Monday, November 14, 2011

A Weekend In Books

I'm a little over halfway through Death In Venice and Other Stories, the Thomas Mann collection I'm reading. "A Man and His Dog" is the current story, and it's pretty good. I'm not sure where all the symbolism is leading (some stuff about expectations versus reality and reality being pretty fine even if it falls short of expert opinion), but I like it so far. The stories here are a bit uneven in quality, by which I mean that sometimes Mann could be pedantic and that's not so enjoyable for this reader. "Death in Venice" is a well-crafted story but I think that it's become a standard text because of Mann's (perfect) formal control over the narrative elements, not because it necessarily is his most beautiful or human effort. Because it's not. "Disorder and Early Sorrow" gets my vote for that, today at least. It is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read, and I was tempted to quote passages of it but really you must read the whole thing because every line of it is sympathetic and lovely and true. "Tonio Kroger" started out as a heartfelt character study but degenerated into a long series of monologues about Art and I was glad to be shut of it. "Mario and the Magician" proves that Mann had a healthy sense of humor and could laugh at himself. The bits about the protagonist and his family facing off with the locals is hysterically funny. I'll be interested to read the rest of the stories in the collection. Will I go on to read Mann's novels? I haven't decided yet.

I interrupted my reading of Mann for an impulse reading of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, which I've not laid eyes on since about 1978. I just wanted to read something escapist, you know? Anyway, what surprised me again and again was how good the book is. The writing is pretty solid and even knowing, actually, and I was struck by the fact that Tolkien's protagonists aren't forced to carry out the climax action of the principal conflict. That is to say, Bilbo doesn't kill the dragon (and in LOTR, Frodo doesn't destroy the Ring). You could not get away with that in today's publishing marketplace. I amuse myself with imagined conversations between Tolkien and his agent.

Some books also somehow found their way into our house: Nabokov's Pale Fire to be reread sometime in 2012, a couple of Camus titles (The Fall which I love and which was the first Camus I read, decades ago; and another novel I've not read yet and whose title escapes me), The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier because it got good reviews and has an interesting premise (the dead enjoy afterlives only as long as they are remembered by living people on Earth and so souls will eventually fade away from Heaven or wherever it is and dead folks are desperate to be remembered; all of which sounds very sad so Right Up My Alley). An armload of new books from Mighty Reader's employer, as well. I also recently bought Marina Neary's historical novel Brendan Malone, The Last Fenian because it's about an Irishman and because Ms Neary emailed me and told me I might like her books. So we'll see, Ms Neary. I hope I do like it.

I made no progress on the first draft of Go Home, Miss America but I did have a great idea for the middle section of the upcoming Antarctica novel that's got me very excited. Now I need a great idea for the third section of that same novel. This week I plan to finish Chapter 4 of Go Home, Miss America and begin work on Chapter 5. That should put me about 25% of the way through the first draft, I think. I'm not sure how long the middle of the book will be. It depends on if I want to include the Violet chapter, which will maybe be something like the Addie episode in As I Lay Dying or maybe something like the Molly Bloom chapter in Ulysses. I have not decided yet, but it seems like an attractive idea for now.

Also, I should say something about how my agent and I have parted ways, and that seems sufficient enough for now.


  1. Scott, I'm sorry to hear about your agent.

  2. It's not like she's dead or anything! Weronika and I parted company on good terms and I wish her well. My novels are postmodernist creations that play formal games and allude to other novels and she's just baffled as to how to market them. Publishers have not been falling over themselves to offer contracts for the two novels that have been out on submission this year. Meanwhile, I make plans to write more such books.

  3. That's interesting. I read Death in Venice about twenty years ago and thought, at the time, that it was the most emotionally affecting story I'd ever read. But I followed it up with Tonio Kroger and thought exactly what you did about it. I wonder what I would think about those stories today.

  4. Scott, I'm sorry about Weronika as well, but you already know that from our correspondence. In other news, I just got your book...

  5. Jabez: Mann must be weaving some kind of spell with Death In Venice, because when I was reading it I thought it was the greatest, most moving thing I'd ever read. But when I read the first dozen or so pages of Tonio I thought they were much warmer and deeply insightful than Death was, until of course Mann ruined them by getting all preachy about Art and Artists. I nearly quit reading the collection at that point, and I'm glad I didn't. I may be moving toward re-reading a bunch of stuff I read in my 20s. I know I am, in fact.

    Michelle: Yay, book! And, as I said to Davin today via email, bigger and better for all of us in 2012!

  6. I can't wait to check my mail this evening. I hope I got your book too! Otherwise, I will assume the postal service is leading some sort of conspiracy. Really those are the only two options. I like the idea of an impulse read. I get that a lot. I usually turn to Banana Yoshimoto, but lately it has been Harry Potter.