Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The List: A Readers Guide, Part III, The Need For Pants

Well into the afternoon hours I found myself still not wearing pants. Before you get all excited, please know that I was wearing a robe. Perhaps it was a sexy robe. Go ahead, let yourself get carried away with that thought. Picture the fireplace, the wine, me and my silky robe lounging on the bearskin rug. Got it? Now look a little closer. You will see instead that in the middle of the damn day I found myself still not dressed, still sipping coffee, still not showered, still not toothbrushed, and still mindlessly staring at dripping icicles out the window while I sat on the couch. It was nice, all very sabbaticalish. But shit, I need to put some pants on! I’m cool with lazy days around the house, but sometimes you just have to get dressed and put a little effort into the day.

OK. Now I am ready to pour you that glass of wine and discuss a few additional Pulitzer items. So go ahead and put me back on that bearskin rug because I’m clean now and no longer have bad coffee breath. Isn’t that better? Yes, yes it is. Where was I? Oh yes, books. There remain a few Pulitzers worthy of mention simply because they stand out in some way. There are many books on the list that I have largely forgotten. They were forgettable. I know that because I look at them now on my shelf and all I can remember about them amounts to a rough sketch of the plot and main character(s). Actually, I‘m not even sure if the plural “characters” even applies. Then there are the books that stand out, not so much for being particularly good or bad, but for just being memorable. Here’s some.

Grab a cocktail…
The Stories of John Cheever (John Cheever): There are a few short story collections on the list. I’d say this one is the best (but they are all uneven). EVERYONE in this book is having, making, offering, or recovering from a drink. I’m not sure it is possible to get through these stories without being compelled to visit your liquor cabinet, fridge, flask, local keg party, or distillery. One story, “The Swimmer” really stuck with me. (Side Note: I was reading something completely unrelated to this book and someone mentioned this particular story. At first I congratulated myself on being so well read, but then I realized that the author mentioned it as if everyone knows this story. So I guess it’s either famous or the author who mentioned it is an erudite jerk.)

I liked it until…
Foreign Affairs (Alison Lurie): I was loving this book. For my fellow academics out there perhaps you have read this one? It’s right up our alley, professors on leave doing research, talk of tenure, and the relationships between colleagues, all that stuff we can relate to. It’s a good book, in fact the first few chapters are fantastic. But then the plot takes a turn for the worst and characters start reacting to the situation in ways that just seem wrong. It pissed me off.

Too much of a good thing…
Andersonville (MacKinlay Cantor): OK, this is one of those books that cuts back and forth between multiple characters. The book is loooong and the problem is half of the characters don’t really need to be there. I got bored with them. You find yourself reading about Civil-War-person-so-and-so wishing their part of the story would hurry the fuck up so you can get back to Intersting-Civil-War-Person.

The year the prize committee was stoned…
1981, A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole): This is a good book, no doubt about it. I would suggest you seek a little glaucoma treatment before reading it and just go with the flow. It requires a certain frame of mind.

I want to watch CSPAN now…
Advise and Consent (Allen Drury): This book is addictive. The writing is a little clunky in places and it’s pretty pulpy. The entire book centers on the nomination of a new Secretary of State and all the political shenanigans that ensue. It made me want to watch CSPAN. Which I did and I enjoyed it. A special prize should be awarded for inspiring anyone to willingly watch CSPAN. So, good job Alan Drury.

Can I have the cheetos now?


  1. I just wanted you to know that in my mind your Sexy Robe has a large oriental dragon applique stitched onto the back. This is in no way influenced by the fact that this guy I knew in college, you know the one who would always "accidentally" answer the door in his Sexy Robe, had dragons on ALL his clothes because they were a "symbol of vitality."

  2. Actually, it has a large cobra, the symbol of my dojo...Cobra Kai!

  3. Sweep the leg!

    P.S. Now that I think back I am pretty sure he said it was a "symbol of virility." How could I (shudder) have forgotten?

  4. I bet the cologne fumes clouded your memory.

  5. I think I was just feeling a little faint from the residual swooning I did when he offered to do pull-ups while I sat on him or something.

  6. I hate to interrupt this sexy dialoguing that's happening here, but damn, I can't even describe the image I have of you on the run, dr. no;-)

    So, let me pour my glass of scotch, oh, I mean wine, and reply....

