I was up in Hudson last weekend with plenty of time on hand before the evening’s music festival kicked off. I also had four hours total on the train to get up there and back; due to my just missing my northbound train, I also had a little extra time in scenic Penn Station to get some reading done. What were my subjects? Heroes, innovators, and figures who left this world far too soon.
Cynthia Carr’s Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz is a biography I’d been meaning to read for a while; having done so, I can also comfortably say that it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. It’s a long biography of the artist and writer, but it’s also a pocket history of a number of things: the early days of the AIDS epidemic, the Lower East Side art scene of the early 80s, and a place where artists moved between disciplines with abundant fluidity. Once I finished reading it, I felt exhausted: Wojnarowicz’s creative evolution, his move into activism, and his explorations of life are all rendered comprehensively and captivatingly, and Carr has an eye for memorable, sometimes harrowing scenes. Does this fall into the realm of “a book I’d recommend to everyone”? Probably. And it’s left me very eager to read Wojnarowicz’s own books as well.
I’d been talking Bolaño with a pair of friends earlier this month, and that reminded me that I’d purchased Between Parentheses, which collects his nonfiction, not long before. This, too, was a book I read in cafes upstate; it brings together Bolaño’s thoughts on geography, history, and literature. I should also state that it is nearly impossible to read this book without amassing a massive list of books to pick up immediately afterwards: Enrique Vila-Matas has ended up atop my particular version of this list. But his writing also made me reconsider my opinion of (among other things) the novel That Obscene Bird of Night, and gave me a new aesthetic window through which to look at certain works.
Sometimes, I take photos of the books I’m reading with the coffee I’m drinking as I read them and post them to Instagram. When reading Georges Perec’s A Void, I thought it would be funny for my caption to echo the book’s eschewal of the letter “e.” This proved more difficult than I had imagined, which upped my respect for both Perec and translator Gilbert Adair. The story itself is a digressive one: after the disappearance of an intellectual, his friends seek to uncover his fate, only to become themselves enmeshed in decades-long conspiracies. It begins in an over-the-top fashion and never really backs away from this; that said, it also creates a universe in which overly verbal characters can memorably banter, where plots and grudges can last through generations, and where a novel built around a linguistic conceit can be a joy to read.