Saturday, July 21, 2012
For Pleasure: Summer
The pleasure of the summer so far is Nicholson Baker's novel The Anthologist (Simon & Schuster), which I picked up at--of all places--the Dollar Tree. It helps that I'm interested in what a friend used to call "the poetry biz," although I haven't followed it since those days I was on the fringe of it, in the 1970s. (On the other hand one of the poets named, Ed Ochester, did hire me to teach a course in 1990 or so.) Part of the book's charm for me is that while not a lot happens, Baker's novelistic skill makes a lot out of only a few dramatic questions: will our hero actually ever write his anthology's introduction? Will he get back with his lady love, or find a new one (maybe next door)? Baker is such a fine and funny writer that this book is delightful. There is real human feeling in it, too (what writer can't identify with those tears at dreams unfulfilled) and his exegesis on the music of poetry makes a lot of sense. It probably also helps that I read part of it on a trip down the coast to Menlo Park, in sunny 80 degree afternoons and a morning outside at Cafe Borrone. Pleasure doubled.
It seems summer wouldn't be the same without at least one 700 page book, and this year's is The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker (Continuum International Publishing Group, paperback.) You would think a book of that title would be slim and handy, or at least of a length easily amenable to writing classes and groups. Indeed, Booker does get through his basic discussion of his seven plots (Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth) in about 200 pages, which is about as far as I've read so far. But I'm not worried--the book is so cogently written, without jargon or "theory," and with frequent revelations that I have full confidence in the author to continue making this an enjoyable and illuminating reading experience, regardless of where I might agree or differ with his points. I am in fact in awe of his disciplined yet almost conversational writing. It was 34 years in the making (1969-2003), and 34 years well spent. I look forward to the remaining 500 pages.
Other books I've read or am reading this summer not for review or for a direct writing purpose: Working the Soul: Reflections on Jungian Psychology by Charles Ponce (North Atlantic Books), Your Favorite Seuss (a "baker's dozen by the one and only Dr. Seuss," published by Random House) and Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Writing and Writers by Shashi Tharoor (Arcade Publishing, and another Dollar Tree acquisition.)
Earler, in the spring, I read and very much enjoyed Chronic City, a novel by Jonathan Lethem (Faber & Faber.)