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Traver Kauffman is the proprietor of the blog Black Garterbelt.Oh the Things You Can Think, Dr. Seuss: Many of my reading choices are dictated to me by a extremely repetition-tolerant two year old, and I'm bloody well sick of most of her library. Try as I might, however, I never tire of this one, a book that exists for no reason other than a delight in invention and wordplay.Everyday Drinking, Kingsley Amis: Kingsley Amis is the Virgil of boozing. Of course, given Amis's long, alcohol-related decline, the whole charming bon vivant routine here comes with the queasy sepulchral undertone that you're burdened with when you have lived beyond the sad ending of someone else's story. Christopher Hitchens's Introduction gives this a nod, acknowledging that "the booze got to [Amis] in the end, and robbed him of his wit and charm as well as of his health." But so it goes, shrugs Hitchens, who ends by quoting Churchill on the benefits of drinking. In some circles, this is known as the Gentleman's Godwin.Deciderization 2007 - a Special Report (David Foster Wallace's introduction to The Best American Essays 2007): Here again, I suffer a twinge of sadness as I read along, even if it's better to try and forget and simply enjoy DFW at his open-hearted best. On the other hand, with DFW so carefully dissecting what it's like to try to think and live in the face of Total Noise - his coinage describing "the sound of our U.S. culture right now, a culture and volume of info and spin and rhetoric and context" that's too much for a person to absorb and decipher in any meaningful way - how could I fail to extrapolate the author's desperate final act from the lament expressed here, in spite of myself?The Best of Leonard Cohen (Liner notes): I paged through the booklet to this CD this summer while at my horrific, short-lived corporate job, looking for any kind of relief. I was supposed to be working. Other than lyrics and song rights, you get notes penned by Cohen for each song, which typically amounts to a few sentences. Some of these are straightforward and utilitarian, some lyrical, and all of them are pretentious in one way or another. I guess I'm trying to say that Cohen's project here is demystification and the re-mystification at the same time. Several of the blurbs work as exquisite short fiction. My favorite is the entry for "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye": This song arises from an over-used bed in the Penn Terminal Hotel in 1966. The room is too hot. I am in the midst of a bitter quarrel with a blonde woman. The song is half-written in pencil but it protects us as we manoeuvre, each of us, for unconditional victory. I am in the wrong room. I am with the wrong woman.Philip Larkin, Collected Poems: Usually alone at night. Always for comfort.2666 (The first 250 pages), Roberto Bolaño: "She had a hoarse, nasal voice and she didn't talk like a New York secretary but like a country person who has just come from the cemetery. This woman has firsthand knowledge of the planet of the dead, thought Fate, and she doesn't know what she's saying anymore." Yep.More from A Year in Reading 2008
Lauren Groff's Fates & Furies, just out in paperback, tells the story of a marriage. The first half of the novel is from the perspective of the husband, Lotto, who sees marriage as, “a never-ending banquet, and you eat and eat and never get full.” The second half is from the perspective of the wife, Mathilde, who says of marriage, "Kipling called it a very long conversation." Fates and Furies shows how two people can misunderstand each other over time. Lotto and Mathilde live their lives together, but they inhabit completely different worlds. In this way, the novel has a similar dynamic to Twitter. People tweet messages at each other while also inhabiting completely different worlds. Though on the social network major miscommunications take only 140 characters to unfold, in both a true connection remains elusive. So what if Lotto and Mathilde were both to tweet? Without the luxury of 400 pages in the novel, Lotto would need to activate all his advantages given the limited space, whereas Mathilde would need to cut short her passive aggressive ways. If you have read Fates and Furies, you might question whether a private person like Mathilde would ever expose personal details in a forum designed for public consumption. Under usual circumstances, she would not. But she's always made an exception for Lotto and his wicked sense of timing. And he, in turn, has made a life of luring her in. But would high-born Lotto join Twitter? I’ll remind you that he is an actor in a playwright’s hide. He’ll never not be vain. ___
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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for July. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Lincoln in the Bardo 6 months 2. 2. A Separation 6 months 3. 3. Ill Will 4 months 4. 4. Men Without Women: Stories 3 months 5. 5. American War 4 months 6. 6. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 6 months 7. - Exit West 1 month 8. - What We Lose 1 month 9. 8. The Nix 2 months 10. - The Idiot 1 month Otessa Moshfegh learned Icarus's lesson this month. A few weeks ago, she boasted not one but two titles on our Top Ten list – a feat that had never before been accomplished. But come July? Nada. How quickly things change. One month, you're 1/5 of our list; the next month, one of your books has graduated to our Hall of Fame and another has dropped out of the running entirely. Meanwhile, much of this month's list remains unchanged. The books in the first six positions didn't budge. Instead, three newcomers entered our ranks in the seventh, eighth, and tenth slots. Mohsin Hamid's Exit West is one of those new books. "Tracing the fissures in human community and global space, and reflecting on the possibility of their transcendence," wrote Eli Jelly-Schapiro in his review for our site, the book "maps the divides that structure the current global order." Next, in seventh position, we welcome What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. In our recently published Great Second-Half 2017 Book Preview, our own Claire Cameron observed that "the buzz around this debut is more like a roar," and based on the book's immediate ascendance onto our list, that seems accurate. Finally, Elif Batuman's The Idiot fills tenth position in this month's list. To that development, Millions staffers would likely say: about time. Having earned not one, but two full-length reviews for our site, The Idiot has been lauded for the way its "layered truths and fictions...compounded so that everything in the novel became true and real in a deep, shining way that cannot be achieved through essays." (It's also been examined in the context of sexual power dynamics.) Next month, we can expect to see at least three openings on our Top Ten, and likely considerably more as the long tail of the Book Preview does its job. This month's other near misses included: Hillbilly Elegy, The Night Ocean, Void Star, Dunkirk: The History Behind the Motion Picture, and Blind Spot. See Also: Last month's list.
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Sometimes, it’s easier to read or watch something that’s light and airy, as opposed to seeking out art that challenges your perspective. Millions contributor Fiona Maazel generally thinks of herself as a person who instinctively chose nuance over breeziness. But lately, she’s had to ask herself a tough question -- is she actually more attracted to the anodyne?