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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
What We’re Reading
Diane Chonette (Art Director of Tin House): After reading The Education of Werner Pfennig by Anthony Doerr in the latest issue of Tin House, I wanted more. So, while I’m reluctantly waiting for his forthcoming novel, from which the excerpt was pulled, I’ve picked up his 2007 memoir, Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. I am reading in awe as Doerr and his wife head to Rome on a writing fellowship as first time parents of six-month-old twins. I traveled to Rome a few years ago, before I had a baby (who is now 11 months old), and can only imagine my current life and all the early parenting challenges taking place in that ancient, bustling metropolis. Also, when I picked up Four Seasons in Rome, I hadn’t realized that it is, in large part, a memoir on his struggles to write the very novel I want so badly to read. I’m glad for this insight, as well as a genuine and charming introduction to Anthony Doerr while I wait.
Nanci McCloskey (Director of Publicity): Reading the Patrick Melrose Novels is a consciousness-changing experience. I started with the last one, At Last, because I didn’t want to commit to the whole series if I wasn’t a fan of the writing. When I was midway through At Last and found I couldn’t talk about anything else, Tin House editor, Tony Perez, implored me to begin at the beginning, and I’m glad I did. The writing is beautiful, sardonic, and chillingly intimate. I can’t remember the last time I blew off anything I could get away with in the real world so I can stay and bear witness to the harrowing and brutal lives of the Melrose clan. It might be hard to believe after reading my description, but I still managed to laugh out loud several time while reading the books.
Shannon McDonald (Workshop Intern, Tin House Magazine): It’s easy for me to get caught up in all the new book releases, and forget that I have a tower of classics and meant-to-read-for-years books piled up beside my bed. They’ve waited so long, and it’s really not fair to ignore them. In lieu of the shiny and new, I’m finally reading Walker Percy’s, The Moviegoer. This man! Hilarious and heartbreaking and cynical and naïve. It’s storytelling you can settle into, confident that the language and characters will deliver exactly what you need. I’ve been trying to convince my friends to go on a Southern road trip for quite a while, but I’m always met with vague excuses. Maybe now I’ll just take Walker with me and drive.
Desiree Andrews (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): I’m most of the way through Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer. When people ask me what to read, Dyer is one of the first writers I’m likely to mention (I used to universally recommend James Salter, but that’s gotten me into trouble).
I picked up Sheer Rage before a weekend on the coast because I wanted something that I knew I wouldn’t want to put down. There was no doubt in mind that that book would fulfill that desire, at the very least.
From page one, Dyer’s voice (whether in his fiction or nonfiction) never fails to entice the reader into his world. Compelling sentences, detailed scenes, and easily identifiable characters make Sheer Rage accessible and enjoyable but, under all of that subtle craft, he’s tying together the mundanity of everyday and the larger question of why we do what we do—why we’re compelled to seek out art and create it. When the next person asks me what they should read, I will certainly say Out of Sheer Rage.
Holly Laycock (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): One tour having not been enough, I’m in the depths of Bill Bryson’s house for the second time this Friday, reading his appropriately titled At Home. I could probably read this book a thousand times and never tire of it, for who knew there were so many (surprisingly) interesting details about salt and pepper shakers out there? The wonderful thing about this book is his command over such seemingly innocuous material as he guides you through the rooms of his home (a former rectory built in 1851), providing the history behind modern conveniences and common home features with aplomb and wit. Fabulous!
Devon Walker-Domine (Editorial Intern, The Open Bar): Currently, I am reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a delightfully if not dizzyingly multifaceted novel. Bulgakov skillfully frames one story within another and seamlessly shifts focus from the unraveling lives of individual characters to the stiflingly bureaucratic states in which those lives are imbedded. Being just midway through the book, I can already say that I’m hooked. In the first chapter, the devil approaches two academics who are strolling through the park debating the existence of Jesus; he then proceeds to eloquently hi-jack their conversation and relay in exquisite detail a dialogue that took place between Jesus and Pontius Pilate on the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. This is probably one of the most perfect chapters I’ve read in a long time, both in terms of structure and content.
In the subsequent chapters, this shifty devil character goes on to lead his retinue (which includes a talking cat with a predilection for beheading loquacious political figures) through the streets of Moscow, destroying the reputations of elite Muscovites and humiliating (or teleporting to remote locations) anyone who gets in his way; meanwhile, the entire city of Moscow, through the clever manipulations of this motley crew, unwittingly serves as the jury in its own ill-fated trial.
I don’t know where this wild literary ride will ultimately take me, but I have a feeling the end will probably be as devastating and delightful as the beginning, filled with the same intricate weave of humor, tragedy, fantasy, and reality.