Staff Reading: August 2006

Matt Borondy: Reading about Grigory Perelman in The New Yorker and also catching up on the past couple issues of Harper's, which include a story about a Peak Oil conference that took place in my old stomping ground of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Also I hear Birnbaum's in Poets & Writers this month. And I'm reading the newest Five Points (which starts off with a story from the late Fred Busch) as well as the anthology from that Georgia-based publication, High Five. In terms of books, The Prince of Marshes by Rory Stewart (about Iraq) is on the list.

Ross Simonini: project x by jim shepard, the blue and brown books by wittgenstein, the hawkline monster by richard brautigan, echo regime by john olson

Reem Abu-Libdeh: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet 18, and I just grabbed a copy of the latest Ploughshares.

Drew McNaughton: Portraits of 'the Whiteman': Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache by Keith Basso...and it's nerdy and it's cultural and it's full of anecdotes that somehow take jokes and functionally dissect the hilarity from them, leaving me with this weird sense that I don't 'get it', which is, of course, the main thrust of the book.

Mara Naselli: Another one from the backlist. I just finished J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello, which absolutely rocked my world. If I were a blurber, that would be a shit blurb--it's imprecise and glib--but it's either that or a long consideration of all the ideas intertwined in a rather slight but sturdy plot. I was surprised to find myself unable to put the novel down. For much of it, the author places me in uncomfortable auditorium seats or conference chairs as I squint and try to interpret the speaker's views as she inadvertently reveals her limits. And aren't those the most difficult? The ones we can't see? But it's not the public delivery of speeches that turns the pages. It's how the ideas are embedded in Elizabeth. And every once in a while there is a moment of sheer tenderness. Elizabeth's middle-aged son, who remembers his mother feeling suffocated by her children when they were young, escorts her through the trifles of a weekend of her acceptance of an award (these duties of stardom are truly exhausting drills in her frail state). He is her squire, and she is his knight; "he will help her into her armour, lift her on to her steed, set her buckler on her arm, hand her lance, and step back."

And a long list from Robert Birnbaum:

All Governments Lie, a biography of IF Stone by Myra MacPherson. Where is Izzy Stone when we really need him?

The Mission Song by John LeCarre — to his credit, Le Carre has not deserted Africa as have the rest of the world's white people (those who are not stealing the region blind, that is).

Paint It Black by Janet Fitch, sophomore effort by Oprahist, LA writer

The Creationists by E L Doctorow, a wonderful array of lyrical essays on various literary figures from the madman Poe to Albert Einstein

The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Frank Rich - It will be interesting to see if or how this book makes it in to mainstream public conversation. It is a brilliant, brilliant indictment of the pack of liars that occupy the nation's highest offices. It's readable and funny and has what Rich cites in some other context: Steve Colbert's "truthiness".

Miss Kansas City
by Joan Frank - I found this in my car while I was waiting for AAA and I was entranced from the first paragraph - tart and accurate prose and an unlikely coupling that make a terrific story.

Fall 2006 Ploughshares guest edited by Ron Carlson with a fine story by Amy Bloom, "The Old Impossible"

Alexis De Tocqueville by Joseph Epstein - part of the James Atlas's Eminent Lives series

Last but not least, Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties by Robert Stone - Stone is our 21st century Melville - he is the most profound and ambitious living and the least appreciated great American writer. Hopefully someone will follow with his collected journalism.
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