Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guilty pleasures and other recent manias

Sorry there hasn't been time for coffee lately. Or blogging or generally gadding about. I've been ... reading. Yes, that's right. One of my favorite things about working with Wordstock -- the literary and book fest that starts in just 36 days -- is that I get to indulge my mania for reading to the max and still feel like I’m working. Here are just a very few of the books I’ve recently read as “research” for October, when I meet their authors in person.

All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, by Lan Samantha Chang. This somber, affecting novel by the director of the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop starts like it’s going to be a scathing satire of grad school writing programs, and then goes on to span decades in the lives of several poets to show what they sacrifice and what they gain back from their lives as scribblers. Wonderful.

The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan. Ordinarily I’m not a big nonfiction guy, but this book -- about the nation's largest forest fire, which burned more than three million acres in 1910 and has affected conservation policy to this day -- had me spellbound in the introduction, well before it gets to its actual subject. Suffice it to say that Mr. Egan can write.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. Don’t be put off by the title. This book’s intriguing premise -- about a girl who discovers she can taste the feelings cooked into food by their emotive preparers -- beguiles you with humor and then takes you to disturbing places.

Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem. This is my first foray into the notoriously genre-busting work of Mr. Lethem, and let me tell you, it’s heady stuff. Clearly the heir apparent to territories blazed by Thomas Pynchon, this novel envisions a dystopian Manhattan so deliriously colorful that I want to move there this minute.

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy. Awesome. Majestic. The sheer austerity of this writer’s prose provides a series of canvases you get to project yourself into. Many of these stories are haunting in their spare portraits of people on the horns or moral dilemmas. You want to judge them, then realize that would be an act of self-criticism. I now want to read every word this writer’s ever written. Oh, and Portland connection: how endearing is it that she’s Colin’s big sister?

More to come. Moremoremore.

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