Senin, 19 September 2011

What I Want to Read

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but come on, this is cool: it's Thomas Hart Benton! I hope those Farrar, Straus & Giroux publicists are sending out lots of posters and bookmarks with this one.

To be fair to myself, my interest in this novella started with what I read in yesterday's New York Times Book Review, which does not even feature an image of the book cover. For reviewer Anthony Doerr, part of what makes the book so compelling is its length: 116 pages. "One airplane flight, or one shady afternoon in a chair somewhere, and you'll have passed through the entire thing." O.K. That's not a ringing endorsement. The "Don't worry! It will all be over soon!" bit (no, I'm not quoting Doerr there) sounds more like what your dentist says before filling a cavity. But Doerr is onto something. Here's more about that in his review:

In an 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice Told Tales," Edgar Allan Poe said that apart from poetry, the form most advantageous for the exertion of "highest genius" was the "short prose narrative," whose length he defined as taking "from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal." Novels, Poe argued, were objectionable because they required a reader to take breaks. "Worldy interests intervening during the pauses of perusal," he wrote, "modify, annul or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impression of the book." Because you have to stop reading novels every now and then -- to shower, to eat, to check your Twitter feed -- their power weakens.

All of that aside, Train Dreams sounds like a book I'd love. It has biplanes, six-horse teams, wolves, coyotes, logging gangs, and, of course, trains.

Also, for those who are interested in this sort of comparison, Doerr's review is fun to read just before or just after Ann Patchett's introduction to The All Of It (see blog post below). Doerr first read Train Dreams in a 2002 issue of The Paris Review. He has a proprietary feeling about Johnson's book and is reluctant to share it with the masses. ("Because who wants to see her sacred meadow flattened by the sandals of tourists?") Patchett is more generous in her account, and is elated to know the little gem of The All Of It, first published in 1986, has been reissued and is out in the world for all to find.

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