Sunday, July 10, 2011

What I'm Reading Now

Cormac McCarthy is considered among the favorites (at least among American novelists) for the Nobel Prize in literature. In any case, he has a reputation as a very great writer, which makes it embarrassing for me to admit that I have never before read one of his books, despite the fact that he has been recommended to me by people I trust on more than one occasion. When he was recommended to me again most recently, while I had my Kindle in tow, I immediately downloaded the recommended book, Suttree (Random House 1992). The book certainly confirms McCarthy's greatness as a writer; his vocabulary and capacity for imaginative flights of literary acrobatics are truly impressive. He also knits a mean yarn. Suttree is a very interesting story to read, and an impressive piece of literature. And yet. And yet, I can't say that I've truly enjoyed reading this book. McCarthy is well-known as a writer of dark stories about dark people. In them, he finds some humor and a surprising amount humanity but mostly darkness. For that reason, I cannot say that reading McCarthy has been an unalloyed pleasure; and I'm not sure he'd want me to be able to say that it has been. The official website of the Cormac McCarthy Society (whatever that is) suggests that "[r]eading Suttree is like sorting through the entrails of an eviscerated saint." I think that about nails it.

David McCullough is among America's greatest living non-fiction authors. His biography, Truman, is among my all-time favorite books. While walking around Costco a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see that he had released a new book, about which I had heard nothing. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Simon and Schuster 2011). Needless to say, I picked it up - anything by David McCullough is self-recommending. It is, in a sense, an antidote to the McCarthy novel described above, a light history of interesting people, ranging from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Samuel Morse to Mark Twain and Mary Cassett, each of whom found lifelong inspiration from the City of Lights. Like all of McCullough's work, it is a great pleasure to read, and chock full of interesting facts, relations, and connections. In contrast to the literary gymnastics of McCarthy (which I do not mean to slight), McCullough writes with a simple elegance that keeps the pages turning almost of their own volition.

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