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Last month my mum and I went to Bristol for Christmas to visit a part of our family whom I was aware existed but had never met before. During the four˝day stay I found out more than I wished for about our crazy family history. Back in London, I just finished reading a great and funny novel: ALL FAMILIES ARE PSYCHOTIC, by Douglas Coupland. I no longer feel strange about my family. I'm also reading HENRI BERGSON: KEY WRITINGS. Bergson's "theory of duration" has influenced me since college, and this new compilation reminds me how poetic and inspiring his vision is.

MELMOTH THE WANDERER, by Charles Maturin. The book was published in 1820. I've been interested in the gothic for a while, so I've been reading a few of the classics, many of which are pretty bad. This is my favorite. Given that the book is nearly two hundred years old, I was surprised by the immediacy of some of Maturin's remarks. His writing suggests an access to a more universal perspective than the book often seems to contain. He also has the ability to enfold stories within stories to a quasi˝ludicrous degree and somehow make it all compelling. I have never read a book that was able to pull that off to this degree.
STEWART HOME (AUTHOR, 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess)
Christine Keeler's third autobiography, THE TRUTH AT LAST: MY STORY, ghosted by Douglas Thompson. What I really liked was Thompson's reasonably detailed descriptions of London clubs of the early '60sˇparticularly Murray's, where Keeler worked as a hostess. I've been looking for reliable accounts of London hostess clubs in the early to mid˝'60s. (I have quite a lot of photographs of my own mother working as a hostess at Churchill's, but strangely none of her at various other places where she earned a living, including Murray's and the Playboy Club.) As far as books that are completely frank about their theoretical status as fiction, the only thing I've read recently worth mentioning is THIS IS NOT IT: STORIES, by Lynne Tillman. Her opening story, "Come & Go," is the best thing written in the wake of 9/11, precisely because she doesn't address the things that concern her and us explicitly. Simultaneously subtle, ironic, and sidesplittingly funny: To describe Tillman as a postmodern cross between Henry James and Hegel fails to do her justice.

GABE HUDSON (AUTHOR, Dear Mr. President: Stories)
Don DeLillo's END ZONE, which is ostensibly centered around one of the least compelling subjects I can think of: a no˝name college football program in West Texas. In this book you'll find the narrator, a running back named Gary Harkness, who's obsessed with the abstract minutiae of nuclear war. You'll also find an entire football match rendered in a play˝by˝play fashion, locker˝room babble elevated to the emotional nuance of song, and sentences everywhere that spark with beauty and perverse insight.

CARL NEWMAN (Musician, New Pornographers, Zumpano)
For one month I was on this kick where I was just reading new, critically acclaimed bestsellers, like Jonathan Franzen's THE CORRECTIONS. It was very well done. I was afraid it might be one of those books about my generation. Those books really bug meˇI'd like to get something out of a book when I read it. That's why I never want to read Nick Hornby's
HIGH FIDELITY. I know it has absolutely nothing to say to me, except maybe somewhere along the way I can say that I relate. That's lazy. It's good to expand yourself, because you realize that there are people you have things in common with that you never thought you would.
RICHARD POWERS (AUTHOR, The Time of Our Singing)
I've just been lucky enough to read a galley of Ken Kalfus's novel THE COMMISSARIAT OF ENLIGHTENMENT. It's an atmospheric combination of rigorous research and wild invention, about a silent˝film pioneer in early˝twentieth˝century Russia who falls afoul of the dying Tolstoy and the ascending Stalin. Kalfus casts a densely realized look at the collision of moving images and static icons at the birth of the age of mass movements.

LEMONY SNICKET (AUTHOR, A Box of Unfortunate Events)
I just reread TIME WILL DARKEN IT, by William Maxwell. This is a good book to read when you wish to attain the feeling that the world is full of well˝meaning people who want nothing but the best for themselves and for other people, and yet all these motives entangle in ways so fundamentally wrong that even the smallest disappointments in life radiate with glacial and ferocious tragedy, and yet there is something about the light in the evening and the leaden comfort of a good blanket and the kind phrase from the mouth of a person you admire that make the entire pageant worth the rainy drudgery and unrequited heartbreak. I myself like to attain this feeling on a fairly regular basis.

Philip Pullman's trilogy HIS DARK MATERIALS takes place in a nearly parallel world where human souls are externalized as animals known as "daemons." Heroic Lyra's daemon usually takes the form of an ermine nestling around her neck, while wicked Mrs. Coulter's is a crafty golden monkey. Not a pet, a daemon is rather the beloved self, separation from whom brings a desperate, mortal loneliness. His Dark Materials is bursting with multiple selves, animal selves, and a child who must leap into Paradise Lost, empty hell, enter Eden, and, along the way, kill God. What could be better?

I recently read a collection of essays:
BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH: THE DARK HISTORY OF PREPUBESCENT POP, FROM THE BANANA SPLITS TO BRITNEY SPEARS, edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay. If an anthropologist from the distant future came back to our time, *NSYNC would tell him more about our culture than any Will Oldham recordˇdefinitely more than a Wilco record. People have this misperception that if something's easy to listen to or easy to read or easy to understand, then it was easy to do. I think the opposite is true. The circuit between Justin Timberlake and a fourteen˝year˝old girl is what's really important about music, and I definitely would argue that that connection is more profound than the one between an Interpol record and a fifty˝year˝old rock critic. Me? I'm just trying to connect with myself.

My favorite kind of art is nonfictionˇwhen an artist tries to change the world through interaction with society. For NICKEL AND DIMED: ON (NOT) GETTING BY IN AMERICA, Barbara Ehrenreich left her life as a well˝known writer to work as a motel maid by day and at Wal˝Mart by night, attempting to survive on the salary of an unskilled woman in America. Her book is full of sadly beautiful descriptions of her coworkers and their ordinary struggles to make enough money to live. Equally haunting are Daniela Rossell's photographs of wealthy and famous Mexicans at home with their maids and servants in RICAS Y FAMOSAS. Rossell, like Ehrenreich, elegantly demonstrates the old problem of rich and poor by secretly documenting an unseen culture and widely publishing a book that makes everyone understand.

Interested in more book recommendations?

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