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Book club

Posted: Sun Mar 21, 2021 8:22 pm
by alex
What have you read lately? What did you think about it? Should we read it too?

Re: Book club

Posted: Mon Mar 22, 2021 12:53 am
by rjbman
i read a lot and wont bore yall with the meh stuff... so top books of the last... idk, 2ish years for me
  • Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (supposedly his last novel!) - climate fiction about the transition to a renewable world from today's environment
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers - trees are fucking awesome, a novel
  • How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell - tech sucks, go watch birds (this is the one that got jrisk into birding)
  • Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch - a history of linguistics of the terminally online

Re: Book club

Posted: Mon Mar 22, 2021 1:50 am
by thewisdomoftime
My mom's by-far-best-friend from Denmark (she emigrated 40 years ago) gave me W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz for my 22nd birthday last year. Last summer I read it, a magically cold and worldweary episode about scraping history to find a lost and repressed life like a river still flowing under the ice of all you've ever known? Over last fall, I read his other books - there's only 4 'fictions,' or non-non-fictions as I call them: Vertigo, Emigrants, Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz in order - and about 20 pages into Emigrants, Sebald became my favorite author. He is unbelievably cynical, lost, and tender.

People compare him to Proust because he has something to say about memory, and because nobody got past the madeleines in Swann's way. Personally I'm 1/4 into Vol. 2, which is not much better, but I can tell you Sebald is not Proustian and Proust is not Sebaldian. Once I make a podcast I will do an episode on this, no matter what the podcast is about. There's also a political content to Sebald that's very obviously not Proustian, he reckoned with the Nazis, their archives, the holocaust, the missing, and the silence of Fortress Europe in a way that is thoroughly considered and aesthetically brilliant, just what the Frankfurt school lacked the practice for. (I make the joke sometimes that Adorno moved from Nazi Germany to Hollywood, and found the latter objectionable enough to write about; the same is true for Sebald moving from his Austria to England and writing Rings of Saturn with an eye to the horrors of British empire.)

At any rate, I was rereading Austerlitz on my 23rd birthday, and it's what finally got me to start learning Danish. I think this Austrian man might have taught me how to deal with the other half of who I am. I'm still infantile with the language, but I feel like no matter what question I ask my mother - about her growing up, her siblings (who are infinitely more akin to her than our American family), her village where she grew up, politics in the 70's and 80's, and headlines I read on /r/denmark - tears into a whole body of suppressed information that she couldn't or didn't want to explain to my brother and I when we were growing up.

I really, really love Sebald.

Re: Book club

Posted: Mon Mar 29, 2021 2:36 pm
by yljt
reading david graeber's "debt." really enjoying it so far. moten and harney's meditations on debt have really stuck with me, so it's great to read other texts on the subject

Re: Book club

Posted: Mon Mar 29, 2021 7:37 pm
by silvaeri
just finished The Empress of Salt and Fortune. Really enjoyed it, fun little fantasy novel with a cool narrative structure and good prose. Do recommend.

it's super short too, only like 130 pages in fairly big type and double spacing (my blind ass eyes love this).

some criticisms say it's choppy in parts, but i feel like it was just up to you as the reader to make some inferences based on the narrative. it felt super flowy to me and refreshing that things were implied rather than explicitly stated especially given one of the whole recurring narrative devices present (won't spoil it here)

Re: Book club

Posted: Tue Mar 30, 2021 3:18 am
by thewisdomoftime
Just tore through Enrique Vila-Matas' Bartleby & Co over the weekend. Probably a third of that book is now in my Notes app, that guy was writing for me.

For the lay-reader: Vila-Matas writes novels without events, with protagonist-narrators that can't help but notice how life is related to literature. For the lay-lay-reader: Vila-Matas is a hipster who is a little kooky. For the reader who is me: Vila-Matas is Derridean and insane, and his humor is as glacial as Pessoa's. I read his Montano's Malady in December, without knowing anything about him, because the used-bookstore-that's-ultimately-more-of-a-café had it for $6 and I trust New Directions. I read Montano's Malady with interruptions and felt like I was going insane. The narrator of Montano's Malady is - at the heart of it all - trying to stop seeing life in terms of its relation to literature. Easily 20 or so authors, including my most precious Sebald, become turns in the 'plot' of the book, which is intertextual and alludes to itself. Chapter 1 is a protagonist-narrated story written by the protagonist-narrator of Chapters 2-4, while Chapter 2 is a small encyclopedia of author's diaries with some events mixed in as it's being written. By Chapter 4, the real-fictional protagonist-narrator is convinced that he has become Robert Walser, and he stands by Robert Musil at a yawning abyss.

