A Buyer’s Market – Powell (Part II of A Dance to the Music of Time)

I continue to be interested in character, not just Jenkins, but Mr. Deacon but also Uncle Giles. The latter seems to be a particularly consistent reference point for Jenkins, but he rarely takes center stage. I was intrigued by Gypsy. I was also engaged by more of the comments about time. Still, the world outside of Jenkins’ society remains peripheral. Will it come more into play? On to Part 3!


Imagine: How Creativity Works (Lehrer)

How do you define creativity? How do you cultivate it? How do you assess it? What is it?

Jonah Lehrer’s extremely accessible scientific writing makes these (and other) questions come alive. He moves back and forth between anecdote and science in a persuasive fashion, and his ideas have implications for anyone and everyone. His arguments for dissent and against traditional brainstorming, for centrally located bathrooms and against the idea that the internet has already created a new kind of community are just plain inspiring.

And, in the end, this book is also hopeful. There are places as well as known as Pixar and as little known as the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (the drama teacher there has posted a sign that says FAIL BIG) that understand how to develop and sustain the culture of creativity.

This book goes high on my list of books that have changed the way I think about the world. . .



A Question of Upbringing (Pt. 1 of A Dance to the Music of Time) – Powell

When I first saw this 12-part serial novel atop one of the innumerable “Best Ever” lists I’ve encountered. I thought that perhaps it, like Ulysses (also frequently found near the tops of these lists), was there more because of reputation. Who would read a 12-part novel? Having ‘read’ Ulysses (with the help of every piece of support literature I could find) and more struck by its technical prowess than its actual content, I was skeptical but intrigued about the prospect of starting this novel.

First of all, it is MUCH more accessible than the Joyce. And it is also, and I always feel like I need to ask permission to say a thing like this, funnier than I anticipated. On the surface, it is a kind of coming of age story, but it is also a story that occupies between the wars in England that I haven’t experienced often. I’m enjoying it and have already started Pt. 2, A Buyer’s Market.

What does make a classic? Why do certain books, even reputedly great ones like this, fade while others endure?

The Lifespan of a Fact (D’Agata, Fingal)

This is a strange and wonderful piece. Based on an essay originally written by D’Agata in 2003 and argued over for seven years, this book records the electronic conversation between the two men about the meaning of genre and truth in writing. There was no way I was going to try to assign a genre to this one. The publishers, perhaps in a moment of irony or perhaps in a moment of ignorance (did they even read the book?) call it Literature / Essays on the back of the book. I’ve read and heard reviews that say D’Agata comes off as a jerk in the exchange. I don’t think so. Both men snipe at each other, and both, I think, have several good points to make. What are the implicit and explicit contracts a writer makes with the reader, especially when it comes to writing that is presented as (choose your own) non-fiction, true, True? Are such categories dated? Or were they false to begin with? Why did we get so upset about James Frey’s book? What do we expect when we read memoirs? histories? What can we reasonably expect from such work?

A Single Shard (Park)

What a delightfully well-crafted book. A simple and well-told story about Tree-ear, a boy who grows up, goes on a journey, and becomes a new person. He even gets a new name. Park’s research, carefully described in her author’s note, allows her to create a remarkable world. And it all ends with a single vase. The book makes me want to see a potter at work and to see some Korean Celadon pottery.


War Dances (Alexie)

I never know what to expect from Alexie, but with this book, my record with him is 3 (War Dances, The Absolutely True Diary. . ., The Lone Ranger and Tonto. . .) and 1 (Reservation Road). I’m not sure what to call this collection. I don’t think it’s stories. It’s not a novel. It’s, uh, multi-genre. Poems, interviews, stories, a haiku (of sorts) and some autobiography? Does that make it creative non-fiction? Does it matter? Do genres matter? All I know is that I liked it and, if not for “The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless,” (not a song) could see using it in a class. His observations, from a surprisingly diverse variety of perspectives, are sharp and his writing incisive. I’d read it again.

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (Dubois)

Whatever you want to say about what the French did to Haiti, the US occupation, of which I was only vaguely aware, was staggering, both in its duration and its brutality. Dubois has a bias here, with the Haitian people, especially those in the rural area so often disconnected from Port au Prince. There are Haitians responsible here, the number who sought to stay in power by changing the constitution. But from Woodrow Wilson wondering whether what he authorized was legal to the ambiguous circumstances surrounding Aristide’s exit, the US has been guilty of corporate imperialism for many years now. Dubois ends his very readable account a note of hope. I finished it without one. Even the various NGOs and organizations trying to help seem to have run amok. What country will emerge after the reconstruction from the Jan. 2010 earthquake is finished? If it’s finished? If went there first in the interests of “Pan Americanism,” what are we doing now?