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That Wood collection, The Fun Stuff, has an essay on Laszlo Krasnahorkai, whose work I looked up online. My library has a couple of his books in hardcover, including Satantango, which I've put on hold and will likely take with me on my upcoming vacation. (I've never seen Tarr's film.)

Edited by Christian

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I'm taking Clandestine by James Ellroy and The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks on my vacation. I'm concerned that they might not be enough to last me the entirety of my trip.

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Too many books for upcoming vacation include: 

 

Why Jazz Happened by Marc Myers -- I'm 70 pages into it

Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorki

 

On my ereader:

The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

 

A few of these are recommendations from James Wood's The Fun Stuff. They all came through at the same time from the library, of course.

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Took a long weekend and dove into some James Wood e-audiobooks. First up: How Fiction Works, which was a struggle because it draws so heavily on authors I haven't read widely, chiefly Flaubert. As much reading as I've done, I haven't read enough of the "right" books to be able to engage extended discussions of fiction that draw on writers with whom I'm not conversant. I always wade into such works hoping to be inspired by the works to explore those authors, but that approach rarely takes.

 

Better is Wood's The Fun Stuff, which starts with an essay about Keith Moon that, despite Moon's grim fate, is actually, well, fun to read. The next couple of pieces are much more morose in their treatment of their subjects, so I'm wondering if the title is ironic. Either way, the collection is more stimulating a few chapters into it (that's how far I've come) than How Fiction Works.

 

Any Wood fans out there? Oh, FYI -- he mentions his own Christian upbringing in one of the Fun essays, but only as a way of describing hurdles/obstacles in life he needed to move past as he grew up. I don't know that he's not a believer now, but he seems to have rejected whatever flavor of the faith was handed down to him by his parents.

I thought I had launched a James Wood dedicated thread here, but this is the closest I can find.

 

Jonathan Russell Clark has a fine essay on Wood tied to the release of Wood's memoir, The Nearest Thing to Life:

 

His compact volume How Fiction Works –– which I read in a single sitting on a bus from New York to Boston –– is one of the loveliest and most concise primers on fiction I’ve come across. But if that book was too stuffy for some (like Walter Kirn, who, in his review for The New York Times couldn’t suppress his disdain for a critic of Wood’s ilk, who “flashes the Burberry lining of his jacket whenever he rises from his armchair to fetch another Harvard Classic”), Wood’s essay collection The Fun Stuff displayed a more personal side. In essays like “Packing My Father-in-Law’s Library” and “The Fun Stuff: Homage to Keith Moon,” Wood shows how emotionally resonant and stylistically idiosyncratic he can be. Add to this his remarkable considerations of Edmund WilsonLydia DavisW.G. Sebald, and Geoff Dyer, and you have a well-rounded book that should quiet anyone suspicious of a term like artist-critic. ...

 

This should all be old hat by now. Every year, new books arrive promising some meditation on fiction’s quintessence, and though many of them are useful and even well written, they rarely offer truly fresh observations. All of which makes The Nearest Thing to Life that much more remarkable. Wood succeeds so well because of his knack for recognizing defining contradictions. Consider the way he unpacks the duality of fiction through the lens of religion:

 

The idea that anything can be thought and said inside the novel –– a garden where the great Why? hangs unpicked, gloating in the free air –– had, for me, an ironically symmetrical connection with the actual fears of official Christianity outside the novel: that without God, as Dostoyevsky put it, “everything is permitted.” Take away God, and chaos and confusion reign; people will commit all kinds of crimes, think all kinds of thoughts. You need God to keep a lid on things. This is the usual conservative Christian line. By contrast, the novel seems, commonsensically, to say: ‘Everything has always been permitted, even when God was around. God has nothing to do with it.’

 

Wood loves fiction because of its “proximity to, and final difference from, religious texts.” Fiction, he writes, “moves in the shadow of a doubt, knows it is a true lie.” And although we believe in the veracity of a novel’s world, this belief “only resembles actual belief.” These are ideas I’ve written about before but never with such sure-footed clarity. Wood, in this wonderful book, is able to exude dispassionate scrutiny with personal expression, a rare feat indeed.

Edited by Christian

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