Book Trouble

I‘ve been having some trouble with books lately.

(1) I accidentally bought the LARGE PRINT edition of Morley Callaghan’s “The Loved and the Lost.” (It is ironic that when you buy online from Chapters-Indigo, the “large print” designation is marked in fine print.) It’s not a disaster; after all, the words are all the same, and they’re all there even if they’re really big. But I’m embarrassed to ride the Metro with that thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with large print editions, but I’m obviously not hard of seeing. I don’t exactly know why, but I’d feel really self conscious and conspicuous reading that in front of all those people.

(2) I recently bought Lawrence Hill’s novel “The Book of Negroes,” which in the U.S. was renamed to “Someone Knows My Name” for the convenience of your white liberal guilt. It’s a hefty tome, and I’m not sure it will even fit in the back pocket of my satchel. I’m also reluctant to read this on the Metro because I’m worried some semi-literate thug — or worse, a semi-literate liberal (or an American!) — will take umbrage with that perfectly legitimate “n” word and will make a scene.

(3) I cannot find a book I didn’t know I had. The other day I happened upon a blog post that I made almost eight years ago in which I listed the unread books on my bookshelf. (I was compelled to update the post by striking through the ones I’ve since read.) Near the bottom of the list is this one: “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” by David Foster Wallace. As you know, Wallace died last September, which prompted me to write a blog post in which I explained that until recently I didn’t even know who he was. This despite the fact that he wrote my second-favorite magazine article of all time, which I first read in 1996 (the name of the article’s author meant nothing to me then). In the aftermath of Wallace’s death I read a lot about him and his writing, and I ended up ordering four of his books from Amazon.

Unfortunately, the one I was most looking forward to was out of stock so they canceled that part of the order. That book was “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.” Who knew that I’d already had it for at least eight years? Unfortunately, I cannot find it on my bookshelf. I must have given it away without reading it.

(4) I’ve always rejected the notion of “light summer reading.” Why lower your standards just because the sun is shining? On the other hand, the last two novels I’ve read have been grim and weighty. Richard Yates’ “Young Hearts Crying” has an unfortunate title and an even less fortunate cover illustration, but its prose is pure, sterling Yates, and its situations and events are classically Yatesian (although slightly less crushing than in “Revolutionary Road”).

I followed that up with “Everyman,” by Philip Roth, which is a quick read at about 250 compact pages, and I thought it would be typically Rothesque (a bit of grumbling interspersed with lots of old guys making it with much younger women). What’s not to like? As it turns out, “Everyman” is Roth’s meditation (through fiction) of aging, illness, and death. It starts with the protagonist’s funeral, then chronicles his life — with emphasis on the declining years, the quadruple bypasses, the dying off of friends and family, and the ever encroaching loneliness of the retired and rejected. Oh, the occasional filly rumples his sheets, but these encounters all end badly.

These novels, combined with the seemingly endless rain we’ve had over the past few weeks, has me crying out for some light summer reading. Unfortunately, “The Loved and the Lost” doesn’t qualify, despite the large print, and I don’t think a tale of 18th century slavery will exactly lift my spririts. Damn, if only I could find that David Foster Wallace book!

11 thoughts on “Book Trouble

  1. I have it! Well, not yours, but I bought it after reading your post after he died! After reading that magazine article! (See how powerful you are?) I wouldn’t call it “light reading” though, but I hope you find it (when I lose a book I know is there I can spend hours looking. I usually find them, too). The cruise article was the best text in there, I found, and I wasn’t hooked by his style in the end. I found him overly intellectual and whiny at times (I know the man was a genius, but I wish he hadn’t thought so himself so much or something). Hey, I liked it. I just didn’t love it.

  2. You have “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” or is it “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”? The cruise ship story is in the latter, not the former (and I have the latter and can’t find the former).

    His style is something special. I can really get into it with some things, but I agree that sometimes it can rub the wrong way. I’ve also learned that I cannot abide his style at ALL when it comes to fiction. For some reason, just knowing it’s fiction makes it unbearable. But knowing its not-fiction makes it fascinating. (Yeah, the post-modernists are going to be all over me for that one…)

    BTW, if you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend the Robert Frank article. It starts like this:

    Robert Frank, the photographic master, the last human being it’s been said to discover anything new behind a viewfinder, collapsed in a filthy Chinese soup shop and no one had thought to bring along a camera.

    He looked like something from a Kandinsky painting—slumped between a wall and stool—sea green, limp, limbs akimbo. It would have made a good, unsentimental picture: a dead man and a bowl of soup. Frank would have liked it. The lighting was right.

  3. Re: #1: I think the subconscious reasoning with this is that large print books = really old. Correct? Maybe not. But who wants to be seen as really old? Unless you are, really, really old, like 101, and then it’s kinda cool.

    Re: #3: Didn’t you give that book to Michel? I seem to remember you guys talking about that author. And I also remember you giving him a book by a shared favorite author. Just not sure if both applied to DFW. Michel will know.

  4. I remember I once tore the (soft) cover off a book I had called “Prisoners of the Japanese” because I was traveling to India and Japan and I didn’t want anyone to know what I was reading.

    But large type? Bring it on!

  5. Right, right, the article (cruise) isn’t in it (Brief interviews)! But I thought it was, and I got the book, and then looked for the article all over;-)
    Confused I am.

  6. Milliner, I don’t think I gave it to Michel. I remember discussing DFW with him in the past year or so, but that was AFTER I figured out who DFW was. At that point I would have kept the book because I wanted to read it.

  7. I really liked The Book of Negroes. A lot of those “Canada Reads” selections give me headaches, but this book was well worth the read.

    As for large print books, I can’t tell you how many times I have accidentally requested them from the library because I wasn’t careful enough reading the online description. But I haven’t bought any yet! :)

  8. You need to watch out for people like me. I’m very nosey about the titles of books strangers are reading. And I judge them immediately on what I see.

  9. Ha ha! Then you’d better not click the “Books” link under “Categories” in the sidebar, or you’re likely to find my reading lists from the past six years or so! :-)

  10. Get Delicious Library.

    If you’ve got some spare time every day, take a while to scan in some books using your iMac or MacBook’s iSight camera (it reads the barcodes, identifies the book, then pulls in a cover shot from Amazon’s database).

    Also works great with CDs, DVDs, and even tools, and has tools so you can create a “lending library” with easy check-in and check-out of items. Honestly, it’s a lifesaver!

    And regarding large print: small print is harder to read, but saves paper. One more argument for e-books, whenever they really perfect super-hi-res thin roll-up e-paper screen-gizmos, cos you’ll be able to scale text to your preferences.

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