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Book report for March 2024

Book report for March 2024
©Dale Keiger

Letter No. 77: Includes smutty essayism and many colors.

Dr Essai, with an eye on the beginning of American baseball season, reports he went 4-2 in March—four wins, two losses, one game abandoned because of inclement theorizing.

  • On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, William H. Gass. Book-length essay about writing smut. Or at least I think so. I read on and on waiting to understand what Gass was trying to say and why he felt compelled to say it, without answer. I never found the point, nor the reason for the book’s critical reputation. Such mysteries happen. It was only about 90 pages long, so I didn’t waste too much of my time.
  • Tristessa, Jack Kerouac. A novella dashed off during one of Kerouac’s periods of feverish work, and one of his better efforts. It suffers from the author’s penchant for romanticizing squalor—whores and junkies and petty thieves are all angels and saints and soulful beautiful losers—but the sentences frequently work like great song lyrics, cut loose from the strictures of conventional grammar and syntax to hit with unexpected emotional force. And all that holiness and saintliness crap aside, Kerouac does a superb job of vividly rendering the hopeless daily lives of his down-and-out characters.
  • The Paris Review No. 215. Best of issue was the fiction, stories by Nell Freudenberger (“Found Objects”), Peter Bichsel (“Two Stories”), and especially Gilbert Sorrentino (“Apparition of Danhoff”).
  • Chromatopia: An Illustrated History of Color, David Coles. Written by an artisanal maker of artist’s paints. Fascinating if you bring a prior interest to your reading.
  • Colour: A Journey, Victoria Alexander. Keep moving, folks, nothing to see here. This looked like an interesting addition to my color library—you’d be surprised how big it is—but it turned out to be a self-indulgent collection of banalities about color, even more banal inspirational slogans, and the author’s mediocre photography. Should have inspected it with more care before I bought it. Well, there you go.
  • Store of the Worlds, Robert Sheckley. Short stories, mostly from science fiction pulp magazines of the 1950s. Smart, mordantly funny, vastly entertaining. Best is the hilariously deadpan “The Accountant.”
In progress
  • The Golden Compass, Phillip Pullman
  • Best American Essays 2001, Kathleen Norris (ed.)
  • Eminent Hipsters, Donald Fagen
  • The Name of War, Jill Lepore
  • Beyond Weird, Phillip Ball
  • Eminent Hipsters, Donald Fagen
  • Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative, Peter Brooks. Seemed promising, but after the first chapter became one of those tedious exercises in criticism that loses all touch with art.