1. Dinty W. Moore's Between Panic and Desire. Freaking stupendous. I'd read parts of this, but never all the way through. I love that my comps is getting me to read all kinds of stuff I've put off till Later. I'm fairly traditional when it comes to nonfiction and form, but considering different forms is something I'm working on. My overarching question when the form isn't traditional circles around why write something this way? Mostly, my first introductions to experimental forms has come with pieces that feel like the writer is pulling a gimmick, trying to do something just for the sake of being weird, not because the piece demands such a form. With Dinty's pieces (some more than others, but that's going to happen in any book) the form was absolutely the right way to write his way through those ideas and those events. I'm looking forward to talking with him about this book at AWP, as well as my friend SFM, my resident expert in all things form.
2. Susan Orlean's The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. Hated. But I pretty much knew that going in. I'm not a fan of the New Yorker style pieces, of which this book is mostly composed. There's nothing in those style of pieces (I can't bring myself to call them essays, because they're not even close) that transcends their subjects. They're lovely in their writing--and they absolutely know their audience. However, because they're so topical with no perspective, they rely on their reader for meaning, which means if you don't know the person she's talking about, don't know New York or the place, or don't have some other sort of connection, it's going to be a waste of time. I will say that I think the New Yorker style inhibits Orlean, because those pieces that were not published in the New Yorker were near to brilliant. Those pieces allowed Orlean to make meaning out of the person, the event, the place, or whatever she was seeing. She's a brilliant writer, that's not in doubt. This just solidifies that the New Yorker wouldn't know a good essay if it bit them in the ass--what they do is good, but they should stop calling them essays. And stop clogging up Best American Essays with them. Sorry, sorry. Soapbox alert. Sorry.
3. Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. Not for my comps, but for enjoyment as well as wondering if I could possibly teach it at some point. It's been a long time since I've closed the back cover of a book with a heartfelt and reverent "holy shit," but this book was one of them. This book was so complicated, so brilliant, that I think it's definitely going to be on a teaching list one of these days. First, most importantly, the man can write a sentence. Wow. And the role of the place in the story was so much more than setting, second. Boston was not just a setting, but a place, a character, and acted as much on the human characters as they did upon it. I'm definitely teaching this one.
4. I haven't read David Quammen's Monster of God yet, but that's what's on my list for today. Bring on the charismatic mega-fauna! Stay tuned to see what I think of it.