Books I Read Last Month (Sept 2020)

The Pope of Greenwich Village – Vincent Patrick
Clockers – Richard Price
Burr – Gore Vidal
Skellig – David Almond
Moneyball – Michael Lewis
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History – Mircea Eliade
Case Histories – Jane Atkinson

My reading was less prolific this month than the second half of the summer, but I continued making my way thru “1000 Books to Read Before You Die.” The other books I had checked out after reading an interview with Jess Walter where he gave a bunch of recommendations based on if he had to teach a course on noir/ literary crime novels. 

I wouldve finished a rather pedestrian and paltry number of books this month, *if* I were lacking the charming habit of goading all the wanna be super-cops into writing me tickets every other week, which I’m not, so I keep losing my tv.

I never saw the movie, but “The Pope of Greenwich Village” was such a quick read, it felt like I *had* jus watched a movie (and I wasn’t even high!). It follows the basic outlines of the mafioso/ heist-gone-wrong genre, but electrified by some entertaining writing. The dialogue is incredibly offensive to modern ears subscribing to today’s pieties, which is probably why I laughed at and enjoyed it so much. 

“Clockers”, which appeared in both lists, is a character study of a mid-level crack dealer and a homicide detective. I mean, I won’t knock the guy for bringing the demimonde to life, and offering an acerbic psychological analysis of drug dealers everywhere, but damn if I didn’t feel like the book ran on too long.

“Burr” was pretty dope, a retelling of America’s early years according to Aaron Burr, who most infamously killed Hamilton in a duel, and may have sired our seventh president, Martin Van Buren. The original bad boy of the United States, Burr recounts his life to a fictional journalist, and talks shit about almost every Founding Father.

Vidal doesn’t veer far from the source material, but he does endow Burr with a sharp tongue and a penchant for cutting thru the bullshit. His characterizations of Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton, amongst others, are hilarious and fascinating, underscoring jus how much history, and the qualities we traditionally imbue legendary personae with, may simply be a matter of interpretation.

“Skellig” is a children’s novel that reads like a future fable for adults; “Money ball” is jus like the movie, only buoyed by Lewis’ addictive storytelling; “Case Histories” recounts 3 disparate crimes, until an ex-cop,present-day detective uncovers the truth linking them all together. 

“The God of Small Things” and “A Visit from the Goon Squad” were the gems this month, both award-winners. Each employs all the hallmarks of postmodernism: nonlinear storytelling, jumping around from one perspective to the next, multiple plot threads woven into a single coherent whole, etc etc. 

“The God of Small Things” recounts a family’s history in India, and each individual’s transgressions against the “love laws”, a prescription of their caste system which designates who was allowed to touch& love whom. There’s a lot of beautiful, tender scenes, a lot of sadness as well, rewarding careful reading with a deep appreciation for how sections 70 pages apart interlock seamlessly into each other.

“A Visit from the Goon Squad”, on the other hand, is a book for which it’s easy to run out of superlatives. This is the kind of book I wish I had written; it’s the kind of book that makes me want to be a writer. The plot’s foci are Benny, an aging punk-rocker-turned-record-exec, and his kleptomanic assistant, Sasha, but every chapter is from the perspective of a different, peripheral character. One chapter is even a PowerPoint presentation on great “pauses” in rock music (yeah, it’s that fucking postmodern).

This is definitely the kind of book that by being seen reading it, your peers will know how hip and smart you are, and girls may wanna fuck you. okay, I can’t really substantiate that last claim from prison, but seriously, it’s that good. The story is heartfelt and relatable and has something important to say about how-we-live-today, but there are so many small, poignant snippets that are revelatory in their illumination of human nature.

For example, Bennie, the wildly successful record producer, was coaxing an underachieving act in the studio, only to suddenly be overcome with memories of past defeats and embarrassments. Specifically, the time he was doing a coke with a girl he’d been trying to smash, when the coke worked a little too well, and he had to rush to the bathroom before shitting his pants. The girl walked in on him sitting on the toilets, and caught a whiff of his execrations, which effectively annilihated his chances. The phenomena of recalling ancient losses, apropos of nothing, that still humiliate regardless of how many successes follow, is both something I’ve recently experienced and tried to convey in my writing (shittt I’ve literally lived this specific shameful memory in my actual life)…and it’s fucking horrible. 

Or, as Egan put it: “…it was back, bringing waves of shame so immense they seemed to engulf whole parts of Bennie’s life and drag them away: achievements, successes, moments of pride, all of it razes to the point where there was nothing–he was nothing–a guy on a john looking up at the nauseated face of a woman he’d wanted to impress.” I dunno if that angst, that combination of wounded pride and inadequacy, has ever been so succintly captured.

“The Myth of the Eternal Return” is a study of comparative religion in the mold of Joseph Campbell and George Frazer. It eludes any sort of pithy summary; instead it’s one of most convincing apologia for- get this – Christianity! He’s almost reluctant to put forth his compelling solution to the problem of history for modern man.

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