Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer reading

It's been an up-and-down, mostly middling, first half of the year reading-wise. Now things are looking up.

I'm about to start reading Century of the Wind, the final book in Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy about the history of the Western Hemisphere. I happened to finish the first volume just before Columbus Day, and the second just before Veterans Day, and I'm guessing I'll finish this third in time to offer up its evidence against the celebration of imperialism and jingoism that is the Fourth of July. Sure looking forward to that.

When I finish the Galeano, I'll move on to another book that I'm looking forward to with wild thrilled anticipation, We the Animals, the first novel by Justin Torres. I'm ecstatic to have procured a review copy in advance of the September 6 publication date, and I expect to rip through its pages speedily and giddily. How can I be so confident? Well, I read several chapters in early draft form four years ago when Justin and I were both fellows at the first annual Lambda Literary Foundation LGBT writers' retreat in Los Angeles. Early draft? I remember that everyone in the workshop was hard pressed to offer any criticism or suggestions, the writing was so exquisitely fierce and stunning. I also loved Justin himself. He's a beautiful person. His has not been a life of middle-class white privilege as is the case with so many of the first-novelist products of the MFA factory to whom we're serially subjected, nor is he unconscious politically as they so generally are, and his fiction reflects this. I'm so happy he's getting the recognition he deserves, and so happy his book tops my to-read pile.

Congratulate me: I still haven't used up the bookstore gift certificate I got last holiday season. I did take a big chunk out of it this past week when I picked up A Moment in the Sun, the new novel by writer and filmmaker John Sayles. It's a big fat book--perfect for summer vacation, issued in a gorgeous edition by McSweeney's--that takes on the history of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. I'm going on faith that Sayles, whose movies are all politically progressive and mostly pretty good, does justice to the topic. Hope I'm right; this will be some literally heavy lifting for naught if it turns out my faith is misplaced.

Speaking of vacation--yay! It looms! I've got about three more weeks to work, then I'll be off for three weeks. It may not be the reading-est vacation I've ever had, as I'll be visiting a friend on the West Coast for a hunk of it, but then again that may not interfere as she's a big reader too and we may spend nice chunks of time in quiet companionship reading poolside. Sounds like heaven, no? So here are some of the volumes, mostly fiction but some non, that I've amassed with my gift certificate and in my libraries rounds, from among which I'll be making my vacation reading selections. In no particular order except that first place must always go to genius:

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (I suddenly realized recently that I'd never read this, to my shame)
Caramba! by Nina Marie Martinez
Malinche's Children by Daniel Houston-Davila
The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
Stonewall by Martin Duberman
Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe
The Famished Road by Ben Okri
L'Assommoir by Emile Zola
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington
Cellophane by Marie Arana
Philadelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman

Finally, a note about the novel I just read. Pym by Mat Johnson. Damn! This is one rollicking raging biting piercing angry hilarious book. It is about--well, the story itself is a wild quasi-spec-fic tale most of which takes place on Antarctica where an all-Black team has gone in quest of, variously, pure water, adventure, fame, fortune, love, revenge and the truth, but what it's about is Blackness and whiteness and the racism upon which this country was founded, built and currently rests. This is a work of high imagination, incredible invention, cutting humor, and most profound meditation on "race" and racism. You should read it.