Books

Back From Boston

I flew out to Boston on Wednesday and returned to San Francisco on Thursday. I stayed across the street from the Citgo sign at the Hotel Commonwealth. In a perfect touch, a picture of the ’41 Red Sox hovered above the desk in my room, which also contained a copy of Roger Angell’s Game Time. Of course, there was the inevitable book shopping. I checked out Trident on Newbury Street along with the Harvard Bookstore and the COOP in Harvard Square. Unfortunately, it appears that Wordsworth on Brattle Street shut down back in October; another death comes to the independent bookstore, although their children’s bookstore is still around. Anyway, I picked up Alberto Moravia’s Boredom, Gerald Edelman’s Wider Than Sky, and the second issue of n+1. Boredom is excellent and funny and sometimes ridiuculous through 75 pages so far.

Books on Monday

This one is going to cover the month of March as a whole.

Books bought:
On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt
What’s Not to Love by Jonathan Ames
The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
In the Shadows of Young Girls in Flower by Marcel Proust
Nadja by André Breton
Life Stories and For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell

Books read:
Old School by Tobias Wolff
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

What about the rest of the new Proust translation?

Aaron Matz explains, in today’s Slate, why the final three volumes of Penguin’s Proust translation will not be published in the States until at least 2018. The British edition, of course, can be obtained from from Amazon.co.uk. Additionally, I saw a complete British edition of In Search of Lost Time at Dutton’s in Brentwood when I was there last fall. Perhaps, people of LA may want to check that out.

Books on Monday

Books bought:
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Perfect Hour by James L. West III
Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig

Books read:
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Perfect Hour by James L. West III

Jonathan Safran Foer Profile in NYT Magazine

For those of you who don’t have time to read Deborah Solomon’s fun profile of Jonathan Safran Foer in this Sunday’s New York Times Mgazine, here are my favorite quotes from it:

His letters, much like his fiction, are conceived ”as an end to loneliness,” as he once put it in an e-mail message. And while most of the letters in the world — at least the good ones — are similarly written to allay our loneliness, Foer seems haunted by an aching awareness of the probability of defeat. What, in the end, can we really know of one another?

Plans were made to meet outside the main branch of the New York Public Library one Wednesday at noon. That morning, more e-mail messages arrived, the last of which was sent knowingly to an empty desk: ”Writing this from the Kinko’s across the street from the Public Library,” Foer noted. ”It’s 11:41 and I’ve done it again: arrived for a rendezvous more than 15 minutes early. Anyway, I’m assuming you won’t read this until after we meet, which leaves these words hanging in some nowhere time. . . . See you soon, hours ago.”

“Why do I write? It’s not that I want people to think I am smart, or even that I am a good writer. I write because I want to end my loneliness. Books make people less alone. That, before and after everything else, is what books do. They show us that conversations are possible across distances.”

“I always write out of a need to read something, rather than a need to write something.”

Jonathan Lethem in Feb 28 New Yorker

I flipped immediately to Jonathan Lethem’s essay, “The Beards,” upon receiving this week’s New Yorker in the mail. A series of riffs on art and music and books and movies and loss, I found it intoxicatingly good. I constantly admire Lethem for his unguarded fanatacism about the works of art that he loves, his devotion to those that ultimately dissapoint, can only disappoint.

A couple samples from the essay, from which the title of Lethem’s new collection, The Disappointment Artist is drawn:

[Pink Floyd] was a group that had lost its genius and its spiritual center, and had had to carry on. And, paradoxically, its masterpiece (for that was what I believed “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to be) had been achieved without his help, but in his honor. Syd Barret wasn’t dead, but “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was memorial art. It suggested that I didn’t have to fall into ruin to exemplify the cost of losing someone as enormous as Judith Lethem. My surviving Judith’s death would in no way be to her dishonor. I’d only owe her a great song.
….
[Bob] Dylan and [Philip K.] Dick created bodies of work so contradictory and erratic that they never seemed to have promised me perfection, so they could never disappoint me. Here were artists who hung themselves emotionally out to dry, who risked rage and self-pity in their work, and were sometimes overwhelmed by those feelings and blew it.

