Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read (pronounced "red") in 2014

I still think there should be a new spelling for the past tense of "read." Anyway, here's what I red this year. My total number is deceptively low, because for the past four months a great deal of my reading time has been taken up with Shelby Foote's The Civil War, which is around 3,000 pages long, in three volumes. After four months and roughly 1,600 pages, I'm still in volume two. Add those pages to my total page count for the year, and it's a new record, around 15,000. That's well over 300 pages per book, also a new record.

Category names are self-explanatory. Each list is alphabetical by author.

Number One Top Favorite

Americana — Don DeLillo

Best of the Year

Americana — Don DeLillo
Mao II — Don DeLillo
The Book of Strange New Things — Michel Faber
The Late Parade — Adam Fitzgerald
Neverhome — Laird Hunt
Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan — Phillip Lopate
After Claude — Iris Owens
Burning the Days: Recollection — James Salter
Light Years — James Salter
The American Future: A History — Simon Schama
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular 
          Fall of a Serial Impostor — Mark Seal
Travels with Charley: In Search of America — John Steinbeck
The Goldfinch — Donna Tartt
Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies
          James Wolcott

Honorable Mention

Quick Question — John Ashbery
Serenade — James M. Cain
Jamie Is My Heart's Desire — Alfred Chester
Underworld — Don DeLillo
Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud — Martin
Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a 
          Masquerade — Walter Kirn
Madame de Pompadour — Nancy Mitford
Netherland — Joseph O'Neill
Forgetting Elena — Edmund White

Pretty Good

Ancient Light — John Banville
The Stench of Honolulu — Jack Handey
girls: A Paean — Nic Kelman
10:04 — Ben Lerner
Wait for Me! — Deborah Mitford
Vile Bodies — Evelyn Waugh
Somebody Owes Me Money — Donald E. Westlake

Meh, Not Bad

Wolf in White Van — John Darnielle
Nude Men — Amanda Filipacchi
Nightmare Alley — William Lindsay Gresham
The Folded Leaf — William Maxwell
BUtterfield 8 — John O'Hara
Cabot Wright Begins — James Purdy
Sophie's Choice — William Styron
A Game of Hide and Seek — Elizabeth Taylor


One Pill Makes You Smaller — Lisa Dierbeck
The Expendable Man — Dorothy B. Hughes
The Unknowns — Gabriel Roth
Three Bedrooms in Manhattan — Georges Simenon

Severe Disappointments

The Natural — Bernard Malamud

In Progress, Currently Enjoying

Bleak House — Charles Dickens
The Civil War: A Narrative — Shelby Foote
Dancing in the Dark — Janet Hobhouse
Mating — Norman Rush
East of Eden — John Steinbeck

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Five Best Books I've Finished So Far This Year

The five best books I've finished so far this year:

The Goldfinch  Donna Tartt

Burning the Days: Recollection  James Salter

Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies  James Wolcott

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor  Mark Seal

The American Future: A History  Simon Schama

My reading list of late is colon-happy. I've always wanted to read more non-fiction, but for some reason I keep putting it off. Which is funny, because I tear through non-fiction books many times faster than I read novels. Knowing that a story really took place (or that something as close to the story as the writer is willing and/or able to put into words took place) motivates me to keep turning the pages in a way that fiction can never quite do (though some, like my favorite book so far this year, come pretty close).

My big project this year is to reduce my "currently reading" pile from dozens to maybe three or five. My new rule is: I won't start a new book until I've finished two that I'm currently reading. My total at the moment is 59. So I finish two and it's down to 57. I start one and it's up to 58, but then I finish two and it's down to 56, and so on. Already this process has helped me stop making so many impulse purchases and borrowings. And I'm starting to feel less cluttered mentally.

The Goldfinch was one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I've had in a long time. According to my records, it's the longest book I've ever finished. (I am, however, currently reading two that are even longer: Bleak House and Underworld.) In January, just as I was getting near the end of the book, I got to see the actual Goldfinch painting during its brief stay at the Frick. I also saw Girl with a Pearl Earring. It's weird seeing a famous painting in person. You keep having to remind yourself you're not looking at a dorm poster, but at the real thing.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The 60 Books I Finished in 2013

Happy New Year. Here are my ten favorite books from 2013. Nine of them were published in years other than 2013. I'm still reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It would be #1 if I had finished it by midnight on January 1. Instead it will be on next year's list.

