17 August 2007

What We Talk about When We Talk about Books.

I had a conversation with an old friend yesterday. We were in grad school together, and after a stint in Louisiana doing the professorating thing, he's now on Long Island doing the professorating thing. It's a climate more suited to his and his wife's New England upbringings.

So after the usual how's it going stuff was gotten out of the way, we started to name-check some authors, you know, dropping it English-degree style, beginning in Albany with William Kennedy. He declared that Ironweed, which I haven't read, is perhaps the greatest American novel of the twentieth century. Or maybe late twentieth century. I can't quite remember, but at any rate he thinks rather highly of it. So it goes on my stack. Perhaps it'll be next, because right now I'm not feeling very motivated to finish Pynchon's V. and I don't know why, because it's actually pretty good (the only Pynchon I've ever read start to finish is The Crying of Lot 49, although I've made some jabs at Gravity's Rainbow).

So from there it was on to Russell Banks briefly, and then to Cormac McCarthy. You see, we never left New England (at least as far as birthplaces are concerned, and yes I consider New York part of New England so get over it New Yorkers). My friend is recommending highly to me McCarthy's futuristic novel The Road, telling me it's very stark. That his older brother, jaded though he is and an author himself, found himself crawling into his son's bed after he'd finished reading it because he just needed to be near him. That's powerful stuff. As I've only ever read All the Pretty Horses (as has MA) and Child of God, The Road goes on my stack. Hey, it must be good, since it was an "Oprah Book Club" selection. Oh, yeah, it also won the Pulitzer or something like that.

Our conversation came to an abrupt halt, however, when he remembered that he had a fellow prof over while their daughters were having a playdate, and he didn't want to be the neglectful host.

I suppose we'll always have the MLA...

and for the lit geeks among you, half a point to discuss the origins of the title of this post without googling.


mysterygirl! said...

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is Carver, isn't it?

(God, I'm going to feel like a jackass if I'm wrong)

Yay for booktalk! And now I'm going to have to read Ironweed. So, thanks.

cuff said...

Of course you're right. Carver is one of those writers who inspire me to write. I get done reading one of his short stories, and I want to write my own (although obviously that feeling doesn't last long enough for follow through).

Momentary Academic said...

I've heard that about Ironweed. But right now I love Cormac McCarthy like no one else.

And I don't "do" American Literature.


Reya Mellicker said...

Since I am definitely not a literary geek, and I rarely ever read novels, please explain. Is it the stories you're interested in or the way in which they're written.

Saying a book is great because it's "stark" - it's interesting to me. It sounds to my uneducated ear like what's compelling is the structure as much as the content, Like enjoying Picasso's paintings because they're Picasso-esque as much as because of what the painting is about.

Am I completely off the track here?

I'm a serious non-fiction reader. I especially like revisionist history and science for amateurs. I used to read novels but I stopped that years ago. I wonder why?

cuff said...

MA: I can only pity you for your loss in not doing Am lit. It's like living in DC and not going to the Smithsonian...but I know what you really mean.

Reya: Yeah. Good question. I haven't read it, but I imagine it has to be compellingly written even if it is "stark." The beauty of stark is that it describes more a tone than a style, though, so Ray Carver's minimalist stories could be seen as stark, as well as Faulkner's Light in August, which is anything but minimalist.

As for your choice of reading materials, at least you're reading (and reading more than the latest issue of Details or Cosmo or this ridiculous blog). I just finished a little nonfiction myself: Stephen Coote's book on Napoleon. But in general I prefer fiction. Maybe I like the possibilities in make-believe.

Washington Cube said...

I'm with MA: I love Cormac McCarthy like no one else right now, in terms of fiction, but my God his view on humanity is a nightmare. Never took to William Kennedy...read it all...ditto Russell Banks. I once heard Don DeLillo read at the Folger and he admitted that the older he became, the more he was inclined to avoid fiction and read non. With that in mind, I highly recommend The Looming Tower: Al-Qaqeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright as one of the best