Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Summer Reading: August 2011
For me summer reading takes place in the month of August. June and July are by most hectic working months and, up here, September is not really summer.
I started with the Atlantic Summer Fiction issue, which I read cover-to-cover. That fact alone is an endorsement. Stuart Dybek was a highlight (when isn’t he?”) back in “Hot Ice” territory with “Vigil,” and a guy named Jonathon Walter, whose bio reads “Jonathon Walter lives in Wisconsin,” does the dust bowl in “the Great Zero.”
Then I read Jim Harrison’s The Farmer’s Daughter, another set of three novellas, one featuring the recurring character, Brown Dog. I never get tired of Harrison. And, am astounded that he seems to be writing a book a year, even though he looks like someone who has come back from the dead (if not from liver failure). He has a new novel coming out soon, and is one of the few writers whose work I buy sight unseen. If he wrote it, I’m reading it.
Then, influenced by Jonathan Rosen’s article in The New Yorker on Wilkie Collins, I picked up a used copy of Dan Simmons’ Drood, about Collins and Dickens. I worshiped Simmons’ The Terror when I read it last winter and I think I’d follow him almost anywhere, so why not to Victorian England, where he already was more or less when he wrote The Terror? But having acquired Drood I remembered (duh!) that I’ve never actually read Collins, so I snagged a copy of The Woman in White. Which was surprising in its rhetorical sophistication. (Note to self: do not lightly dismiss them Victorians.) I loved it and which took up a lot of “lake time” up in Michigan, Labatt’s in hand.
At this point in the month I shifted from lake country to mountain country and began reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts - On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (1977). I hadn’t known about Fermor until alerted to him by my long-time climbing patrtner John McInerney, who was also reading Fermor. Fermor had died early this summer at the age of 96; he was widely regarded as England’s greatest travel writer. The book is astounding for two reasons: its erudition and its innocence. The three year journey he writes about took place in the early 1930s, before the Nazi stranglehold on Europe. The book ends mid-journey and I can’t wait to read the next installment, primarily because I did not have a dictionary at hand and the man’s vocabulary is staggering.
I finished Fermor in the airport in Denver and picked up a paperback copy of Charles Wu’s How to Live Safely in Science Fiction Universe. It’s more Calvino-ish than Niffenberger-ish, if that means anything to you. I am reading this now, but was distracted over the Labor Day weekend by 55 ways to the Wilderness in South Central Alaska by Helen Nienhauser and John Wolfe Jr. We spent the weekend in Seward where the steady downpour did not prevent us from exploring no fewer than four of the 55 ways. An awesome time.
In the month of August I formulate my writing plan for the fall, my most productive time. Check. But I tend not to speak of such plans: bad juju. I also find that I am compelled to acquire set of books that for whatever reasons have been swirling around my mind in the weeks prior. Thus, one of my first orders of business upon returning to the real (non-vacation) world is to place a few orders.
The first thing I ordered was The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje. Why? Am I interested in editing film? No. Nor writing it. I am, however, interested in writing scenes. Two different writers at Kachemak Bay recommended this book, which came to me out of the blue. I love Ondaatje, of course. I had known nothing of Murch. Turns out that he edited The English Patient for the film version and also, won an academy award for sound on Apocalypse Now. Sold.
I had an Amazon coupon for $30, so I bit on the third volume of Jiro Taniguchi and Yummajura Baku’s Summit of the Gods. These are graphic novels set in the mountaineering world. I loved the first two volumes and am pre-committed to the next three—can’t wait for the third to arrive. They’re gorgeous books, by the way.
For a long time I have wanted to read Werner Herzog’s Walking in Ice-Paris 23 November to Munich 14 November. Fermor’s story of travel in Europe on foot has pushed me to explore Herzog’s story. I had just read Herzog’s Conquerors of the Useless about the experience of making Fitzcarraldo, which I watched again recently to see if it was as crazy as my memory told me it was. Confirmed. The new book has already arrived. It is an elegant and very simple paperback. Can’t wait.
Dang. While researching a new mountaineering title I noticed that there are at least a dozen climbing books with the word “last” in the title. Why this preoccupation of climbers with “last” things? So I ordered a used copy of Roskelly’s Last Days for further exploration off this topic. I’ll get back to you on this.
Yesterday I found, quite by accident, a mint hardcover copy of Leigh Ortenburger’s Climbers Guide to the Tetons. 1956. I had never seen such an edition (I own three later editions, including the colossal posthumous edition published with Rennie Jackson.) Ortenburger, by the way, survived a life of mountaineering, only to perish fleeing the great Oakland fire, in the late 1990s (I think). They were almost literally giving the book away. Had to have it.
We were warned long ago (Ecclesiastes, I think) that “of the making of books there is no end.” Nor of the reading (or, gulp, acquiring) of them. If you've read this far, you're probably as daft as I am!