My husband and I have switched genres. For years we both read the classics. We met in a classics class.
Then I switched to new books. (It was partly for my job.) He continued to read the classics.
Now he has switched to new books. I’m back to the classics.
Recently he read the latest Erdrich and The Collected Stories of Barry Hannah. I’m dying to read the Erdrich. Still, I have a bone to pick. My wacky theory is that if you’re reading mostly books reviewed in The New Yorker (which I’ve often done), you’re not really reading “new” books. When you’re guided by the essays of James Wood, Hilton Als, or Alexandra Schwartz, you’re reading such a tiny percentage of what’s published that it is not “new” but “New Yorker.” (I’m hoping I’ve deconstructed “new.”) Every intellectual from coast to coast will read Ferrante, Rachel Cusk, and Katie Kaitamura. We love Ferrante, but I am quite sure you need to browse sometimes and try something strange. Though maybe if I were guided by The New Yorker, I’d strike out less often.
My cousin recently put a hold on my library card (supposedly for fines) but actually because she was sick of my ordering “The Complete Books of Tedious Windbags” through interlibrary loan, as she said.
“Read something new!”
I adore Turgenev and Tolstoy (their names must begin with T), but even I must take a break from “translatese.” And I love James, but can’t always be ecstatic over his beautiful use of participles.
So what new books am I reading?
1. Laura van den Berg’s Find Me. This literary dystopian novel, published in 2015, is eerie and gorgeous. A plague of forgetfulness has descended on the U.S. and wiped out much of the population, but the narrator, Joy, is immune, a survivor among empty streets and overflowing garbage. She has no one: she grew up in foster homes and group homes , and worked in a convenience store, taking Robitussin for highs. One day a doctor approaches her and takes her with several survivors to a hospital in Kansas. They are locked in and can’t commune with the outside world, while the doctor and nurse supposedly work on a cure for the outside world. But eventually Joy escapes, in search of her mother, whom she has googled on the internet.
Van den Berg is s stunning writer, and this is much, much better than most of the dystopian novels that have hit the market in recent years.
2. Ann Hood’s The Book That Matters Most. Ann Hood is a “middlebrow” writer, and I very much enjoy her novels. Her style is simple and clear, which I wish I could say for every writer. A few years ago I loved The Obituary Writer, which I wrote about here. Recently, looking for a light read, I picked up a copy of her new novel, The Book That Matters Most.
Is it a light read? Well, not so much. It intertwines the stories of a mother and a daughter: Ava, a French professor, is grieving for her beloved husband, who has left her for an exhibitionist knitter who puts sweaters and mufflers on local statues and is often on the TV news. Ava joins an elite book group, run by her friend, for distraction, while her daughter Maggie, who has had many problems, is living in Paris as a kind of junkie hostage of an art dealer who supplies her with drugs. Her mother thinks she’s in Florence. She thinks Maggie is doing well.
It is a very odd, uneven book, and so I am stuck. Why? Because Ava doesn’t read the books for her book group. When they read Pride and Prejudice, and she watches the movie, I am disappointed. Will she eventually read one of the books? And I am not that interested in Maggie’s story.
It is a bit rocky so far, but I will continue. Hood will bring it together, I’m sure.
ARE YOU READING SOMETHING NEW? And who or what is your guide?
The only new books that I’ve read recently are Commonwealth and LaRose. Louise Erdrich is one of the few contemporary writers I reliably enjoy. We also just listened to the audio book which she narrates; an excellent reading. I have finished William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows and am beginning his So Long, See You Tomorrow. Hardly new books. Yesterday at the library’s bookstore I found a lovely hard cover copy of Tolstoy’s The Forged Coupon and Other Stories. The book was printed in 1911 and has an inscription inside (beautiful handwriting) dated 1913. Also a fine hard cover of Doctor Zhivago for $1.00 to replace my cheap paperback. I’m firmly anchored in the classics!
I agree about Erdrich. She is so good: maybe the Nobel would consider her? And you can’t go wrong with the Russians.
I am reading Dark Money by Jane Mayer, a book from 2016 so I suppose that qualifies as “new.” WOW. I am such a political ignoramus, but even I can get the point here: ultraconservative libertarian billionaires have accomplished a secret takeover of our political system, planned over the past forty years. It seems astonishing that no one saw this coming, but they were really good at the “secret” part. I hope everyone will read this book and get wise to what’s going on, at least.
Sounds like a fascinating book. Yes, 2016 is new. I consider anything for the last 10 years new!
I’ll go you one farther…After 40 years reading new books for Warner Bros, when I retired, I made the vow never to read another new novel unless highly necessary (for instance, if a friend wrote it). I’d collected literally thousands of delicous OLD books over a lifetime, that I hadn’t read, because I had to read the stupid new ones for work. So I decided to read THEM, and nothing but them! I have enough to keep me for several lifetimes more, and need read nothing written after 1950. This doesn’t include non-fiction, of course – books about Venice and great houses and history and biography and bibelots and food and travel. Just fiction. A retired reader can do pretty much as she likes!
Oh my God, reading new books for a living could be very trying. There is some good stuff out there, but… most dies out after 10 years or so. So much fun to read old books. I’m sure you have a great collection. There’s nothing like living in a used bookstore, I’ve decided. LIke Michael Dirda the book critic, we’re thinking about getting a “book shed.”
I *am* reading a new book, oddly enough- “A Gentleman in Moscow” which obviously has a particular interest for me, and so far is fascinating. I’m picky about new books – I tend to go for those where the subject matter might pull me in. And I don’t always like new writing, but I have to say that this one is pretty good so far!
I’ve heard good things about A Gentleman in Moscow. (Cynthia recommended it the other day.) It’s always good to be picky.
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For decades I’ve had a ‘dead author’ rule. With fiction, I read to escape, to live in other places in time or geographically. I may be simple, but I like linear stories. New literary fiction (I do read new mysteries and non-fiction), tends to be too much like real life and, I think, is often gimmicky and not very interesting. I’m perfectly happy reading in the past.
You know, I agree! There are some good books out there, and I do intend to read more new books this year, but it is really hard to winnow them out because some are just for this time, and we don’t know that till much later. Many are overrated. The chaff from the wheat has already been sifted with old books!