Agenbite of inwit

After my projection into the lofty aither with Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, brennschluss was inevitable and I finally finished what was probably the toughest, chewiest piece of literature I have ever feasted on.

In the beginning, I was looking up all of the obscure references, phrases, and people and not making much progress.  The dude at the beer cave posited that the first twenty pages were intentionally written in such a manner as to keep people from reading any further.

In advance of the denouement of GR, I ordered another endurance read, Ulysses by James Joyce, and have just embarked on that journey.

Seriously, Dedalus.  I'm stony.  Hurry out to your school kip and bring us back some money.  Today the bards must drink and junket.  Ireland expects that every man this day will do his duty.

So, Citizens, what are you reading?

38 thoughts on “Agenbite of inwit”

  1. I talked about this last month but I'm still reading Tune In: The Beatles All These Years. Like I said it is exhaustively researched (802 pages of Beatles history from birth of each individual up to the end of 1962 plus another 100 pages of notes, index). I think I'll finally get it finished by the end of the week. While a bit of slog to get through, once Brian Epstein comes on the scene, it really picks up. I think most people know the basics about the beginning of The Beatles: played hundreds of shows in Hamburg and Cavern Club in Liverpool, Pete Best original drummer, rejected by Decca, etc. But it is pretty cool to get the whole (very detailed) story and not the bullet points.

    The author promises a three book series but I'll have to see if I have the energy to get through the rest. This time period interested me the most because it was the sketchiest in my mind. But if interested in seeing how rock music was basically jump-started by The Beatles, this is the book for you.

  2. My efforts to read one "big book" each month continue (I'm currently disregarding the fact that it took 2.5 months to read Gravity's Rainbow).

    In May I read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. It was like three novels all bound together in one. An easy book to keep reading, it was always interesting.

    Actual Spoiler SelectShow

    In June, my target is Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano. I attempted this once before and stopped after about 250 pages. I just started last night and I loved the first 30 pages, so here's hoping that continues for a while and I can keep up the momentum.


    Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck - This is a collection of cool creepy Scandinavian stories of things that are almost human. It was a short read, but I enjoyed the stories.

    Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer - In a portion of the world (US?) that has been cordoned off for unexplained reasons (Area X), the narrator and her exploratory team are trying to determine what is going on. This book was weird but not quite unsettling, you spend the entire book inside the head of the narrator, and she doesn't know what's going on any more than you do. I'm thinking that as a part of the trilogy (this is book 1 of the Southrern Reach Trilogy), this could be an excellent piece. On its own, I was invested and interested, but not blown away.

    Errantry by Elizabeth Hand - These stories I didn't quite enjoy as much. "Near Zennor" is really, really stick-with-you-for-a-week-or-two good. Otherwise I was underwhelmed by the stories here. Many were longer, and it seemed almost overly descriptive, which can be good, but seemed more noticeable than the ideal here.

    1. I loved Cryptonomicon. My second introduction to Stephenson (started with The Diamond Age, also awesome).

  3. Slowly working my way through A Song of Fire and Ice: about 30% of the way through A Storm of Swords (Davos has just been pulled from the dungeon and informed about Stannis's intention to make him Hand). I like that Martin has (mostly) gotten away from describing every. single. little. detail. of. every. single. sigil/suit or armor/weapon/etc., and people that I hated in earlier books are no longer at the top of my list (though I still find Sansa a bit loathsome and insipid). Things are moving along now, but I realized that even if I finish the next two on my upcoming vacation (doc - Vallejo on the 13th-14th), I'll need something to keep me occupied until The Winds of Winter shows up five or six years hence.

    1. though I still find Sansa a bit loathsome and insipid

      I think that's the point, although she may become a more sympathetic character going forward. If, you know, she doesn't get slaughtered. Because Everyone Dies. 😉

      1. I guess I know that, but I wouldn't mind if she dies...I think this may be a response to someone at work, who has read the books and watched the show (I've not seen any of it) who seems to think she's alright but despises Tyrion, who I'm kind-of partial to at this point.

        'Spoiler' SelectShow
        1. Also, important insight from the WaPo

          spoilered for recluses who neither watch nor have read that far in the series SelectShow

          You are welcome.

    2. describing every. single. little. detail. of. every. single. sigil/suit or armor/weapon/etc.

      Depending on what happens in book six, it might matter a great deal.

  4. After a vacation from reading, I hit the library and picked up The Human Division by John Scalzi, one of the Old Man's War series. It picks up not long after the short story from the TOR ebook freebies, and like it it has a bit of Laumer's Retief feel to it (particularly the action/diplomacy combo), but thankfully there is enough seriousness to it that it's not all lighthearted.

  5. I pulled The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut out of a garage sale box and started it Sunday. I'm going to give that a go for a while.

