Anagrams – Lorrie Moore: I read this book a few years ago, loved it, and then had to return it to the library. I found it in a bookstore in Vermont this past weekend and bought a copy for myself. I couldn’t stop myself from rereading it, even though I’m currently in the middle of two books. Lorrie Moore is most successful at short stories and one of the reasons I love this book so much is that she’s managed to really integrate the short story format into a novel. Moore is also the queen of funny/sad, although upon second reading, I was especially struck by the sadness of the story. The book is an approximation of an anagram, different characters refracted into different situations. Almost an anagram, but not quite. You’re never quite sure what’s really happening and what’s being imagined and even when you’re told up front that certain characters are imaginary, you’ll probably cry when they have to leave. Lorrie Moore is definitely in my top 5 list of favourite writers; I’ve learned so much about writing from her books. And, after a few years of not publishing much, she has a novel coming out in 2009. I’m psyched.
It has only recently occurred to me that I can search for writers on Youtube the same way I search for musicians or television or movie clips or whatever. Here is a video of Frank O’Hara reciting one of the loveliest poems ever, Having a Coke With You.
I’ve never been very good with following television shows and have been staying away from Mad Men, but then I found this:
Jon Hamm/Don Draper reciting the last part of O’Hara’s heartbreaking I-am-getting-over-heartbreak poem “Mayakovsky”:
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.
It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
Ok, I really need to watch this show.
Drown – Junot Diaz: I’m in the middle of reading “Pride and Prejudice”, but it’s slow going. I needed a little reading boost, so I devoured “Drown”, Junot Diaz’s first book, a collection of short stories. I took the advice of the scores of Best of 2007 lists that declared “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” best book ever, and read it this past summer (in 2008). I really, really loved it. And this collection of short stories has the same elements I loved about Oscar Wao – great pacing, freshness, a style that’s not distracting from the stories, heartbreaking details, etc. I think the title story “Drown” is my favourite, or maybe “Fiesta, 1980”. While doing some Internet searching, I found this youtube video from the Google campus. Turns out they get authors to come by at lunch to read and talk about their work (there are also videos for folks like Michael Pollan and Anthony Bourdain). Yet another reason to wish you worked at Google too. I would much rather listen to Junot Diaz than dial into a “lunch n learn” conference call about revenue recognition. (P.S. I think it’s funny that the Google employee describes “Drown” as “super excellent”).
Wisdom – Andrew Zuckerman: It’s kind of unfair to say I’ve “read” this book, since it’s really the kind of book that you work your way through slowly, picking and choosing. Caroline gave me this gorgeous, huge book for Christmas, and I’ve had it by my bed since then. Sometimes I flip through it to look at the photos, and sometimes I open to random pages and read. It’s a meditation on wisdom, different people (everyone from Dame Judi Dench to Desmond Tutu to Graham Nash) giving their take on wisdom. It’s especially good to have nearby on days when I’m feeling kind of down; it gives perspective.
My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals – Melanie Dunea: This is another fun book to leaf through (also, a Christmas present, this time from Andrew’s parents. Basically, books are the perfect present for me.) When you take 50 famous chefs and ask them to describe their ultimate last meal, you’re going to get a variety of answers, but you’re sure to find foodies standbys like foie gras and caviar and truffles in the mix. The accompanying pictures are amazing (yo, there’s Anthony Bourdain, naked, except for a strategically placed marrow bone) and there are even recipes for elements of the chef’s meals. Incidentally, my Last Meal would probably involve a bacon cheeseburger and an ice cream sundae. No need for foie gras. And it would be eaten outdoors, in the summer, with a glass of cold white wine, even though white wine totally doesn’t go with bacon cheeseburgers.
In which I will keep track of books I read in 2009
Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link: Les gave me this collection of short stories for Christmas, and it was a great thing to read while I was on vacation in Toronto, the snow falling, comfy in my pyjamas. I think there is something extra-special about reading surreal, fantasyish stories over Christmas (last year it was the Phillip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy, which was coincidentally also a present from Lesley!). Kelly Link’s writing could be described as fantasy: there are stories about enchanted handbags (you step into the bag and disappear into another realm), haunted houses, people who inherit telephone booths from their dead relatives, etc. Her writing is fresh, quirky and hip, without being as annoying as all of those adjectives might lead you to believe. I still find myself flipping through it for inspiration as I write.
Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan: Sagan wrote this novel when she was only eighteen and that air of super-confident, slightly petulant adolescence infuses the book. It’s a slim enough volume that I read most of it on subway trips around Toronto and I loved getting lost in the world of beaches in the South of France, beautiful and sly French ladies and handsome and clueless French men. It’s the kind of book that makes you wish you looked good in a Jean Seberg haircut and a stripey shirt, that you could smoke cigarettes all sexy, have a part in killing someone, atone for it, and study philosophy like it was all totally natural, whatever, c’est la vie.