A Hazard of New Fortunes (Modern Library Classics)

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A Year in Reading: Jon Raymond

I tend to arrive late to most trends, so it was only this year that I read The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño, to see what the fuss was all about back in 2007. I thought it was pretty good. Bolaño writes with genuine feeling about the romance of bohemian youth and captures a lot of the really subtle moods and textures of the age: the casual sleeping arrangements; the dive bars; the indefensible aesthetic enthusiasms; and, most interestingly, the ongoing, poignant confusion of a cool scene’s dissolution.

In a way, though, I ended up kind of preferring another, strangely similar book about young art scenes and their aftermaths. Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia is an oral history of the ambitious young men and women of the greater “Pictures Generation”—David Salle, Robert Longo, Jack Goldstein, etc.—who migrated to New York City in the late 70s, their art school cliques intact, and proceeded to hustle their asses in grand fashion. Interestingly, the story covers much of the same ground as Bolaño’s fiction, replete with shadowy, charismatic figureheads, louche lifestyle choices, and recurring encounters among a small group of wayward searchers as they fumble their way through the decades. I wouldn’t say it was better than Bolaño, but it was definitely more entertaining.

I also just finished A Hazard of New Fortunes, by William Dean Howells, which I intend to press on the next goddamned Objectivist I meet. Following the start-up of a new literary magazine in Gilded Age New York, the book circles around an array of characters embodying the main societal positions of the day—robber barons, labor agitators, urban dandys, affable con men—all bound by the unbreakable tentacles of speculative capitalism. The reader is treated to pointed disquisitions on the relations of the classes, rendered in lucid, living sentences and voiced by charming, complex characters, and comes away with not only a better understanding of finance, but a deeper appreciation of the human heart. Which is to say, the book covers some of the same ground as something by Ayn Rand, but is like the opposite of her clunking, two-dimensional hackery. Also, for anyone who has searched for an apartment in New York, or worked in some way in the print media, it offers many a small shock of recognition.

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