What I’ve Been Reading – December 2007

The SportswriterThe Basketball BookFortress of Solitude

Books Acquired:
McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #25 – Dave Eggers (editor)
The Basketball BookSports Illustated, Rob Fleder (editor)
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 – Dave Eggers (editor)

Books Read:
The Sportswriter – Richard Ford
The Basketball BookSports Illustated, Rob Fleder (editor)
Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem

Oh, my. Is it January 7th already?

The double-barreled rush of Christmas and New Year’s Day and the completely expected immersion into family-related mobs has come and gone. We’re still recovering, really. Sierra sleeps erratically. Kerrie keeps asking when we’ll have a day to relax. And I keep putting off What I’ve Been Reading.

And I have so much to celebrate!

First, Christmas brings gifts. And for me, “gifts” often means “books.” Or gift cards redeemable for books. Whatever. Either way, it means I’ve got to clear space off of our already cluttered bookshelves and make way for an even more vertigo-inducing array of choices for “what I should read next.”

This year, realizing my sudden interest in basketball from a historical perspective, Kerrie got me The Basketball Book from Sports Illustrated. It’s a great resource, but even more it’s a treasure chest of great basketball writing – from Vern Mikkelsen to Steve Nash, James Naismith to LeBron James. It’s a picture book with articles; an issue of Sports Illustrated for the basketball enthusiast. I made it about a quarter of the way through before realizing it was best left on the living room table, ready for a quick read or a flash of inspiration. I’d hate to waste it, you know.

Speaking of sports, after three months of off-again, on-again relations with Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter, I finally knuckled down and conquered the damned book.

Amazingly, I barely talked about The Sportswriter in previous What I’ve Been Readings, except to say that I hadn’t finished it yet, which comes as a surprise considering how it’s been looming over my head on the bookshelf above my bed since the beginning of September. It was an exercise in persistence, really – I didn’t really want to read it, yet I didn’t feel so repulsed to put it down. It was just floating in limbo, good enough to finish but not entrancing enough to go through with it.

I wouldn’t call it a disappointment – it was really well written, if not a little dragging and pointless – but it wasn’t a hit either. Ford takes us deep into the mind of Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter still mourning a divorce and a dead child. He takes a trip with a girlfriend, he comes back from the trip, he goes to the girlfriend’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. Boom, end of book.

That’s the plot, or the basics of it at least. Really, this is a book about the internal thinking of a man who thinks too much. It’s a philosophical look at life through the eyes of a man that pretends to be philosophical, an everyman that people are drawn to for advice regardless of the validity of said advice. Like I said – it wasn’t horrible. But who am I kidding – I fought my way through it, and felt cheated when it ended.

Things were evened out with Fortress of Solitude, thankfully. Gosh, what a wonderful book.

Jonathan Lethem’s book is set in Brooklyn. I should rephrase that, actually, the main character of Lethem’s book is Brooklyn, one that is as complex as any I’ve ever read.

On the surface, it’s a story about two boys from two races living two different yet constantly intertwining lives. They grow up together, each emulating the other, each depending on the other for some aspect of life, and – just like that – they’re apart. Looking deeper, it’s a love letter to a city and an in-depth look at how important childhood relationships can be.

Brooklyn is more than a city – it’s a microcosm of the world, where streets serve as borders between neighborhoods like the lines on a political map, where building complexes slowly change face – and beliefs – like invading armies instilling democracy to a third-world nation, where gentrification and poverty move from neighborhood to neighborhood like a plague, refugees seeking asylum elsewhere and the rejects taking control.

And deep within these nation-neighborhoods are kids. Thousands of kids, each growing up like kids are wont to do – each influenced by the people around him or her, each powerless to stop their eventual fate. Black and white, Puerto Rican and Asian, poor and middle class; each melds seamlessly into each other, like amoeba, until they gradually evolve stronger cell walls and develop protective defenses. As time goes on, the kids are less tolerating, more like their member neighborhoods, seeking to gain power or get out of town.

Until that time, it’s all comic books and superheroes. Or, at least in Fortress of Solitude it is. Comic books serve as the ultimate common ground, every kid looking to dive into a fairy tale if it means forgetting their problems.

It’s an early choice for the 2008 top books, without a doubt.

With the holidays over and a glut of new novels headed my way (I love Christmas gift cards, by the way – especially when they’re for a book store…I’ve got no excuse but to spend it on books!) I’ll be set for the rest of the year. I’m back in a rhythm now – reading every night, sneaking an hour or two in on the weekend, waking up bleary eyed but with a memory of great characters still ringing in my head. The lull has died, and cable television has become an accessory.

This is my second reading renaissance, and I’ve never been so excited.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 7th, 2008