New Books Grab Bag, December 2008

Here are some recent books that have appealed to me, and might appeal to you:

The Truth About Lou by Angel von der Lippe

A fictional account of Lou Salome’s acquaintances with Rainer Marie Rilke, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche, inspired by the author’s own real-life family connection with Lou Salome.

It’s great to see these fascinating 19th Century thinkers mined for drama (and it’s interesting that a similar story is told in Irvin Yalom’s novel When Nietzsche Wept, which was also made into a film.)

Cooperative Village by Frances Madeson

A charming and surreal Lower East Side romp that begins when a bemused housewife finds a dead old lady’s body on the laundry room floor, decides to put the body through a spin cycle to freshen it up before notifying the family and police, and then gets into all kinds of trouble with the government. Ms Madeson has also presented this rather unique story as a one-woman play.

Genius and Heroin by Michael Largo

Largo, author of a recent death compendium called Final Exits here examines and annotates the culture of transgression in similarly clinical detail. A broadly encyclopedic but eclectic and satisfyingly intellectual sweep, ranging from Boudicca to Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Chris Farley to Franz Kafka to Tupac Shakur.

Oxford American’s Writer’s Thesaurus by many contributors including Zadie Smith, the late David Foster Wallace, Francine Prose, David Lehman, Simon Winchester and Rick Moody

Wisely realizing that they have to spruce up their Thesaurus with value-add commentary to compete with online versions, Oxford American assembles an impressive and street-start cast of postmodern writers to contribute “Word Notes” and other inserts along with the regular indexed content. A successful effort, I think, and a nice parting gesture from David Foster Wallace.

Family Planning by Karan Mahajan

Mahajan, a young debut novelist, turns in a comic tale about a man in New Delhi who suffers from an unsatisfiable compulsion to have more and more children (in a society that encourages small families) and finds himself pretending to be a pro-Hindu fanatic obsessed with rising Muslim birthrates in India to cover up the more personal and romantic motivations for his rampant fathering.

Best American Short
Stories 2008
edited by Salman Rushdie

This is the only book on this list that I can’t recommend. I try to read the Best American Short Stories (proudly published by Houghton Mifflin) every year, but I could barely sludge through most of the ruminative, chic, flat postmodernist displays that Salman Rushdie considers the very cream of the crop in 2008, and if there are a few more editions like this one (the last great Best American Short Stories selection was by Michael Chabon in 2005) I’m just going to drop the habit completely. These stories read as if Salman Rushdie chose 20 younger authors to exemplify all the worst habits of his own fiction: endless playfulness, diagrammatic conceptual plots, lack of emotion.

Troia: Mexican Memoirs by Bonnie Bremser

A chronicle of a fugitive family life in Mexico and America during the early hippie era. Bonnie Bremser travelled with her husband, Beat poet Ray Bremser, as he escaped an armed robbery charge. A stark true story in the Beat, all-too-Beat tradition, featuring an introduction by Ann Charters.

The Kissing Bug by Daniel Scott Buck

A fanciful and strange children’s story about bugs, with a rich Victorian tone, beautifully illustrated by E. B. Harris.

4 Responses

  1. Apropos nearly nothing, did
    Apropos nearly nothing, did you read the NY Times magazine this week? There was an interesting article about David Foster Wallace’s undergraduate thesis refuting fatalism that really underscored the breadth of his knowledge. Also a great short piece on John Maynard Keynes that seems appropriate at the moment, and serves to remind one of a time when people actually practiced bottom up logic rather than top down.

    Any interest in the Millhauser book of stories? That is on my X-mas list.

  2. I love these picks,
    I love these picks, especially the Thesaurus…In teaching vocabulary, I am constantly in pursuit of communicating my passion for dissecting a word to find its precise application. Thesauri are too often grouping words that are similar, but off the mark in terms of precise usage.

  3. thanks for the capsules,
    thanks for the capsules, looks like some good stuff there to check out. i think you sum up the problem i have with rushdie’s writing. i tried ‘midnight’s children’, couldn’t even get 50 pages in, and it’s reputation makes me wonder whether the failing is on me, but i can say this with certainty about another one of his –> me : ‘shalimar’ :: greil marcus : ‘self-portrait’

    rubaio thanks for the heads up on the dfw article, i like its premise but i have to defend him against this claim:

    “It was a defining tension: the very conceptual tools with which he pursued life’s most desperate questions threatened to keep him forever at a distance from the connections he struggled to make.”

    ok, maybe, but dfw knew this. the other option was to go back to dh lawrence or somebody and write scarequote straight novels. or he could go forward and try to push things and create something that goes beyond what the postmodernists and their predecessors did, do something that maybe combines postmodern tics with something genuine, stalk off into the overgrowth with machete in hand and etc etc. in other words, props for defining the problem and then trying to overcome it without moving backward.

  4. Am very happy to get the
    Am very happy to get the update about Best American Short Stories 2008 because I would’ve just bought it on impulse when I saw it.
    The ony book I am reading from 2008 is the graphic novel A People’s History of American Empire by Zinn, Konopacki and Buhle. It is worth a look.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!