6. Pete Dexter’s Deadwood. Page 144 of 365. Nothing about this makes sense.  Dexter’s Spooner was one of my favorite books of 2009; I laughed out loud like a giddy adolescent. And I love westerns. Perhaps, it was because I had jusr re-read Leslie Marmon Silko’s masterpiece Ceremony and was more interested in a song cycle I was working on related to that book. I think I’ll go back to this one, though, as I often do.

7. Wells Towers’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. Page 88 of 238. I blame Donald Ray Pollack for this one. I was still reeling from Knockemstiff and should have known better. Probably not enough to return to here; besides, Pollack has a new novel, The Devil All the Time, on the way.

8. Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country. Hard to pin down a page number on this one because I skimmed around a lot. I don’t know what I was looking for exactly. I loved the idea of the book, and Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard is a favorite of mine, but I kept looking toward the third section, which gives you the events from the enigmatic Watson himself. No sane way to read a book, obviously, and my wife showed me how it is done, plowing through the 912-page tome in about two weeks, transfixed by the kaleidoscope of voices swirling around the novel’s central event, which you learn in the first ten pages. A patient woman, which is how she manages to live with me.

9. Even when I can’t read her favorite book, W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. Yes, I too like to think love can inspire us to greater heights, even literary ones, but this was not the case here. At page 115 of 611, this labor of love succumbed to prose that seemed to cover too much ground too quickly and with too little pressure on its limits. The dialogue was well wrought and believable, but I’m used to writers who hover more obsessively over details, details that flare suddenly and open up holes in reality I hadn’t seen before. My wife still hasn’t forgiven me, but, to be fair, she hasn’t read Blood Meridian, either.

10. Julian Barnes’s Nothing To Be Frightened Of. Page 133 of 244. Beginning with the title this book is a marvel of wry wit. I enjoyed all 133 pages I read. And then one night I picked up James Tate’s The Ghost Soldiers from the bedside stack, and I was taken on a four week absurdist exploration of a life similar to but not quite my own. I saw myself, for instance, trying to buy a pen at Walgreens that the clerk insisted on trying to give me; I started finding money in the pockets of old coats and waking up each morning to the image of a bullet shattering my spine. Adolescent boys drove by in cars while I was walking and barked like spasmodic dogs. It was all very funny, really, but something I figured Julian Barnes would never understand. I may be wrong.



2 Responses to “Twenty Books I Stopped Reading Recently: Where and Why (Part II: 6-10)”

  1. Kirsten Clodfelter says:

    I recently started Breece D’J Pancake’s collection after much urging from my husband. (His name, by the way, makes me want to spontaneously high five anyone nearby). He’s a West Virginia writer who, quite sadly, took his own life in 1979 at the age of twenty-six. James Alan McPherson’s forward alone makes the book worth picking up. There’s a lot of merit in Pancake’s writing, but I was unable to finish the collection. He writes about the interior lives of men (or a man, namely himself) the way Susan Minot and Pam Houston and Mary Miller and Amy Hempel all write about the interior lives of women. I find this extremely interesting, though the compellingness of it was more of an abstraction. At times, I found his characters inaccessible. I’m not sure if this has to do with gender, but if I look at other male writers who I feel do this (Junot Diaz or Michael Chabon come to mind), I’ve never felt that way. The same goes for the other female writers I mentioned above — I know plenty of male readers who love their work, and I think this is because, despite writing about the interior lives of women, there’s a universally gender-transcendent quality to that writing. I’m not sure I can say the same about Pancake. Still, I think he’s worth checking out.

    • Thanks, Kirsten. Although familiar w/the Pancake “phenomenon,” for lack of a better word, I’ve been hesitant only because of an attempt on my part to curb an obsession I once had with author’s who committed suicide. Often, I would become interested in writers even before they committed suicide, which began to freak me out. He’s been on my radar for years; I’m also very familiar with WV and WV area writers, as I’ve visited the area several times (my parents have lived in Wheeling for many years). It may be time, however, to give the stories a fair shake, despite my OCD. I may even have a copy somewhere; I think I can see the cover in my mind–a drawing of little fox head?

      Your comments on gender and interiority interest me, as well, as I’ve had trouble with some female writer’s who write a lot of first-person narrative, while others have totally won me over (Mary Mille and Gil Adamson, for instance).

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