Saturday, November 7, 2009

3 Books (Plus 2 Others)

If you've scrolled down & taken a look @ my "Chain Reading" thing anytime over the last few months, you may have noticed that it hadn't really changed since the summer. Another Country & The Cardboard Universe took me quite a while to finish... & by finish I mean finally give up on. A couple years ago, I began a project that would see me teach a different James Baldwin book every year. As it stands, I think I'm done w/ that project. Another Country was an arduous journey up a mountain of pretension... even more so than this very blog. Go Tell it on the Mountain & Giovanni's Room are absolutely brilliant. If you ever feel the need to read read Baldwin, stick to those. Go Tell it on the Mountain is a fantastic coming of age story about an African American kid realizing he's not cut out to follow in his step-father's footsteps & take over his church as he comes to terms w/ his bisexuality & agnostic questions. Giovanni's Room deals w/ the stories of a group of drunks in France in the '50s leading up to & in the aftermath of ones execution. The problem I have w/ Another Country is w/ it's melodramatic problems. They just keep coming while the over-the-top description never ends. It feels as though Baldwin had too many ideas & couldn't choose. Of course, the problem my students had w/ it was the sex. I was shocked by their united front of homophobia. Admittedly, the sex was often graphic & misogynistic, but that was the best part of the book... it's real. However, for good graphic gay sex in a good novel, stick w/ Giovanni's Room.

Christopher Miller's The Cardboard Universe suffers from many of the same problems. It's a cool premise, but it just doesn't hold up. It's written as an encyclopedia of the works of a fictitious SF writer names Phoebus K. Dank (a clear reference to Phillip K. Dick). On the surface it seems like a cool post-modern take on literary guide books. It's often funny, but it seems like a cop-out. Miller came up w/ a bunch of silly book topics and then made fun of them. Rather than actually sustaining a narrative, it reads like a SF version of Tucker Max: clever, but in the end, pretty empty. it might make for decent bathroom reading though as each entry cold be gotten through during a satisfying deuce.

Since I'm finally done w/ these, I started The Savage Detectives yesterday... Awesome! I imagine many of you have already read it, but if you haven't... do it! Roberto Bolaño lived a fascinating life, & as his works seem to be getting translated @ a rate of about 1 book per year, we should have another 6 years of cool stuff to come yet. The Savage Detectives follows a couple of struggling writers on their adventures through Central America & then Western Europe & has all sorts of auto-biographical aspects... not unlike the best of Baldwin. But it's like Baldwin meets Carlos Ruiz Zafón, w/ a little Borges & Kerouac thrown in for good measure. Where Christopher Miller falls short w/ his post-modernism, Bolaño hits the mark perfectly.
Along w/ The Savage Detectives, I've also started reading 99 Drams, a fun little book about drinking whiskey & Djbot Baghostus's Run, a strange look @ the jazz world that Dan loaned me a few weeks ago. So far, so good. More complete reviews will follow once I finish them.


Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

BTW, Nikki Giovanni is speaking at UM Dearborn this Friday...

Andre said...

Oh... nice! Thanks.