“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.
Barbara Ehrenreich’s memoir, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, came out recently, from the same publisher who brought us Christopher Hitchens’ memoir Hitch-22. And like the Hitchens book, Ehrenreich’s seems destined to become a classic of the enlightened atheist canon. There’s a good Q&A with Ehrenreich over at Harper’s, but I want to share my favorite quote from the book with you here.
When someone wanders so far from the flock, people, in their collective vanity, tend to blame the flock. Anyone who wanders off must have been actively pushed away—by family dysfunction, social disappointment, sexual rejection, whatever. Or maybe it was the wanderer’s fault, and, like one of Conrad’s characters, she lost her way because she failed to cultivate the appropriate intraspecies bonds; she forgot about love. Either way, the idea is that what happens to people is all about people; no other factors merit consideration. Try telling a therapist or other member of the helping professions that you are menaced by hazy sunlight or that the sumac trees growing like weeds along the railroad tracks fill you with dread, and he or she will want to hear accounts of childhood abuse. This is the conceit of psychiatry and unfortunately of so many novels, even some of the best and most riveting ones: that except for the occasional disease or disaster, the only forces shaping our lives are other humans, and that outside of our web of human interactions there is nothing worth looking into.
– Brian Hurley
Today we salute an old-fashioned novelist from the developing world, a wizard who uses Twitter to slow down time, a super-citizen who can shift the tone of a public debate with a few well-chosen words.
Teju Cole earned his literary bona fides all at once, when his debut novel Open City was compared to W. G. Sebald and celebrated by critics like James Wood. But he didn’t just hole up and start working on a second novel. Instead he brought his work directly to the masses with a Twitter project called “Small Fates,” in which he turned the latest news from his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria into condensed epics of human drama, just like Félix Fénéon did in Paris in 1906.
I first read Christopher Hitchens in college, when I was gifted a copy of The Trial of Henry Kissinger. This was in the post-9/11, Bush Administration days when I was reading books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, marching in rallies, and attending lectures like the one where I picked up a large, yellow, homemade button reading I KNOW KISSINGER IS A CRIMINAL and quickly pinned it to my messenger bag. The childhood naiveté I had recently shed left me vulnerable to Hitchens’ moral confidence and chilled outrage, and I adopted a more adult naiveté, where solutions took the form of boycotting logos, starting zines, going to poetry readings in campus common rooms and calling on the Hague to bring a former American official to trial on war crimes.
My affinity didn’t last. Hitchens had a book out about how Mother Teresa was some kind of monster. This seemed odd, but not damning. My greater concern was Hitchens’ great complaints about Bill Clinton — which I actually could have accepted had they not been followed by his support of George W. Bush, a man who couldn’t match Clinton in competence, intelligence, or even folksiness. And yet here was Hitch, mobilizing a mind fortified by philosophy, history, literature and poetry to defend a dangerously incurious and incompetent president. I gave Hitch’s line on Iraq no quarter because it coincided with the Bush line, and ultimately concluded that Hitchens was someone who didn’t mind a few thousand people dying if it meant that we could forcibly shove The Enlightenment into new acreage. Continue reading
I don’t normally like much of anything Amazon does, but this map of the sales of “red” and “blue” non-fiction books is cool. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of sad. And also kind of terrifying to see Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as the top selling “red” book in Washington, DC.
Buyers of “blue” books seem to like history, hate racism and partisanship, and have a serious beef with the concept of God. Buyers of the “red” books either really hate Barack Obama and/or really like buying books where the author is pictured on the cover with crossed arms.
George W. Bush is the only “author” to show up on both sides, with Decision Points at numbers 41 on red and 80 on the blue list. Less strange but still an odd fit is Christopher Hitchens’ Arguably, which is the 89th most purchased “red” book.
All in all, I guess this is one of those times when you say, “At least people are reading.”
– Michael Moats
I FINALLY GOT BURNED by Christopher Hitchens.
I’ve been able to stomach some of the Iraq justifications, and even kind of look past the “women aren’t funny” thing. But this one, from a final piece for Vanity Fair about Charles Dickens, is tough:
Opening his own memoir, the most inept fictional narrator of my generation showed that he was out of his depth by dismissing “all that David Copperfield kind of crap.” Mr. Holden Caulfield may one day be forgotten, but the man who stumbled across the little boy trapped in the sweatshop basement, and realized their kinship, will never be.
If you didn’t know, I’m kind of a fan of Holden Caulfield. I’m confident there are any number of more inept fictional narrators from Hitchens’ generation. And apparently Hitch never saw this pulp-style cover for “The Catcher in the Rye” guaranteeing that “you will never forget it.”
Let’s also note that in this same piece, he refers to Christmas as a “protracted obligatory celebration now darkening our Decembers.” If that gives you a better sense of where he’s coming from.
All that aside, the rest of the Hitchens piece is worth reading.
And, in the fashion of one of the
most inept greatest fictional narrators of Hitchens’ anyone’s generation, I can’t help, as I tell you this, but miss the guy a little bit.