RIFF: Reading Is Fucking Formidable

2007 will be the year of reading.

Having read exactly zero books from cover to cover in 2006, I decided that I would read two books a month this year.

I am a slow reader. I will choose short books.

(Before you gasp about a professional writer failing to read a single book over 12 months, consider that House of Culture Snob by itself keeps the magazine industry afloat with subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Sight and Sound, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Consumer Reports ... . [Just don’t ask how much I actually read in them.])

This is where I will record my progress and brief commentary on each work. Some books might merit their own essays, and I’ll link to those entries here.

Paul Auster's 'The Brooklyn Follies'Book the First: The Brooklyn Follies, by Paul Auster. Re-started circa January 11; finished January 16.

An affectionate slice of life in the vein of the Auster-scripted Smoke until its final page. I won’t blame anybody who finds its closing a cheap and manipulative sucker punch, but I think the author plays fair and earns it.

In the Auster oeuvre, The Brooklyn Follies is the polar opposite of Moon Palace, which gave the book’s entire plot in the first paragraph. Here, the conceptual framework is revealed at the ending, and the novel begins to reverberate backward. What had been an ambling, casual, and arguably pointless stroll through the narrator’s late middle age shows its shape and themes and ideas in retrospect.

Likely grist for a longer essay once I’ve finished Book the Fourth.

Christopher Priest's 'The Prestige'Book the Second: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. Started January 16; finished January 31.

There’s a fascinating study to be done about the translation of this work from novel to screen. They are built on the same core ideas — rival magicians, an apparatus constructed by Tesla, and a single man who seems to have two personalities — and much of the same plot, but they are wildly different. Christopher Nolan’s movie was primarily concerned with self-sacrifice — what a person will do to oneself if the pursuit of a goal. Priest’s book, on the other hand, is about the (literally) divided self, invoking the doppelgänger and the classic doubles of horror/science-fiction literature: Poe’s “William Wilson,” Mr. Hyde.

The curious effect of the differences is that each work is both elevated and degraded by the other; the strengths and weaknesses of each are amplified. What I wanted after consuming both of them was for the movie and book to enter some sort of fusion device, so that The Prestige in combined form would encompass more ideas, themes, and implications than either by itself. Where’s Tesla when you need him?

Book the Third: Moviemakers’ Master Class: Private Lessons from the World’s Foremost Directors, by Laurent Tirard. Started circa January 16; finished April 24.

Book the Fourth: Travels In The Scriptorium, by Paul Auster. Started circa February 1; finished February 19.

Book the Fifth: The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson. Re-started April 21; finished July 4.

Book the Sixth: Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top, by Seth Mnookin. Started June 21; finished June 26.

Book the Seventh: Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts, by Clive James. Started June 21.

Book the Eighth: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon. Started July 21, finished August 17.

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