For Christmas last week I gave myself Poe Ballantine's collection of essays, Things I Like About America. That's how I roll these days - under the guise of a holiday, I give myself the books I want to read. This is really the only legitimate way they're going to get into the house, covered in Christmas wrapping paper, since I've been tasked with cutting down on the overgrown library. Our house is one floor, about 1000 square feet, with a garage/basement below. (I would say that the basement is for boxes of books, but my wife would differ, I'd think.) The bottom line is that I've had a substantial wall of bookshelves filling one room in the house for the last 4 years. Some shelves are double-stacked, so there's maybe a couple thousand volumes there. Which is kinda too many. So I've been chipping away at the stacks, either designating some for removal from my life or banishment to the garage until a later date. One comes in, one goes out - that's the rule. Sigh...
Anyway, this Poe Ballantine book... I'm totally chugging the Poe kool-aid now. He's the real deal, totally awesome, moved to the top of my favorites list. The best sentences I read this week were from his essay How I Lost My Mind and Other Adventures - which is about his decision to scrap a career in academia and begin drifting across the plains again. Which leads him to some pretty serious suicidal thoughts and a deep, deep depression.
I have always believed that it is better to leave town than to take your life.And describing a fellow depressive - this lonely woman that he just met in Lincoln, Nebraska:
...she was a dental technician with a cheap apartment and two kids and sad blue eyes an a loneliness like a well in the ground with the splashing sound thirty seconds after you drop the rock.Anyhow, I'm totally sold on Poe - above and beyond even what I thought after I read Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. These essays are conversational, hilarious, moving, truthful, and beautifully constructed. How he's struggled to get published and noticed all these years is fucking beyond me.
I've also been reading Marcel Theroux's novel, Strange Bodies, which comes out in February from FSG. Sort of a modern frankenstein thing - the narrator seems to be inhabiting a body that is not originally his own. (And no one believes him, of course.) He also describes a series of encounters with what seems to be Samuel Johnson's mind in the body of an overweight Russian guy. Totally weirdo. I'm digging it, but keep passing it up in favor of the Ballantine book - of which I have only one essay left to read.
And last week, during and around Christmas, I read Paul Lynch's forthcoming Red Sky In Morning. I really liked it until the final act, which read - not like a cop-out necessarily, but it had such a flat, depressing conclusion it really bummed me out. In 1830's Ireland, Coll Coyle accidentally kills a wealthy landowner who's father is a maniacal, murderous sociopath who will stop at literally nothing to kill Coll in kind. He chases him all the way across the Atlantic to a railroad camp in Pennsylvania where everyone seems to contract cholera. Hooray! Lynch's prose is quite sharp and the landscape, characters, & atmosphere all really come to life... however... SPOILER ALERT from here on out: I hated the ending. Coll and this madman Faller really, really need to confront each other. I mean, the whole plot is driving toward that seemingly inevitable meeting - only it never happens... Which makes the whole thing completely fizzle in the end. Even if the bad guy wins in the end, it's better to have some sort of resolution to the driving force behind the lives of these guys. To just have one shit himself to death & the other get killed by some other no-name loser... But hey, other than that, great book!
See you next week!