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busy monsters

29 Mar

“You’ve always dabbled in hyperbole, Charlie.”

Last January I decided to join in on the GoodReads.com 2011 book challenge, pledging to read 100 books over the course of the year. Not too difficult, or so I thought, before I realized just how leisurely I tend to read without other forces spurring me on (that means you, syllabus of every lit class ever). I did not make it in 2011, but this year I am up and running with a plan: nine books every month.

Easy enough to say when it gets dark at 4pm everyday and the weekends are shitty enough that staying in makes sense, but I think I’m gonna keep it up even when the sun (finally!) shines in. Because the best part of reading nine or more books a month is that at any given time I’m certain to be in the middle of at least two or three really good books (and the occasional not so great one since I can’t seem to walk away once I’ve started). To boil it down to the central draw, lemme put it this way: ideas, ideas, ideas. A book, after all, is like any other art piece – it’s a comment on the state of things and an invitation to conversation, if only with yourself. For a writer looking to get into better practice, every good book I read reminds me of why I feel compelled to write in the first place.

My reading list tends to fill out with the latest offerings by authors or presses that interest me (-slash- wish I knew or wish I were published by), books garnering enough ink/airtime in places like The Nervous Breakdown or NPR to convince me they would be worth my time and, under the heading of ‘because it’s good for you’, books from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list – because why fall short of just one goal when you could fall short of two? I think I’m gonna start revisiting old favorites, too, since it’s been years since I’ve read books like Henderson the Rain King or House of Leaves.

I mention Henderson since the book I just finished, Busy Monsters by William Giraldi, reminded me so strongly of one of the best parts of Bellow’s work – the language. Giraldi’s hero, Charles Homar, is a lot like Eugene Henderson. He’s flawed and he knows it but he wants to do better, he’s unflappable yet emotional, and words in his mouth or his mind are a constant, surprising delight. Take this for example, as Charlie describes his lady-love Gillian’s jealous ex-boyfriend: “From Gillian’s pictures and videos I knew this vulgarian was a colossus of a gent whose voice and testicular presence could hush the human flotsam in any riled-up room.” Over the top? Yes. Completely infections and a joy to read? Indeed. And he keeps it up throughout the whole book without seeming strained or watered down.

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odds and ends: thursday edition

17 Nov

with information so readily available online and stories told in the space of a few hours in the movie theater, time becomes the book’s major distinction and one of the reasons they remain among the best ways to communicate large amounts of dense ideas. it takes days, weeks, even longer, to read most books and in that time the words get in our heads. the ideas live there even after we close the covers. what other form of entertainment requires we give ourselves to it so intimately or for so long?