2121 Reading

Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh (1928) I got through this book because of the frequent delicious turns of phrase, but the satire on the British upper class fell flat.

Arguably:  Essays by Christopher Hitchens (2011) It took me a while to get through all 750 pages of this, but it was always enjoyable reading, and many of the essays were absolutely sterling. He leaves little unskewered.

Fantasyland:  How America Went Haywire – Kurt Andersen (2017) Oh my goodness. You want to know why so many Americans are so fucked up today and so susceptible to conspiracy theories? Read this book.

In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin (1977) I’d never heard of Chatwin until just a very few years ago when suddenly his name kept coming up again and again. This is his most well regarded book, and oh oh oh, how wonderful it is to sit here wallowing in his genius. I just loved this book.

Red Moon – Kim Stanley Robinson (2018) I’ve enjoyed other books of his, most particularly the Mars trilogy, and I enjoyed this one, too. This one is set in the not-too-distant future when both China and the US have colonies on the moon, us at the north pole and them at the south. The two countries are both undergoing crises marked by great groundswells of civil disobedience. The main character is Chen Qi, the renegade daughter of one of the Politburo’s major figures. She’s one of the leaders of the civil uprising, which of course makes her a target of her father’s enemies. Quite a complex plot but enlivened for me by Robinson’s depiction of life on the moon. You can imagine my disappointment when I neared the end, turned the page, and was met with blank space. Never did a novel demand more loudly a sequel.

Poison Penmanship – Jessica Mitford (2020) This is a collection of essays written from 1957 to 1979 to which she has appended notes on their writing and commentary on their subjects. She’s such a brilliant woman that she makes a wide variety of subjects absolutely spellbinding and explanations of how she wrote the essays fascinating.

Hotel de Dream – Edmund White (2007) This novel is a fine mashup of fact and fiction. First the facts: “Hotel de Dream” was the name of a bawdy house owned by Cora Taylor in Jacksonville, FL. Crane took up with her and they spent the last few years of his life together. Now the fiction: Crane had met a boy prostitute non-professionally and pitied him, and during the last few weeks of his life, he dictated to Cora a novel titled The Painted Boy. The book alternates between describing his last days with Cora and chapters of the novel. I enjoyed it. Not sure how many others would.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean – Joan Didion (2021) This is a collection of a dozen essays she’d not previously published in book form, so yes, we’re being served leftovers. But she’s Joan Didion, so even the leftovers are delicious. What this reminds me of is that I’ve not read any of her later collections of essays even though I’ve read plenty with great enjoyment in the periodical in which they were first published. Gotta check those collections out to pick up the ones I’d missed. Reading these essays made me want to reread her novels.

\The City of Falling Angels – John Berendt (2005) Nothing, of course, could top Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but Berendt’s meticulous depiction of the rebuilding of the Fenice opera house in Venice after its total destruction by fire in 1996 is a good try. He covers the investigation into the cause of the fire and burrows into local society involved in fundraising for the reconstruction, their cliques and counter-cliques. Like Midnight, this is such a byzantine tale that it could well be fiction. I just looked to see what else he’d written and discovered that these two nonfiction books are it. Furthermore, he’s in his eighties, so more are highly unlikely. Read these two.

Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban (1980) Some time back I read about this book and put it down onto a note that got buried. When I found the note, I no longer remembered anything about the book, but put a hold on it at the library anyhow. Opening it was quite a shock since it’s written in a highly corrupted form of English, that spoken by the narrator over 3,000 years in the future. Hoban creates a believable future English that is rather slow reading because half the words are spelled differently, but it’s still intelligible. Quite an interesting tale of a society that has reverted to the Iron Age but is aware that its predecessors were much more advanced and had flying boats and other marvels. My one quibble is that the English spoken over 3,000 years in the future after a total collapse of society would have far more changes than Hoban describes. After all, it was only a bit over a millennium that English was Old English, which is utterly unintelligible to modern speakers.


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