Top 5 Books I Read in 2019

I’ll be doing a few Top Fives to wrap up 2019, starting, obviously, with books.

Before the list proper, here’s everything I read in 2019:

J R by William Gaddis

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

Airships by Barry Hannah

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Suldrun’s Garden by Jack Vance

The Stand by Stephen King

The Green Pearl by Jack Vance

The Shining by Stephen King

The Croning by Laird Barron

Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers

How to Read Donald Duck by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart

Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson

I try to adhere to a 30 pages a day regimen in my reading. I settled on 30 pages because A) it’s a feasible fit-in with an obstructed modern life, and B) if observed, guarantees I’m able to finish nearly any book in about a month, which keeps things tidy on the mental calendar. I thought I fell short of that goal this year, but did better than expected. In total, I read 10,224 pages this year: about 28.01 pages/day.

Some observations about my readings:

Which two exceptions, everything I read this year was originally written in English.

With two exceptions, everything I read this year was fiction.

This is the first year in which I listened to audiobooks; three of them: The StandThe        Road, and A Game of Thrones (I read the first third, but switched to the audiobook).

Only two books this year were rereads.

I, and I cannot state this enough, do not like New Years’ Resolutions, but if I were to draw some possible guidelines for 2020’s reading based on what I did/didn’t do in 2019, they would be:

Read more literature in translation.

Keep audiobooks a key part of my regimen.

Read more nonfiction.

Keep the ratio between new reads and rereads approximately the same.

Oh and also: maintain a list of everything that I read somewhere because collating    between my blog and twitter account to make sure I found them all was a pain in the  ass.

FIVE FAVORITE BOOKS 2019

  1. Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers

A winter surprise. Not super happy with my review of Urban, which I wrote right after finishing it and which fails to address the strange, elegant presence this book has continued to maintain inside my head. Superficially so straightforward, Urban teems with strong characterization, clean prose, and (a particular catnip) Heavy Midwestern Vibes. There are other things that I like about it, but don’t want to talk about for fear of spoiling them for others. Still don’t know who I’d recommend this one to; guess I’ll say that if you liked Silence by Shusaku Endo or the movie First Reformed, give Morte d’Urban a try.

 

  1. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

It was so strange and rewarding to return, after ten years, to the book that ignited all the literary drypowder in my skull and has always been a personal emblem to me of what books can achieve. Its place as fourth on this list speaks to the simple, obvious inability of a Top 5 to be authoritative in any way, or even ‘correct’; from lots of angles GR should be higher, and from any angle its place in my life is singular. But from a pure “reading for pleasure” point of view, for all that I admire GR (and there aren’t many books I admire as much), it is a lot. It was a fatiguing reread, and gave me full-on Epstein Brain three months before he was killed; I became paranoid to the point of exasperation, nearly to a point of despair. Not that either feeling was/is unwarranted.

 

  1. J R by William Gaddis

J R is a powerful book, angry and funny and beautiful; whereas The Recognitions can be a little too unvarnishedly angry to the point of unpleasing obviousness at times, with J R Gaddis struck perfectly the balance between anger and art. I mean, the book is still very obvious; there’s nothing subtle in Gaddis’s satire (with the exception of J R himself); but the eloquent vehemence of the attacks and their particular accuracy channel much vivid power. The characters are stronger in J R, too, and the whole thing is grounded in a more direct, tangible realism that I like; this is our world, in all its hot and cold ugliness, indicted in words on the page.

 

  1. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2666 is dark, arcane, driven by death and thoughts of death, death-obsessed; but also bravely makes the key leap and shows that engagement with death means engagement with life; and life, to Bolaño, isn’t a cheesy positivity, or some facile reconciliation with finiteness; instead, for Bolaño, life comes down finally to those few stretches of time in which we are steeped in art. Divided into five obliquely-related parts, what should feel like a congeries comes together like a cathedral. Highly excited to reread this one.

 

  1. Herzog by Saul Bellow

No surprise here, except for the first, eternal surprise that against all odds Herzog, most novely of novels (even the page count – 341 pages – is so fucking novely), stormed my heart and became my favorite book of the year. It hit me right in the red marrow. Herzog is magnificent.

