Books read (all or part of) this week:
Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser
Arkansas by John Brandon
The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld by Justin Hocking
Because reading is such an individual act, the pleasures we derive from literature – even which books we are willing to call “literature” – will not be identical. That is as it should be. Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it. (from Why I Read by Wendy Lesser)
What better book to follow that Wendy Lesser quote with than John Brandon’s 2008 debut novel, Arkansas? I LOVE Brandon’s stuff, but I can’t think of a more difficult author to put in the hands of people than him. Perhaps you recall my pleading with you over Citrus County in 2010 and its subsequent enshrinement on that year’s Notable list. Or A Million Heavens‘ brush with the 2012 Catapult Notable list. We have a track record here, is all I’m saying. This – like I said, Brandon’s debut – is about two modestly damaged Southern dudes, Kyle and Swin, whose paths cross in Arkansas while both are on the cusp of a life of mild crime and drug dealing. They settle into a comfortable routine, running drugs all over the South for a mystery man named Frog, while maintaining a mirage of normalcy working in a state park. But one thing leads to another and the boys find themselves covering up a double homicide (and committing another one) and dodging the Frog for as long as possible. Of course all good things must come to an end and you can feel the endgame breathing down their naive necks for much of the book. It’s not tense, which is the weird thing – just mellow, easy-going, and a little bit sad. I like these fellas and I hate what will happen to them when their actions catch up with them. Brandon writes you into his dream about two boys making bad mistakes in the Southern wilds – somehow he makes all of his characters both smarter than the reader and still the stupidest people around. In all of his books I always feel that he’s telling me something huge and profound about the world, but when I wake up, I can’t remember what it is.
The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld:
The jury is still out on this one – a memoir written by a surfing, skateboarding, one-time New Yorker with a healthy(?) obsession with Moby Dick. (It had a whale on the cover, what can I say?) Hocking certainly has modest chops as far as wordsmithery goes – he had me locked on from the first page, although the “why” has so far eluded me, 75 pages deep. Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City, called it a “Melville-haunted, surfing-imbued, and wisdom-packed…lucid and moving memoir. Hocking’s laid-back erudition and narrative generosity take us by the hand down a winding path at the end of which lies a new openness to the world’s wonder.” I’m sticking with it & I’ll keep you posted.
Next week I’m heading to Seattle for the annual independent bookseller gathering, Winter Institute – “three-plus days of networking, special events, and professional development.” (Read: bookseller vacay!) But seriously, it’s a great chance to mingle & network with other like-minded folk – other buyers, booksellers, and assorted indie literati. In addition to all the work stuff, there’s a great author reception – 60+ authors in a room for 2 hours being assaulted by booksellers. (Last year I accosted Dave Eggers, Philip Kerr, Anthony Marra, and Philipp Meyer, for example.) This year, Mr. Anthony Doerr will be in attendance – my authorial white whale, so to speak. (Tony has been slyly dodging me for the better part of a decade, even though his in-laws live in San Diego. Well, he wasn’t dodging me, really – more like he was living his life and writing his second novel, All the Light We Cannot See – which is SO worth the wait, believe me.) Also, Amy Leach, author of 2013 Catapult Notable book, Things That Are, will be there – looking forward to meeting her as well. Plus lots of other folks. Pretty exciting. All this means is that I will do my very best to post Week Four of this project on time and as promised… but I can’t, um, make any promises. I’m sure I’ll have lots to report, regardless of which day of the week I end up posting.