Wednesday, March 01, 2006
I Love To Read
blingtastic pin from NY Library Association; currently coveted by MC
Allen Ginsberg, "Howl (For Carl Solomon)"
Allen Ginsberg, "Footnote to Howl"
Our first installment of Pure Dork Week delves into that dork activity par excellence: reading books. I am a voracious reader, although not as good as I'd like to be. Like most nerds, I am a weirdo. This manifests itself in a book policy that forces me to read a given book continuously or else start over. In other words, if I start a book on a Monday, it needs to be read at least every other day, or I will have to start from the beginning. Even if I am hundreds of pages in and close to the end. Why? I have no idea. Just like I have no idea why I won't let people borrow books from me, or break the spine on a new book before I have. What can I say? I'm a pure dork, unsocialized.
The above track comes from Disc 1 of the Allen Ginsberg boxed set called HolySoulJellyRoll. It's a 4-CD look at one of the great American poets, Beat figures, and all-around creative types, compiling all of the recorded versions available of his poems. It's an amazing document, a chance to hear great poetry, a chance to realize how musical these works are. "Howl" is one of those inspirational works for me, a work that captures the energy of the city, one of the great representations of New York City (which is saying a lot). It has the same breathlessness, excitement, and broken dreams as that city.
I figured that I would take a look at some of the other authors and writers who have been profound inspirations in my life. They shouldn't be hard to figure out-- male writers who engage urban life, who write about crime and murder, who deal with issues of memory and loss, or all of the above.
-Jonathan Lethem has always seemed like an older version of me, or if you must, an older, more successful, and more artistic version. He is a prolific writer, starting out in the sci-fi genre and moving into the general fiction category in recent years. His interests are comic books, cities, detective novels. In other words, he is a nerd. A nerd born in Brooklyn, still living there, who lives and loves to remember his city. Substitute Philly for Brooklyn and who do you have?
There's lot of good stuff on the 'nets about him. Start with the most comprehensive resource, a fan site put together by Dave Myers. Backwords City links to this Metafilter post that alerts us to all sorts of Lethem goodies, including a conversation with cartoon artist Gary Panter. Here's another mp3 interview, a discussion with Lethem from the amazing Agony Column. Powell's has a nice interview with Lethem, around the time Fortress dropped. The 92nd St. Y blog (who knew?) has a more recent interview up for your enjoyment. The litter in litterateur links to another great Lethem interview, this one with Robert Birnbaum. Finally, a great essay in Salon from 1999 with the perfect title of "Who killed Brooklyn?"
-Another Brooklyn guy, Paul Auster, has a new novel out about his borough, The Brooklyn Follies. It has gotten mixed reviews, but sounds good to me. His classic City of Glass was redone as a graphic novel, which is too cool on so many levels and foreshadows future posts here this week. Here is a review by Art Spiegelman!
-One of the influences on both men, and someone that has become an obsession of mine, is Bernard Malamud. Best known for The Natural, that work has overshadowed some of the most brilliant writing of the 20th Century. He's always seemed to me as a cross between the Yiddish writers like Issac Bashevis Singer and the realist writers like Henry Roth. It's a pretty perfect mix to me, and from the authors writing forwards to his new editions, I'm not alone. Go here to learn more, here to buy. Prufrock's Page has some musings on Malamud.
-One last great writer on NYC, Kevin Baker, has released the final installment of his City of Fire trilogy, Strivers Row. The trilogy looks at New York from the 1850s to the 1950s, a period of immigration and upheaval, looking at the lives of the Jews and Irish and blacks who came to the city to make a better life no matter what it took. It's a magnificent series, a work of imagination that puts it in the ranks of John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy and E.L. Doctorow's historical fiction, a huge statement coming from this reader. The most recent book chronicles the African-American experience during World War II, and cements Kevin Baker as one of my favorite writers of the day.
-In terms of my "to read" list, it is big and getting bigger. Right now, I have just started re-reading Walter Benjamin's Illuminations. The stack also includes a Sandy Koufax biography by Jane Leavy (for the start of baseball season), Carlo Rotella's Cut Time, John Fante's Ask the Dust, Arthur Phillips' Prague, Lethem's Men and Cartoons: Stories. What do these titles say about me? That I'm pretentious, possibly a sexist and definitely a bore. Help me out, people. What do you recommend, book-wise?