A Couple Miscellaneous Awards

Best Audiobook: The Stand by Stephen King, read by Grover Gardner

I like Stephen King but he’s exasperating for me to read; I much prefer to listen to his novels; it somehow mitigates his excesses. The audiobook for The Stand is, hands down, the best audiobook I’ve ever heard. Grover Gardner seems totally in sync with the text, allocating the perfect voices to each of the (many) characters. This is one case where I can say that not only did the audiobook help me finish the book, it also actively made it better.

Worst Book I Read in 2019: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

It sucked.

A Mid-Year Book Ranking

I like lists, rankings, reviews, organizations, schema and structures, anatomies; because of this, and since the year is halfway over now, and since I don’t want to forget what I’ve read as I often do (I’m basically a bad, sloppy reader), I wanted to make a ranked list of everything that I’ve read in 2019 so far.

Each book’s rank is derived from an admixture of 1) how much I enjoyed reading it, and 2) how it stands in my esteem now, today, June 19th, after having finished it and moved on for shorter or longer stretches of time.

God Tier

Herzog by Saul Bellow
A full piece is forthcoming on Herzog, easily the biggest and best surprise of the year. I expected to love 2666J R, Train Dreams, books that’re so clearly fashioned from the stuff I gravitate towards. But I thought, wrongly, that I had moved beyond Saul Bellow, who seems so normal, so achingly, boringly a “writer,” with his natty bow ties, stable of standard awards, the sheer noveliness of his novel’s names: The Dean’s December? Seize the Day? Get the fuck outta here.

But, I am a bad reader, and I was wrong. Rich, funny, sad, raw – pick your favorite blurb-word fallalerie, it applies to Herzog  – but applies truly: this is a work of deep erudition and deep heart, a character study that’s as richly drawn as any I’ve ever read, a book about a man thinking that, through the all-grabbing vitality of its prose, manages to make that process of thought a thrilling, page-turning experience.

(And out of anything I’ve ever read it’s the book I most wish you would read; I want to know what you would make of it).

2666 by Roberto Bolaño
I reviewed this book here. Amazing, looking forward to taking another pass at it next year. One thing that’s worth mentioning, I think, is the sheer readability of 2666; although it is long, and juggles some arcane subjects like evil, death, and our own human hearts, it reads so easily, so smoothly – without losing any artistic individuality.

S-Rank

J R by William Gaddis
I actually began J R last year, but read about half of it in January so I think it counts. A very great book, and by no means as difficult as its reputation would suggest – in many ways I found The Recognitions harder to get through, although that is also a powerful and most excellent novel.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
I reviewed Jesus’ Son here. Since reading it I’ve had to dig it out again, and I keep it on the stack on my nightstand to browse through on occasion, reading choice passages – and almost every passage in this slender little knife of a book is choice.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Johnson did it again with Train Dreams, which I read in two delightful hours a couple weeks ago. I thought about reviewing it, but really, if you’re interested at all in Johnson’s work, just pick up a copy and read it yourself.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
My first reread of GR since I read it in ’07 or ’08 was mostly positive. The sheer force of the art here is beyond reproach, but truth be told there was much in the book I didn’t enjoy, or didn’t quite ‘get.’ The near insanity of GR‘s constant, onrushing density of detail, its endless appurtenances of fantasy and fever dream and aside, do induce fatigue, even if the prose is uniformly capital-B Beautiful. I highly recommend it and love it, and it’ll always be a totem for me, but it does engender some readerly brennschluss.

A-Rank

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
At some point I have to write something articulating the concept of Perfection in fiction: what an author gains and loses by pursuing, and maybe even achieving, it. The Leopard is pretty damn perfect, a beautiful book, and if you ever need a guide of how to write historical fiction – what to include, what to show, etc. – this one’ll teach ya. Rich and invigorating.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Found this one manifestly great, but also kind of…cold? It’s hard to explain in brief, but there’s a certain distance to the narration that made 100 Years easy to admire but hard to love. It does have an unbelievable, perfect first chapter though, and an ending that’ll rip your heart out (don’t worry, it’ll grow back).

B-Rank

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
I took some notes on this one here. This cowboy epic went down easy, but didn’t stick with me. I can see why people like it, and I don’t think that it’s without artistic merit, unlike other popularly apotheosized doorstops (cough A Game of Thrones cough), but I think it fails to be the critique of Western myth it so clearly wants to be.

