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What did you think of the single-malt, by the way?
Well, hmm... I'm very very slowly muddling my way through The Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, a book which I was coerced to start after a very intellectual, very drunken party... but I'd be shocked if you hadn't read that one before.
Otherwise, the last three books I've finished have been about open relationships (The Ethical Slut), open relationships (Opening Up by Tristan Taormino) and an autobiographical telling of the history of modern midwifery in New Hampshire (Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart- A Midwife's Saga by Carol Leonard) but while all of those are excellent reads and I'd recommend them, none of them scream out "Josh must read this or else he's going to die sheltered". (However, I suppose they are reflective of where my brain has been lately, take whatever amusement you can).
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Pretty quick read, well written, lots of nerdage, and an excellent way to grok some Caribbean history - including our Grand Empires previous forays and escapades in conquest. The whole book is an inverse of magical realism, meaning that instead of MR's use of the fantastic to describe the real, the book supposes that reality is way more fantastic than any Sci-Fi. Pulitzer winning good stuff.
Have you ever read The Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson? I'd recommend that, or if you've read it already, his new one, Anathem was a fun read. Fiction, but brainy. I also recently read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan - good stuff.
It reads like a really in-depth New York article. Also, I think that the Michael Pollen argument might be the best argument out of the foodie activist movement.
A number of titles there that have crossed my rader, but I've yet to crack. Getting the nudge from recommendations could be just the thing. Powells.com, here I come.
(I'm pre coffee and on my way out the door, so this is my short list.)
Broom of the System - David Foster Wallace (Although I second the Infinite Jest nomination, I would wade into this one first. The first chapter, in and of itself it stellar, and the rest doesn't fall short. Definitely brainy fiction, very funny. This has been one of my faves of 2009, thus far)
End Zone - Don DeLillo (Brainy football book)
White Noise - Don DeLillo (A good read what with the swine flu hysteria. Don D is one smart motherfucker)
The Quiet American - Graham Greene (American vs. English men in the middle of Asia. Solid and subtle.)
The Book of Daniel - E.L. Doctorow (A fictional account of the Rosenburg trial.)
The Third Policeman - Flann O'Brien (Alice and Wonderland for grownups. Also, this was the inspiration for the writers of Lost.)
The Dead Father - Barthelme (Just do it.)
I will borrow Infinite Jest from Marko once he's done and maybe read the other in the meantime. I've been a big can of DFW's essays and short fiction (Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is the last actual book I read), and now that he's dead and all I feel I should bone up. Did you catch the piece on his life and times in the NYer from early March? Pretty good.
Also, I already read White Noise a few years ago and was kind of "meh" about the whole thing. I thought the narrator was kind of a douche, and it was therefore kind of hard to give a shit. Probably shouldn't write off DeLillo though, as he's supposed to be the man and all. Maybe his brainiac football skills will be more to my liking.
I you like DFW - I would recommend A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Those are his best essays.
If you don't like White Noise, I'd ditch Delillo and maybe go right to Pynchon. Mason & Dixon is my favorite, though V and Gravity's Rainbow are both very good. Stay away from Vineland and I always thought Lot 49 was kind of Pynchon lite. If I want Pynchon lite, I'll read Kurt Vonnegut.
Some old school goodness with a little early PoMo in it: Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita is his "hit," but I personally prefer Ada or Ardor, which is a pastiche of Anna Karenina, or Pale Fire, which is a puzzle of a novel cloaked as Literary Criticism. Both are EXCELLENT and probably in my top 5 all time works of fiction.
If you want stories instead of novels, read Borges Ficciones. Great stuff.
BIWHM is a great great book. And interestingly my favorite story, "Forever Overhead" was almost eliminated from it because it seemed to "not fit." I am glad it made the cut.
Definitely borrow Infinite Jest from Mark, but I still stand by that fact you should read Broom of the System first.
Two things I highly disagree with:
1) That not liking White Noise should result in the ditching of DeLillo. Yes, the narrator is kind of a douche. However, I don't think this a reason to forgo a book. If the surrounding material is still meh, then by all means. WN is also a little different in the DeLillo make up because of it's three part structure (broken into sections of comic, dark, and revenge novels), which doesn't jive with a lot of folks. Now, I'm not saying you're going to avoid this kind of split with other Don D books, but others are a little more palatable. Mao II does it, but has a more sympathetic narrator. Give that one a go.
2) That "The Crying of Lot 49" is Pynchon Lite. I wasn't raised with much, or really any, religion but even to me the clarity of this book being 'God's unfulfilled promise' is apparent. Reread this gem with this Henry Adam's quote in mind: "Chaos is the law of nature; order is the dream of man." it might help. Also, look only to the title for the same revelation. 49 is not quite 50. 50 is the number of the Pentecost, therefore... The book itself is a tight, curt example of great ability and subtlety.
I wholeheartedly agree with the Nabokov suggestion and would like to throw Pnin on that list. Lolita is great, and should be read. It's an amazing example of taking an idea you know is wrong (i.e. sex with little girls) and going the long way around to prove it all over again.
my top book of the year is Shadow of the Sun, by Rizard Kapuzinski (sp.?). excellent and accessable reportage from the first Polish journalist in Africa, the book covers much of the continent from the 50s to the 80s, various independence movements, hair raising bouts with militias and malaria, and the general madness and beauty of the continent. he also has other books about other areas of the world, and is a top class writer.
i want to back up reading any neal stephenson (it's a big bite, but the baroque cycle is terribly good), as well as graham greene, though my personal suggestion would be our man in havana--hilarious satire of cold war commie fears works today, too, and nabokov's ada or ardor.
i'd add murakami's einstein on the beach to the list. there's a boy who runs away from home, an old man who talks to cats, a creepy dude who dresses up like johnny walker, ghosts from the past, an empty library... in precise japanese prose.
For a different spin on the Michael Pollan topic, I just read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver and enjoyed it despite her occasional preachiness. I definitely felt even more guilty buying veg from California afterwards, but at least you don't have to worry about that!
In terms of fiction I have read SO many books over the last few months but a lot of them were distinctly not your style (was writing a few freelance pieces about YA fiction, etc.)... I did finally get to Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union last summer and I got a major kick out of it. Fun alternate reality with really good world-building; all the slang is a kick.
Since I read so many, I'll be brave and recommend a couple YA books that are worth an evening of any adult's time...
-For pure fluff that will entertain the hell out of you, the Percy Jackson "Young Olympians" series by Rick Riordian. The greek gods never quit it with there philandering ways (though Olympus and Hades shift with the times, and are now over NYC and under LA, respectively), and all those half-bloods can have a bit of trouble fitting in. Percy Jackson is atypical: ADD (his reflexes are well-honed for fighting, but not middle school), kicked out of every school he's attended, etc. There are four so far, with the final one out either this month or next, and they are damn fun hammock-and-beer books.
-For a really great story: "The Green Glass Sea" and "White Sands, Red Menace" by Ellen Klages. Green Glass Sea is set at Los Alamos during WWII, White Sands, Red Menace is after the war during the beginning of the space program. Follows the daughter of one of the scientists; exceptional.
-Not sure how you feel about fantasy (though this one barely, barely is), but "Graceling," by Kristin Cashore, was so good I had to read it again a week after I read it the first time. The only fantasy element is the existence of Gracelings who are born with one extra-strong talent, and with eyes that don't match. Graces range from being an amazing swimmer to being a killing machine, and depending on their usefulness they may or may not be retained as tools by the kings of the kingdoms the story is in.