You saw them here first: Catherine enthusiastically introduces the next generation of good reads, plus her current faves.
By the bed now is Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson, essays based on a series of lectures given at Yale. Robinson’s intention is to challenge widespread cultural assumptions about the divide between what is taken for science and what is taken for religion—a read so thoughtful and provocative I am passing it on to my Zen teacher, Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi, as soon as I finish.
But what I really want to mention here are some phantoms from past and future—one that I read a few months ago when flat on my back for several days with a cold: David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion, and some just coming out that I haven’t yet set my hands (nor eyes) on.
First, Oblivion—it transformed the five-day summer cold into an event to be grateful for. I’ve never found my way into Infinite Jest, as often as I’ve picked it up and put it down again, confident that DFW is a writer I would love, but failing to find entry. At last, now, I can say, I do. The stories in this collection—few, and most of them long—are dazzling in their multilayered complexity, imagination, intelligence, daring, darkness and humor.
“Mr. Squishy” is to die for. Most of these stories seem to end up going basically nowhere—like an elaborate shaggy dog story, I suppose—a million balls in the air kept flying just long enough to receive another, until suddenly, mysteriously, when the part of the reader that is hooked on narrative is begging for completion and resolution, the whole show just drops off a cliff. My favorite was “Good Old Neon,” possibly the one that most clearly and carefully brings the juggling act gently to Earth again, no cliff in sight. But probably I exaggerate. I was sick, after all, and I’m remembering a reading from more than a month ago. Still, maybe next time a cold allows me to surrender my attention in this total way I’ll be primed to enter the big one.
And three novels from the next generation (and the generation after that): Kellie Wells’ Fat Girl, Terrestrial, Following Tommy by Bob Hartley, and Salvatore Pane’s Last Call in the City of Bridges. All come strongly recommended and I’m enthusiastic to pass the recommendations along.