Reading, Writing and (some) Arithmetic
I was once asked how many hours a week I spend writing. I answered that in a good week, maybe 40—really. But this count depends on my notion that writing involves putting words on a page, as well as attending to the world with the focus of a writer and reading the works of others with the attitude of a writer.
I read 35 or 40 books a year eclectically distributed across nonfiction (mostly), fiction (increasingly), and poetry (sparingly). I’ve kept a list of the books I’ve read since I began writing seriously in 2000 (the total stands at 588 books). So, I thought I might share the books that I’ve read in the last few months.
For each of these, I offer a six-word review. Why six? I’ve long been fascinated by Ernest Hemingway’s six-word tale, which he considered perhaps his finest story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Since Hemingway, there have been various ventures into six-word writing (stories, memoirs, music reviews, etc.) so my format is not unique—but it was fun. And although writing is usually agonizing, sometimes it should be fun.
The Lifespan of a Fact (John D’Agata): A good essay; an ok book.
About at Mountain (John D’Agata): Nicely crafted, even the true parts.
The Boat (Nam Le): Read this before closing the borders.
The Cutie (Donald Westlake): Yes, crime noir can be literature.
Memory (Donald Westlake): Forgetting is so softly, heartbreakingly dark.
The Man Who Quit Money (Mark Sundeen): Works fine if others have it.
The Making of Toro (Mark Sundeen): Funny, painfully true writing about writing.
The Spirit Bird (Kent Nelson): Heartfelt moments but can’t remember much.
Collections of Nothing (William Davies King): Soulful, provocative celebration of human packrat.
Mount Analogue (Rene Daumal): Great buildup to an unwritten ending.
We are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Karen joy Fowler): Poignant, bizarre tale of family’s love.
Even the Wicked (Lawrence Block): Magnificent mystery by a genius storyteller.
Great Feuds in Science (Hal Hellerman): Pissing matches don’t make great reading.
The Perfect Storm (Sebastian Unger): Ego, courage, denial, dysfunction and testosterone.
A Walk Among the Tombstones (Lawrence Block): Power is relative; violence is absolute.
I’m Here to Learn to Dream in Your Language (HL Hix): I never get, but always love, Hix.
Ley Lines (HL Hix): Writing about art can be synergistic.
The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis (Ruth DeFries): Long answer
searching for short question.
History of Opera (Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker): Enchanting trees but not much forest.
Cold Service (Robert Parker): Brilliant characters: the soul of mystery.
Double Deuce [reading now] (Robert Parker): No mystery about author’s serious research.