ON THE BOOKS: So many books to review, so little time …
No one should be complaining about a job they are lucky to have. So please don’t take this as a complaint. But it’s not just sparks and gummies on the bookmakers’ desk.
You’d think that would be a cinch – write a book review every two weeks. Many authors and publishers send you books for free; you go through them and pick one and read it; then hit about 800 words on what you think it’s supposed to be. Great concert, eh? No complaints.
But in practice, it’s more complicated than that. You have to consider your audience; you have to ask yourself if there is is a public. Some of the books I might want to read are narrowly focused and of limited interest to the general public.
Other times I find myself starting a noble project – say, Jonathan Franzen’s ambitious new novel “Crossroads” and, a hundred pages (down to the 580 page book), I find myself turned away when my wife, Karen, direct my attention to an article in The New Yorker that I just have to read. So I read it instead of the Franzen I’m supposed to read that night.
Then, the next day, the new Jack Reacher novel of Lee (and his son Andrew) Child arrives. As I wrote before, I’m not so much of a fan of Reacher’s books as I’m fascinated with the way they are put together.
Of the fairly focused limited-interest books I’ve read over the past two years, two of them have been in-depth explorations of Child’s Process by Cambridge University professor Andy Martin – “Reacher Said Nothing “from 2020 and” With Child “from 2019 both published by Polity, one of my must-haves for highly targeted and limited interest books.
I just noted this blurb on the back of “Reacher Said Nothing”: “‘Dumbfounding’ – The New Yorker.” It’s funny, and fair, and I bet Martin, who I’ve exchanged a few emails with after writing about either of these books in this column, enjoyed the New Yorker review. What I should be looking for after I finish writing this column.
My interest in Reacher’s books is something Andy Martin explains better than I do; I don’t think they’re really good, but I have a lot of respect for the craftsmanship of their author, who looks more like an engineer or a metallurgist than a real writer. (Maybe Lee Child isn’t really James Dover Grant’s pseudonym, but the code name for a special thriller production project made up of a consortium of creators who prefer to remain anonymous. Maybe Grant / Child is only the front.)
Anyway, I devoured the Reacher book. It’s like eating ice cream; if you hold onto it too long, your fingers will get covered with goop. And it’s been three days since I bought Franzen’s book (which is quite good and serious, and perhaps as close as we are these days to the novels I grew up with – the must-have John Updike- John Cheever-Saul Bellow- Kurt Vonnegut who we used to have a few times a year in the 70s) and I should probably start over, or just give up because there’s no way I can finish it on time to write a column about it this week, and I don’t know what to write because I’ve written about this phenomenon before, and I feel like you’re not going to change anyone’s mind about these books. People think Franzen is a great writer or a hack.
So I’m not going to see the Reacher again either.
Then there’s that great debut novel “Defenestrate” by Renee Branum, and I think maybe I’ll just do a quick review. But it turns out that it won’t be released (by Bloomsbury) until January.
Additionally, I read Amy C. Sullivan’s “Opioid Reckoning” as part of a background research for another article, which, if the editor wills, is also in this section today. It’s heartbreaking and enlightening and largely anecdotal, but two articles on the opioid epidemic might be too much for a week.
There are three volumes recently published by the Library of America, a nonprofit publisher close to my heart. I am thinking of doing a longer essay on Ray Bradbury – who was honored by the publication of “Bradbury: Novels and Story Cycles”, which consists of “The Martian Chronicles”, https://www.nwaonline.com/news / 2021 / oct / 24 / so-many-books-to-review-so-little-time / “Fahrenheit 451” https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/oct/24/so-many- books- to-review-so-little-time / “Dandelion Wine” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” – than this space allows.
And while that really interests me, I haven’t broken the seal of “Virginia Hamilton: Five Novels”, which might change my mind about so-called “young adult” literature, and “John Williams: Collected Novels ”, released last week, which includes“ Butcher’s Crossing ”(1960),“ Stoner ”(1965) and“ Augustus ”(1972).
“Stoner”, which I read many years ago, is remarkably precise and measured, a novel of true tenderness. I need / would like to read it again.
I also read some stories in Jen Hawkes’ new collection “Tales the Devil Told Me”. I’ve reviewed her latest book and have been friends with her husband for three decades, so maybe I should refrain from giving more praise to this Porter Award winner.
Oh, and it’s baseball playoff time.
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