Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pleasure Reading

Oh, yes, that. It seems to me that after the intensity of two grad classes in the last six months, coupled with the writing onslaught that is coming, I should probably take up some pleasure reading. I've done very little in the last year, knocking off maybe four books that I can honestly say I read for my own personal interests, Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, Terry Galloway's memoir Mean Little deaf Queer, Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence, and Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red. Despite that smallish number, I am pleased to say that I enjoyed them all immensely (though the Pamuk will stand out as a giant among giants in that list).

I've also been reading a good deal of short fiction. Willow's work keeps me engaged there, and the New Yorker's fiction issue has kept me well stocked for a few days. I quite liked Jonathan Safran Foer's short piece there, enjoyed Rivka Galchen's and Philipp Meyer's pieces, too. Last week's fiction from Nicole Krauss was beutiful, but ended on a bit of a baffling note, and I'm eager to read Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's story "The Erlking" in the issue that arrived today. Her novel Madeline is Sleeping is a pure unadulterated joy.

But for my birthday, I got a big ol' Barnes and Noble gift certificate, and purchased five books that I've been looking at for some time, reviews I've read, Amazon recommendations, etc. And then, last evening, I ran my fingers along my bookshelves to pull another dozen or so possibilities.

So here are several novels on the short(ish) list for next thing to read. Happy to take votes of confidence. There's no rhyme or reason to the order.
  • David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress
  • Zadie Smith, On Beauty
  • W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (I know, can you believe it?)
  • David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
  • Lev Grossman, The Magicians
  • Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods
  • Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End
  • Jesse Ball, The Way through Doors
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
  • Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
  • Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
  • Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children
  • J.M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello
  • Kathy Acker, Don Quixote
  • Don Delillo, Libra
  • Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
So obviously, some of these are Books I Should've Read By Now, but that might be a disincentive to choosing them as pleasure reading. Your thoughts welcome.


Dr. Crazy said...

I'm actually rereading On Beauty right now (for research purposes - not for fun). It's a book that drives me crazy because Zadie Smith seems to be completely clueless about a) America and b) the American academy, but there are a lot of good things about the story if you can get past her thinking Kentucky is in the "deep south" and thinking that American teenagers say "your man" in the way of people from Ireland or the UK and her overall cluelessness about how higher ed in America works. (I know that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement given the fact that this is an academic novel primarily set in America, but really, there are good things about the book.

I also need to read the Winterson, the Acker, and the Kureishi, so if you're looking for a reading buddy....

lucy said...

I'd put Elizabeth Costello at the end of your list. I thought it read like the stitched-together essay collection that it is, but then I'm not a big Coetzee fan anyway. I loved The Magicians, Cloud Atlas and Then We Came to the End, though.

Sisyphus said...

What, you haven't read Dalloway?!?! (Someone told me there are Dalloway departments and To the Lighthouse departments. I was in a Dalloway one, he had just come from an undergrad Lighthouse one. I am suspicious, but I think it may be true.)

My friend the Eternal Grad Student was going to do a dissertation on Auster, so I read one of his books, but I wasn't particularly drawn in to anything. I love the Pynchon, though! And it's the one that gets assigned for undergrad classes --- probably his most accessible work.

The Buddha of Suburbia is hilarious --- at least, it was when I read it, which was back at the beginning of grad school. Another friend of mine wrote a lot on him and he and his contemporaries are explicitly writing back to The Empire Writes Back, if that helps give you context. Or makes you run away because it's suddenly like too much work. ;)

The Kingston is good, but I feel like it's dated. Partly because it gets taught and written on _so_ _much_ that it doesn't feel very fresh anymore. I loved Tripmaster Monkey so much more; it's way more postmodern (ok, maybe even in a cliche way) and excessive and baggy and messy and metafictional --- my friends who have taught it have had _miserable_ times with the undergrad reactions though, whereas students really know the narrative/ideology they are supposed to respond to in Woman Warrior. (I never finished The Fifth Book of Peace still, because it is soooo aging hippie I can't take it.)

Funnily enough, I have a copy of Libra and have never read it ... but I think it may be packed!

Horace said...

Good feedback, all. I must admit, I envy those of you who are voracious readers, who move through books at a prodigious pace. I read quite slowly, and have to block out everything else when I do read, something I don't often have the opportunity for.

So lucy, I was hoping you'd chime in because I do so admire your ability to make your way through books.

As for the Mrs. Dalloway/ Lighthouse divide: I did grad school in a Lighthouse department, and am working on turning BRU into an Orlando department. But that does fell like work...

Emily said...

I just read Pale Fire and loved it. I also think Maxine Hong Kingston is a really nice pleasure read.

Jenny said...

I just finished Cloud Atlas and really liked it. The Emperor's Children, not so much.

YourFireAnt said...

Pale Fire. Yes!