        1. I have read three or four Vonnegut books, but The Sirens of Titan isn't among them*. I didn't really like Breakfast of Champions, it just didn't stick with me like Slaughterhouse-Five or Jailbird. And of course "Harrison Bergeron", which is one of my favorite pieces of literature in any genre or length.

          *Neither is Cat's Cradle, which has been on my list for far too long.

  6. Dang, I was hoping it was Movie day. I saw a film I want to talk about.

    OK. I read a few pages from each of The Wind In the Willows and Seabird by Holling Clancy Holling (author of Minn of the Mississippi, which I loved as a kid, and Paddle to the Sea, which I have but haven't read.)
    Probably some more kids' books that I picked up at the Homeschool Conference this last weekend, but I don't remember reading much of any of them yet.

    I picked up WITW because one of the speakers declared a sentence in the chapter "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" to be the "Greatest English sentence of the 20th century." Or something like that. He was a classical-education proponent who was prone to wonderful bits of dry humor and witty hyperbole. I actually went to this second session he presented because I so enjoyed the first one, which had a title more aligned with my role as a father of a homeschooling family (not the primary educator). (Not that there weren't a few homeschooling fathers, but I'd guess that at least 95% of the families had the mothers as the teachers.)

  7. I'm about halfway through The Hemmingses of Monticello and it is remarkably interesting and well-researched. It is much, much better than I expected.

    My favorite history prof in college wrote a book getting good reviews: 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed. I've been waitlisted at the Hennepin County Library for a copy for awhile, but hopefully I can get my hands on it next month and give it a read.

  8. Making more rapid progress on The Darkness That Comes Before. I've quasi-committed to reading a chapter each night before bed. Still intrigued. I guess I'm stuck buying more in the series.

  9. For some weird reason I decided to save reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt for the summer, and this past week I was happy to finally rip into it. It’s good. Worth the wait.

    It follows a boy who, in the wake of the traumatic loss of his mother, is spun through adolescence and adulthood harrowed by the secret of a piece of stolen artwork. Tartt is a brilliant writer, effortless and elegant, simultaneously literary and accessible. The big themes, loss, regret, friendship, love, are sometimes so tangible that I had to put the book down to collect myself. It’s languidly paced, and it’s quite long, but for me that just made it easier to fully sink myself into, like a warm bath.

    As good as it was, I still think The Little Friend is Tartt’s best book. I liked this one way better than The Secret History though.

    1. Heh, The Goldfinch just came in for me at the library, so I'll be starting it tonight.

  10. I'm still working on Gravity's Rainbow. I'm maybe 100 pages past the halfway point? But I haven't had the time or focus to sit down and read more than maybe 5 pages at a time since Nietzsche was born.

    1. I found a copy of The Idiot at the local bookstore for $4, so that's on my big books list now, not sure when I'll get to it. I was thinking about starting Pale Fire in the fall sometime, but that can be adjusted as I've been able to get hold of a bunch of books on my list, and Nabokov is easily available anytime from the library.

      1. I read The Idiot maybe 25-30 years ago and thought it was tremendous. But then I read a lot of things in those days.

          1. The wife and I have joked about a meme from The Idiot which is where someone (like The Prince) can't stop themselves from doing something (Myshkin enters the ballroom, sees the vase at the end of the hall, and knows that he will eventually have a seizure and break the vase).

    2. I've made almost no progress in GR since I got it from DG. I pretty much got back to where I was when I started it in DC, but returned it to the library when I moved. No excuse, really, just laziness.

  11. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King--I'd heard excellent things about this young adult novel, but unfortunately it left me disappointed. Interesting characters, complex situations, but I felt that all was resolved too tidily and too optimistically in the end.

    Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis--I wasn't familiar with Davis, but I read articles in The New Yorker and the New York Times that intrigued me and indicated she has quite a following. (Why yes, I do only read publications out of New York City, why do you ask?) She's known for her often extremely short stories and absolute precision in language. Reading this book made me feel a bit off balance, but in a good way. I am not sure I totally "get" her, but I am glad I picked this one up. Here's one story in its entirety:

    Her Birthday
    105 years old:
    she wouldn’t be alive today
    even if she hadn’t died.

    What the Heart Knows: Changes, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman--This is an illustrated poetry collection for children, though saying that will give the wrong impression of the book. I also should point out that I had to overcome all kinds of resistance to the title, which I did only because Joyce Sidman is a wonderful poet (and a Minnesotan!). This rather quirky collection of poems for all kinds of purposes was in turns fun and thought provoking. There's an "Invitation to Lost Things, a "Blessing on the Smell of Dog," a "Sleep Charm," and a stunningly beautiful poem titled "Illness: A Conversation." I love her word choices--tang, loam, "your crooked tongue."

    1. I know of Lydia Davis, but haven't read her. She won something a couple years ago that brought her to my attention. I really like the story you shared though.

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