Vendela Vida, Andrew Sean Greer, and ZZ Packer

I attended the City Arts & Lectures event featuring those three local authors. Andrew Sean Greer was absolutely hilarious. Greer, btw, spent the past semester teaching at CUNY’s Hunter campus in New York. Speaking of New York, Packer quoted Vida on the difference between the literary environments in San Francisco and Manhattan: “In New York people read reviews of your book. In San Francisco people read your book.” Unfortunately, the event’s moderator Oscar Villalon—the book review editor at the San Francisco Chronicle—did not seem prepared at all for the interview. His questions were general and his comments banal. Sorry, Oscar. We know you love books, but, perhaps, you should stay away from doing these literary interview things. I know, I know, I vowed not to be snarky.

Books on Monday

In addition to buying a bunch of books for gifts, I picked up a few for myself at Kepler’s after Thanksgiving sale.

Books Bought:
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Politics by Hendrik Hertzberg

Books Read:
Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? by Ethan Watters
Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff

Books on Monday

It was a sad week for reading and shopping. That’s all I have to say about that.

Books bought:
Paper Lion by George Plimpton

Books read:
Nope, none this week.

Jonathan Lethem and Thomas Keller appearances

Lethem and Keller are both making Bay Area appearances next week. Lethem will be in conversation with Daniel Handler a.k.a Lemony Snicket at a City Arts and Lectures event on Monday, November 8. Lethem’s short story collection Men and Cartoons was just released. Moreover, advance copies of his essay collection The Disappointment Artist are making their way to reviewers. The book is scheduled for publication in April 2005. I’ve seen Lethem in conversation twice in the past year, and I encourage people to attend this event.

Thomas Keller is touring to support his new Bouchon cookbook and will be making an appearance at Kepler’s on Wednesday, November 10. Let’s hope he brings some food to sample!

Safran Foer’s new novel

Jonathan Safran Foer’s new novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is due out from Houghton Mifflin in April. I heard him read an excerpt at Symphony Space in New York earlier this year, and am eagerly awaiting a chance to read the whole thing. The book is narrated by a child with a tendency toward French sayings—It is funny, trust me. If you liked Alex’s use of language in Everything is Illuminated, you’ll love this kid.—whose father dies in the WTC on 9/11. Does anyone know if ARC’s are out there yet? Has anyone read it? Use the comments link below to respond.

Murakami’s new novel due in January

The English translation of Haruki Murakami’s new novel Kafka on the Shore is due from Knopf in January. Advance copies are out there, however. Please post some comments if you’ve read the novel already. I’m totally late to the party on Murakami, but I’m planning to catch up and read the new one soon.

On a related note, the Summer 2004 issue of The Paris Review contains a very good interview with Murakami in which he discusses Kafka–Franz Kafka, that is–and Radiohead among other subjects.

New Dave Eggers collection out

Dave Eggers has a new collection of short stories out titled How We Are Hungry. I picked up signed copy at ACWLP in San Francisco last week, and am just starting to read through it. I recognized some of the stories from their previous incarnations in The New Yorker, Zoetrope, and the Nick Hornby-edited collection Speaking With the Angel. John Freeman praised Eggers’ book in The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Here is a brief excerpt from his review:

Like Lorrie Moore in “Birds of America,” Eggers understands how movement from one place to the next can put us off balance and make us kiss the Blarney Stone out of our own neediness. In “The Only Meaning of Oil-Wet Water,” a woman flies down to Costa Rica to figure out whether her friend Hand (who reappears from “Velocity”) is a lover or merely a friend. It’s a heartbreaking little story because — if you’re the kind of person who takes time seriously — it reminds you how many near misses you have when searching for the One. What do you do with all those moments so indelibly remembered?

And here is where Eggers takes his writing to a whole new level. In “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Eggers’ grief over his parents’ deaths was fried in a vat of irony; in contrast, these stories are raw, unfiltered but have the same quivering texture of lived experience.