"I read very few books––used to devour all kinds of prose. I do write for hours each day and read a few pages of one book or another on a semi-regular basis.
I have this theory that at some point many serious writers, who used to be subsumed in others' words, have internalized the modes of expression and must grapple with a much more complex and unwieldy beast - the depths of their own perception. Just getting one's own experiences on paper can become a life's work.
Interesting to think back on books that I have completed this year:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez with a wry, bawdy, faintly British accent. Found this at Focus Gallery on Grant Street in North Beach (plug: the well-read proprietor of this shop has an extensive selection of art by Ferlinghetti, Miller, Hirschman). Read in the Yucatan while completing a tribal flute residency at Hostal 3B in Playa del Carmen and camping on the beach in Tulum. An eye-opening mapping of Latin American banana republic terrains of the past century, with magic thrown in for good measure. I finished the book for its bravado and wealth of societal description more than anything. Many interpersonal threads between characters were left completely hanging in this saga of attrition, cruelty, black humor.
This I swear was a revelation. I picked it up at the Tradewinds Hostel in San Fran. Wasn't expecting much from a book that birthed multitudes of outworn tropes. Not only a vivid depiction of an area of the city (Tenderloin) that exists architecturally intact, with much the same spare, fog-flecked flavor to this day. Maltese Falcon presents a truly unreliable narrator, whom you at first believe is as dumb as he acts. The femme fatale angle came as a complete surprise and that is saying a lot. You can see why this book launched a thousand genre writers, but––having been conceived before the detective genre was static––there is a "paint fresh on the wall" feel. And yes, there is some controversy as to whether it was Hemingway who influenced Hammett or visa versa (Maltese Falcon came out slightly before Sun Also Rises).
Books I did not finish:
I was interested in this on many levels at the start. The way in which the codes contained in ancient texts (and the computer mapping of such) presaged issues paramount in our own algorithmically driven era. The sense of dissipated revolution and muted longing in the bars of late 1960s northern Italy. The problem is, Eco does not know when to stop. Like Pynchon, I begin tuning him out when he says a similar thing from too many angles (see: Inherent Vice).
This is a timely one, so I'll quote at length from a post I made on EnduranceWriter:
"This is a book that started strong. An unlikely premise, made realistic. Andy Weir's style was not obtrusive, which is a compliment in a way––I groaned through the author's puns and dated pop culture references. The survival aspect of the story was simply so well detailed. I felt like I was there, learning what it would take to continue operating day-to-day in an extraterrestrial environment.
Unfortunately, the author glossed too quickly over the aspects of the narrative I found most interesting. Namely, how one would grow things sustainably on Mars while maintaining habitable atmosphere and staying sane. Instead of bringing me from the macro to the micro aspects of existence (what is one day of single-minded work, utter monotony, on Mars really like?) Weir gave me series upon series of math, chemistry, and physics problems that needed solving. Yesterday. Or the hab was going to blow up.
The book really lost me as an engaged reader when it switched to Earth. It was not only the surface-level depiction of the astronaut's loved ones and colleagues. The "Robinson Crusoe," "Typee," "Without A Trace," "Castaway" survival-in-the-middle-of-BFE aspect that I enjoyed had been lost. The Martian's existential activities were revealed as a reality show fodder, followed eagerly by millions of earthlings through NASA satellite feeds. I felt depersonalized as a reader, as if his struggles had been commodified - and I did not come away with any critique of this mass viewing/life in a fishbowl phenomenon. I was no longer alone with the protagonist on a desolate planet, seeking a way home.
I am working my way slowly through Philip K. Dick's 1956 novel The World Jones Made, which (like The Martian) I picked up at the Las Vegas Hostel. It is an odd experience to read at a snail's pace a novel that was created and clearly intended to be consumed at high speed. I do see the relative brilliance of Dick's genre work. In direct contrast to Weir, he would have asked the tough questions, rather than allying the protagonist unthinkingly with the establishment. (There would also have been imminent threat from mind-reading, shape morphing aliens, but that is discussion for another day). Dick really had me with his vivid description of mutants as a freak carnival show display well before the advent of X-men in their uniformed, superhero banality. Also, how can you not love a book with this line? "In the blue spring sky lazily flitted a few robot aerial interception mines."