Review: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Bocklin

2666 by Roberto Bolaño, who was born on this day in 1953 and who died 16 years ago, has been the most enjoyable reading experience of 2019 for me so far. It may be matched, but I don’t think it’ll be topped. Bolaño’s body of work has been cracked open for me like a door into a new world, which is not an experience you expect to have all that often as a reader, especially as you get older and your literary polestars have been set in place for years.

What is 2666 about? Primarily, hell. It riffles through reality’s thick dusty grognardian deck of hells: the hell of love, of jealousy, the hell of war and war crime, the hell of violence, the hell of ineptitude, capitalist hell, fascistic hell, hells of forgetting and of being forgotten – and maybe most of all the hell that is our final erasure in death, the only thing, ultimately, to which our ragged souls are inescapably contracted.

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In more practical terms: 2666 is about a dozen or so central characters – critics, reporters, detectives, writers – who are drawn, for reasons arcane and straightforward, to Santa Teresa, Sonora, Mexico, a city cursed with a terrifying crime wave during which hundreds of women are being raped and murdered: primarily young, primarily lower class. Many were workers in the maquiladoras, factories built by foreign corporations that have metastasized across Santa Teresa like cancers and have come to both define and poison the city’s growth. The life and works of a mysterious, elusive German writer named Benno von Archimboldi are also an ongoing concern.

It’s also about burned books:

What would those who lived in the tenth dimension, that is, those who perceived ten dimensions, think of music, for example? What would Beethoven mean to them? What would Mozart mean to them? What would Bach mean to them? Probably, the young Reiter answered himself, music would just be noise, noise like crumpled pages, noise like burned books.

At this point the conductor raised a hand and said or rather whispered confidentially:

“Don’t speak of burned books, my dear young man.”

To which Hans responded:

“Everything is a burned book, my dear maestro. Music, the tenth dimension, the fourth dimension, cradles, the production of bullets and rifles, Westerns: all burned books.”

“What are you talking about?” asked the director.

“I was just stating my opinion,” said Hans.

“An opinion like any other,” said Halder, doing his best to end the conversation on a humorous note, one that would leave them all on good terms, he and the conductor and Hans and the conductor, “a typically adolescent pronouncement.”

“No, no, no,” said the conductor, “What do you mean by Westerns?”

“Cowboy novels,” said Hans.

This declaration seemed to relieve the director, who, after exchanging a few friendly words with them, soon took his leave. Later, he would tell his hostess that Halder and the Japanese man seemed like decent people, but Halder’s young friend was a time bomb, no question about it: an untrained, powerful mind, irrational, illogical, capable of exploding at the moment least expected. Which was untrue. (Page 666)

The novel is divided into five parts, best thought of as a series of five full-length mirrors. The first mirror is classically clear, perfectly appointed in a tasteful gilt rococo frame; but if you look closer you notice that the subject matter of the carvings on the frame is odd: no oak leaves tastefully curved like ladies’ wrists, but malformed claws holding the edges of the mirror for dear life; and instead of cherubs, knobby-kneed demons laboring gleefully under grotesque humpbacks peek at you from the frame’s corners. The second mirror has a dull sheen to it, but tracks its reflected images faithfully enough. Its frame is dingy and utilitarian, made of nicked-up plastic gone cloudy with finger oil from much handling, as if it has been moved from room to room; it’s the kind of mirror you might buy from Wal-Mart or another minor hell, trying to furnish your apartment on the cheap. The third mirror has no frame at all, just an angled chamfer around its perimeter to designate an edge. Its serene surface is disturbed by a big star-shaped shatterpoint, splayed out from a fist-sized center on the mirror’s right side, about at chest level, like somebody tried to punch whoever they saw there in the heart. There is no fourth mirror. The fifth mirror’s frame is workmanlike, made from unremarkable but sturdy pieces of wood, covered with a lacquer that makes it dark and glossy. And while the frame is clean the mirror itself is filthy, water-stained, with dark unerasable smudges and running topographies of permanent grime, as if it has been recovered from a shipwreck after decades in some cold northern sea’s embrace. It smells briny.

2666 is also about the utter fuckedness of dragging yourself through reality every day, how human life is at the mercy of things we have named but do not understand: fate, fear, hate, love, oblivion. All the bigguns that baffle us until the day we die.

