Summer reading, 2015.
This year's selection consists of ten novels—one somewhat fantastical, at least one a bit experimental, one of the "graphic" variety, and two science fiction (together in one volume, the first half of a tetralogy)—as well as two book-length essays on the practice of writing fiction. They total 4150 pages, which is probably a little on the ambitious side, but we'll see.
I'm pretty sure that I read Richard Adams's Watership Down (1972) as a kid, though I've got no specific recollections of it. It's possible that I only ever saw the 1978 film, but I've got no specific recollections of that either. When I try to stretch my brain back the 30 or so years, and remember the rabbits and their warrens, I do see words on a page. The book was also on my overly ambitious 2011 summer reading list, one of many that I didn't get to that year. I found this copy amongst some free books on a curb, in Park Slope or perhaps Williamsburg. I have another copy of the same printing, boxed up with the majority of my books in storage.
The best book that I read in the last six months was Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue (2012). The Yiddish policemen's union (2008) was one of my favorite reads for the book club that I was a member of five years ago, although I was the only one in the group who really liked it. I figure it's about time to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning The adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), the novel that Chabon is perhaps best known for.
I've been a big fan of John Darnielle's band, The Mountain Goats, since their (or his, as it was largely a solo project at the time) 2000 album The coroner's gambit, which remains one of my favorites. I bought his debut novel, Wolf in white van (2014), soon after it was released last fall, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.
Jenny Erpenbeck's The end of days (2012) was an impulse buy some months back. I think it was a staff pick in the bookstore where I purchased it.
I know similarly little about Eliza Factor's Love maps (2015). It is an early review copy received through LibraryThing.
One of the two best books from my 2013 summer reading batch was William Gaddis's JR (1975), though it took me two full months to read. The recognitions (1955) is longer, but perhaps not quite as narratively difficult (JR consists almost exclusively of dialogue, often with no indication of who's speaking outside of context clues). The other of 2013's best books, incidentally, was Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren (1975), and some more of his books are in the queue for fall or winter reading.
John Gardner's On becoming a novelist (1983), published posthumously after his untimely death, is introduced by his friend and former student Raymond Carver. Carver's introduction was reprinted in his own posthumously published volume Call if you need me (1991), which Megan and I were reading independently together last summer when there was still perhaps a slim hope that we could work things out. (Carver's stories are, sadly, often about couples not being able to work things out.) Carver's introduction inspired me to track down a copy of Gardner's book.
Nikolai Gogol's Dead souls (1842), is by far the oldest work on this summer's list, though the translation is new. As a collector, I'm a sucker for series in uniform editions, and New York Review Books Classics certainly fit that bill. There is a little voice that encourages me to buy everything they have and will publish. For a time I subscribed to their book release club, receiving a new edition in the mail every month or so. Dead souls was one of those, and when I was looking for something new to read earlier this spring (after finishing Telegraph Avenue, I think, though there might have been something else in between) I plucked it from it's brethren and dumped it in my bag, though am only about 80 pages into it, to date.
My little brother Sam gave me Richard McGuire's Here (2014) for Xmas, and I started into it almost immediately, but put it aside when I realized how quickly it was going and knew that I should be savoring it more. I think that I may have been aware of the seminal and influential 6-page short graphic story version of "Here" that appeared in Raw in 1989, but although I owned a number of issues of Raw from that time period I don't think I ever had that one. I think that I am going to try and limit myself to a few pages a night, before bed, perhaps instead of playing that off-brand Rumikub on the iPad, so as to stretch it out with the rest of the summer reading.
I may have also received Edith Wharton's treatise The writing of fiction (1925) as a gift, or perhaps as part of a creative writing award when I was taking classes at community college during my drop-out years. It's also possible that I bought it of my own volition around the same time, after reading The house of mirth (1905) in a comp lit class. Wharton and Gardner's books are about the same length and deal with the same subject, but were written over half a century apart (and on opposite coasts), by very different (though both American) writers. I suspect they will be interesting to read as a pair.
Gene Wolfe's The book of the new sun (1980-1983) tetralogy was a recommendation of someone, somewhere online, Tumblr I think. Perhaps Neil Gaiman (he is blurbed on the cover of this edition of the first two books, proclaiming it "the best SF novel of the last century"), though maybe Hank Green, or even John Darnielle.
Dead souls. (part 1) [before] 15 June–27 June
Here. 24 June–25 July
Wolf in white van. 27 June–6 July
Watership Down. 6 July–30 July
The amazing adventures of Kavalier & Clay. 30 July–11 September