Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson stopped by yesterday to sign copies of An Army at Dawn. This book is intended to be the first installment of a trilogy that will describe the liberation of Europe in World War II. This first book is about the liberation of North Africa, and the next two will cover Italy and France. Naturally, I asked him how the books were coming along, and he told me that he had put them on hold while he was embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq, and now he is writing a book about that experience. It will be exciting to see the many quality books that are being written by journalists and writers who spent time over there. We also discussed John Keegan, who seems to be the authority when it comes to popular histories of war. Atkinson professed to loving both The Mask of Command, which studies generals and commanders in wars from Ancient Greece to the present, and The Face of Battle, which gives similar treatment to the common soldier. Later on, while I was reading about those two Keegan books, I was pleased to discover that he has a new book that is a mere two weeks from hitting the shelves. It is enticingly titled, Intelligence in Warfare: From Nelson to Hitler.
Goodreads is a vibrant and feisty place - if you can even call an online community a place. Its slogan boasts, "it's what your friends are reading!" and perhaps that's true: the site's more dedicated members are so busy posting the books they've read, and want to read, or are currently reading, that you might assume they no longer have time to actually read. But the opposite is true for me - since joining the site, and becoming obsessed with it, I've been reading quite voraciously. Chalk it up to a pure-hearted love of sharing my thoughts about literature; or to some illusory sense of accountability ("Everyone's breathlessly awaiting my opinion of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao!"); or to my desire to read a novel as soon as it's lauded by a friend ("Wow, Katie gave 5 stars to The Dud Avocado, I must see what's so great about it!"). Or maybe it's just a primitive lust to build up my roster of books read, to assert myself as the most bookish.Goodreads allows you to organize your books in self-created bookshelves (mine include "Theory" and "Tried but Failed to Read"), and to see if you and a friend have similar reading tastes (apparently, my taste is 100% similar to the aforementioned Katie's, which is just creepy). Most importantly, the site lets you rate books on a star system, one star signifying "I didn't like it," and five signifying, "It was amazing." The fact that there isn't an "I hated this piece of crap" option suggests that Goodreads is generally promoting a positive reaction to books. You can, however, say whatever you want in your reviews, and your friends can respond as they wish in the comments section. On my page, for instance, there's a 33-comment thread that covers Jonathan Lethem (the original subject of my review), Haruki Murakami, Miranda July, Michael Chabon, hipsters, blonde women, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford (that is, who's hotter), Rushmore, irony, Colson Whitehead, and more. Another friend's two-star rating (denoting "It was okay") of On The Road caused another friend to comment, "You also gave two stars to The Stranger, you tool. For that I should bypass this comment box and toss a flaming bag of shit at your house." This, unsurprisingly, led to a heated ping-ponging of comments. My, my, reading is more fun than I thought.I'd say more, but I must get back to that Junot Diaz novel - which is definitely already 4 stars-good, if not 5.
In an effort to keep up with my Turkish reading, I reverted to one of my favorite authors Atilla Ilhan for the fifth book in a series of 6 titled Dersaadet'de Sabah Ezanlari (Morning Calls to Prayer in Istanbul). This novel too, unfortunately, is not translated into English. Frankly, I could have used a good translation myself as the language of the novel was embroidered in early 1900s "high" Istanbul Turkish, hence employing a lot of Persian and Arabic words, and therefore extremely difficult to follow. Nevertheless, Atilla Ilhan is a master whose historic novels reflect the power struggles among the politically significant personalities of Istanbul - as well as their indecisive nature and pitiful lack of influence - during the occupation of the city in the aftermath of World War I. I strongly recommend Dersaadet'de Sabah Ezanlari to any Turkish readers that follow the Millions. Surely, you must read the prequels first, which are Kurtlar Sofrasi volumes I and II, Sirtlan Payi and Bicagin Ucu.Next I turned to The Moviegoer by Walker Percy upon my good brother John D. Davis' recommendation. Indeed, the novel was everything that he described to me: struggles of an elite Southern gentleman about to turn thirty and seeking a meaning, goal, and career in life. The subject is deeply intriguing since I, save for the Southern part and minus a couple of years in age, battle with similar issues. What is most intriguing is Binx Bolling's ambivalence to his family's legacy. This particular quality enables Binx (Jack) to analyze everyone surrounding his life with utmost precision. There is his ever criticizing Aunt Emily, his successful, catholic and acquiescent Uncle Jules, his manic-depressive cousin Kate, his hot secretaries, a bunch of relatives that Binx cares little for, and his fraternity brothers from Tulane who are all full of advice and ideas as to the proper way of going about life, getting settled, and marrying the right woman. Binx, for his part, could care less for advice. The internal struggles of this Korean War veteran push him to resist his customary temptation to tease life and instead to take matters into his own hands. The events that subsequently shape Binx's life unfold on the eve of Mardi Gras in New Orleans in the mid-1950s, much to the self-reflective amusement of the reader. The Moviegoer is a very witty and entertaining read, with a great language and good hold on Southern culture. I look forward to reading other works of Walker Percy and have rather high hopes.You can see Max's thoughts on The Moviegoer here.