These five mirrors are set up to form a star or pentagram, each corresponding to one of the shape’s five points. In the center of the pentagram there’s a dark hole, big enough to climb down into. So depending on where you stand and where you look, each mirror will reflect portions of the other four mirrors, the spaces between the mirrors, yourself, and the hole, in proportions you can alter by walking right or left, or by crouching or standing on the tips of your toes, like you’re calibrating a tint on a color wheel.

1920px-Arnold_Böcklin_-_Die_Toteninsel_II_(Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art)

2666 is the kind of book that makes you want to address it in metaphors and indirection, like a Heian lover; and that’s not only because it is dizzyingly good but also because it is the most haunted fucking book you have ever read.

To that end: is also about Horror, and horror.

Everything in 2666 eventually feeds into the enormity of the Santa Teresa murders, which are Bolaño’s white whale, his Rocket, his Judge Holden. They rise like a bad dream, gnawing at the edges of the scenery throughout Parts 1 – 3. In part 4, “The Part About The Crimes,” Bolaño plunges right into the eye of the storm, cataloging a large swathe of the murders in detail, from their “beginnings” in 1993 up until 1997. They don’t stop then, and ‘97 isn’t even 2666’s ‘present,’ but by then the sheer number of deaths has reached some kind of horrible apotheosis and moved beyond the scope of human comprehension, and although one potential suspect has been apprehended and others named, it is too late, far too late. Indeed, Bolaño presents the murders as having reached a horrible immortality, as being metaphysically unsolvable, an unstakeable Dracula, not only because the Santa Teresa cops are deeply corrupt and inept, nor because the companies behind the maquiladoras interfered with the investigations, nor even because the Mexican cartel seems involved, but because – I think – the central thesis of 2666 is that it has actually been too late ever since mortality first punctured the frail human dream. Too late for all of us, but also these lost women in particular.

Because the murders are also not Bolaño’s at all. For all its cosmological dread and dark reverberation, 2666 is never deaf to the particular unfairness of these deaths, of all this specific loss of life which has a very real corollary in the reality, the more than 300 female homicides in Ciudad Juárez. Part 4 is often described as being clinical, removed, sterile, like a police report. But it reads to me as an act of humane documentation. Bolaño, unlike many true crime writers, never succumbs to breathless fascination with the violence itself, or a fanatic obsession with the (possible) killers, who are presented as terrifying ciphers, nor even as a sentimentalized empyrean to these women, pretending to know more than he can about who they were. It memorializes the inhumanity of their death, the mystery of it, and the mystery of their individual lives all at once. Part 4 is a monument as much as it is a metaphor.

The whole of 2666 is fixated on memorializing, on making obsessively sure that every character who walks on stage gets his share of humanity, a suitable end to his minor story. You already know this, but Bolaño didn’t quite “finish” 2666 before he died. According to those in charge of his estate he came damn close, and I believe that. But I also believe that if Bolaño had his way, 2666 would have just kept growing, like Leaves of Grass, with more characters, more voices, more stories. The novel isn’t so much digressive as it is all-embracing, desperately human. There’s always time for another tale from another far-traveled stranger, and in its dark profusion 2666 isn’t afraid to deliver some of its most beautiful moments in these ancillary/not-ancillary tales. Consider the sad end of the Soviet science fiction writer Efraim Ivanov, who is actually a character in the journal of a another character, a journal that a third character finds long after the journal-keeper himself has died:

In 1937 Ivanov was arrested.

Once again he was subjected to a long interrogation and then they left him in a dark cell and forgot about him. His interrogator didn’t know a thing about literature. His principal interest was finding out whether Ivanov had met with members of the Trotskyist opposition.

During his time in the cell, Ivanov made friends with a rat he called Nikita. At night, when the rat came out, Ivanov held long conversations with her. As one might imagine, they didn’t talk about literature, and certainly not about politics, but about their respective childhoods. Ivanov told the rat about his mother, who was often in his thoughts, and his siblings, but he avoided talking about his father. The rat, whose Russian was scarcely a whisper, talked in turn about the Moscow sewers and the sky in the sewers, where because of the blossoming of certain debris or an inexplicable phosphorescent process, there were always stars. She also talked to him about her mother’s warmth and her sisters’ foolish capers, how she had laughed at those capers, even now as she remembered them they brought a smile to her narrow rat’s face. Sometimes Ivanov let himself succumb to despair and he rested his cheek on his palm and asked Nikita what would become of them.

