The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Monday, December 15, 2008

more reading

As you might be able to tell, my leisure reading is accelerating as the sabbatical approaches.

After finishing the very pleasant THE HERE AND NOW and the insufferable AGE OF WIRE AND STRING, I found on my father-in-law's bookshelf the Bill Bryson Appalachian Trail memoir A WALK IN THE WOODS. I've always thought of Bryson as a kind of "dad lit"--like John Adams biographies or Dave Barry. A WALK IN THE WOODS, though, had all of the positives of that kind of book and very few of the negatives. It's engaging and mildly funny in a self-deprecating way, with a middle-class white guy's perspective on things, but unlike Dave Barry (or SEINFELD, but that's another, much longer post) it isn't fundamentally smug and conservative: it's open to the new without being wide-eyed and goofily liberal about it. It made me want to go hike the trail. Not "through-hike," mind you; my first introduction to the concept of "through-hiking" came through my friend Eric Lupfer's great MISSOURI REVIEW essay "Thru-Hiking" from about ten years ago, and even then I had no desire to do the whole thing (which is uncharacteristic of me, because I am attracted to long, difficult, and fundamentally pointless endeavors like marathons and Thomas Pynchon novels). But the family and I hiked a small piece of the Trail while in the Great Smokies this summer and it was beautiful--and, according to Bryson, one of the worst parts of the Trail. I'd love to hike in the Blue Ridge area, in Western Massachusetts and in Maine (but not with the mosquitoes). But I'm not sure my wife is going to let me go off and do that anytime soon.

Last night I finally also finished the book that's been sitting by the bed for over a year now, the collected edition of T. Coraghessan Boyle's STORIES from 1995. I've read a bunch of Boyle's novels and taught a couple of his short stories in various classes, and for me most of the stories and novels are pretty much the same: someone, usually a middle-class guy, gets some idea in his head, often put there by some tempting third party, and ends up embroiling his family and friends in something that gets WAY over their heads, usually in a bad way. When I first started this blog I was reading DROP CITY, which is about hippies who try to start a commune in Alaska, and it was refreshing, as we were staying at an apartment in the East Village in NYC during a heat wave and the place had A/C in only one room. Was nice to think about Alaska then.

Reading George Saunders' CIVILWARLAND IN BAD DECLINE right now, which my writer friend assures me is the ur-text of the American experimental/magical realist movement that has now, tragically, ended up with Ben Marcus. Enjoying it. Next up: BolaƱos' SAVAGE DETECTIVES.


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