Because I've been meaning to write this one for awhile, and because it provides a distraction from doing Real Work, here's my reading list/book-buying list for the last month-or-so:
THE SOLACE OF OPEN SPACES by Gretel Ehrlich. Gretel went to Wyoming working a documentary for Public Broadcasting shortly after finding out that her partner and boyfriend was terminally ill. He died and she traveled around for awhile, not sure what to do with herself. She wound up back in Wyoming, working on the ranches she'd been reporting on previously. The essays in this book were written over a period of six years and they're about how she wound up there, why she stayed, Wyoming, cowboys, rodeos, and what it means when a rancher tells you, "You're a bad check." (Answer: "bouncing in and out was intolerable, and even coming back would be no good.") This book is short but dense, and it's beautiful.
THE ORWELL READER by George Orwell. Containing essays, novel excerpts, and reportage, it offers a deeper understanding of the dude who wrote 1984 and ANIMAL FARM. The most visceral might be "Shooting an Elephant," an essay/memory on imperialism: "The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.)"
MY LIFE by Bill Clinton. It's a massive one, and I've only started cracking it. I like Bill Clinton a lot, even though he didn't do as much as he could have--he still did many a good thing, and it's even clearer in retrospect than it was at the time, considering what we have now. It's done in a simple style, but it's still captivating knowing the man who is writing it. It's especially interesting reading stories about how he beat up other kids, or was beaten up himself--once by a goat--and realizing that to tell a story like that you have to have a certain confidence and willingness to look the fool. I can't imagine certain other presidents sharing a story like that.
WHEN WE WERE VERY MAAKIES by Tony Millionaire. Some people dig it and some people don't, but I think it's one of the best strips being drawn today. "Damn! I could have saved $1.19 on the cereal if I had gone to the other store . . . ."
THE BLACK FOREST by Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell, and Neil Vokes. It's a neat concept--in World War I, the Germans employ Universal-style monsters to fight for them. I'm nerdy enough to want to read more, and I was hearing things like "Skip Van Helsing and read the Black Forest," so I did. But I was treated to such captions as, "The gas. And when the gas comes . . . nothing can survive it. Nothing . . . unless it's already DEAD." The rest of the book seems to be made up of one-liners and gypsies with big boobs, Germans with scars running down their faces, and artwork that is passable but not fantastic.
THE UNTOUCHABLE by John Banville. I bought it for a book group and I haven't, um, touched it yet. You'll be the first to know when I do.
DAVID COPPERFIELD by Charles Dickens. Still working on this one--it's another massive tome--but it's effing fantastic. Some of the characters weave in and out of the story and some are only there for a page or two, but each one has a distinct voice and personality. It's funny and it's moving and Dickens has managed to keep me interested in David as he grew from a boy to a young man--it was my silent fear that I wouldn't like the adult David as much. The next time I see Meredith, we're going to fist-fight over Dickens.
LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI by Mark Twain. This one was derailed when I picked up SOLACE, but mostly I wanted to race through it so I could re-read HUCK FINN. It's interesting, but I like Twain better when I'm not sure whether I can believe him or not. I probably just haven't read enough of it yet.
HAIRSTYLES OF THE DAMNED by Joe Meno. I read a 20-page preview, but it seems really neat. It's about young punks on Chicago's south side in the early 80's and Joe writes kid-dialogue really well. The Story Workshop-method "How To" on hair dye was a little jarring, as it seems a little formulaic to me after taking classes at Columbia, but it's counter-balanced by the inclusion of a mix-tape cover and the chapters printed in a hand-written font, taken directly from characters' journals. I'm taking a class with Joe this fall and it's a relief that I like the work of the dude who's going to be schooling me.
Oh, boy. I think that sums it up--a new BELIEVER came in the mail a few weeks back with a wicked cd inside, but I don't think that counts. I'm off to the comic book shop today for our nation's Free Comic Book Day, but I don't know of anything that's come out recently that I'll want to pick up in trade. I still haven't picked up LOUIS RIEL, PALOMAR, the first PEANUTS collection, half a dozen other things I was waiting for in trade, but today it's all about the free stuff. I'll report back on more books in a month or so.
Don't ever change!