It's been a long time. Currently:
The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts : I should add “by Henry Louis Gates,” as everyone in class is in a tizzy over whether his involvement with the publication of this recently discovered manuscript borders on the unethical. The narrative itself is a fine Gothic, with well-developed fictional devices and shades of House of the Seven Gables and its dead men’s curses (and apparently eerily similar to Bleak House at times), not nearly as inadequate as the unknown Hannah Crafts lets on.
Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s by Gerald Horne : Horne has a peculiar writing style. I can tell he’s a true scholar because there is often no logical flow between sentences. He is also not afraid to reference Raymond Chandler, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, etc. when it suits him, but that is indicative of the ambitious and thoroughly contextualizing project of this book.
The Garies and Their Friends by Frank Webb : Here’s another antebellum African American novel that is very much beholden to Dickens—though I guess I’m inclined to find his influence in any work with a multitude of characters. The book’s politics are fairly ambiguous, though I think there’s a biting irony in its adjectives, its “Brutus is an honorable man” rhetoric. Unrespectable “respectable individuals” abound. One of my favorite moments of overstatement: a buffoonish cook described as the “reigning sovereign of the culinary kingdom.” And her poor ravaged cat!
Berlin: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes : Book Two! I’m really invested in this now. The first issue in this volume ends with four pages of a band in a Berlin nightclub. The panels are wordless and show the musicians in poses of performance. I suppose Lutes is trying to capture music in comic book form, and the attempt is interesting if somewhat baffling (am I supposed to recognize the melody?). The reactions of the audience are likewise difficult to read. But it is no surprise that Lutes is infinitely smarter than me.
Other recent reads:
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson : I was resentful of having to read this book, as it is such a high school cliché, but I’m not surprised that it is very entertaining. The book is littered with passé 60s drug culture lingo, but Thompson is a fine writer and has a strong sense of morality. It’s in his paranoia. And who ever goes east in American literature?
Our Nig by Harriet Wilson : Also “discovered” by Henry Louis Gates, another gift from him to African American lit Ph.D. students. Finds like this are what make the field so fashionable today, but that fact also makes it difficult to judge their literary qualities removed from their historical importance (and the authors are always so elusive). Is this entertaining? It is, and brutal, and vengeful, and well-told, with an evil villain.
The Coast of Chicago is poetic prose (not prose poems) for the unpoetry crowd. “Pet Milk” is in my mind one of the weaker stories, though I do like the sense at the end that someone exists today who is you when you were younger. There’s a piece about an abstract movie that is intensely visual in a way that a movie can’t be. My favorite stories here are the ones that focus on wayward formative years in blighted Chicago, which Dybek clearly lived. He’s a masterful writer, though this collection isn’t united enough to stand alongside Winesburg, I guess because Chicago is not a small town. Still...fantastic stuff.
Other good things of late:
Rachel Getting Married
Secrets and Lies
The West Wing