    1. The Swimmer: I now dare you to rent the movie from Netflix. It's bad, but almost funny in its badness.

    2. Foreign Affairs: that is almost EXACTLY what I remember about the book. In fact, I bought a used copy this summer intending to reread it as part of my academic fiction kick and never got around to it. Maybe now I never will. Instead: please read Richard Russo's Straight Man, the BEST academic novel ever. Ever.

    3. And then I'll promise to read Drury (wasn't that a Masterpiece Theatre thing once upon a time?).

    Thanks Dr. No! You may have cheetos now!

  7. rug,not run.

    Damn. Too much scotch. I mean wine.

  8. Look at Dr. No, decking himself out all Hef for us and shit.

    Wine and cheetos...sounds like dinner to me!

    I could not get through Dunces...obviously, that frame of mind escapes me.

  9. Oh, so did we finally decide on "him" for Dr. No, or was there a reveal that I missed?

    "Reveal"- shudder.

    The no-pants-till-afternoon gave that one away, though.

    And what TKW said about Dunces. One of those books that I think I missed the cool train for.

  10. Cheetos should arrive via Fed Ex for your next late-morning robe session.

    I read Dunces a LONG time ago--nearly 20-years ago, and I remember feeling as if I sort of liked it, but back then I was young enough to worry that if I didn't like it, then I must be stupid (since it was acclaimed), so I probably just told myself I liked it. I was very insecure about my literary tastes. I sort of still am, but I just don't care (as much) whether or not people think I'm stupid. I know that I'm prone to Philistinism. I can be provincial. But I grew up in Indiana in the 70s and 80s, so, you know.

    I'm very curious about the plot twist in Foreign Affairs. I might have to read just to find out what Dr. No hated so much.

    I, too, liked Straight Man.

  11. Oooh, talk booky to me, Dr. No!

    "Dunces" was written by a New Orleanian (who's mother, so I heard, was much like the mother in the book) and set in New Orleans in and around the French Quarter during the 1960/70s. It wasn't just a frame of mind, it was a whole other state of existence. One with lots of booze and pills.

    Annieem, my 10th grade teacher showed us that film. I would have actually read the story, but I slept through most of the movie. Because of that, until you corroborated its existence, I had thought that I had been having a particularly bad dream that day.

  12. YEAH Cheetos! I'll put Straight Man on the reading list and be sure to never ever watch "The Swimmer" (I cannot fathom how that could be made into a movie- sounds awful).

    Dunces is an odd one, Clio nailed it with "a whole other state of existence" and it probably helps if you've spent some time in the Quarter. I could almost see Oscar Wao being in the same genre.

    Oh, for GEW: I don't want to ruin Foreign Affairs for you (and parts of it are fantastic) but it's like a movie where you know something is up, something is just "off" with a character and when the big "reveal" happens you just think Whaaaat? Really? That?

  13. I actually showed the trailer of the film "The Swimmer" to my class after we read the story: they laughed so hard they cried: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIegoQAayFs

    And now I'm going to reread Foreign Affairs, just because....

  14. Whoa. I watched the trailer...what is that? Did I see Joan Rivers?!?

  15. OMG! That WAS Joan Rivers. With her original face.

    "A movie that will be talked about." Yeah, just not the way they intended.

  16. You actually had to watch the movie? In school? Holy shit.

  17. Came to the party late (sorry, insanely busy week) and have to applaud all of you for going from Pulitzer prizes to Joan Rivers with her original face. You're SO my people.

    And I want a picture of that Cobra robe posted, stat! ;)

  18. A party with Judge Wapner at your digs, Joan Rivers v1.0 here, and a jar of Tang a la Witch is impossible to come late to, Ink.

  19. Have just been catching up with your posts. Two questions: 1)how often have you read fiction written by women that you enjoy? and 2) how often have you read fiction about women that you enjoy?

    That you read all the books on the list is impressive. That you stuck with books you really disliked is interesting. So, what's next?

  20. Hey WR: I just read "The News from Paraguay" by Lily Tuck and loved it. But you know, looking at my favorite writers they are predominately male...I'm not sure why that is.