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Longer Reads: Overdue Update

October 25, 2009

While I studied for the LSAT and went through the admissions process over the past few months, I haven’t had all that much time to read books. Now that all that is done with, and because I’ll be traveling to places far from this machine’s distraction (although I haven’t made it there yet, and apparently there is WiFi at the park’s headquarters), I’ll now have much more time for reading.

I finished Nabakov’s Invitation to a Beheading yesterday. It is an absurd novel, which I mean in the simple descriptive sense, without any literary overtones. The protagonist Cincinnatus C. has been sentenced to death for ‘gnostical turpitude,’ a crime of which we never learn the definition or Cincinnatus’s specific violation, and his prisoners are maddeningly pathetic, unhelpful and creatively cruel. Cincinnatus doesn’t know when he will be executed and the tension created by this is excruciating, by for him and the reader. More significant than any specifics of the plot are Nabokov’s games that play with the form of the story. Reality is a malleable construct in his hands and, from a lesser writer, the leaps that he makes would undoubtedly fail. Ultimately, Nabokov’s unchainable imagination is what gives the novel its life and make it, well, worth-reading if you have extra time.

I finished Kevin Starr’s California: A History some time ago but I would suggest to anyone who wants to learn more about California but doesn’t have the time to read his much larger and longer series of more detailed books. Starr abridges his encyclopedic knowledge of the Golden State’s history to include  the most significant developments as well as enough context and societal/cultural history to give a sense of how our current multicultural nation-state came into being. He also includes some relatively unknown but fascinating nuggets, such as the Japanese shelling of Santa Barbara oil refineries during World War II.

So now I’m getting back into Dreams from My Father and starting 2666. Both of which are great reads so far. It’s kind of amazing to read about our sitting president’s sporadic drug use (cocaine when he could afford it), which he used to avoid confronting his personal identity issues, and how he quickly recognized that they were just that, an escape, before moving on to find the central purpose of his life. The opening part of 2666 is about four literature professors who are obsessed with a reclusive German author, which, I must say, is right up my alley.

I’ve also brought Borges’ Collected Fictions – a fascinating story (subs. req, unfortunately) from The New Yorker turned me on to him – and I bought Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude at the airport to give me even more South American stuff to read (Bolaño is Chilean). It’s probably enough to last far after my return, though not a hundred years.

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