Today’s viewer mail: An impassioned plea for a good book.
I bet you know of some books I should be reading. I don’t like the classics and think they are boring.
Sorry if this sounds rude.
Rude? The spirit of your request is fair. You want something good and you want it now.
So I’ll start with a previously-mentioned Highsmith novel: The Tremor of Forgery. Graham Greene described it as a “novel of apprehension.” Highsmith made her fortune in that trade; we aren’t certain which character to root for, though we certainly know which characters to root against. The Talented Mr. Ripley gets more play (the film helped) but look to TTOF for a writer operating at her peak. The story is efficient, tense, and sharp—exactly what you want in fiction, and not at all what you’d want in a friend.
Here’s Highsmith in her younger days:
And here she is in her older days:
Coco Chanel said: “Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.” I’m guessing a lifetime of vitriol and racism ages one faster than cigarettes and sun.
A word (or two, or three) about the books you should be reading: Says who? Should is such an annoying word, reminiscent of compulsory love (cue raised hackles) and universal standards about what constitutes great literature. I read for pleasure—stop me if you’ve heard this before—and for no other reason. I’m serious. For no other reason. I don’t read to learn (though learning is a wonderful bonus) or to make myself more interesting at parties (as if that ever worked) or to improve my own art (no pleasure=no hope of imitation). Read what you enjoy and damn the rest.
The release of BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2013 is upon us. I’m honored to be a part of the collection, and no, I’m not flashing obligatory modesty by way of playing the “aw shucks!” card. I’m grateful and flattered that I get to share book-space with the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Barlow, Michael Connelly, and a bunch of other gifted writers. Otto Penzler and Lisa Scottoline collected the stories, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt packaged and published.
So where can you buy it? Oh, in many places. I recommend IndieBound, along with the usual haunts. Here’s what it looks like:
So what else is going on. That untitled video game project with DREAMPAINTERS SOFTWARE has entered the prototype phase; I’ll post some of the designs as they arrive. I leave for London this Friday, heading to Kingston University to meet with grad students and give a reading from my new novel (event details may be found here). This will be my second public reading from IN SEARCH OF ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, the first being at a bookstore in Hamburg, NY, attended by a very small gathering of intrepid souls who braved a February snowstorm. I hadn’t yet finished the book and was curious as to how it sounded in the public space. It sounded better than I expected. Heartening, indeed. Though not predictive of anything.
After three seasons of Breaking Bad, I gave up. Comparisons to The Wire, Mad Men, and The Sopranos are overblown–BB is too one-note and too predictable to reach that top tier, despite the (mostly) excellent performances and smooth writing. Its accolades remind me of the far-too-generous praise heaped on The West Wing (a result of the era, rather than the work itself). Just as The Sopranos should’ve won every major category every year, so too should Mad Men sweep the Emmys. Why didn’t they/don’t they? Timeliness. Breaking Bad reflects the hopelessness of a prolonged recession, the shattering of the impotent-middle-class-white-male myth, and the eternal appeal of Jekyll/Hyde archetypes (none of these are criticisms, btw). TS and MM trade in bigger themes; the stakes are far greater, despite the dramas being kept very small. At the risk of hyperbole, TS and MM show cosmic-sized battles. They approach spiritual crises from an oblique angle. BB hits nearly everything on the nose; its greatest sin lies in its obviousness.