reading || Some Harold Brodkey; Some David Foster Wallace; Some Lydia Davis; Some Thomas Cobb

I am obviously all over the freaking place. These are books I’ve been “currently reading”–the first two for quite some time now [as usual with collections], and the latter two are things I just started last night. Heh. I take what I can from books. Brodkey and Davis, in particular, are to be read partly in commemoration for National Short Story Month, a project run by the Emerging Writers Network [though Dan Wickett has yet to post something about that. I mean, come on, please?]. Anyhoo. Here’s what currently on my plate. Hopefully, I’ll deem them done before May ends.

* * *

[#01] I’ve liked Harold Brodkey ever since I read two of his stories in Eugenides’ My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. I mean, it’s saying something that in the anthology, Eugenides decided to include two of his. And, man, Brodkey is good. He’s my new favorite crusty ol’ goat. Aherm. From the short story, “What I Do for Money”

My life is a mess; yet I am fairly happy. Perhaps unfairly. I can’t say I understand happiness. In my case it always has an uncaring, what-the-hell element and is a form of dizzied satisfaction that is unfeeling at its center, freed from feeling, almost a cry of enough. The sense of completion is like a satisfaction with its spine of shameful triumph… of peace and escape. It is shallow of me and in my blood—an old traditional thing—and it is the deepest and most savage emotion I ever have, it is the deepest part of me, to be happy. It is based on my ignoring an important number of things, but I have a rebellious nature of this sort. In a pagan sense it is a serious business to be happy.

I found The World is the Home of Love and Death (awesome title) at one of the BookSales scattered around the office. The collection was Brodkey’s last. I’ve read about half of the stories, but not in order–a few short ones first, then to attack the 50-pagers. And then I realized they were interconnected. Bah. Then again, the individual stories hold their own. I’d now started on the first story, and would read on in order. If only for the greater narrative, ya know.

* * *

[#02] At a birthday-barbecue, I, quite typically, spent a lot of time looking at my hosts’ bookshelves. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace begged me to take it home. And so I did, on the merit of the first essay, which is an account of the AVN Awards, and is basically about the adult entertainment industry circa 1997. Oh yeah. I’ve read about three essays, and dammit, they are long. But smart and witty–but the cleverness never calls attention to itself. I have been reaching for the dictionary, though. Oh, and the snag I’ve hit is a–as Wikipedia puts it–“127 page review of Bryan A. Garner’s “A Dictionary of Modern American Usage.” Yes, you read that right.

* * *

[#03] I think I’ve been waiting for this collection all my life. Break It Down, a short story collection from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, is what I’m reading first. Mostly because it’s right at the beginning of this cute widdle orange book. So Lydia Davis–who freaking happens to be Paul Auster’s first wife; man, the drama, the telenovela-ness of it all!)–is known for short short short stories. Very simple language, though her stuff has a tendency to be cryptic–as with all mega-short stories. Or just plain baffling. See this story in its entirety:

The Mother

The girl wrote a story. “But how much better it would be if you wrote a novel,” said her mother. The girl built a dollhouse. “But how much better if it were a real house,” her mother said. The girl made a small pillow for her father. “But wuldn’t a quilt be more practical,” said her mother. The girl dug a small hole in the garden. “But how much better if you dug a large hole, said her mother. The girl dug a large hole and went to sleep in it. “But how much better if you slept forever,” said her mother.

* * *

[#04] Crazy Heart, by Thomas Cobb. I loved the movie Crazy Heart, and it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on the book it was based on. Evil laugh. Anyhoo, I’d been joining blogosphere contests left and right for this novel, but no luck. And then, last night, right before Iron Man 2 [just had to put that in], I found this in the bookstore, one copy, and I had to grab it.

“We were afraid you weren’t going to show.” The band members look at each other, smiling.

