Currently Reading

It’s a rainy Friday night here in Connecticut; I spent much of the day grading papers, but the evening is free, and I plan to do some reading ASAP. I also have a book-buying spree to look forward to on Sunday, when Hobgoblin and I will head out with our special book-buying friends to see what we can find. We will be looking in the Northampton, Massachusetts, area, which seems to have a good number of stores, and I hope to come home with some good things.

I don’t think I ever wrote about seeing Jonathan Franzen and Colson Whitehead a couple weekends ago. It was a book signing at McNally-Jackson bookstore in Manhattan; there was no reading or talk, so I only had brief moment to see the two of them, but it was fun. They both looked tired, which isn’t too surprising as they were both involved in the New Yorker Festival and were at the end of a busy weekend. But both were friendly. Meeting Franzen was a little strange, though, because after he finished signing the book and I was ready to go on my way, he kept looking at me as though he expected me to say something. As I’ve written here recently, I’m too shy to say much to authors at these things, and I just wanted to go, but I had this strange feeling I was disappointing him somehow. Was I supposed to tell him how awesome I think he is? I’m not sure, and I’m probably making it up, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to find some awesome line with which to make my exit. Instead, I just kept smiling and left.

After that, Hobgoblin and I headed over to the fabulous Three Lives bookstore, where I bought Alan Jacobs’s book and also one called The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts. It’s part of what looks like a wonderful “Art of…” series by Graywolf Press. There were several I wanted. Okay, I wanted the whole series. Then we hit the Partners in Crime just a couple blocks away, where I bought the next Mary Russell book A Letter of Mary.

So, uh, I guess I don’t really need to go on a book-buying trip this Sunday. Except, of course, that I do.

For now, I’m in the middle of listening to The Given Day by Dennis Lehane on audio. It’s been totally awesome to listen to. This is my first Lehane, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. It’s historical fiction, set in Boston, mostly, in the years after World War I, and it’s a satisfyingly long tale with great characters, dramatic action, and a fascinating historical backdrop. This is the kind of historical fiction I like, I guess, where there’s a strong sense of context that’s developed in a natural, convincing way and fully-fleshed out characters that get caught up in their historical moment but don’t feel like they are there only to make a point.

I’m also slowly reading William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, which I’ve had on my shelves for ages. It’s quite good, it turns out. I was worried that it might be a little dull, a little too predictable in its structure, and that I might feel as though I were plodding through one variety of religious experience after another. But James’s tone and style are wonderful. I didn’t realize this until recently, but the book is a transcript of lectures he gave, and so his tone is a little bit on the informal side of things and his descriptions and images are great. What I like most is his compassionate tone. What he wants is to understand, not to judge, and he is wonderful at explaining the psychological sources of a whole range of religious behavior, without dismissing the mysterious, spiritual, divine aspect of it.

I am also in the middle of the novel Zeina by Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian writer. But more on that later. I hope you have a wonderful weekend everyone!

10 Comments

Filed under Books, Reading

10 responses to “Currently Reading

  1. Hooray for A Letter of Mary. That’s one of my favorite Russells.
    Jenny is a big fan of Dennis Lehane’s Kinzie and Gennaro novels, and I have the first one to read at some point. I’ve also listened to Shutter Island on audio, which was pretty good, but relied too much on a “shocking twist” that I figured out from the movie trailer (sigh), and so I mostly found the book overly predictable. I didn’t know he’d written any historical fiction.
    The William James sounds really interesting. I’ve had that in the back of my mind as something I’d like to read ever since I listened to the audiobook of Deborah Blum’s book Ghost Hunters, in which she talked quite a bit about William James and the spiritual and religious ideas from his era.

  2. Some great reads here. The William James and I had a tight relationship in grad school so pleased to hear it is sitting well with you. It is not dull at all as you point out. In fact, I would not mind reading it again. Big Russell fan too so nice purchase there too. And envying you that Art of Time in Memoir. Have eyed that one myself.

    As for author signings, it always seems that if I say something, I sometimes get a questioning face, and if I don’t, the same happens. :) It is an odd format. Imagine how many books they sign on one tour, how many strangers they interact with.

  3. I’ve ordered the Denis Lehane because it sounds so interesting and I think both Mr Litlove and I will enjoy it. And I have hovered over that book by Sven Birkerts so will be very keen indeed to know what you think of it. As for Jonathan Franzen, he may just have thought you were hot, of course. :)

  4. ted

    You visited my two favorite NYC bookstores!! Maybe we’ll run into each other there sometime.

  5. I love hearing about your book excursions–I hope you found some great reads and you’ll have to share them! I think I would be too shy to say anything to an author at a signing, too. I am not a very clever conversationalist (maybe I shouldn’t admit that) and always admire people who are fast on the clever quips. Oh well–it would still be fun to just soak in the atmosphere. I had always sort of dismissed Dennis Lahane as someone I would like–though no clue why to be honest. I think I’ll add him to my wishlist now, as you make the book sound very appealing!

  6. Sorry, Lehane, but you knew who I meant!

  7. Like Danielle, I love hearing about your bookstore trips. You have such a wide variety of places within reach. Here, once you leave the Twin cities, long distances must be covered for just one store which means I never go shoping beyond the city. Maybe Franzen thought you looked like someone he’s talked to before? Also, I am glad to hear that William James is good because that book has been on my TBR list for ages. One of these days!

  8. Oh, I love that series from Graywolf too. And that one had me taking lots of notes in particular!

  9. Lots of good books! I got no reading done at all this weekend, but some are like that.

  10. Nice to hear that you have A Letter of Mary ahead of you ;) I love Mary Russell — time for reread of the series, I think, as I’ve just finished The Pirate King.

    I also enjoy “The Art of…” series. Think the one I’ve found most illuminating so far is Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext. I want all of them as well…slowly adding to my collection as I find more.

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