Twenty Books I Stopped Reading Recently: Where and Why (Part I: 1-5)

1. Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas. Page 37 0f 188. A nice looking book of prose poems/short fiction from Featherproof with some genuinely inventive and seemingly hard-won language that plucks at the gut strings. The truth is it is the kind of book in many ways I wish I’d written. It prompted me to tinker with a couple of what I had considered cast-off prose poems then I grew bored, or wary, of a vision I, perhaps, expected too much from. Maybe I’m not psychologically grounded enough for relentless dystopia. Most likely, my loss.

2. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Page 82 of 472. A book I wanted to want to read. I liked the letter-pressed cover, too, and the feel of the pages; but it felt bigger in my hands each time I grabbed it from the pile next to the bed and, although I was drawn by the gruesomely human history of our battle with our own bodily mutations and was impressed with Mukherjee’s erudition and compassion, as well as his narrative aplomb, I ultimately grew angry of his stubborn subject. I may have actually told a couple people I did finish this one. If so, I’m sorry for lying.

3. Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia. Page 401 of 511. So close. And I almost always finish travel books. Being an agoraphobic w/panic disorder, I travel very little myself, but I am always willing to be taken for a trip with an engaging guide. Twain’s masterpieces of travel literature (Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, Tramps Abroad, and Crossing the Equator) are some of my favorite books, period. In fact, among many other ideas for books I’ll never write, I’ve always thought a serious study of travel literature by an agoraphobic would be a complicated exploration worth writing or reading. And Frazier is certainly an amusing companion, but I had, after all, just read John Valliant’s The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, a book that raised the bar for non-fiction narrative. See, Frazier writes of two trips across Siberia; the first, more to the south, in summer, the second, more to the north, in winter. I can tell you about Siberian flies and toilets and a bit about the Decemberists (I finally know the source of the band’s name, for instance), but there were no tigers, not a one.

4. David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. On page 15, with 497 yet to go, I found this sentence: “Jacob’s pale and freckled skin is frying like bacon.” Might I run into another like it? Did I mention that I’ve read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West?

5. Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice/ Death in Varanasi. Page 84 of 296. This guy seems able to write about anything. And this might be his problem. He’s written competent, engaging books on photography, D.H. Lawrence, for instance, and, most strikingly, But Beautiful a masterpiece of jazz ventriloquism which takes us inside the lives of such iconic figures as Duke Ekllington, Charlie Parker, and Billie Holiday. There’s a mannered topicality in this new novel, though, that too-well suits the characters. The fact is that superficial character write from superficial perspectives, which is why writers are given the option to write in the omniscient voice. I’m a bit lazy, though, so maybe I gave up too soon on what I though would be a bold contemporary retelling of Mann’s potently morbid exploration beauty and obsession. It may still be. I’ll probably never know.