Bartleby & Co is uhh ... similar but even better; it's less intertextual with fewer events, and mentions more authors, as this protagonist-narrator creates a list of 86 footnotes on literary authors/works concerning/obsessed with/overtaken by/destroyed by the wordless question at the heart of literature, literature's own 'insufficiency/impossibility'. I'm not sure what if anything is left to add here-- if you've heard the term "castration" more than 50 times in your life, or if the Book of Disquiet made you happy for 9 months, then you should join me at the Vila-Matas table.

Friday I got a $50 haircut which involved almost no hair leaving my head, then bought and started Tao Lin's Taipei. For any moral consequentialists in the audience: my $7 went to the used bookstore and not Tao Lin. Unfortunately, nothing will undo the damage that the book is doing by affirming my drive to stop existing while alive in 2010s L-train Brooklyn. I'm only 80 pages in, so I am only beginning to resent the style. I tend to avoid American authors without intending it, and contemporary authors as well, but my sense of what's happened so far is that I'm reading a kind of millennial Iliad. The narrator is actually split from the protagonist, and is given sometimes as many as five paragraphs to provide a Proustian reflection on the shapes of gestures, events, relationships, and time's unfolding. The protagonist is not a more-heroic but only a more-chosen character than any other character who enters the narrative; he struggles to form relationships with others who (men) present utility value and rarely struggle, or (women) present an impossible psychic machinery the axioms of which are two layers out of reach; events transpire which, although they might remove characters forever or gloss over multiple days of languor, offer neither the narrator nor the protagonist any succor. It's reminding me so much of The Bell Jar; but, again, I don't read a lot of Americans, and the most short-sighted part of me wants to say something wild like that atomization and catatonic schizophrenia are more American than apple pie (I know, I know, but Bifo would get away with writing that).

I'm also reading Vol. 2 of the Proust.

Re: Book club

Posted: Tue Mar 30, 2021 10:26 am
by alex
I am probably done with Kafka forever after reading a bunch of his books one after the other. I can say for certain that he is a major influence on my German writing style and I appreciate the comma more than ever now. But jesus christ enough of the existential horrors of bureaucracy for now. Still, check out The Trial if you haven't, it explores some very interesting and grueling facets of pre-WW2 German thought and life so well.

Currently reading Hermann Hesse. Started off with Siddharta which is a really cute read on some central ideas of buddhism. Very healing. Sort of like religious indian 20th century slice of life. Now I'm halfway into Steppenwolf, which is less healing and despite being from the 1920s feels weirdly in tune with the current zeitgeist. If the dude were alive today he would have such an edgy podcast.

Re: Book club

Posted: Fri Apr 09, 2021 2:28 am
by miles
My favorite types of novels, aside from the 19th cent. ones, are the ones where the narrator visits a dreary city for somewhat murky reasons and encounters a succession of interlopers who tell the narrator meandering personal histories or some kind of history of the city/country.


Reading the Unconsoled by Ishiguro right now, which is covering all those bases. Can also think of Austerlitz/Rings of Saturn and Kudos by Rachel Cusk off the top of my head. Bruce Chatwin in Patagonioa is also kind of like that I believe. Any other recs?

Re: Book club

Posted: Fri Apr 09, 2021 3:49 am
by starfox64
All of Ishiguro's novels feel pretty similar IMO (at least the five that I've read), so if you're enjoying the Unconsoled you may enjoy his other books as well, although Never Let Me Go and the Remains of the Day are much more, like, small scale personal stories than what you're describing.

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster may be worth checking out, although I may just be conflating it in my head with the Unconsoled because I read them around the same time (also Waiting for the Barbarians).