What I Read in July

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach. The best book I have read since Franzen’s Freedom and Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Harbach gets the modern game of baseball right, but what dynamizes the book is the honest interactions among the four male characters each intent on their obsessions and the one female who is trying to find her place in and around them. Allusions to classic literature, particularly Melville but also the mythic baseball novels of W. P. Kinsella, are not forced. It feels as complete as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay did.

The Same Terrible Storm, Sheldon Lee Compton. Compton’s stories are about heartache and physical ache and people with ropy muscles and demons and an underlying bitterness at the unforgiving landscape that makes escape from those demons impossible. He immerses you so deep in a place you can hear the porches creak and smell the truck exhaust and feel the wind blow dust in your ear.

[PANK] # 5. I bought this back issue along with a [PANK] t-shirt because a number of the contributors (including the aforementioned Compton) were familiar to me. My favorite pieces were two short stories about ambivalent young protagonists: Neal Peters’ “Sulfur” and Gabriel Welsch’s “The Burdens of Being Progressive,” which opens with the can’t-miss line: “One Tuesday, Kathy decides to write CUNT with a red magic marker in the bottom of Happy Meal boxes.”

The Groucho Letters, Groucho Marx. I found this used hardcover in the Strand for 20 dollars. The years spanned by this collection start when Groucho and his brothers are well past the twilight of their film careers. (Zeppo doesn’t even get a mention.) There is a lengthy exchange with the television writer and humorist Goodman Ace, who I hadn’t heard of before, but it’s clear throughout the back-and-forth that Groucho retains the edge in wit. More interesting is Groucho’s correspondence with people outside the industry whom he admires, including T. S. Eliot and Joseph N. Welch (most notable for lambasting McCarthy with the line, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” as Special Counsel for the Army during the McCarthy hearings).

Masscult and Midcult, Dwight Macdonald. A collection of curmudgeonly essays by the Cold War-era critic, produced in a new edition by NYRB Classics. Picked it up mainly because a modern critic whom I admire, Louis Menand, penned the introduction. Covers such subjects as the Book-of-the-Month Club, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (a subject obviously near and dear to my heart), and what he calls Tom Wolfe’s “parajournalism” (coined apparently before “New Journalism” took hold. Informative though dated, and not as enlightening to read today as, say, Trilling or Sontag.

The Common #3. Where the beautifully produced journal of Amherst College shines most is in its essays, specifically Bret Anthony Johnston’s “A Skimpy Primer on Skateboard Wheels” and Rolf Potts’ “Tourist Snapshots,” a discourse on photography with nods to Sontag and Roland Barthes, told through images captured by the author in his travels.

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