Wednesday, October 5, 2011

September Reading

I only read two lousy books in September.
(The photo above comes from the wonderful Library of Congress stream on, which I have featured before on this blog.)

I only read two lousy books this month!  Geez.  How embarrassing.  Normally, I try to get three of them done, plus a few interesting magazine articles or short stories at least.  But you know what happened that has kept me from reaching my reading goals?  I had to take care of my kids.  Thanks a lot, guys.

I didn't realize how much of my reading time had slipped away since we had our daughter until I found myself one day, standing in the kitchen and shuffling from one foot to another in a vain attempt to stop her from screaming.  I spied my most recent copy of Sports Illustrated on the kitchen counter, and thought to myself, "Oh, if I only had enough time to read my SI.

 If you don't have time to read your S.I., you're pretty busy.  Allow me to demonstrate how to read a Sports Illustrated in under seven minutes:

Look at the pictures in "Leading Off."  Groan at the awful titles.  Check out "Sign of the Apocalypse," "Go Figure," and "For the Record."  (Hey, did you see who died?  Sad.)  Read "They Said It," if it looks interesting.  Skip "Faces in the Crowd," and avoid, "Just My Type." Do not, do not!, read the pop culture grid, partially because the athletes always say that their favorite book is the Bible.  Skim past all the features, looking for Steelers/Penguins/Pirates, ignoring everything else.  Then, you get to "The Point After," which is usually the tritest little thousand words of prose you will read all week.  Look at it, maybe.  Then throw it on the recycle pile.

Seven minutes, tops.

So, it's been hard for me to get around to my reading this month.  But let's look at the books I did read in the last thirty days, both of which came with recommendations (or admonitions) from my friend Kelly at A Certain Solitary Pleasure.

1. Homer and Langley, by E. L. Doctorow

First, I read Homer and Langley, by E. L. Doctorow.  The story of Homer and Langley Collyer is a fascinating tale of extreme hoarding between two brothers over three decades in a brownstone on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.  I hoped this novel would tap into America's current fixation with hoarding, and I hoped it would have lots of exciting elements like trash!  And rats!  And mountains of stuff piled up everywhere!

But it didn't.  The novel is much more subtle than that, and it follows these two brothers through their youth, young manhood, and adulthood.  Throughout, they find themselves more and more isolated from the boorishness of American society, and withdraw into their fortress of trash.  It was slow going, and I must admit I was waiting for Doctorow to get to his point.

As they retreat, Homer, who is already blind, begins to lose his hearing.  His sense of reality withdraws into a solipsistic guessing game just as the house becomes unmanageably filled with trash.  True, the book begins slowly, but by the end, the sense of sadness and loneliness is suffocating.  It all ends with one devastating paragraph that is affecting enough to justify the pace of the rest of it.

My friend Kelly urged me not to read this book, but I couldn't resist the $4.50 sale price during the Boarders liquidation sale.  When I was halfway through it and struggling with how an author could take a topic as fascinating as the Collyer brothers and make it so dull, he told me "The wikipedia page is more interesting."  He wasn't wrong.

Collyer_Bros_Park_jeh.JPG (2141×1528)
Collyer Brothers Park

2. The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim

So, after reading a book that my friend Kelly expressly warned me not to read, I decided to read one that he said I would like, The Hundred Brothers, by Donald Antrim.

Kelly recommended The Hundred Brothers based on my affinity for George Saunders.  And if anyone should know about how much I love Saunders, it's my friend Kelly--he introduced me to Civil Warland in Bad Decline many years ago.

And he has a point.  The Hundred Brothers is the bizarre story of 99 brothers who gather in the red library of their crumbling manor in a futile effort to find their father's ashes.  What begins as a postmodern, comic exercise slowly morphs into a nightmarish journey into the darkest depths of family, fraternity, and literature itself.  All the frustrations, joys, and shames of manhood are present in the main character of Doug, who tries making peace with his many brothers while also serving the family in his role as the sacrificial "Corn King."  You just have to read it.

And thus endeth my September reading.  I'll do better in October, I promise.

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