It’s a rainy Friday night here in Connecticut; I spent much of the day grading papers, but the evening is free, and I plan to do some reading ASAP. I also have a book-buying spree to look forward to on Sunday, when Hobgoblin and I will head out with our special book-buying friends to see what we can find. We will be looking in the Northampton, Massachusetts, area, which seems to have a good number of stores, and I hope to come home with some good things.
I don’t think I ever wrote about seeing Jonathan Franzen and Colson Whitehead a couple weekends ago. It was a book signing at McNally-Jackson bookstore in Manhattan; there was no reading or talk, so I only had brief moment to see the two of them, but it was fun. They both looked tired, which isn’t too surprising as they were both involved in the New Yorker Festival and were at the end of a busy weekend. But both were friendly. Meeting Franzen was a little strange, though, because after he finished signing the book and I was ready to go on my way, he kept looking at me as though he expected me to say something. As I’ve written here recently, I’m too shy to say much to authors at these things, and I just wanted to go, but I had this strange feeling I was disappointing him somehow. Was I supposed to tell him how awesome I think he is? I’m not sure, and I’m probably making it up, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to find some awesome line with which to make my exit. Instead, I just kept smiling and left.
After that, Hobgoblin and I headed over to the fabulous Three Lives bookstore, where I bought Alan Jacobs’s book and also one called The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts. It’s part of what looks like a wonderful “Art of…” series by Graywolf Press. There were several I wanted. Okay, I wanted the whole series. Then we hit the Partners in Crime just a couple blocks away, where I bought the next Mary Russell book A Letter of Mary.
So, uh, I guess I don’t really need to go on a book-buying trip this Sunday. Except, of course, that I do.
For now, I’m in the middle of listening to The Given Day by Dennis Lehane on audio. It’s been totally awesome to listen to. This is my first Lehane, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. It’s historical fiction, set in Boston, mostly, in the years after World War I, and it’s a satisfyingly long tale with great characters, dramatic action, and a fascinating historical backdrop. This is the kind of historical fiction I like, I guess, where there’s a strong sense of context that’s developed in a natural, convincing way and fully-fleshed out characters that get caught up in their historical moment but don’t feel like they are there only to make a point.
I’m also slowly reading William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, which I’ve had on my shelves for ages. It’s quite good, it turns out. I was worried that it might be a little dull, a little too predictable in its structure, and that I might feel as though I were plodding through one variety of religious experience after another. But James’s tone and style are wonderful. I didn’t realize this until recently, but the book is a transcript of lectures he gave, and so his tone is a little bit on the informal side of things and his descriptions and images are great. What I like most is his compassionate tone. What he wants is to understand, not to judge, and he is wonderful at explaining the psychological sources of a whole range of religious behavior, without dismissing the mysterious, spiritual, divine aspect of it.
I am also in the middle of the novel Zeina by Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian writer. But more on that later. I hope you have a wonderful weekend everyone!