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I am reading Israeli writer David Grossman's To the End of the Land. It's harrowing and riveting-maybe more than anyone wants to know about what happens to extraordinary people living ordinary lives in a place that is defined by incessant warfare. It's beautifully written, big, compassionate and serious.
A tale of technology, disease, ambition, fame and folly, and the most significant achievement of the emergent United States at the turn of the twentieth century, I am reading David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914. Oh, and I'm reading it on a Kindle.
I'm currently reading the creative non-fiction work The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch. A collection of autobiographical essays from the pen of an undertaker (himself the son of an undertaker) and poet, this book has been recommended to me several times by writers and writing friends so I decided at last to read it. Although I'm only half done, I too have begun to recommend it to both readers and writers of creative non-fiction--and anyone who appreciates dry wit, sly humor and a keen eye for the odd behaviors of both the living and the dead.
I'm reading a compilation of the stories of John Cheever -- a gift from a friend who thought I might like it. I just started the collection, but the stories I've read are masterfully grounded in two inescapable constants: place and family.
I've been reading Philip Roth's Nemesis. The novel tells the story of Bucky Cantor, a vigorous playground director and P.E. teacher living through a summer of polio in Newark, New Jersey. Cantor, at 23, and unable for medical reasons to fight alongside his friends in World War II, goes from being the protector and voice of reason for his playground charges to a victim. His victimhood is multilayered, and probably tied up in his sense of honor, and it causes him to reject his fiance--a move that nobody in his world, including the book's narrator, can fully understand. One of the "moves" I'm most interested in Nemesis--and which I've seen in a couple other Roth novels, Indignation and The Human Stain--is the hiding of an element (in Nemesis's case, the identity of the novel's narrator) until page 100. Around page 100, right about the time the reader might be settling in, Roth lets loose something that changes the complexion. In all three of these books, a question I didn't know to ask is answered.