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What I’m Reading At The Moment

Like I wrote in this post, I’m the kind of person who reads a lot of different books at the same time. At this point in my life, I don’t always finish everything I start, but this wasn’t always the case (Don’t really like, but still must finish, was once my more compulsive credo).

From my list last month, I still haven’t finished Americanah, but only because I can’t find it for some reason. Once it turns up again, I’ll read the rest. H is for Hawk has been placed on pause for now, for the same reasons I mentioned; Der Zauberberg proved too hard to read, not because of the language, but because my husband is reading the same copy right now and he kept taking my bookmark out of its place—the nerve! But I guess it does make sense to start once he’s finished, which will take a while since he usually reads about three pages and falls asleep (he does this with all books, not just this one. As an regular insomniac, I’m jealous of those who can sleep anywhere, anytime, although it does make reading and movie watching much slower going…).

But hey, so many books, so little time. I’ve already moved on to other things. And here they are:

Dissident Gardens

As I mentioned here, the writer Jonathan Lethem (unknowingly) had an important impact on me back when he was just that guy who works at a used bookstore on Telegraph Avenue. Because of it, he’ll always have a special place in my heart. But even if this weren’t the case, I would read his books.

Besides his humor and amazing sentences—which sometimes skirt the edge of train-wreck, but he always pulls them off in the end—what I love about Lethem is how different his books are from each other. Some of his books/writing speak to me more than other things. I’ve read Motherless Brooklyn and his latest, A Gambler’s Anatomy, and both were great reads, but neither left much of a lasting impression. I’ve read bits and pieces of his essays, but I didn’t find them as compelling as his fiction, although I’ll probably pick them up in book form someday and give them more of a try. But The Fortress of Solitude is definitely on my list of favorite books, and if Dissident Gardens continues on as it has—I’m about halfway through—it will also be placed high on the list.

The blocks of text in DG are dense, far more so than any of the other three books I’ve read, and they’re written with an absolutely absorbing urgency. I also love what he does with time and POV in the book; in one chapter it’s about Rose Zimmer, the mother character in 1950-something, and the next is about Miriam, her daughter, in the early 60s. The novel I’m working on right now is about a woman in her mid to late 30s, but there’s a lot of backstory when she was twelve and again in her mid 20s. I don’t really want to do the bits in well-structured chunks, and seeing how fluidily Lethem deals with time is definitely opening up my mind to other possibilities.

As a side note, I have a good friend who is a lot like Rose Zimmer, only minus the communism, and she can laugh at herself sometimes, which I somehow doubt Rose could ever do. Our daughters are in the same class at school, and at least half the other parents there hate her; both my daughters are also terrified of her at times. But if she lets you into her circle of trust—and I have been granted that honor—she’s really more bark than bite. It’s fun to see her in fiction form.


About a week ago, a friend of mine sent me this piece by the writer Samuel R. Delaney. The piece is about Delaney’s experience at a sex party for older gay men called the Prime Timers as well as a trip to visit his old fuck buddy Maison in a trailer park where he lives with his lover. I love the meandering and confessional candor of the piece and found it touching how Delaney and the men at the party and, later, Maison, get each other off with a casual friendliness. I’ve always admired how many gay men seem to have mastered the art of having a stable, committed relationship and fucking around, seemingly without hurting each other.

Of course, polyamory is all the rage among millenial heteros here in Berlin. I’ve known several people who got into it, read books and learned the lingo, etc. (from what I heard, you’re supposed to set very clear terms the terms about who’s number one and who’s not, and intellectualize everything about the emotional impact of the relationship(s), which to me, always sounded as if the person said, “To do this you will need to become a Cyborg who switches off their feelings.”) But in the end, it never worked out because: a) they started getting too jealous (yeah, real shocker there) or b) they realized “polyamory” was just an excuse their partner was using to be a run-of-the-mill selfish asshole.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure polyamory works wonderfully for about five percent of the population. Though I’ve been married (happily) for almost ten years, I do think monogamy is in many ways an unnatural state of being. But I’m from California, where I heard many first-hand stories of betrayals and broken hearts and even a fatal shooting over wife-swapping gone array, circa 1972. Hey kids, didn’t you know mom/grandma and dad/grandpa have already shown us this can’t be done, at least not in a long-term, healthy way?

(Prove us wrong kids, prove us wrong. 😉 )

Anyway, Babel-17 doesn’t have anything to do with sex parties or polyamory, or at least I don’t think it does, but I’d like to try something by Delaney now that I’ve discovered I have more of a taste for science fiction than I ever thought I would (FYI, I finished most of Philip K. Dick’s short stories in the book I mentioned in the post I linked to, and also picked up a copy of Ubik which I will dip into at a later date). I’m only one chapter in, but so far I’m digging it.

Hard Times

Charles Dickens, oh how I love thee. It’s been far too long since I read anything by him. I often think of a passage in, I believe, Great Expectations, where Dickens describes a character over a good page and a half, brilliantly comparing his mouth to the slot on a mailbox—though he, of course, called it a letter or a post box. When I read this, I thought, Jesus H. Christ, this is what writing can be!

I picked up Hard Times at Moe’s the last time I went to California, which means it’s been sitting on the shelf a good nine months or so. At this point, I’ve barely read any of it and I just found Americanah (sitting on my desk under a pile of other books, who knew?), so I’ll probably finish that first. But Hard Times will be next on the list for sure.

Der Stechlin/Tiere in der Stadt

Like I wrote in my last book update, I’m determined to read more in German, particularly fiction. My husband read Fontane’s Der Stechlin last year and adored it, so I plan to give it a whirl while he continues to hog Der Zauberberg.

Tiere in der Stadt (Animals in the City) will be a nice, easy going nature writing read while H is for Hawk is on hiatus.

Happy reading everyone!

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