And lo: there was the literature of jet-lag. The second time around, the strengths of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition remained intact: haunted characters and a pinpoint command of culture. Its flaws — notably, a conclusion that effectively sidelines the novel’s protagonist — remained present. And still, Pattern Recognition may well be my favorite of Gibson’s books: a morally resonant, deeply contemporary thriller that hits nearly all of my sweet spots. (Mysterious films, subcultural intrigue, globetrotting.) Were I fond of making such declarations, I’d say that this novel represents one valid method of running with Graham Greene’s banner of ethically challenging yet deeply entertaining thrillers. (The other? Robert Birnbaum’s Lightning on the Sun.)
Also in the camp of jet-lag novels: Jean-Phillipe Toussaint’s Running Away, which I picked up after reading (and being impressed by) an excerpt from his followup, The Truth About Marie, in a recent issue of Tin House. What I read in the novel felt like an excerpt from a more fully lived life, and shifted from ambiguous intrigue in Shanghai and Beijing to a more intimate drama in its closing section. I was impressed with what I read, and I’m curious to return to Toussaint’s unnamed narrator in the next few weeks.
Admittedly, some of the novels I read this week had nothing to do with jet-lag: Vladimir Nabokov’s Despair — though not my favorite of his novels — did feature doppelgangers, alienation, a possibly unreliable narrator, and political musings. “Not my favorite Nabokov” is still outstanding by nearly any other metric, and this one had more than a few moments of bleak humor and bleaker morality. And I’m presently in the middle of Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov, about a middle-aged art critic losing his grip (in many ways) during the onset of glasnost. So far, I’m enjoying it: it’s morally taut and haunting, with some elegantly handled shifts in perception.
The new issue of The Believer is so damn good, I still don’t want to put it up on my bookshelf where I usually place copies of the magazine after reading them (I can’t throw out a copy of The Believer. They’re too nice looking). The Don DeLillo conversation with Bret Easton Ellis is obviously the big winner of the issue, featuring the two writers sitting around in Paris, discussing everything from DeLillo’s publicly perceived reclusive habits, to using a typewriter to compose novels. But you know what? I know there’s more to this interview, and I would have been totally happy if the entire issue was dedicated to it. I’d read it.
I also only counted B.E.E. mentioning the “empire” once. Just wanted to point that out.
Also loved the essay on the Hasidic wig rebellion, and the guy from Akron/Family talking to the performance artist. I’m still really uninterested in Daniel Handler’s reviewing of books written by Nobel Laureates, but always somewhat fascinated with Nick Hornby’s monthly reading list. Not sure why that is, but will just keep going with my gut that it’s okay.
I spent most of my week reading The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, Jagger by Marc Spitz, and The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense by Tim Kinsella. I’m sure I’ll reuse this line when I review it, but I keep reading lines from Kinsella’s book, and thinking to myself, “Man, that would make a fantastic Joan of Arc lyric.” Reading three books that have nothing in common seems to be something I’m into these days.