1) Moby-Dick — Herman Melville
2) The Enchantment of Lily Dahl — Siri Hustvedt
3) The Flamethrowers — Rachel Kushner
4) Shadow Train — John Ashbery
5) The French Lieutenant's Woman — John Fowles
6) Turtle Diary — Russell Hoban
7) The Art of Fielding — Chad Harbach
8) The Lichtenberg Figures — Ben Lerner
9) Lightning Field — Dana Spiotta
10) A Long and Happy Life — Reynolds Price

Here are all the books I finished reading in 2013, in the order in which I finished them. Favorites in bold.

Lightning Field — Dana Spiotta
The Lichtenberg Figures — Ben Lerner
The Enchantment of Lily Dahl — Siri Hustvedt
Nervous Device — Catherine Wagner
A Little White Shadow — Mary Ruefle
Stranger in Town — Cedar Sigo
Dayglo — James Meetze
The Mountain Lion — Jean Stafford
Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast — Hannah Gamble
Dear Jenny, We Are All Find — Jenny Zhang
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh — Michael Chabon
Legs Get Led Astray — Chloe Caldwell
And the Heart Says Whatever — Emily Gould
Invisible — Paul Auster
Million Poems Journal — Jordan Davis
Tenth of December — George Saunders
Shadow Train — John Ashbery
Veronica — Mary Gaitskill
Red Lights — Georges Simenon
Alexander's Bridge — Willa Cather
Journey into the Past — Stefan Zweig
The Ballad of the Sad Café — Carson McCullers
The Pumpkin Eater — Penelope Mortimer
How Should a Person Be? — Sheila Heti
The Art of Fielding — Chad Harbach
Wild — Cheryl Strayed
what purpose did i serve in your life — Marie Calloway
Rock Crystal — Adalbert Stifter
Cassandra at the Wedding — Dorothy Baker
Drinking with Men — Rosie Schaap
The Angel Esmeralda — Don DeLillo
Fatale — Jean-Patrick Manchette
Seven Days in the Art World — Sarah Thornton
Taipei — Tao Lin
Here and Now: Letters (2008-2011) — Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee
A Hologram for the King — Dave Eggers
Tampa — Alissa Nutting
Unmastered — Katherine Angel
Life Itself — Roger Ebert
The Constant Heart — Craig Nova
The Pornographer's Poem — Michael Turner
Moby-Dick — Herman Melville
Balloon Pop Outlaw Black — Patricia Lockwood
Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov
The House of Mirth — Edith Wharton
Leviathan — Paul Auster
Meat Heart —Melissa Broder
The Deep Whatsis — Peter Mattei
Waiting to Be Heard — Amanda Knox
The Flamethrowers — Rachel Kushner
The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
All That Is — James Salter
The French Lieutenant's Woman — John Fowles
A Long and Happy Life — Reynolds Price
Last Night — James Salter
Turtle Diary — Russell Hoban
The Cement Garden — Ian McEwan
Deliverance — James Dickey
The Seamstress and the Wind — César Aira
Fun Home — Alison Bechdel

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I think the main difference between men and women is the idea that there might be a downside to sex on the first date (all else being equal). I'm not disputing the possible wisdom of it, I'm just noticing the fact that it's there. But naturally I still find the thought process behind it impossible to really comprehend.

