Leaving the Literary Rut Behind

Admittedly, I’m currently just a tad emotionally influenced by good Scotch*– but I think even the soberest of mes would agree that few things can raise one’s mood like delving into really solid literature, especially after having forced oneself to schlep through the subpar variety. That’s right: having finally disposed of Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses** and Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, *** I’m basking in Monika Fagerholm’s The American Girl. It’s early in the game with this new read, but it’s still got the shine of newness about it, and bears the extra charm of having been finally found after a few years of futile searching for it in local bookstores.

Somehow, this sparrow courtesy of Ken Conger and Wikimedia, is on par with my mood.

Somehow, this sparrow, courtesy of Ken Conger and Wikimedia, is on par with my mood.

Then, too, there’s Osama Alomar’s Fullblood Arabian. You know if Lydia Davis was convinced enough of the poet’s work to write a forward to it, it’s going to be good– and so far, that method of judging its quality has proven sound. A mix of aphorism, super-short story, and poetry, it’s not perfect– but it’s true and unashamedly curious, and therefore, refreshing.

Top all that off with the fact that I and the guy next to me on the train this morning were digging into identical copies of The New Yorker, and it all just gets better. I realize the magazine has a gajillion subscribers, and that the coincidence is more or less meaningless– but I’ll take any evidence of solidarity between two human beings I can get these days, tenuous as it may be. He’s to you, train friend: although we never even dared to look each other in the eye, for a few minutes there, we had a good thing going.


* Don’t worry, readers; my extremely low-frequency indulgence in the products of the alcoholic kingdom, and hence, my exceedingly low tolerance, mean that my evening consisted of only one glass of Glenmorangie, nursed over a couple of hours and accompanied by a respectable amount of food. So much for my rock-n-roll lifestyle.

** Brief review: The author tries to make her point about the wondrousness involved in how humans make contact with the rest of creation by piling up a bunch of lists and making unfounded generalizations (e.g., “We think of the wind as a destructive force.” Maybe I’m odd, but the first thing I think about when the concept “wind” pops up is a pleasantly blustery day; destruction doesn’t come into my own head’s conversation about the topic until we’ve gotten well past recognition of soft breezes, for example). All in all, the book tends toward the mawkish, although I am willing to grant its moments of insights, such as the assertion that “When you consider something like death… then it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply…” Both quotes are from Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses (New York: Vintage Books, 1991) 237 and 256.

*** I’m being overly harsh in calling this one subpar; maybe it was simply a combination of the book’s being too long to hold the interest of someone not really into stories of Western pioneer hardihood.



  1. birds fly

    It took forever for me to finish Angle of Repose and I almost bailed on it many times. In retrospect I’m still kind of surprised I finished it, but I do remember really enjoying parts of it, while others flat out bored me. I have a bunch of his other books at home, but have yet to try another despite high recommendations for several of them. I’m still curious, though.

    (Wind: yeah, destructiveness not my first thought…)


    • Special K

      Yes! I thought initially that I’d be pleasantly surprised by Stegner– but then the crank of a narrator and this story that seemed to have no end in sight and no real purpose– or rather, to have nothing special about it– got to be too much. I still wonder if its being “another pioneer story,” even with its characters’ being different than the average person, was the point, but I’m not even curious enough to do any digging around about it.


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