Recent Reading

This year has started out pretty well for me, reading-wise; it’s not been perfect, but I did finish two novels I liked very much, Anita Brookner’s Look At Me and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. This is the third Brookner novel I’ve read, and I think it’s my favorite so far. Brookner captures a certain kind of consciousness so well — the lonely, smart, isolated figure who wants a different life but can’t quite reach it. It’s a first-person point of view, and the narrator is ruthless in her honesty, which makes for a sad story. But there’s something bracing in that honesty that I admire. What’s really hard to read is the process she goes through of figuring out that she was wrong about her relationships. She thought she was doing things right, when it turns out she wasn’t. Sad! But Brookner dissects it all so well.

The Lethem was fabulous as well. Motherless Brooklyn is the second Lethem novel I’ve read, after The Fortress of Solitude, and I think it’s my favorite (perhaps because the subject matter of the other one didn’t appeal as much). It’s a detective novel, and a book I read for my mystery book group, which met last night. In a lot of ways, it’s a straightforward mystery, with murders and detectives and clues, etc. But the main character, Lionel, has Tourette’s, which means he’s not able to control his words and actions as a traditional detective might. I thought Lethem did a great job portraying what life with Tourette’s might be like (not that I know for sure, of course, but his depiction was convincing), and I was fascinated by how imaginative and fluent Lionel was with language. The problem, of course, was that he couldn’t control the outpouring of words, and this frequently got him into trouble. He’s an appealing character — a thoroughly unconventional detective who does the best he can in some difficult circumstances.

I also finished Terry Castle’s collection of essays The Professor and Other Writings, which was a little disappointing. Some of the early essays in the book were good, especially the one on Susan Sontag and another one her obsession with World War I. Other essays I didn’t quite get the point of, and the title essay is much too long, book-length, really, with not enough pay-off. The success of an essay collection comes down to voice, I think, and I was never quite won over by Castle’s.

And now I’m reading Ali Smith’s The Accidental, which has been very good so far. It tells a story from multiple points of view and follows the characters’ minds closely in a stream-of-consciousness style that captures their different experiences well. I can sometimes be put off by writing that seems labored or self-consciously poetic, and I postponed reading this book for a long time because I was afraid I would find that kind of writing here, but that hasn’t been the case at all.

Before I go, a quick note on cycling: since January 1st, I’ve done 11 rides with 410 miles total in over 26 hours on the bike. That’s perhaps one reason I haven’t posted here much!

10 Comments

Filed under Books, Reading

10 responses to “Recent Reading

  1. I’m so pleased that you’re reading The Accidental. I found it incredibly powerful and incredibly fun at the same time, which is a rare mix. :-) Motherless Brooklyn sounds really interesting – I didn’t know it was a detective novel. You know how sometimes you get the wrong initial impression of a book and it sticks? I’ve always thought of Jonathan Lethem as a sort of JG Ballard crossed with Martin Amis. Not a good hybrid for me! But now I realise I should give him a chance.

    And I’m sorry to hear about the Terry Castle disappointment. I read the Sontag essay when it was first published in the London Review of Books and enjoyed it. I put the collection on my wishlist when it came out and the print reviews were excellent – so excellent that the hardback edition sold out in the UK. But it sounds so uneven!

  2. Yay! So glad you are enjoying Ali Smith. I love the fact that she is a woman and an experimental writer, and that she does this from a place of such playfulness and love. I used to adore Anita Brookner but sort of got over that a while back; I should try her again one of these days. And Jonathan Letham is new to me – sounds most intriguing! It’s so nice when the year gets off to a good reading start.

  3. I’m reading an Anita Brookner novel right now–Hotel du Lac, and enjoying it very much. I had forgotten how much I like her writing–I binged on it years ago and hadn’t picked up anything for ages, and now I am glad I did. I have that Lethem book and was tempted to start it not long ago–glad to hear you liked it as that makes me want to read it sooner than later. You’ve been riding loads–I think you must also be having nice weather there as well?

  4. Victoria — So far The Accidental has been great. Yay! I’m very glad my book group got me to read the Lethem, as I probably wouldn’t otherwise. He’s not someone I’m naturally drawn to. But this book was well worth it. You may well like the Castle book; I think whether a person likes her voice or not is very much a personal thing. It was a little too glib for me at times.

    Litlove — I can see that a person might tire of Brookner; I read her only occasionally because I want her to stay fresh if that’s possible. And yes, the Smith is so great. Her experimentalism is a kind I like very much, and I really like the four different view points and the way they play off each other. I definitely recommend the Lethem, and he’s an author your husband might like as well.

    Danielle — I read Hotel du Lac a while back and really liked it. I wouldn’t mind rereading it at some point. It’s definitely possible to read too much Brookner too fast, though. It’s great that you are enjoying your return to her. Our weather has been dry, for the most part, although it’s snowing right now. But it’s not a major snow storm. The temps have varied, but the lack of precipitation is what makes a good winter, as far as I’m concerned. I can ride in the cold, but not in the snow!

  5. Ha, I’m laughing at my reaction to this post – I’m glad you’re doing some good reading (I’ve actually not liked much of what I’ve read so far this year, ho hum), but I really lit up at your last paragraph. :) Keep up the good work! You have an audience of 1, at least, if you feel like sharing your race plans for the coming year… I’m just antsy as can be recovering from the knee surgery. It’s all I can do to pace myself.

  6. I’ve got to get around to reading Ali Smith and Letham one of these days. I bet it has been a good winter for bike rides since there has been so little snow and ice!

  7. Yes, like Stefanie, Ali Smith and Letham are the ones I need to read one of these days. I’ve high regards for your recommendations as you know… like Molly Fox’s Birthday. ;)

  8. It would be ideal if I could find the Ali Smith at the next Big Book Sale at the library. I’ll be looking for it at lease.

  9. I’m looking forward to reading Motherless Brooklyn. I just acquired another Brookner (Hotel du Lac) and am looking forward to it. Seems like Look at Me is another one I might want to read.

  10. I love love love Motherless Brooklyn. It was my first Lethem and I found it wonderfully unique. He does hybrid genre/literary really well. I also read his short collection, The Eye of the Wall (or something like that) and it was very good, in a much different way than Motherless Brooklyn, but very good all the same. I need to get Fortress of Solitude.

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