Current/Recent Reading List

19 August 2007

'07 Summer Wrap-Up, Part I (The Reading)

We are back from the beach, with minimal sunburn, and now I go into the frying pan tomorrow, so I have little time for - well - anything. But, in the fine tradition of this one year old blog (see here and here), I must review the summer what was, and putting it into some kind of context.

First to the reading. I rarely go into the summer with some kind of theme that my reading will fall under, but instead have a few books in mind, and let the reading gods guide me in whatever whimsical direction they will. And yet, a certain theme, or commonality, always seems to emerge. Last year much of my reading was Italian-flavored, especially from reading Dante and Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War.

This summer brought me back home, which was appropriate considering that I am leaving behind one era of my working life, and entering a new one. Most of my reading was of southern fiction, and most of that was re-reading. At the beginning of the summer I re-read Fred Chappell's magnificent four novels about the Kirkman family of the North Carolina mountains (I Am One of You Forever, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, Farewell I'm Bound To Leave You, Look Back All the Green Valley). Loosely (sometimes very loosely) autobiographical, these novels work much the way the mountain musicians in them work - by weaving in and out of each other's music effortlessly, each performing its own virtuosic solo, and yet able to fall back into the warm harmonies and rhythms of the same song. These novels are by turns hilarious, strange, other-worldly, philosophical, devastatingly sad, metaphysical, and genuinely good-humored. Pretty swell for a poet. Then again, his poetry is pretty swell for a novelist.

Next, I returned, after a number of years, to two of the very best by the Dixie Limited himself, Faulkner. I read both Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses for the third time each, and never more enjoyably. When I was a very young man, reading Faulkner was a gateway into a world I didn't know was so vast and accomplished: the literary South, in particular that neck of the woods known as the Southern Renaissance. This was an occasion for both a sense of great pride and of belonging - and it also led to two other things: a lifelong devotion to literature, and a lifelong lack of high-paying jobs (Thanks, Faulkner - sincerely, the Wyfe).

In reading Faulkner over the summer, I was reawakened to how relevant and universal he remains, and also to his ability to simultaneously love and criticize southerners and Americans as a whole. We have plenty of criticism still around in contemporary writing, but where is that love which best validates the criticism to begin with?

Briefly, here are the other reading highlights of the summer: two classics that I had somehow missed up to this time - Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front; a handful of Flannery O'Connor's essays; Peter Taylor's wonderful short story "A Spinster's Tale"; two from my self-declared British mentor Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture and Culture Counts (more about this one soon); and Frank McCourt's melancholic, sobering, and ultimately affirming ode to his career as a teacher, Teacher Man.

Part II coming soon.

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