Then the rat looked at him with sad, perplexed eyes and her look told Ivanov that she was even more innocent than he was. A week after he had been locked in the cell (although for Ivanov it seemed more like a year) he was interrogated again and no one had to hit him to make him sign various papers and documents. He wasn’t returned to his cell. They took him straight out to a courtyard where he was shot in the back of the head and his body tossed on the bed of a truck. (Pages 727 – 728)

Not a word, not a word is out of place here. Ivanov, with the tender ego of all bookpeople, notices his interrogator “didn’t know a thing about literature.” A talking rat is introduced with no fanfare, no pretense or posing. And I want to be clear about this: the correct reading of this scene is that Ivanov meets a real talking rat whose name is Nikita. He doesn’t hallucinate a rat, or hallucinate that a rat talks to him; the way this section is written makes it clear that Nikita is real. Bolaño brings us right into her world with the perfect, uncanny, inimitable discussion of the way the ceiling of a moldering Moscow city sewer can have a sky, to a rat who looks up. Nikita, is as sad as Ivanov with rattish innocence. And that we never see or hear of her again after Ivanov dies…

*Breathless, slamming my podium with open preacher’s palm* I mean, I mean, I mean, brethren, sistren, othren, allren, this is an ending worthy to conclude an entire fucking novel with, and yet in 2666 it is just one of many such moments, each as exactingly, as achingly realized as this’un. The desperation of connection, 2666 indicates, is the only antidote to death. And it’s not an antidote.

Arnold_Böcklin_-_Die_Toteninsel_V_(Museum_der_bildenden_Künste_Leipzig)

But-but-but 2666 is also about the hell that is your world, the day- and nightlit ugliness you move through everyday: look at the desiccated houses, the sun-baked roads knocking your car’s alignment out of joint, the streetlights exuding their orange pollution like halitosis into the charmless humid evening air; or those cigarette butt nights of sleeplessness or drunkenness that bring you to some struggling lonely 24 hour diner, the only place with lights still on, uglier and sadder than they ever look in the movies, lit up like a malign jewel in the night’s fat velvet palm.

It also contains an extended vampire sequence.

In tone, in theme, in style and concerns, in ambition and achievement, 2666 is my kinda poison. I like it a lot, and I’d like it lot even if it fell short of true greatness. And I need longer to digest it, but 2666 is only one of two novels I can think of off the top of my head published after 2000 (the other being Against the Day, natch, which I haven’t read all the way through) that is immediately a genuine contender for that capital-G Greatness.

It’s also about how Art runs through the falseness of our lives like a river of blood. If that matters to you, go read 2666.

Image Credit: Various versions of Die Toteninsel by Alfred Stieglitz; from top to bottom: Third Version, Basel Version, New York Version, Sixth Version.

20 Tasteful Book/Environment Pairings for the Aesthetically-Inclined Reader

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I should – and intend to, at some point – continue to process my thoughts on Lonesome Dove. But today it’s cold, or more specifically I’m cold, so cold the backs of my hands feel like they’re being gently grazed with steel wool or a sparking livewire. So cold that writing about a dusty, sweaty book like Lonesome Dove seems weird.

And it was a weird time for me to read Lonesome Dove: during the last sad remaindered weeks of Ohio winter. It only snows once or twice during Lonesome Dove, towards the end when they reach Montana – and it comes across (mostly) as an otherworldly novelty to the cowboys, not the monotonous threnody that it is here.

I’m able to – and mostly do – read what I want regardless of the season, weather, locale, time of day or night. Unless you want to be a demoniacally arcane and prescriptive reader you have to accept that you’ll never always synchronize the aesthetic of a book to the aesthetic of the world outside.

But that interplay between the two is a real thing, and generates real alchemies inside your brain. In Heian Japan they knew (and by ‘they’ I mean ‘the nobility;’ and by ‘knew’ I mean ‘had the undeserved luxury to know’) that aesthetics were everywhere, that in some way most of a life could be lived artistically; that sitting in a particular spot, at a particular time of the day and year, looking out over a particular landscape with a particular weather cast over it, and reading a particular poem could, in fact, deepen the aesthetic impact of that poem.

All art creates its own world, but as we experience it by bringing it into our individual minds, it mixes with the experience of reality past and present kept there (because art’s made of the same stuff, ultimately, even if it is refined, distilled, altered, organized, given structure), and can develop additional deepnesses & resonances from that commingling, incorporating the unformed aesthetic of lived reality into its own architecture.