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Most folks probably know that Pulitzer-winning Kavalier & Clay author Michael Chabon had a hand in penning the script of this summer's blockbuster movie, Spiderman 2. It turns out he's been working on some books, too. As is mentioned in this article, keep your eyes open for a new novella in the Sherlock Holmes vein coming out this November. It's called The Final Solution: A Story of Detection. He'll also be editing another installment of the McSweeney's "Thrilling Tales" series entitled McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories. Finally, in the more distant future look for a new full-length novel. "The Yiddish Policemen's Union is set in a parallel world in which the Jewish homeland was set up in Alaska rather than Israel, something that president Franklin D. Roosevelt considered during World War II." Happy Labor Day!Update: The Yiddish Policemen's Union
I've acquired some books over the last month in various ways, and now I have added them to the reading queue, which at its current swollen proportions will take me over a year to get through. Here's what I've added. As mentioned in this post, I snagged a copy of The Glory of Their Times, an oral history of the early years of baseball by Lawrence Ritter. I can't believe that spring training is only a couple of weeks away. I also got some books from my mom, who is great about sending books my way. She passed along two books by Virginia Woolf (whose work I have never read), To the Lighthouse as well as a collection of her shorter fiction. She also got me the first play to be added to my young reading queue, Jumpers by Tom Stoppard. I rarely read any drama though I should probably read more. In fact, I don't think I've read a play since college... another Stoppard play, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Going in a completely different direction, I've added a graphic novel that my friend Chris, insisting that I would enjoy it, kindly lent to me: I Never Liked You by Chester Brown. I also secured a copy of Absolutely American, a book that David Lipsky wrote after spending four years following one cadet class through West Point. And finally I acquired a couple of advance copies of some books that'll be out this spring. The first is You Remind Me of Me, a new novel by up and comer Dan Chaon. The other is Rick Atkinson's book about being embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq. Check out the post where I broke the news on this book back in October. Atkinson won the Pulitzer last year for the first book in his "Liberation Trilogy," An Army at Dawn (also on the reading queue!)Insider ReviewsEver since Amazon instituted the customer review feature there have been a fair amount of complaints from authors and publishers that one vengeful reader's review can kill their sales. Other improprieties have also been alleged, like authors anonymously reviewing their own books glowingly while disparaging the books of rivals and enemies. A recent glitch at Amazon's Canadian site lifted the veil of anonymity from the process. This New York Times article describes the fallout. The highlights: John Rechy giving glowing reviews to his own novel, The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens and Dave Eggers writing a positive review of his friend Heidi Julavits' novel, The Effect of Living Backwards.
A nice rememberance of Hunter S. Thompson by his friend Paul Theroux in The Guardian.William T. Vollmann's substantial look at Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare by Phillip Short in the NY Times.Deborah Solomon sits down for a long chat with Jonathan Safran Foer which reveals this: "he received a $500,000 advance for his first novel and a $1 million advance for his second, meaning that he is probably the highest-earning literary novelist under 30."
Michael J. Arlen's 1958 humor piece "Are we losing the novel race?" (which can be found in the New Yorker's anthology of humor writing) starts out thusly: "As if things weren't bad enough already, word has just reached me that the Russians have recently published a 1,600 page novel." The amusing little piece, published at the height of Cold War hysteria, spoofs both the nation's fear of an impending nuclear war and the literary world's longtime obsession with heft. The Cold War is over now, but people are still fascinated by really big books.The latest really big book is a 1,360 page debut novel called Hunger's Brides: A Novel of the Baroque by a Canadian named Paul Anderson. An article in the NY Times - which includes this quote from Anderson's publisher: "I told him, 'You can't not go there.' And that's how it got longer." - is dutifully descriptive on the subject of the book's size: "It weighs 4 pounds, 9 ounces, equivalent to two and a half copies of The Da Vinci Code, and it is thicker than Verizon's Manhattan telephone directory (either the white or yellow pages)." Luckily, the author seems to have a sense of humor about having published such a, shall we say, weighty book: his official Web site includes a slideshow of "safe reading positions". And if you're really curious, there are several excerpts up as well.