It’s been a bit but in my defense since I finished Middlemarch I've spent much of the last month reading Peter F. Hamilton’s Judas Unchained, about 500 pages’ worth of space opera spread across 1000 pages, and neither you nor I much want to hear me talk much about that. Like: it was fine, and it was fun, but it was also a bit underwhelming. Each time I come back to him, it's like I’ve been chasing the brainless, bloody space-ghost-zombie high I got off his Night’s Dawn trilogy a while back. The results, though, they've been diminishing. At the same time, in the shadow of my month in Middlemarch, it was also exactly the kind of mind-flush I needed to sink into. His flaws all aside his stuff does remain a pleasant enough go-to I’m-going-to-eat-the-whole-bag-of-chips kind of read, for me, which is to say, as much as I’m clearly going to eat that whole bag of chips when I pull it out, who am I even kidding with the whole “lemme just grab just a handful” routine, I’m never going to particularly recommend that kind of behavior to anyone else, because everyone else is better than me, right?
And then as I was coming off that book Christine extremely kindly suggested y’all subscribe to this here newsletter, at which point I looked in the mirror and realized I’d gone full two-A.M. kitchen-goblin here over the last month, with little else to my credit than deep shame and a shirtfront full of cheap brand-name literary salsa.
So it goes.
That said in that time I also read Doris Lessing for the first time for Cari Luna’s group read-along, which was great, a lot of fun, if also disorienting. I mean, switching gears between those two books each week was one thing—dear reader, do not try this at home—but then also if you go over there and read through my comments from week to week you’ll see me going steadily from “I know what this book is about, and I am going to say semi-intelligent things here!” to “I had no idea what this book was about, also do I even know how to read.” When I hit the end of the book I realized I’d probably read it all wrong, and now I feel like I need to go back through and reread it with properly reset assumptions about where it’s going and what it’s up to, so I can read the actual book itself the next time through.
All that lead into Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise, a book I grabbed off the pile because I desperately wanted to finish literally anything in less than a week, and which turned out to be another book that when I hit the end of it, I realized I’d probably read it all wrong, too. I liked it, even though and/or because it made me feel weird. Within fifteen pages she’s making me think about teenagers having sex and how one of those teenagers has an amazing penis and I rather quickly realized I didn’t particularly want to spend my time thinking about teenagers having sex or amazing penises. I grow old, I grow old, it’s a whole thing. But then of course, the book is impossible to talk about with big neon spoiler alerts all over the place, suffice it to say, if you know, you know, and by the end of the book I felt weird for other reasons. The book relies on structural twists and your mileage is going to vary depending on how much you want to feel invested in a book whose structural twists are truly crucial to the book, particularly when the twists require half the book to set them up, which first half had me feeling at least a four out of ten on the “I am feeling a bit restless with these proceedings, I wonder if we have any Cool Ranch Doritos available for consumption” scale. I'm glad I read the book in three days and not three weeks, I might not have made it, and there really is good stuff in there, once you, well, know.
Also fun: the Choi and Lessing books actually have some semi-common elements to them, namely narrators using narrative as a means of distancing themselves from their selves. Which I thought was interesting, as far as unrelated books talking to each other goes. Also also, without trying to turn this into a whole David Foster Wallace conversation, Choi’s book made me want to go read some David Foster Wallace, for the first time in a while? Was it the cool, precocious knowingness? The general Gen-X-ish feel? Not sure.
Anyways, that’s where I’m at and where I’ve been. How are you? Where have you been?
Read a book with me, or don’t, it’s cool
So yeah: I really enjoyed Cari Luna’s read-along project, and I’m ever so tentatively planning to do something similar-but-different with Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2009 short story collection, Nocturnes.
Why this book? For one, Kazuo Ishiguro is the best, full stop. (Ahem.) I rather selfishly feel like writing about something deep in a fashion resembling depth, trying to flex some old brain-muscles here, and I think that’ll be easier if I focus on someone I really like, someone who I think I can maybe get into it a bit with. Nocturnes is his one short story collection, comprising five stories, which makes for perfect “scheduled” reading, which, more on that shortly. And the stories are at least thematically related, so reading them successively and attentively as a collection ought to be rewarding.
This book slipped at least a bit under my own radar when it was released. It was his first book to come out after the perfect Never Let Me Go, and I’m not quite sure I knew what to do with it. I recall liking it, but also that I read it over the course of several months, or maybe even a year, and so whatever connections tied the stories together were lost to me. It feels like as good a time as any to reassess it with fresh eyes.
Where my plan differs a bit is I don’t trust myself to read, write, and publish anything worthwhile on a weekly schedule. I mean, someone has to get this salsa-crusted shirt into the washing machine, you know? So: I’m planning on reading the book all the way through once, and then going back and preparing a post for each story ahead of time, which I’m then going to publish once a week over five weeks. With the thought that I can look at the book as a whole while focusing in on each story, on what I like and what works and—on the off-hand chance I find anything resembling a flaw in Ishiguro’s writing—what doesn’t. At which point the earth will crack open and swallow me whole.
There’ll be a schedule for those posts, and if any of you kind folks want to turn those posts into discussions, hey, that would be awesome. But also zero hard feelings if you don’t because everyone’s busy and Canada is smoking us out right now.
I also am not exactly sure when this is going to happen but it won't be for at least a month, I think, based on all the excuses I keep coming up with, which include things like “continuing to go to my job” and “having a family vacation scheduled” and also “being lazy and/or wildly unprofessional about the things I actually want to do for fun” so please forgive me when I suddenly remember this project in 2027 and finally start getting around to executing it.
We’ve become a bit of a Liberty Puzzles house over the last year (because someone has to single-handedly keep this economy churning along) and if you’re into splurgy, fancy puzzles and also feeling like the insides of your eyeballs are about to crawl through the outsides of your eyeballs I don’t think I can recommend them enough. I am going nowhere fast with this one and it’s so fun.
I’ve been recommending Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by the writer-not-the-actress Elizabeth Taylor, left and right lately, and so now I’m just recommending it to everyone right now and right here. It moved me and left me feeling unmoored a while back and I’m actively upset every day that’s gone by since that I didn’t manage to write a real post about it. Everything seems to remind me about it, lately, though. It made an impression, is what I’m saying.
I really enjoyed the One Bright Book podcast’s episode on Minae Mizumura’s An I-Novel, which I wrote a bit about last year.
I’m trying out the radical strategy here of spending less than a thousand hours on a single newsletter post. If it sucks, I’m sorry.