Here: some notes on possible book/environment combinations that may deepen the impact of the work itself, but also may not, because each of us develop our own correspondences between things and yours may be – probably are – completely different.

There’s a Mystery sub-genre called ‘Cozy Mystery,’ presumably because they’re ideal for hearthside winter evenings.

Moonwise, by Greer Ilene Gilman – winter book through and through. Wouldn’t read this one in summer. I’ve tried, but it didn’t work. You have to wait.

When I was in high school my cousin told me that On the Road is strictly a summer book,  and to wait till then to read it; unintentionally condemning Kerouac’s book to years of waiting itself, standing on ugly gray carpet under ugly fluorescent lights, waiting in the endless shifting line of my inner literary bureaucracy for conditions to align so that it can be processed.

Proust is often described as autumnal, and I can see that; but I seem to remember starting In Search of Lost Time in the spring, and finishing it on a late summer evening. And my favorite volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, is most definitely a summer book.

Find a good stretch of sultry days for Ulysses, the June book. Read the early chapters in the morning, salivate over Bloom’s kidney breakfast as you prepare your own matutinal meal.

Lolita: a summer book for sure; Pale Fire an autumn one. There’s something inherently literary about Appalachia in the fall. But maybe don’t read either of these; I’ve had a years-long ice cream headache from Nabokov’s fatty, rich prose – it gave me cavities. And yet in my memory it lacks a certain something; David Markson describes Nabokov’s style as ‘pinchbeck,’ and I’m currently inclined to agree. So just read Wittgenstein’s Mistress instead, alone in a cabin on a wintry beach – you kind of have to roleplay for this one.

You should read The Book of the New Sun in the summer. Summer is the season for all Dying Earth media. But also, just generally read The Book of the New Sun.

Peace, also by Gene Wolfe, is October only. You really ought to time it so that you finish it during the afternoon on Halloween, before it gets dark.

Last Good Kiss by James Crumley takes some even preciser timing: late summer only, heavy summer, when the sky seems stark white even when it’s cloudless; after the merciless beatdown of the dog days, when the weather is hovers between continuing late summer’s madness or commencing its own death with the onset of fall. (N.B.: you should also be on the road for the duration of the reading).

Read Misery in the winter (I didn’t).

I remember The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle taking place in the summer. I read it last year – or maybe the year before. There’s something about this book, and Murakami’s prose, that isolates itself from particular flavors, specific resonances; it’s sterile in a way that I can’t decide if I like or not – but it’s probably a summer book regardless.

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page G.B. Edwards: early autumn, preferably during a stretch of wet but not unpleasantly so weather. And really you ought to be in Guernsey.

Dracula would work best as a box of documents to be sorted through. A box of evidence. Like the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society did with “The Call of Cthulhu” and the Angell Box. Give me the Stoker Files.

I wish I’d read Foucault’s Pendulum during the summer, in a rainy city. I’d walk to the subway, avoiding puddles and people, and cram in some fevered reading during my transit. Urban life seems like the corresponding madness to the madness of this book – which is, to be honest, at least a partially feigned madness. I need to return to this one because I’m not sure what to think of it still.

Nightwood, naturally, needs the night. 

And The Tale of Genji is, indeed, best read in autumn.

The tone of Lord of the Rings: ancient, mystic, Yuleish. It seems older than it is, and so it should be read in winter. The first time. But then read it in each other season, to extract different colors and tones from Middle Earth.

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman: required reading during wet, cold, miserable falls.

Who wouldn’t want to read Wuthering Heights on a wind-lashed night in northern country, with the wind lashing the earth’s bare back and the trees swaying in unison, urging on the flagellation?

What I am currently reading now is 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. For me, this one is tied to time, not season; it’s best read at night – although now that I think about it I think summer nights would work best. And like most big books, I find it to make particularly good reading when I’m a little bit abstracted. The capaciousness of these bigger books allows them to let all of that abstraction and nervous energy in. There’s room for lots.

This is my second crack at 2666, which I bought when it was new, riding into North America on cataclysmic hype. At the time, I started it and got through Parts 1 & 2, but abandoned it. This time, less than a week in, I’ve already caught up to where I left off, and am positive I will finish it this time.

Image Credit: Suzuki Harunobu (c. 1725 – 1770)