Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Here are some books not named The Canterbury Tales that I read this summer.

1. Light In August, William Faulkner

I spent about three weeks on Faulkner's Light In August.  It is a substantial book that deserves one's undivided attention, and I was fortunate enough to have some time to devote to it.

All Faulkner novels are unsettling, but Light in August is especially so, with its biblical themes of sin, death, redemption, and rebirth.  And everything is seen through the prism of race, as main character Joe Christmas is neither white enough for the white world, nor black enough for the black world.  (And, students, what did I say about characters whose initials are J and C?  I told you this would be on the test.)

Light in August came out a year after Sanctuary, the violent, sensational book that made Faulkner famous.  Light is also violent, but not in the showy, almost gratuitous manner of its predecessor, and it seems a clear predecesor for the gravitas of Absalom, Absalom!, which Faulkner released four years later.

(Also, I find it very hard to believe that Oprah read this book.  If she had, she never would asked her millions of followers to read it.  Menophobia is not a recurrent theme in the novels she chooses.)

I had a lot of help from this, book, Reading Faulkner: Light in August.  I did not always agree with the  analysis, but the glossary was a big help in keeping the timeline and facts of the plot straight.  I am definitely going to use this Reading Faulkner series for my future Faulkner endeavors.

2. The Magic Barrel, Bernard Malamud

After Faulkner, I turned to Bernard Malamud, another one of my favorite twentieth-century authors.  I had not read any of his short stories since my undergraduate days, but I remembered immediately why I admired him so much.  And if you have not read the title story, I recommend you do so at your next convenience, as it reminds you that fiction can be beautiful and enthralling, and, yes, magic.

Malamud is at his best when he's writing about New York.  When his characters arrive in Italy or France, his fiction sags.  A number of the stories in The Magic Barrel take place in Italy, and they lack the immediacy of his Bronx tales.

Finally, The Magic Barrel, like The Fixer, has a fantastic final line:
"Around the corner, Salzman, leaning against a wall, chanted prayers for the dead."

3. Home and Exile, Chinua Achebe

This slim book emerged out of lectures that Achebe gave at the behest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at Harvard.  Achebe discusses the disconnect he felt growing up in Africa, but being forced to read about Africa from only white authors such as Joseph Conrad or Joyce Cary.

This book will come in handy in the spring, when I teach Things Fall Apart again.

4. Nabokov's Butterfly, by Rick Gekoski

An inconsequential book about the joys of dealing in rare books, written by a one of those guys who loves his job and thinks that you should, too.

5. "TV's Crowning Moment of Awesome" by Chris Jones (in this month's edition of Esquire)

Of course, this is not a book, but it is funny and fascinating.  It is about Terry Kniess, the man who made a perfect bid on The Price is Right.  

Chances you will immediately click here to read it: 100%.

6. Last Orders, by Graham Swift

I am currently reading Last Orders, which is about four friends taking a road trip from London to the coast of England in order to spread the ashes of their dead friend.  Ecoes of The Canterbury Tales seem inevitable.  More later.


  1. I want to read the last one especially. Last thing I devoured was
    The Summer We Read Gatsby. Funny, frothy, and made me want to read Gatsby again, too.


  2. I'll let you have my copy of Last Orders when I get back. And you should totally re-read Gatsby.

  3. I love Last Orders! Graham Swift is way underrated. Check out "Waterland" if you find you enjoy Last Orders. (Susannah)