April 15, 2009

Book: What We're Reading

1. Vanishing Point by David Markson (fiction) — Hard to get into but impossible to look away from, this “novel” is really a book-length list of fascinating facts about the world’s greatest thinkers, artists and writers, such as, “I have never killed a man. But I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure. Said Clarence Darrow.” It’s sort of like reading Twitter if Twitter didn’t suck ass. —Jim Welp

2. The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction by Gene Wolfe (short stories) — Austere title, very plain cover, 31 stories from the ‘70s through the ‘90s. Consider it counter-marketing, because the work herein makes world after world of the new, the bizarre, the fantastic. Numerous critics and colleagues compare him to Borges or Twain — I won’t go quite so far, but this collection belongs on the shelf of everyone except those sorry souls who can’t understand or tolerate speculative fiction. —T.E. Lyons

3. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts by Clive James (essays) — This may be the only doorstop-sized book in the history of publishing that does not feel like a doorstop when you’re reading it. I first got acquainted with James in his weekly “Point of View” installments on BBC’s Radio 4, but those last only 10 minutes. “Cultural Amnesia” is more or less several hundred such installments. His sense of humor and way with words about, well, basically, the entire history of everything that matters (including Stalin and Beatrix Potter) only leave you wanting more, more, more. —Mary Welp

4. Antiques Roadshow Collectibles: The Complete Guide to Collecting 20th Century Glassware, Costume Jewelry, Memorabilia, Toys and More From the Most-Watched Show on PBS by Carol Prisant (nonfiction) — I was one of the lucky fans who got to attend “Antiques Roadshow” when it was in Louisville in 2007. This book is like having all those experts talking only to you, without having to wait in the long lines. After reading about its rarity, I’m now on the search for an avocado patterned bowl by Indiana Glass. —Jo Anne Triplett

5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (fiction) — I’ve finally gotten around to a 9/11 novel: Oskar Schell is a 9-year-old lost boy/wunderkind whose father was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. A deft and able narrator with perpetually “heavy boots,” Schell searches the city trying to match a key from his father to a lock from ... we don’t know (yet). Foer’s writing here is simply superb, even if the story forces itself upon you here and there. —Stephen George