Yet I did find this passage from Zak Smith's We Did Porn to be pretty insightful, at least about the male point of view:

I think men must seem really like dogs to womenhungry and large, often slobberingas a species, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous (the dogs of war, the dogs of doom) but as individuals, predictable and clockwork and cute (like puppies, like hounds), and, if you spend enough time with them, each with a different personality (babe hounds, faithful hounds). Some are tiny and harmless, some are harmless and big as bears, but all have predatory, long-boned bodies with teeth and claws essentially made to hunt and hurt smaller things. To deliver yourself sexually to an unknown one must be like putting yourself at the mercy of a strange, large, imprecise, and hairy animal that you can just only hope is well-trained. Straight men should imagine how much differently they'd behave if their lovers wereto scale upwolves.
From the point of view of men, sex does not automatically or ordinarily have the radioactive glow of risk, of pleasure-snatched-from-danger. Because for us, sex has no downside. Going from making out with a stranger to fucking her involves no more trust or psychophysical commitment than eating a melon. Men all bitch to each other about the complicationsthings get slippery, things get sticky, you get juice everywhere and seeds on the floor, She keeps saying I should ... Oh I was in the middle of checking it when she calls wanting ... She gave me this frikkin' ... but really they are just bitching about life. That's the horrible downsidehaving to walk around and be alive all the time. Life is the horrible downside to sex. We'd rather be dead all day and then come up for a few hours to eat and fuck and maybe fight someone (preferably simultaneously) and then be dead again. Like Dracula. 
But we aren't Dracula, and we feel much more like wolfmen. Wolfmen lose all sense at night and wish they could hide from the world but can't because they are too hungry to sleep.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I'm at my third coffee shop of the day, but the first two were for work, this one's for pleasure. (I had coffee at the first two, at this one I had hot chocolate—an unbelievably chocolately one.) I'm past 12,000 words—which would translate to somewhere around 40 pages in a book—on a novel that I'm pretty sure no one is ever going to read, the main reason being that I'm probably not going to let them. But I have to write it before I can move on to whatever's next, so it doesn't feel at all like a waste of time. I can at least stick it in a drawer and know it exists. About a fifth of it exists already, if my guess about its eventual total length is accurate.

It's weird getting used to writing something on such a large scale. I mean, it'll be short for a novel, but still orders of magnitude longer than anything I've tried to be before. But it's nice because you realize, especially keeping in mind that it's a first draft, you don't have to hold back. You don't have to make tough decisions about things to leave out in order to be concise. Instead, you spill out 600 or 800 words and you're thinking, this is way too much, way too detailed, I'm blabbering ... but then you reread that 600 or 800 words and you realize that what took you three hours to write only takes three minutes to read. And you go, oh, I see, right. That's what novels are like. They have these long substantive paragraphs full of information. And they just go on and on.

After the second coffee shop I ate dinner and then I walked around to various movie theaters looking for a movie to watch. I couldn't find anything I felt looked exciting enough for 13 or 14 dollars, and eventually it was too late to find anything that started before 9 o'clock, so I ended up here instead. It was exactly like what happens when I browse Netflix sometimes. There are a lot of things I kind of want to see, so I spend an hour and a half trying to decide between them before noticing that I'm really tired now and would rather just watch a Kids in the Hall I've probably seen before and go to bed.

I'm at Think Coffee, by the way. The original, on Mercer. I haven't been here in a long time. Mostly because I found other places with better coffee and less NYUness. But that was an impressive hot chocolate.

Lots of Halloween costumes around town tonight, of course. Reader poll: Halloween, SantaCon, or St. Patrick's Day: which of these three is the most awful, obnoxious, alcoholic shit show on the NYC social calendar? You decide.

Meanwhile I finally have an excuse for not doing any Halloween things: I'm working that night. If anything, my only costume there will be my birthday suit.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


On a recent Saturday I sat under a tree in foul territory of a softball diamond in Central Park. I was on the third base side. I had managed to find a comfortable position sitting back against the tree, not easy to do among the exposed roots. I had been walking all day. I had taken the J train into Manhattan and got off at Essex Street. From there I walked east to the river, up the promenade to 23rd Street, over to 1st Avenue, up to 47th Street, then straight across town to 12th Avenue, over to 11th, then up to the Lincoln Center Atrium for a bathroom break, continuing up Central Park West and into the park somewhere in the 80's, then over to the north side of the Great Lawn, where a game was in progress.

