Monday, October 2, 2017

September Consumption Diary



4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (novel, audiobook)

After getting a sixth of the way in (and writing about it in my August consumption diary) I didn’t listen to Auster’s forking doorstop for a week thanks to time in Invercargill and Stewart Island. 

And it really is the kind of novel you need to read in a sustained burst, as you’re trying to keep four different versions of Fergusson straight in your head. 

Auster is pretty good at differentiating Fergusson 1 from Fergussons 2, 3 and 4, not labouring the differences and not being too repetitive, but it’s still a massive undertaking for a reader to keep everything straight in their head.

Especially when Auster’s two key weapons in sustaining interest and momentum over such a long book are prolepsis (telling us what will happen ahead of time) and ellipsis (leaving things out). I’m particularly fascinated by prolepsis – it’s a move a lot of writers don’t pull. And Auster isn’t a virtuoso like Muriel Spark in the way he uses it – he’s more plodding, more deliberate, less playful. But it’s still fascinating, especially as you need to keep straight which version of Fergusson's future we've been told.

After a few solid hours, I got back in the swing of things and fair devoured the last 20 hours of the audiobook. 

I was about an hour from the end when the Booker short-list was announced. I was surprised by the amount of shade thrown in the direction of 4 3 2 1, which made the cut.

Like this from The Irish Times:

Anyone possessed of a sense of humour will smile at the inclusion of US heavyweight veteran Paul Auster with 4321, a bulky work best described as worthy and a lifetime’s personal statement. Repetitive and unconvincing, it is laboured in the extreme and while it was a surprise to see it on the longlist, its inclusion on the shortlist is a shock. So unlikely a contender as this must be the one to wager your house on; the odds will enable you to purchase several more.

“Worthy”? “Repetitive and unconvincing”? “Laboured in the extreme”? Had the writer read the same book? I suspected Ms Battersby did not make it far, if indeed she ever really tried.

But then, in the novel’s final movements, Auster attempts to tie things up in a way that befits the Master Metafictioneer he showed himself to be with books like City of Glass. But here it only served to unravel what had come before and leave me reluctant to defend his book in online comments sections. Maybe it was laboured and worthy? I mean, I wasn't listening to the same book as Auster was reading.

Still, would I rate this over the only other book on the shortlist I've read (Saunder's Lincoln in the Bardo)? Yup (much as I love Saunders short stories).

Anything is possible by Elizabeth Stout (connected short stories, audiobook)

Last month I read My Name is Lucy Barton, and wrote:

Cool control, that’s how I’d describe Strout’s style. This doesn’t pack the punch of Olive Kitteridge (or even attempt that book’s scope), but it still has teeth. I’ve got Anything is Possible, Strout’s latest queued up as my next read, so I might write more about this one with reference to that.

Anything is possible is certainly closer to Olive Kitteridge in scope, and the fact it picks up where Lucy Barton left off might make it even more ambitious. I got the sense, mid-way into the second book, that both MNiLB and AiP had been originally conceived as a single book of connected stories, but the Lucy Barton section grew too big / had sufficient exit velocity to become its own thing, while the gravity of it still influences the stories/chapters in AiP.

But unlike Olive Kitteridge, which is most memorable for me because of the complex and often nasty eponymous character and the smudges and shadows of her in some of the other stories in that book, Lucy Barton is without malevolence. She’s the poor girl from the troubled family who got out, made a life in New York City and is now a successful author. So hardly Randle Flagg.

Which is why, for all the concise mini-dramas and the elegant interlocking that goes on in Anything is Possible, it’s missing that hook to really hang around in the reader’s memory.

Gone with the mind by Mark Leyner (novel/memoir, audiobook)

Described on the back cover as a “blazingly inventive, fictional autobiography”, Gone with the Mind begins with Leyner’s mother introducing him for a reading series within a mall’s foodcourt. The only people in the audience are workers on their breaks from Panda Express and Sbarro. The mother’s intro (read in the audiobook my his actual mother) runs for over an hour and covers all many of private and embarrassing things. Then Mark Leyner gets up and gives a few prefatory words before reading excerpts from his autobiography, Gone with the Mind, only these remarks take six or so hours and he never gets to the excerpts. There’s a final section in which Mark and his mother discuss the reading in a bathroom stall.

The book has blurbs from Gary Shteyngart (don’t they all) and Sam Lipsyte, and these two writers give a pretty good indication of what Leyner’s doing. He loves long medical names and short but impenetrable lapses into theory. His main interlocutor is an imaginary friend (The Imaginary Intern). But amid these deliberately high-grown weeds, there’s a lot of exposure, or apparent exposure. It’s an eloquent, truthy book for an ineloquent, truthy time.

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (memoir, audiobook)

Following closely on the heels of Leyner’s fictional autobiography we have Patricia Lockwood’s poetic memoir. Leyner wrote his book as a 58 year old prostate cancer survivor. Lockwood writes from her early thirties, having limped back to her family home with her husband in tow, for financial reasons. Her father, the improbable Republican, boxer shorts and nothing else, misogynist, guitar hero Catholic priest, is held up as star and hook for the book, but her mother is equally complex and interesting (and gets more time at the mic).

Lockwood writes of her poetry, including publishing the viral hit ‘Rape Joke’ and her first collection, but always with a remove that doesn’t exist when laying bare the working of her family. But her poetic vision and poetic muscle is laid clear enough in the prose of every page, and is given free(ish) rein in the final pages in order to wrap up a memoir as someone in their thirties must (not with knots but frills and flourishes).


I played quite a bit of NBA2k18 to see what gaming in 2017 is like. This is part of what might become a project, or an event, or something I abandon. Who knows?


I didn’t watch much of anything in September. I think because I was away a lot and playing NBA2k18 and have been listening to audiobooks while cooking/doing dishes rather than watching something on the iPad. But I’m trying to watch old movies on Kanopy, two of which I watched with my daughter (4). She wasn’t that into Nanook of the North (it held my interest) but we both loved Buster Keaton’s The General. My October project is getting through all the Kurosawas I can with my wife (she hasn’t seen any).

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