“Son, I have played sick, hurt, drunk, married, divorced, on the run, and run to the ground. Bad Blake has never pulled a no-show in his whole goddamned life. Not even in a fucking bowling alley, backed by a band of hippies.”

See that I’m currently in a bowling alley in Pueblo, Colorado, slumming with Bad Blake. I am liking this novel already. Never mind that Jeff Bridges is super-imposed on how I read Bad Blake. They’re both made of awesomesauce; there is nothing wrong with this arrangement.

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17 comments

  1. Can’t wait to hear more of your thoughts on Wallace. I’m SO intimidated by him; I’m sure I’d be looking up tons of words too, something I’m woefully bad at in most cases. But it seems necessary with DFW, doesn’t it?

    1. I haven’t made progress, actually, since this post, haha. It’s gotten tedious, and he always seems so manic about it all. It can be overwhelming. But I’m trying to be as patient as I can.

  2. I am dying to read Lydia Davis. Have only read her translation of Swann’s Way, but she sounds awesome.

    1. She is. Whenever I finish reading her incredibly short stories, there’s the temptation to post the entire thing here–she’s so good, and I want everyone to read her. Her entire stories are quotable.

  3. tuulenhaiven · · Reply

    I’m also dying to read Lydia Davis! Maybe May will be a month of short story reading for me, a break from the huge books that occupied me in April! I like your blog a lot, by the way. I’ll be stopping by again. :)

    1. Thank you so much. :) Love your blog too–I’ve been lurking for the longest time, haha. If you do have a short story month for May, please consider Davis. She’s just something, haha. So lyrical, and so spot-on.

  4. I plan on celebrating National Short Story Month too. I have a ton of unread collections around the house plus I checked out a few from the library. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on Wallace. Consider the Lobster has been on my TBR list for a few months now.

    1. So far, nothing is official yet over at EWN, but I’ll definitely go ahead with this. I’ll at least try three short stories a day. If that’s no go, I’m content with having a bulk of my reading to be short fiction.

      Wallace is amazing. But he does tend to give one a headache, haha.

  5. Danika the Lesbrarian · · Reply

    You know, I’ve been wanting to read Consider the Lobster partly because Wallace is supposed to be witty, but probably mostly because I like the cover… is that wrong?

    1. Haha, not a problem. I’m so charmed and amused by that cover. The lobster’s raising his claw to say, “Yup, here I am, consider me.” I get what amusement I can. :]

  6. Oh I read a few stories from My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead a while back! I read one story by Harold Brodkey called Innocence, but didn’t like it. Sounds like I might like his other stories though.

    1. Between “Innocence” and “First Love and Other Sorrows,” I definitely like the latter more. “Innocence” didn’t grab at my heart as much as “First Love” did. Try Brodkey when you can–I’ve gotten the impression that he’s one of those great ones that have been forgotten lately. :]

  7. Ewan · · Reply

    Loved Jeff Bridges in that movie and the movie too. I’ve wanted to read this. I’m going to wait until you post your thoughts.

    Good luck with DFW. I’ve only tried to read Infinite Jest. We didn’t get along too well.

    1. Thanks, Ewan. My thoughts on Crazy Heart will be up soon. Re DFW, he is someone that requires complete dedication. I’ve been straying from the Usage Dictionary review of his, but I’ll definitely be coming back. Infinite Jest, well, that just intimidates me.

  8. I’m interested to see what you think about David Foster Wallace. I’m not a big fan of him, mostly because of one essay that has put me off him for life. Most people like him a lot though.

    1. I am dragging my feet through this ridiculously long review of a usage dictionary (for cripe’s sake). But it’s fun. I’m enjoying DFW in what he thinks is his bite-sized form. I probably won’t read his fiction anytime soon. I am still very very very much intimidated.

  9. […] because May is supposedly Short Story Month. It was, last year. Heh. At the time that I posted this entry on Brodkey, Davis, DFW, and Thomas Cobb’s Crazy Heart, there was no official word yet. […]

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