I’ve become more of a re-reader of books lately than a reader of books. I don’t always have the patience to wait new books out to see if they are good when there are so many other books that I have read before and that I still obtain pleasure from re-reading.
The latest examples:
The Complete Amber Chronicles, by Roger Zelazny
This was early university reading for me, escapist stuff that I used for distraction while I was trying to avoid thinking about first-year engineering classes, a busted relationship, etc. In re-reading it while on my latest travel jag I was as hooked as ever, with it impressing me once again how Zelazny combined noir, fantasy, and pulp detective novels to create an exhaustingly over-plotted story that is just right for we ADD sorts.
Selected Non-Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges
I’ve loved Borges for ages, since at least high school when I discovered his Labyrinths collection and he messed up my mind for ages with metaphysical musings like “The Library of Babylon” and “Pierre Menard, Author of the ‘Quixote’”. I didn’t realize at the time that Borges was also a wildly skilled non-fiction style too, so I slowly collected his non-fiction pieces, and then capped it all off in 2000 with this collection, which contains everything from movie reviews (“King Kong”!), to book prologues (including an unforgettable one about Melville’s “Bartleby”) , to a magisterial essay on Kafka that argues great authors reassemble the past, ex post, to create their own precursors.
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton
The day before his death Chesterton called this book a “very melodramatic sort of moonshine”, and on one level it is. After all, it contains a bizarre-o London where out-of-work philosophers works in anti-anarchist pod within the police department, and the book contains both an elephant chase and a hot-air-balloon pursuit. But on another level the book is beautifully strange and unsettling, with the plot headed implacably to a conclusion that is sort of predictably unpredictable, but that contains a great deal of insight about truth, honor, and idealism.
Kafka for Beginners, with illustrations by Robert Crumb
Like many people who do a Ph.D., mid-doctorate I discovered all sorts of other interests, from softball, to juggling, to German literature, to equity research. Pretty much anything became absolutely absorbing when the alternative was finishing up a dissertation. Well, this Crumb-illustrated comic-book on Kafka was part of the German literature phase, and it was wonderful stuff, with R. Crumb the perfect person to be illustrating discussions of “The Trial” and “The Hunger Artist”. Crumb’s drawings, choked with pathologies and neuroses of his own, are complementary and additive to Kafka own desperately Gordian stories.