As I don’t know what else to do with myself on vacation, I read.
On the trip down, I read Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner. The kind people at Wisdom Publications sent me a copy a couple of years ago when I was running Popshot. It sat on my shelf until last week when I picked it up on a whim and didn’t want to stop reading. I raced through it in the car and really enjoyed it. With it, former Zero Defex bassist Warner has written a memoir, overview of Buddhism and primer on Zen. It’s a quick, easy read and an intriguing introduction to Buddhism.
Day one on the beach, I read Little Children by Tom Perrotta. He’s best known for writing Election, the novel that became the movie classic starring my homegirl Reese Witherspoon. Obviously, I enjoyed the novel enough to whip through it in one day. Perotta writes in a modern pop style with an emphasis on characters not descriptions. With more meat, Perotta’s suburban send-up might approach John Irving character-study territory, but Perotta is content to stay near the surface of his subject. It’s a fine choice for a story about yuppie mothers and fathers — the liberal arts grad student who’s all granola, the frat boy jock who’s unbelievably handsome — but some more depth would have been welcome in this tale about disillusioned parents.
My real beef is with the ending. Though I’ve been accused of it myself (and will cop to it occassionally), the novel ends suddenly. I’m not academic enough to know when exactly this style of writing became regular, but I’ve definitely noticed a trend in modern popular literature of ending a story in medias res. I’d argue that the abruptness of ending a story that way is a po-mo reflex to subvert convention. But I’d also argue that ending in the middle of things is now convention.
You know, you do what you do as a writer. If Perrotta wants to end the story there, so be it. He doesn’t do it badly. And obviously as fewer pages lay ahead of me, I knew it was nearing the end. But the whole of the book could have served as Act I for a more ambitious novel. What happens to these characters after they’ve had their affairs and divorces? What happens to the kids? Then again, maybe it’s just a perfect set-up for a sequel.
I also read Ross Macdonald’s The Drowning Pool. Macdonald is a 1950s pulp fiction novelist. Rolando lent me a pile of his novels when I mentioned that I’d like to read more hard-boiled pulp but didn’t know where to start. The Drowning Pool was the first I picked up and it kicked my ass. Calling it “pulp”, is something of an insult since it’s smarter than most modern novels I read, even many with “literary” pretensions. And it is, of course, way cooler than modern novels. Devoid of the blood and insanity of modern fiction, The Drowning Pool is tighter and more thrilling. I will surely dig into the other novels of his that lie upon my shelf.
Finally, on the way home, I read David Sedaris’s Naked. I’ve read his subsequent memoir collections Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy. Naked, to me, provided the missing link. Reading his other books, I often thought what a weird family; how do you get so many strange kids? Naked explains through Sedaris’s straight-forward recollections of the dysfunction of his seemingly “normal” (mom, dad, sisters, brothers) family. The book’s essays are all a touch darker than those of Pretty and Corduroy. I laughed at some but most evoked sympathy.
Needless to say, my eyes hurt. But one of the great things about reading is how addictive it is. Once you get into the habit of reading (especially fiction), you want to keep going. So while I won’t be able to continue the pace, I feel reinvigorated and ready to read more.