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Just finished Ask the Dust by John Fante, a slim novel which didn't live up to the extravagant praise I've heard from Bukowski fans. Henry Miller and Hubert Selby did this kind of thing much better.

I'm currently reading Middlesex, has anyone else read it? I remember it being discussed elsewhere and people were criticizing the fact that it won the pulitzer prize. Maybe not Pulitzer Prize worthy

Several of the pieces in Paris to the Moon appeared earlier as Gopnik's monthly Letters from Paris to The New Yorker. His use of adjectives to describe the weather, the neighborhood, etc impressed me

Finished "The Ring and the Book." Just learned that it's twice as long as "Paradise Lost."  Small print in my edition too.

Now into The History of Madness (unabridged) which is the only major Foucault I never got around to. It is going to be a short read next to the Browning and Terra Nostra.

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Last night, I re-read "Heart of Darkness" by Conrad.  I had thought I last read it an incredibly long time ago, but on reflection I probably read I a second time when I acquired a set of Conrad from Argosy Books  - maybe four or five years ago?

It's interesting how the residue of Apocalypse Now can distort one's recollection of the appearance of Kurtz in the story, which is far from Brando-ish. And it had never occurred to me before, but the end now reminds me of the end of Brighton Rock - but the movie version, which alters Greene's ending.

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An odd one: The Changing Light at Sandover, which might be described as a very long poem, or a collection of individual long poems. Anyway, it's long. It's James Merrill's presentation of countless, and apparently also very long, Ouija board sessions over many years, in which he and his partner make contact with everything and everyone from strangely evolved demons to W.H. Auden.

Doesn't sound good? Actually it is; there's some fine poetry between the disquisitions of the spirits (which are more prosaic), and it unexpectedly has a narrative drive. (I'm halfway through, roughly).


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I've just been hunting down fiction in the apartment I haven't read before. Clearly I am not going to run out for a few months.  Odd list: obviously a number of works lie unread because they're (a) huge, (b) potentially boring, and/or (c) by Charles Dickens.  But there's some good stuff here too. I think.

Kathy Acker, In Memoriam to Identity

Kingsley Amis, The Egyptologists

Jane Austen, the novels which aren't P&P or S&S

Cockton, Valentine Vox, Ventriloquist

Dickens, Pickwick Papers and Edwin Drood

Lawrence Durrell, Tunc and Nunquam

Gautier, the novels which aren't Mlle de Maupin

Grass, Dog Years

Hugo, Les Miserables

Kafka, The Castle

Sinclair Lewis, Ann Vickers

Pasternak, Dr Zhivago

Pushkin, huge anthology

Sir Walter Scott, various

Mark Twain, the collected works and I certainly haven't read all of them*

Douglas Woolf, Wall to Wall


*ETA: That applies to Poe too. Oh and there are short story collections by obvious short story authors which I haven't read right through.

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I will never be able to believe that Conrad wasn't a native English speaker.

I mean, like Nabokov writes great English -- but it doesn't seem like his native tongue.

Conrad, though . . . .

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I wonder if it matters that Nabokov began writing in Russian. Conrad started out as an English language novelist.

Lawrence Durrell, Tunc. Great writing, sentence by sentence, but not sure what is supposed to be interesting about it.


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I finished The Changing Light at Sandover.  In the first two books, Merrill and his partner make Ouija board contact with some unknown spirits, and with some people they actually knew when they were alive, like Auden.  In the third, and longest, book their range of acquaintance with the spirit world encompasses major historical and Biblical figures, and it gets very odd. For a while I disliked it, finding that it interfered with any suspension of disbelief. Then I thought (prompted by his appearance in the text), well Dante did it. And then you kind of realize the scale of Merrill's ambition here.

I'm glad I finished it.

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How are you finding the headspace to read? I completely lack focus/motivation/interest. And prior to this whole thing I was plowing through books. What's your secret?

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I guess everyone is different. My response to a crisis has always been to hide in books (not to mention bottles). Reading, I forget what’s happening around me. 

When this started, I compared each day stuck in a chair in the apartment as a very long plane ride. I handle very long plane rides by reading all the way. One of the absolute joys of 2019 was reading Beckett’s trilogy in two sittings, to the west coast and back.

Admittedly I have dialed back a little on the manic reading after 57 days. My eyes and back were complaining.

One other thing which is personal: there are books and poems I have always put off reading because I didn’t have time. But if I don’t have time now, I never will: hence driving myself through things like Seven Pillars of Wisdom and “The Ring and the Book.” And there are some more of those coming up.


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