I hadn't made any plans to watch a game that day, let alone at this specific field. But right away I saw that one of the teams looked familiar. I had seen them play on the same field the week before. They were part of a coed recreational league. Actually it wasn't so much the team I recognized as one particular player. She wore a sleeveless dark blue jersey, tight gray pants, and knee-high socks the same blue as the shirt. Her blonde hair was tied back in short pigtails under her Minnesota Twins cap. I remembered her vaguely from the week before, but now I really paid attention. Her team's bench was on my side of the field, and when they were batting and she was standing around with her teammates, I was just able to see her face clearly enough to tell she was pretty. She reminded me a little of a girl I dated in high school. She smiled a lot. It was clear she was having a good time.

It was also clear she was a serious athlete. When she stepped into the batter's box, she had, unlike many other players on the field, the presence of a veteran. She set her feet wide apart, and before every pitch she had a way of popping into her stance with a kind of controlled spasm or shudder in the arms and shoulders, dipping down and raising her bat. It's the kind of movement so singular it's impossible to describe or imitate. Also hard to describe is the powerful effect it had on me. The upshot was that I had to write about it. At some point I heard one of her teammates call her name and I'm pretty sure what I heard was "Trish", which sounded exactly right. I took out my notebook and tried to figure out how to describe her batting stance, her clothes, her face, and my experience of watching her.

I watched the end of the game and the whole of the next one, as it turned out to be a doubleheader, at least for Trish's team. They faced a different opponent in the second game, which they won. Apparently it was the championship game. They hoisted a big trophy and congratulated each other.

As I watched them celebrate, gather their equipment, and prepare to leave the field, I thought about how I would probably never see Trish again. I knew there was no way I could talk to her. She was a woman in uniform, after all. Too intimidating. I would likely never have another opportunity. Of course, I never would have thought I would run into her by accident on two consecutive Saturdays, so I suppose anything's possible.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mar. 25, 1992

I don't think I have guitar lessons tonight. I hope not. I haven't practiced a bit.

I think I'll go play basketball. I'll be back. Well it's too wet out.

I have to study social studs. My Mom going to quiz me.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mar. 24, 1992

We have a sub today again. He's a man. He is nice. He's tall.

Michael Allen beat Aaron 21 to 2. After that he beat Doug the bug 9 to 2. After we came in we all flopped our coats in the closet.

All I have to do is this and math and I'm done. The Teacher left alot of work.

Monday, August 5, 2013

March 23, 1992

Today we have a substitute. I kind of like her. I think we are having our resess today.

I got a new shirt. I also got a new car. My mom and Dad got them while they were in Chicago.

Boy did I have a hell of a weekend when they were gone! I wore the same clothes I wore Friday, until Sunday! I slept downstairs. And with the light on, I watched t.v. and played two games of solitare at one in the morning.
Mar. 20, 1992

Today we have three letters left in resess! I think we're having an extra resess today.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mar. 19, 1992

Yesterday our basketball team got our trophys. We got the trophys because we earned them. Not like Meg's Softball team. They lost all of their games. They got a trophy anyway. And hers is bigger than mine.

Tonight I was supposed to have cub scouts. But when I got there, there was nobody there. I think I had a field trip too. My permission slip is still in my coat. At least I got to watch wheel of fortune.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

March 18, 1992

Our resess was cut short. In two ways. For one we were were way too loud! And our resess on the board was also cut short by three letters. Right now we are being VERY loud! Christie just got sent out into the hall. Almost Carson. Also Deondra.

Well tonight at the boys club we will have our banquet. We will get our trophys. Our team gets two.

I hate Carson.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mar. 17, 1992

I think I'm in big trouble. Alot of people have their name on the board. Yes! I'm not in any trouble!

Tomorrow our basketball team gets our trophys. We get two. The one for the holiday tournoment and the regular season. We ended up in first place for our leage.

Today is St. Patricks day. I tried to wear green today, but I have nothing green!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mar. 16, 1992

It's already the middle of March and it's still cold out I'm glad we are going to Ohio for spring break. Maybe the weather is better there.

I had a hard math assignment. I forget if I was supposoed to do 105 B.

I'm done with my report I did on the computer. I did all my math, (I think) all I have to do is finish my journal up. There I'm finished. I'm tired.