A voracious and eclectic reader, Glenn‘s working on a novel set during the Dust Bowl on the southern plains. Here are his current reads.
Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt. Holt’s existential inquiry concerns “Why is there something instead of nothing.” Leibnitz redux. It is high physics, classical Christian theology, and values philosophy, all mashed into one relatively brief volume. The “joy” that redeems mankind, if that’s the most we can hope for, how did it arrive from nowhere, “materializing” into thought? How did anything at all ever materialize, statistically speaking? The most predictable narrative was dis-creation. I’m a sucker when hard science and the liberal arts meet up in real time, despite CP Snow’s dire predictions of fifty years ago – that so-called permanent gulf between them. Surprise to me, this book became a 2012 best-seller, and it’s no cinch, if you have to order it special. But, these holidays, Barnes and Noble is featuring it on front tables! There are serious readers, Virginia, still mysteriously out there. (In fact, by logic alone, those too should never have existed.) If I can retain a single idea herewith, a successful read.
Winter Journal, by Paul Auster. In general, novelists’ memoirs are flat in comparison to their fiction. My interest: how Auster’s distinct voice was formed in his debut memoir, The Invention of Solitude, that presaged his novels to come. I read Invention (again) simultaneously.
A Farewell to Arms, by Hemingway. (This is the new hardcover edition with the hypothetical endings.) Look, writers never know how to end their works, no matter that my friend John Irving asserts his “last sentence always gets written first.” This year’s sleeper movie, Silver Linings Playbook, has its kook protagonist, fresh from asylum, infirm from insomnia, riff wildly against Hemingway’s pat (sentimental) conclusion to his singular love story. Hem, by the way, simply cannot write a true sentence about women; he’s our eternal poet laureate, on the other hand, when it comes to the peril and debilitation of manhood. He uses far more adverbs than I remembered, too, as our breakthrough prose stylist. Multiple potential endings, in effect betas, were drafted by Hem.
Civilization and Its Discontents, by Freud. I re-read a text from my college years every so often. I took Freud, a full semester course in 1973 (yes, I was practically F’s contemporary) when he was ranked up there with Darwin and Marx as the big dudes who changed thought in the 20th C. There were still Freudian critics in sandals back in those days, tenured on university faculties. New Criticism also co-existed, now a mere remnant in the fossil record. Freud today is considered a narrative spinner (and scientific fabricator), who might live on in literary circles, unconscious motive and all, while disdained in general psychiatry. Time to read him, again, at his most pessimistic, the death-wish primeval. His oeuvre is mainly memoir, my take.
It’s All About the Image, by Dick Frizzell. A treatise on New Zealand art by a New Zealand artist, mostly pictures. Who doesn’t like reading picture books? I’m facile at it. That’s how it all began for me.
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand. When you think it can’t get any worse, it mostly does. Survival stories, count me in. I’d never survive any of these ordeals. Mountain blizzards, Antarctic maroons, forced marches, open-sea shipwreck, prison camps, Moby Dick, OK Corral. But it’s always character, character, character. Deftly researched, historically informative, and written with panache – this is a true tale of an American Olympian become WWII POW in mainland Japan, then reformed alcoholic back in USA, converted by none other than Billy Graham at his inaugural TV crusade in 1949, right there in downtown LA. My old stomping grounds. Always something, details, to steal for my own writing.
What details have you stolen lately?