Blog about some recent reading


Let’s start with the meat in the middle: Charles Portis. Why hadn’t I read Charles Portis until 2019? Maybe I initially dismissed the idea after first seeing True Grit (1969) with John Wayne. I know I was a bit more interested after seeing True Grit (2010), but I still didn’t quite realize that Portis is like Cormac McCarthy or Barry Hannah, picaresque and hilarious, a scion of the dirty south. I picked up his first novel Norwood at a tiny wonderful little bookstore in Portland Oregon this summer, prompted by its being in a Vintage Contemporaries edition more than anything else. I loved its energy and humor, and picked up copies of The Dog of the South and Masters of Atlantis, and promptly read them. (I couldn’t find a decent looking copy of True Grit and ended up ordering one on AbeBooks for four bucks.) I’ve heard Masters of Atlantis referred to as the masterpiece, and I thought it was very funny and even Pynchonesque (and also really relevant in its evocation of con artists and scammery), but Dog of the South was the most affecting of the three novels. A kind of bizarre road trip novel, Dog is told in first person narration by an asshole loser who, like most asshole losers, doesn’t realize that he’s an asshole loser. By the end of the novel he won me over though, and even grew as a person (I hate that I wrote that sentence). Dog’s shagginess is a small virtue; Master’s shagginess is unexpectedly grand. Norwood seems like a trial run at both, but also wonderful and grotesque. I read the first part of True Grit yesterday and loved the voice. I need to do a proper Thing on Portis, but for now, color me a Portishead.

I read Fernando A. Flores’ debut novel Tears of the Trufflepig last month, which I picked up after reading J. David Gonzalez’s review in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The concept of the book—a very-near future where drugs are legal and cartels have taken to trafficking “filtered” (genetically-altered) animals is fascinating—but the prose and structure left something to be desired. Trufflepig suffered perhaps from its proximity to my reading Anna Kavan’s Ice and Portis’s Norwood.

I read the first chapter of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1948 historical novel The Corner That Held Them today. Amazing stuff: Ironic, mordant, energetic, and surprising. Set primarily in a spare humble corner of 14th century England, Corner starts with a cuckold murdering his wife’s lover, “sparing” her, and then founding a nunnery in her honor when she dies. Warner’s prose shuttles her nuns into the Black Death plague with bathos and wit. Really loved what I read.

I read In the Time of the Blue Ball by Manuela Draeger this weekend and loved it too. There are three tales in the collection, translated by Brian Evenson and Valerie Evenson. Draeger is one of Antoine Valodine’s pseudonyms, but also one of his characters—a concentration camp librarian who invents tales for the camp’s children. The stories are whimsical with a dark edge, an edge perhaps provided if one know more of Volodine’s project (encapsulated neatly in Writers). The Draeger stories focus on a detective named Bobby Potemkine and his dog Djinn, and they are lovely.

I continue nibbling at Chris Ware’s forthcoming opus Rusty Brown. “Nibbling” is not the right verb—look, I’m gobbling this thing up. It’s astounding: funny, painful, gorgeous, maybe the best thing he’s done to date.

Kilian Eng’s Object 10 simply happens to be at the bottom of the pile. It too is gorgeous.


2 thoughts on “Blog about some recent reading”

  1. OK, I am totally heterosexual. Also happily married.
    You might be my soul mate.
    All your thoughts about Portis echo my own. Or mine echo yours.
    ‘Masters of Atlantis’ is so funny and brilliant. Yet also cold, and sometimes clinical. As if we were patients etherized under Portis’ table…. And, though I named my dog Squanto, after the parrot, there are those dry spells one has to slog through….
    Like you, I urge ‘Dog of the South’ on my pals.
    On the other hand, the older, more conservative Portis, who I would hardly shake hands with, is equally brilliant, if far less funny, in ‘Gringos.’ One more masterpiece, if a messy one.
    Or I thrust ‘True Grit’ upon them, which may be (Hollywood aside) the closest he came to perfection.
    Yet what other writer, American or otherwise, has written nothing but masterpieces, though each one is flawed?
    As far as I know, Portis is in his nineties but still alive. Will he drop one more on us ? What will we discover in his archives…?
    As far as candidates for the Great American Novel go, there is of course HBO’s ‘The Wire.’ And, more obviously, ‘Huck Finn,’ though Twain flubbed the ending.
    So who wrote the Great American Novel? Who is the Great American Humorist?
    If we kept just the best parts, leaving out all the bad parts, my vote goes to Portis.
    I feel like, if everyone read Portis, most notably ‘Norwood,’ which points out the critical difference between character and personality, we would not be mired in the current swamp dragging us all down the drain….
    Peace and Love,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The only S.T. Warner I’ve read is “Lolly Willowes”, and it’s fabulous. It’s probably better if you don’t know where the plot is going, but if you need a spoilery pitch: It’s like the stereotypical “single woman of a certain age unexpectedly finds love that renews her life” story, except a) written several decades before that was a cliche, and b) the lover is Satan.

    Liked by 1 person

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