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RICHARD BAUSCH (AUTHOR, Someone to Watch Over Me)
I'm reading Alan Shapiro's poems, SONG AND DANCE; Allan Gurganus's THE PRACTICAL HEART; and my brother Robert's A HOLE IN THE EARTH. No poet now writing is more forceful than Shapiro. His poems are moving, intellectually gratifying, and relentless. Gurganus is a stylist and magician, and his stories are beautifully crafted. Robert Bausch is an economical and brilliant artist whose comic touch is as deft as his dark insights.

Richard Brautigan was dismissed by many as a dated hippie at the end of the '60s. Trout Fishing in America was a huge hit, but subsequent writings were panned, and sales steadily nose-dived. In recent years, though, his childlike, surrealist humor seems to have found a new audience. SOMBRERO FALLOUT is Brautigan at his comic best. A "split-screen": novel: one part small-town disagreement that escalates to civil war; the other, a failed tragic-comic romance. This is laugh-out-loud and poignant in equal measures. Also, Paul Auster's MR. VERTIGO: This warped fairy tale is atypical of Auster's usual convoluted mysteries yet still beguiling. Good bedtime reading for Disney haters everywhere.
In a book of collected musings published as THE SHIFTING REALITIES OF PHILIP K. DICK I recently read a short 1974 essay by Dick called "Who is an SF writer?" It's a striking declaration from someone who refused to moralize in his work and took the most honest, and hence pessimistic, view of our cultural terrain. He comes across as humble, enthusiastic, and generous to other writers. It was clear to him that the lack of commercial reward typical of the field guaranteed a camaraderie based on a marginal, shared set of enthusiasms. To the last, Dick remained underwhelmed by Hollywood's interest in and use of his work. Steven Spielberg should read this essay.

I've been reading a collection of feuilletons by the German Jewish writer Joseph Roth. The book is called WHAT I SAW: REPORTS FROM BERLIN, 1920˝1933, and it's absolutely dazzling. Roth is known in America mainly as a novelist (what is it with these Roths?). But many people feel his best work was printed right in the daily newspapers. Each of the feuilletons is about two or three pages in length. They are packed with wit, insight, and, to borrow of phrase from Martin Amis regarding Bellow, "a manifest immunity to false consciousness." Roth comments on everything from the rise of the first skyscrapers to the rise of Hitler, which he saw coming early on. What can I say? I go along reading and reading, and every once in a while something comes along and wakes me right up. This book did.

One book that I absolutely despised was Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. His smugness in naming Upper West Side yuppie trappings is supposed to feel like critique but instead comes across as this mutual "wink wink, we're in the same club" pat on the back. Currently on my nightstand is a rotating list of booksˇan odd assortment of ones recommended to me and ones I just picked up at an airport: RED DRAGON, by Thomas Harris, PALE FIRE, by Vladimir Nabokov, and OUR MAN IN HAVANA, by Graham Greene.
DAVID GATES (AUTHOR, The Wonders of the Invisible World)
I'm in the middle of HORACE: THE ODES, New Translations by Contemporary Poets, edited by J.D. McClatchy. McClatchy has rounded up the usual suspects: Mark Doty, Alice Fulton, Donald Hall, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Marie Ponsot, Mark Strandˇyou know. Good choices, since Horace himself is the original usual suspect. Since I can barely puzzle out Latin anymore, I'll never know what Horace really sounds and feels like; this way, at least, I've got thirty-five intelligent misconceptions and misrepresentations instead of just the one and, therefore, maybe a better shot at getting a sense of the real guy behind all these approximations.

We had van troubles on tour this summer, so I read MADNESS IN THE FAMILY and THE HUMAN COMEDY, by William Saroyan, in various Jiffy Lubes. First I read Madness in the Family. The title alone interested me due to certain fears of my own impending psychosis. I then read Joel Oppenheimer's opening comments to The Human Comedy: "Years ago, Mr. Saroyan postulated that there are two kinds of writers: those who run to meet death, and those who fight to keep it off. It's always been clear which side he's on." I wondered if that was true. Having already read Madness, I assumed Saroyan was the type of person who, like me, would run toward death, only to chicken out at the last possible moment. I read chapter after chapter of The Human Comedy, searching to find evidence to crush Oppenheimer's misguided statement, but the book was dripping with kindness and bravery. In one chapter, a mother explains simply to her son that maybe evil doesn't know it's evil. This prompted me to request a bathroom stop. I raced to the gas station ladies' room and sobbed at the thought of this beautiful sentiment. How could any of Saroyan's characters, or Saroyan for that matter, run to meet death? And so it goes . . . I was wrong. But what a grand realization, all thanks to a stuffy New York Times book critic.

I love the books of psychotherapist Adam Phillips (EQUALS and TERRORS AND EXPERTS). They are maddeningly brilliant, with imaginative readings of Keats, Darwin, Cage, Freud, etc. I love the feeling of how they read me. Phillips pierces through my wanting by showing it isn't what I want at all, he shows that my misinterpretations might be my best hope, and he encourages me to see beyond conflicts as things to resolve and move on from. They offer the raw material to explode open worlds into bigger worlds. My life feels excitingly minuscule and enormous. My associations in drawings and notes fall off the page margins and into my work. It's truly a collaborative event.
PATRICK MCGRATH (AUTHOR, Martha Peake: A Novel of the Revolution)
I've just been rereading Edward St. Aubyn's stunningly excellent PATRICK MELROSE TRILOGY. It's about abuse, addiction, and recovery, and what elevates it above anything comparable is its emotional intelligence and ferocious wit, plus the totally authentic depiction of experience at the farthest limits of the human gamut. The glorious, interminable, appalling druggy night in the Pierre hotel is worth the price of admission alone. For reasons that baffle me the trilogyˇcomprising NEVER MIND, BAD NEWS, and SOME HOPEˇhas yet to find a publisher in the US. This is an outrage.
JERRY STAHL (AUTHOR, Plainclothes Naked)
When in doubt, read Kafka. Having stepped out of quality lit˝dom for a spell to labor in the rhinestone trough of Hollywood, I find that revisiting The Metamorphosis provides incalculable insight and solace. Groping for just the right piquant touch for that fifty-million-dollar freeway chase, it helps to ask, "What would Gregor Samsa do?" No doubt, Franz K. would have killed in the studios. The second they handed him script notes, he'd turn into a cockroach on the carpet at Paramount. I'm embarrassed to say how much I relate.

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