“I think about a world to come / Where the books were found by the golden ones / Written in pain, written in awe / By a puzzled man who questioned / What we were here for…”
You’ve no doubt heard — David Bowie passed away last night after fighting cancer. He was 69 years old.
In response, Twitter has reminded us that Bowie was a serious book lover. Geoffrey Marsh, who curated an Art Gallery of Ontario exhibit on Bowie a few years back said Bowie was “‘a voracious reader’ who is reputed to read as much as ‘a book a day.'”
So we want to say goodbye the best way we know how: by talking books. Here is a list at Brain Pickings of Bowie’s 75 favorite books, and an article at Open Book Toronto that expands the list to 100. There is lots here that you would probably expect — Orwell’s 1984 and Nabokov’s Lolita — as well as a few interesting choices like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Hitchens’ The Trial of Henry Kissinger.
These are the recommendations on books from Bowie. Any recommendations from readers out there on the best of the more than 60 books that have come out about Bowie? Here’s one we liked.
At a talk he gave at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop several years ago, Allan Gurganus encouraged writers to compose sex scenes between their characters, even if they never intend to include them in a story’s final form. Gurganus’s reasoning was that characters are never more vulnerable, never more nakedly themselves, than they are during moments of sexual intimacy, and so to discover how they conduct themselves in such moments is to discover their souls, or at any rate aspects of them that might otherwise remain hidden to the writer.
Keeping in mind that line of thinking—the body as pathway to the heart of a character’s being—no contemporary American author I know writes sex better than Garth Greenwell. His debut, What Belongs to You, is an intricately patterned novel that details the tangled erotic duet between the nameless narrator—an American poet living and teaching English in Bulgaria—and a beautiful, rugged, mercurial hustler named Mitko. Given that their relationship is—or at least begins as—a series of fraught sexual encounters, the novel necessarily features a number of sex scenes. They are never merely carnal, however; they all fulfill Gurganus’s highest hopes for sex scenes that reveal character, and the tonal balancing act they perform is astonishing. They are neither prudish nor pornographic. Despite the narrator’s repeated recourse to such legalistic terms as “transaction” and “contract,” there is nothing of the icy blankness one finds in the sex scenes, say, of Bret Easton Ellis. Nor is there the overcooked, breathless quality of so much sex writing—the language of clichéd frenzy, of gathering orgasm, of adverbially encrusted sucking, fucking, and spurting. The book is mercifully free of pelvic thrusts.
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie: “An exuberant, one-of-a-kind novel about love and family, war and nature, new money and old values by a brilliant New Yorker contributor.”
Shame and Wonder by David Searcy: “The twenty-one essays in David Searcy’s debut collection are captivating, daring—and completely unlike anything else you’ve read before. Forging connections between the sublime and the mundane, this is a work of true grace, wisdom, and joy.”
Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt: “A contemporary gothic from an author in the company of Kelly Link and Aimee Bender, Mr. Splitfoot tracks two women in two times as they march toward a mysterious reckoning.”
In the November 5, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books Cathleen Schine digs into the heart and soul of Mary Gaitskill’s new novel, The Mare.
Schine has published nine novels—two of which have been made into films, one of which starred Parker Posey—and her essay “Dog Trouble,” originally published in The New Yorker, was included in The Best American Essays 2005. But perhaps Schine’s most important credential for evaluating Gaitskill’s novel is the fact that she is from the New York metropolitan area—Westport, CT—and resides in New York City, which affords her some essential background into the world of The Mare. It’s clear that Schine “gets it,” as the novel moves from the destitute poverty of Brooklyn to the white liberal guilt of entitled Rhinebeck, NY. She navigates the physical and the emotional world of the characters with ease and grace.
PRI’s The World has named USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid the #1 “book you should think about reading in 2016.”
Alina Simone calls it “the very best book I read this year” and “a kind of Soviet Catcher in the Rye.”
[A]t heart, this is a universal story about the petty humiliations and hard won triumphs of youth — the million tiny compromises that lie along the road to becoming yourself.
We couldn’t agree more. Help us make this the year of USSR!
Buy your copy here.