foreign names I’d heard just a short time ago. Now I’ll have them for life. I’m shocked at how contemporary most of their work feels (Tzara is an exception here, as is Rodenbach perhaps). Most of the gimmicky bullshit by our next “great authors” is bloodless and maladroit in comparison. But I’ve said all this before…
Up until a few months ago I was in a state of near-despair–I was pissed off and paranoid, I was frustrated with the state of contemporary writing, and I was smoking a lot– but I’ve begun to see the first tremors of “the light”. To whit:
McCarthy’s Remainder, which Badger posted on just recently, was the first breath of fresh air. I acquired an advance reading copy on the cheap about two months ago and read it in two sittings. It is an odd book, yes, and its ending is a little disappointing (but only a little), but the subtle repetitions in the prose, the quirky focus of the narrator, and the genuinely unpretentious tenor of the work seduced me. I’ve recommended it widely and will continue to do so.
Joshua Cohen is a young author who is possessed of a casual brilliance that I cannot but envy. He’s a fugue state author, so you know at the start that he’s little concerned with conservatism of form and very much concerned with honesty–artistic, emotional, whatever. The Cadenza is a tough read and in many spots an almost incoherent read, but it is WORTH a read and it is truly unique. A word to the wise: read an excerpt from the press’s page before diving in.
And hype? I’ve learned to ignore blurbs on books for the most part. If an author I really admire blurbs something, I’ll read it with only one grain of salt. Otherwise I disregard them as back-scratching or favor-pulling. Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist was blurbed to Parnassus. It was compared to Ellison (Ralph, not Harlan), Pynchon, Morrison (Toni, not dead ol’ Jim). It was praised as unique and odd and brilliant. And so it is…almost. I’m not quite finished yet, but so far the book is a frustrating series of almost-hits. The prose is different without being exceptionally so. Think Ishmael Reed with less fire. The central metaphor is deftly but too-lightly handled. The plot and pacing is by turns subtle and thrillerish. Whitehead has intrigued me, and I’ll likely read his second novel, but I hate being teased. Almost, almost… For all the hype, The Intuitionist is ALMOST as unique and brilliant as Remainder and Cadenza. But guess who won the genius grant?