Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book #1: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

There are books driven by the characters who inhabit their pages and books driven by the author's ideas. This is an idea book. It is an ambitious book, a collection of stories strung together loosely by a sprawling cast ("squad") of characters, but more strongly tethered by the concepts of music and time. It struck me initially as gimmicky: A-side chapters and B-side chapters, even a Powerpoint presentation chapter, footnotes for Christ's sake...all that post-modern form play that usually irritates the crap out of me. But somehow Egan makes it work and even managed to win over this reluctant reader. While I prefer books piloted by the characters, this book takes flight based on some pretty beautiful examinations of time's passing, rendered in frequently luminous prose. I probably won't remember the people in these stories, but I will remember some of the wonderful details: the autistic child's obsession with the pauses in songs, the description of someone smelling like the inside of a peach, the slow loss of a sunset to a new building as it is constructed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pulitzer Pile of Shame

So I thought it might be interesting today to go through my reading list of Pulitzer fiction winners and see how many of them are already on my bookshelves. I was frankly shocked and a little ashamed to find that I already own probably a dozen of them, all but a few unread. (There are a few boxes that remain unpacked -- and I'm pretty sure that in addition to what I found Ironweed , The Stories of John Cheever, and Breathing Lessons are all lying unread in the garage). There are four additional unread winners that lay in wait on my Kindle. I'm not sure what this says about me. I clearly had an interest in all of these books at one time. My interest in Chabon's Amazing Adventure of Cavalier and Clay was earnest enough that I bought it in hard cover. I have started each and every one of them. I think I've started Middlesex three times. And I'm pretty sure I started and only pretended to finish The Color Purple. I know, I know. What's even more shameful is that two of these unread authors were visitors to George Washington University when I was teaching there. I won't say which ones in case they, like me, have Google Alerts set and might catch wind of this.

As far as I can tell, I've been populating my bookshelves with Pulitzer winners my whole adult life (and then promptly neglecting them). Here's my pile of shame. How many books have you purchased only to leave their spines intact?

Anyway, I'm halfway through Book #1: 2011's winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I'm wishing I'd bought in print because reading footnotes on a Kindle is turning out to be a technological pain in the ass. Can hardly wait to see what happens when I get to the infamous "Powerpoint" chapter...though it's hard to image it would be more effective on paper than on a computer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm Back!

I'm back! And I thought this might be a good venue to talk about my latest personal challenge. After looking at the list of Pulitzer fiction winners recently, I realized that I had only read three or four on the list. How could that be possible? So, I have decided to try to read every fiction winner since 1948. It's about 50 books I think (there were some years when an award was not granted). I'm starting with this year's winner (A Visit from the Goon Squad) and moving backward. I'll post my reviews here (you can also find them on Goodreads. Anybody else up for the challenge?