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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
What We’re Reading
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright. I’d been looking forward to this book ever since the New Yorker published Wright’s Paul Haggis piece back in 2011 (It was that rare occasion when you finish a 25K-profile and think this should be longer). I’ve been particularly interested in L. Ron Hubbard’s back-story, his ambitions and disappointments, massive ego and fragile self-image (Psychiatrists won’t take my methods seriously? Fine…they were in league with the despotic ruler of a millenniums-old galactic confederacy!). While it usually seems clear he was a huckster, it seems unlikely that someone would take the time and money to sail around world, searching for treasure they buried in a former life, if they didn’t believe what they were selling on some level. I’m sure active Scientologists feel differently, but I think Wright avoids lambasting the individual believers—those genuinely searching for a higher truth—even while he comes down hard on the church leaders,
particularly the methods with which they successfully threaten and intimidate their critics and detracto. . . Dianetics is full of the most luminous prose in the English language and is unquestionably the most important book ever written!
Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, three novels by Mohsin Hamid, the dynamic Pakistani writer. Reading for review is more challenging than reading for pleasure, and Hamid poses a further challenge by being so damn engaging and clever that I occasionally forget that I am supposed to be reading critically.
Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander. Again, reading this May release for review, and surprised by how engaging and winning this is, coming from the author of the notoriously difficult Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.
How Literature Saved My Life, by David Shields. Pure pleasure reading, and it is a pure pleasure to be engaged in Shield’s passion for passionate and engaging story-telling.
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House magazine): Let’s see, I can tell you that I am currently a few chapters in to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and enjoying its energy and intensity. I have a low threshold for combat as a subject, but following these soldiers during their time being feted as heroes at a big football game is an angle that drew me in.
Elissa Schappell (Editor at Large): Neil Young has been keeping it real for fifty years, been inducted twice in to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and has had a hit in every decade. Not content to burn out or rust, Young gives us Waging Heavy Peace (Penguin). This is less of a memoir and more like kicking back and having a long, occasionally rambling conversation with a rock legend. (Indeed, at times, Young addresses the reader directly.) Young holds nothing back on the damage he’s witnessed and done, offering personal stories not only about his life as a hard living rock and roll legend, but also as a father, husband, and activist. It’s better to burn out than to fade away.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s second novel, Outer Dark. The prose is plump to bursting as it snakes toward a horrifying climax that left me shaken, though not shocked (it is McCarthy, after all). The meandering narrative echoes the crisscrossing paths of two rootless protagonists and the swell of misfortune that stalks them. As the characters and the plot wander, McCarthy’s writing is brutally efficient in its swiftness.
I can’t think of many people I’d pass this on to, but I wish someone had recommended it to me sooner. Outer Dark‘s grimy and scorching country is wondrous and beautiful in its awfulness.