Fall sets back the clocks one hour, and as the evening turns dark at some unruly hour, we can also be reminded as if by the seasons itself of the most perfect time of the year to sit down and read. I like to sit outside until it just gets too dark (or too cold), just to enjoy the weather, the trees, and most of all, the page. Here’s what I’ve been knocking back recently, as well as a few to look forward to on those nights where staying in with a blanket and a cup of tea seems like a more pleasant night than anything else.
Frederick Exley – A Fan’s Notes
Frederick Exley has been on my radar for a long time now, I chose to put this book off, simplifying it as one of those ‘rite of passage’ books that everyone tells you to read and can’t explain why. Well, at least now having gotten into it, I know why it’s difficult to put into words, Exley is a delight but also a mess. Notes is referred to as a fictional memoir, but the events are all very real – he drank to excess, obsessed over the New York Giants, and eventually spent time in mental institutions as a result – yet it is in just how Exley captures these events that made this book very worth the read. A quick sidenote: the best word I can think of this phenomenon is serendipity, but that just makes me think of John Cusack now, but does anyone else get the feeling you are being haunted by what you read? I’m reading this book, finally, and while looking up other books to read, they ALL reference this title. There’s Brock Clarke’s Exley (obviously) which is about a narrator obsessing over the author. Then, there is Beg, Borrow, Steal which has a blurb on the cover comparing it to A Fan’s Notes. Finally, Judd Apatow’s new collection I Found This Funny has a foreword mentioning how this book influenced his reintroduction into the hobby of reading. None of these three titles have much to do with one another, but I happened to pick up all three within days of each other. I feel haunted, yet justified in how I’m reading, by my ghostly coincidences.
Roland Barthes – Mourning Diary
Barthes was so deeply affected by the loss of his mother that he kept a regular journal for two years, compiled in small postcards, that are both deeply moving and thoughtful. For anyone who has experienced loss, and the mourning that follows, Barthes puts his personal pain into words beautifully. I am a sucker for reading the diaries of those I admire, even if I think the intrusion is too personal, I can’t help myself but be curious. Barthes, even at his most intimate, is an intriguing mind worth exploring.
James Schuyler – Other Flowers
One must have poetry. I’ve devoured many of Schuyler’s books since only recently discovering him in this review in the NY Review of Books (where have I been all my life?) This collection is more recent, compiled of poems not yet before collected in other titles. Perhaps because he so fresh to me, but as far as the “New York Poets” go, Schuyler gets the edge (at least presently) over Ashbery and O’Hara.
Karen Tei Yamashita – I Hotel
I’ve never heard of this novel before she was nominated for the National Book Award, but am so delighted to have such a talent in my scope now. I have only begun to peck through I Hotel, as it has already becoming a book I’m savoring to read while I still am able to enjoy it for the first time. I Hotel is the by-product of years of writing and research, the book is divided into ten stories, each compiling a year in time starting at 1968. I may go on and on about first time novelists from time to time, but the meticulous nature of a pro still gains my awed praise. The book spreads its influences wide, incorporating meticulous research and work into various voices, with different ideologies, struggling to be heard against one another at a trying time for our country, and Yamashita pulls no punches. I can’t wait to read this book and watch the seasons change.