For some reason, I'm having a difficult time finishing this collection. I keep reading it on and off — usually off. I like anthologies and short ficti...moreFor some reason, I'm having a difficult time finishing this collection. I keep reading it on and off — usually off. I like anthologies and short fiction, but something about this one makes me want to put it down after a story or two. Many of the selections I've read (I was halfway through) have been good to great. I'll continue this when I feel the urge to do so.
(Updated to May 20, 2009)
Many of the stories in this anthology reward a close but quick reading. Oftentimes, English students and would-be writers are advised to reread a story, to take careful draughts, in order to feel the author's full effect. As I noted, this method didn't seem to work for me so I read and finished each of the remaining stories as quickly as possible, usually within a day or two. Such breakneck speed worked in that many of the stories didn't seem to drag. Instead they unfolded themselves like a flower blooming in double time. There are the usual suspects of influences on contemporary authors — Nabokov, Updike, Tolstoy, Carver, Cheever — and they are all well represented in this collection. What's more interesting than the stories themselves are their introductions from contemporary authors, who, given the 15 years that have passed since publication, are now influences themselves or, in some cases, have become more influential.
Miscellaneous thoughts: - Reading Carver's "Cathedral" was a great experience that raises questions as to how much Gordon Lish's editorial hand had altered the story. - The recent news of Updike's death somehow made the ideas of death and birth in life and the act of writing in his short story seem all the stronger. - I really like Nabokov, a feeling reinforced by his short story, "Spring in Fialta," which, according to co-editor Jim Shepherd, was one of his favorite stories. It'll probably become one of my favorites as well — until I read more of his stories. - I've been wanting to read more contemporary fiction, but haven't done so due to the growing armies of authors appearing at a time when print publishing is dying. Now I have a good road map.(less)
It's difficult to recount in this space everything good and bad about an anthology such as this, so I'm going with essays I found interesting and/or u...moreIt's difficult to recount in this space everything good and bad about an anthology such as this, so I'm going with essays I found interesting and/or useful: - a rediscovered piece by James Agee on the 1943 Detroit race riots - Jared Diamond's "The Last Americans," which seems to be a starting point for his book "Collapse." - "The Unreal Thing" by Adam Gopnik, which is both a review of the Matrix films and an examination of the philosophical issues they raised. - Laura Hillenbrand's amazing account of her battle with chronic fatigue syndrome and the effort it took to write her first book, "Seabiscuit." - "Yarn" by Kyoko Mori, a mix of histories about knitting. - Susan Orlean's "Lifelike," a personal report from the 2003 World Taxidermy Championship. - Oliver Sack's "The Mind's Eye," which looks at blindness and how the brain adapts to it. - Janna Malamud Smith's meditation on her father in "My Father is a Book." - a previously unpublished essay by Tennessee Williams, "Amor Perdida."(less)
I've liked John Donne since discovering him in high school, re-reading his poems from time to time. He brought an intensity to his love poems that was...moreI've liked John Donne since discovering him in high school, re-reading his poems from time to time. He brought an intensity to his love poems that was equal to, if not greater than, his more religious and non-religious poems. (It's a perfect complement to the turbulent emotions of high school, actually.) He is one of the few poets I've read who dealt with the complexities of love in all its myriad forms.(less)
Dirda talks about books as if they were good friends — with affection and verve. Each brief introduction highlights the essential qualities of an auth...moreDirda talks about books as if they were good friends — with affection and verve. Each brief introduction highlights the essential qualities of an author's works that make them worth discovering. And that's the best part about this book: Dirda makes you want to read each book. Which is also the worst part of all, because you then have to begin your search anew for time to read and savor the written word.(less)
The stories are a mix of classic and obscure scary stories. But the scariest parts about this omnibus--something that scared me to near death the firs...moreThe stories are a mix of classic and obscure scary stories. But the scariest parts about this omnibus--something that scared me to near death the first time I read these books when they were first published--are the drawings. After seeing them, it is hard to forget them. They will haunt you, almost literally. That said, they are perfect for any wayward child in your care...(less)
Due to a combined misfortune of timing and circumstance, I have not been to the Paris that Liebling describes in "Between Meals." Given that this was...moreDue to a combined misfortune of timing and circumstance, I have not been to the Paris that Liebling describes in "Between Meals." Given that this was Liebling's last book before his death in 1963, I suspect that the Paris contained within this slender book were no more than so many remembered meals by the time this was published. Regardless, Liebling's Paris recalls a time when people savored their food and drink. (Then again, this was also when our traditional notions of men and women dominated and civil rights in America were not at a high point.)
However, as the title implies, the meals were secondary to the people who toiled to create them and the company they provided to those who appreciated good food. The meals, which are sumptuously described, are nothing more than catalysts for Liebling to recall his Paris and its inhabitants.
