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June 3, 2010

Summer Reading

Of course, our definitions of proper summer reading may differ.  You will be expecting me to recommend the three volumes of Stieg Larsson's Girl... series, or Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, or perhaps Deborah Eisenberg's Collected Stories -- all big fat books that will give you a great deal of pleasure over a prolonged and perhaps lazy period of time.  And I do indeed recommend those.  But I've already written at length about the virtues of the Mantel and the Eisenberg (in Bookforum), and everyone knows about the Stieg Larssons.  So what I offer here is a somewhat stranger list of books that are only just now becoming available:

1) Jean Stafford's The Mountain Lion (NYRB Classics).  This 1947 novel by the now-almost-forgotten but very good mid-century writer -- she was married first to Robert Lowell, then to A. J. Liebling -- is one of the best portrayals of childhood I have ever read.  It is also excellent on the landscape and manners of early twentieth century California and the Old West in general.  Steel yourself for a rather shocking ending (which Stafford herself gives away in the foreword, so don't read that until after).

2) Cesar Aira's The Literary Conference (New Directions).  The last book I read by Aira, Ghosts, was touching and scary; this one is completely different.  It is a brilliant and funny send-up of the whole idea of "genius."  I will not give away the surprise ending, as the recent New Yorker review did, since that is certainly part of the fun; but really, what is terrific about this book is the voice.  Roberto Bolaño liked and admired Aira very much, and so will you.

3) J. G. Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries, edited by Lavinia Greacen (Cork University Press).  Despite the fact that this has only been published in Ireland, you can get it on Amazon and elsewhere, so do.  If you have never heard of J. G. Farrell, you will immediately want to read everything he wrote, and if you have already read his amazing "Empire" trilogy, you will enjoy this book even more.  He was one of the liveliest and most amusing correspondents of the twentieth century; he was also one of the best fiction-writers of his era, and only his early death (he was swept off a rock in Ireland while fishing) prevented him from being better known.  His two wonderful novels, The Siege of Krishnapur and Troubles, are both available as NYRB paperbacks -- and so is The Singapore Grip, the third of the Empires, which is slightly less terrific but still well worth reading.  Enjoy!
June 3, 2010 11:17 AM | | Comments (0)

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