Works Complete, and in Progress

It’s impossible to spend one's days immersed in conceiving, assigning, and editing book reviews without wondering what effect the constantly running engine of assessment has on the reading experience. What I mean is, how does the impulse (or the need) to describe, detail, and evaluate a book’s contents infect, and perhaps diminish, our reading? If you’re looking for an answer to that question, stop reading now. But two items related to this theme are circling in my head.


The first concerns Chang-rae Lee’s just-published novel, The Surrendered [more on this marvelous book in my interview with the author]. I read the first 467 pages with pleasure and profound engagement, but on page 468, the book’s penultimate page, something happened that has rarely occurred—at least rarely in recent years—in my reading life: the author imagined a scene so compelling it cast a retrospective light of austere beauty and nearly ineffable eloquence on everything which had preceded it, illustrating an extraordinary faith in the power of the novel, as a form, to transcend its own characters, incidents, and historical coordinates and deliver an aesthetic experience in some ways separate from all of these elements.


On the other hand, the second thought rattling around in my brain this morning concerns the book I regard, on the privacy of my own shelves, as the best novel of 2009: A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, whose characters, ideas, and creative energy have been nourishing my imagination for six months, despite the fact that I have only read about a third of the book’s nearly 700 pages. I’ll finish it one day, I trust, but will I treasure it any more than my constantly returning thoughts indicate I do now?




April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.