Liebling's writing exemplifies the New Yorker magazine's style: literary in tone, knowledgeable without sounding too snobbish, rich with the right details, humorous and opinionated without being unseemly. Few writers and journalists nowadays can write like this and not sound pretentious. Even though "Between Meals" represents its time and an era that no longer existed, it continues to serve as a classic food memoir by which other food memoirs should be judged. Well worth reading.(less)
There's a definition of genius as being someone who sees and makes connections that others may miss. For Nicholas Gurewitch, those connections have be...moreThere's a definition of genius as being someone who sees and makes connections that others may miss. For Nicholas Gurewitch, those connections have been made in ways that physically and psychically hurt anyone who comes across his creations. And humanity is all the better for it.
This unusual work by Tezuka showcases the depth of humanity's madness and prejudices in the face of the unknown. What does it take to love someone? Ho...moreThis unusual work by Tezuka showcases the depth of humanity's madness and prejudices in the face of the unknown. What does it take to love someone? How arrogant can a person be? What is someone willing to do to achieve their goals? Tezuka takes an approach to psychological moments with art that recalls EC Comics. This manga also looks at what constitutes evil in humanity and provides a grim outlook on Japan's medical system and the consequences of its hierarchy.(less)
Wilkinson talks to experts from different fields ranging from cooking and nutrition, to fashion and spirituality. She gets basic advice from her exper...moreWilkinson talks to experts from different fields ranging from cooking and nutrition, to fashion and spirituality. She gets basic advice from her experts, especially in the nutrition and cooking section, but sometimes a reminder of the basics is needed from time to time.(less)
This collection of reflections and quotes will sit on a shelf within arm's reach and serve as a reminder of why I love to read, a modest literary refu...moreThis collection of reflections and quotes will sit on a shelf within arm's reach and serve as a reminder of why I love to read, a modest literary refuge in which to consider the wisdom of those who have lived before me.
Of course, there are also all the books mentioned by Dirda that I'll have to seek out.(less)
Overall, an excellent collection. Highlights by order of appearance:
Gretel Ehrlich's "The Endless Hunt" - about her experiences on the ice with her Gr...moreOverall, an excellent collection. Highlights by order of appearance:
Gretel Ehrlich's "The Endless Hunt" - about her experiences on the ice with her Greenland Inuit friends as they hunt for food. Harrowing stories. Anthony Lane's "The Maria Problem" - A review of the "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" event along with an "appreciation" of the movie musical. Rian Malan's "In the Jungle" - amazing in-depth investigation that uncovers one of pop music's great mysteries and tragedies. Robert Kurson's "My Favorite Teacher" - Kurson tries to grapple with the fact that his high school biology teacher and role model is a serial sex offender convicted of murdering a teenage hitchhiker. David Foster Wallace's "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub" - a dense yet incisive look at the 2000 McCain presidential campaign and what it means to be a journalist covering it, what it means to be a potential voter caught in it. A stark contrast to his 2008 campaign. Malcolm Gladwell's "The Pitchman" - a profile that is as engaging as its subject, Ron Popeil. William Langewiesche's "The Million-Dollar Nose" - another profile, but accordingly, of a different flavor that is no less interesting than Popeil. This one is on the influential American wine critic, Robert Parker. Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Ghost" - an amazing look at Hank Williams III and his struggles to deal with his grandfather and father's legacy while marking his own path as a musician. Lewis H. Lapham's "Stupor Mundi" - a wonderful essay on Patrick O'Brian, author of the "Master & Commander" series. This can induce anyone to seek out O'Brian's work. Donna Tartt's "The Glory of J.F. Powers" - a critical essay/review that coincides with the reprint of Powers' stories, which had a decidedly unromantic view of priests and the Catholic church.
Also worth reading for certain aspects: Bill Vaughn's "Skating Backwards" - a humorous chronicle of Vaughn's efforts to transform a patch of polluted swamp into a cozy, clean pond. Sean Flynn's "The Perfect Fire" - a tragic tale of a warehouse fire that claimed the lives of six firefighters. Anne Fadiman's "Mail" - a personal essay on handwritten letters just as email began to take over people's lives via AOL. Robert Olen Butler's "Fair Warning" - a short story about a young female auctioneer who can sell anything yet cannot find love. Donald L. Barrett and James B. Steele's "Big Money & Politics," "Soaked by Congress," Throwing the Game" - a series of articles that examines how campaign finance and lobbying efforts prove detrimental to the average US citizen. Jonathan Gold's "Paris on the Hudson" - a fun review of New York's Pastis restaurant. James Wolcott's "Forever Young" - a critical appreciation for the work and legacy of the singer and entertainer, Bobby Darin.(less)