Saturday, August 10, 2013

pile of reading

The Worst Intentions by Alessandro Piperno
This novel was in the browsing paperbacks collection at the Claremont branch of the Berkeley Public Library. I curated the collection for a few years. When the library closed for renovation the browsing paperbacks were deaccessioned - that is, they were largely tossed out. I understand a few were transferred to the Branch Van (don't call it a Bookmobile) that traveled to the neighborhoods most affected by the branch closures. I kept a few of the deleted books at my desk and read them during coffee and lunch breaks. I knew nothing of Alessandro Piperno when I found the book in donations (the source of the majority of the browsing collection), but the book was in good condition and I am all for giving Americans a chance to read non-American lit. I held onto The Worst Intentions for my own reading because it passed my spot-check test. If I'm considering reading a book I flip it open and read a random passage. If that strikes me, I read another. No more than a page. You don't want to spoil the full read. Worst Intentions is fun. It's more a stitching together of character portraits than a plot. When the character is fascinating, the reading is a blast. When the character is not, the reading can be … not so fun. When the first person narrator talks about himself, he reminds me of the protagonist of Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. Perhaps not coincidentally the protagonist says he's written a book about Roth.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Yes, I'm also reading Portnoy's Complaint. I've been reading it rather a long time. On and off. It appeared on my last pile post. I'm about 30 pages from the end now. My evaluation of it hasn't changed. The fussing, the grandiosity and sense of inferiority, the strained jocularity. Now that I think about it, the novel, like The Worst Intentions, stitches together many fictional portraits. Unlike the other novel, however, the voice doesn't change from character to character.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This one has been in high demand at the library and I've seldom seen a copy unspoken-for. When one passed through my hands last week I decided to give it a go. I'm a fan of pop science writing and the sort of real life detective story that has a researcher chasing down leads in dusty archives and interviewing relatives. The writing has life and quality. Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who died of cancer. A sample from a tumor was taken and became the first human cell line that was successfully cultured in the lab. The HeLa cell line lives on, more than sixty years after Ms Lacks succumbed to the disease. The cells have been used in all sorts of ways, one of the earliest being in the testing of polio vaccines. When Rebecca Skloot first learned about Henrietta Lacks as an undergrad she wondered who this woman might be. Eventually she set out to uncover her story - and the story of what survives.

A Splendor of Letters: the permanence of books in an impermanent world by Nicholas A. Basbanes
Incredible stories about how the tales of antiquity came down to us - or failed to. Equally incredible stories about their ongoing vulnerability. And somewhat numbing tales of how we try to save our contemporary words.

Autobiography of a Book by Glenn Ingersoll
This is a manuscript. It got written down a few years ago. We've privately bound a couple copies so that Book can be a book, fulfilling its dream, at least somewhat. Now that some time has passed since the writing I'm able to enjoy Book's voice and see what Book is doing without being worried that I might be called on to improve it or defend it.

Voices from Wah-Kon-Tah: contemporary poetry of Native Americans edited by Robert K. Dodge and Joseph B. McCullough
Published in 1974 this anthology reads as a reaction to the American Indian Movement and its revival of pride in Native American life and culture. Sort of surprising that the date isn't 1964, but, like the LGBT civil rights movement, the American Indian Movement needed the example of the African American civil rights movement to gain traction, both within a fractured and disempowered community and in a larger culture that long had had difficulty in seeing clearly the First Nations that live within it. "At the edge of the fluctuating / sea of watercolors / Sat a lavender kitten. / Its fur glinted from an oscillating / ray of pink. / Quivered gently at the touch of a / swirling blue breeze." - Alonzo Lopez

The Poet's Notebook: excerpts from the notebooks of contemporary American poets edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deobrah Tall, and David Weiss
I've read the poetry of most the poets here (Marvin Bell, Rita Dove, Stephen Dunn, Alice Fulton, et al). I'm glad I'm reading their notebooks with some sense already of their finished work. Alice Fulton's section is my favorite so far. I like her poetry, too.

Gulf Coast: a journal of literature and fine arts, winter/spring 2012
This also appeared on my last pile list. Hm. When was the last time I read a page?

Thus Spake the Corpse: an Exquisite Corpse reader, 1988-1998, volume 1: poetry & essays; edited by Andrei Codrescu and Laura Rosenthal
I got a few of my FACT poems published in Exquisite Corpse. I also ended up in the Body Bag, the column that listed all the hopeful contributors who'd been rejected - and often teased them. When I was casting about for an anthology to add to the pile I pulled this one from the shelf. I'm currently breezing through the essays.

The Volcano Sequence by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
I've added Alicia Ostriker's poems to my ongoing personal anthology. (See The Best Poems of 2008, for instance.) Now I'm working my way through all her collections. I enjoy her style most when she allows herself to be silly.

Two Lines: world writing in translation, vol. 15: Strange Harbors edited by John Biguenet and Sidney Wade
A sampler of world lit, mostly contemporary.

Poetry Speaks: hear great poets read their work, from Tennyson to Plath edited by Elise Paschen and Rebekah Preson Mosby
Not an anthology that breaks new ground. Since recording technology is a phenomenon of the 20th century, that's what you get here. I've just been reading so far. I haven't read an anthology so built around the consensus American "greats" in, oh, quite a long while, so it's interesting seeing what that is again. I think I'll go all the way through the book before turning an ear to the CDs; three come with the book.

The New Yorker, March 23, 2009
At the rate I read The New Yorker I'm always years behind. That's fine. I enjoyed the Roland Burris profile. Roland Burris was appointed to fill out the Illinois senate seat Barack Obama vacated upon being elected president. It's not like I was going to read about the man in depth, but I admit I was curious enough to read seven pages in The New Yorker.

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