CBR12Bingo – Shelfie
These three books are not connected in any meaningful way except that I happened to buy all of them earlier in the summer from Thriftbooks and randomly chose to read them at the same time, switching off for a few reasons. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes ended up being a little more boring and dense that I had hoped, so the balance of the Walter Tevis stories helped, and while I really enjoy the Will Cuppy pieces, they are too similar to one another to read one after another, and are better one or two at a time per day.
The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody: 4/5 Stars
A really weird and funny little book. We learn from the introduction that Will Cuppy was a longtime humorist and critic writing for various newspapers, and that this book (and not his only by far) was among the remaining notes of his papers. The book itself is a series of sketches, and so the idea that this could easily be part of a larger collection of sketches, almost infinitely makes perfect sense. So the book is a kind of “fractured fairy tales” of historical figures. The book runs 225 pages and each sketch is 7-10 pages, with literal sketches by the author as well. There’s footnotes, a kind of serious historical taste to them, but it’s also full of sarcasm, witty sneering, and little off-handed comments that break down some of the absurdities of the figures. So for example, reading about Nero, there’s little attention paid to the wider historical contexts so much as a little ribbing commentary on the choices that us to infamous moments of his life. Obviously, you shouldn’t be getting your history from these books, but they do offer up a kind of history, and well, while it may or may not be of any real important whether or not I read a lot about, say, Lucrezia Borgia, the little I get here still makes for a kind of cocktail party amount of information. The book is also an interesting and accidental catalog of humorous phrasing grammar and lexicography. The witty phrases tend to be so off-handed, but catalog, like say Twitter, the ways that jokes were being made.
Far From Home: 3/5 Stars
This is my sixth or so Walter Tevis book of this year, and it’s admittedly the weakest of the bunch. He’s clearly a much more talented novelist than short story writer, although there are some good and interesting stories in this collection. The opening section starts with his much more recent stories (and the book itself was published in 1980 or so, near the end of his life, but not quite before he published the last two of his novels Queen’s Gambit (which I think is by far his best) and The Color of Money (the sequel to The Hustler, which is a strong book than the first novel), so he did still have some good writing left in him. One story even clearly seems to a central idea for a long sub-plot of The Color of Money, where Fast Eddie Felsen becomes an antiques and outsider art dealer for a short time. Regardless, a lot of these stories do something that I think is good, explores a conceit, not just to look at the idea itself, but how that conceit could be used to highlight ideas from someone life. For example, how could a timeloop allow or disallow or even force a struggling married couple to reconnect or redefine their relationship. These kinds of questions put this book more in the realm of realistic fiction, even if the fiction is not in fact realistic.
Angl0-Saxon Attitudes: 2/5 Stars
This one was decidedly rough going for me, and the long chapters, the dense minutae of the the prose, and the torpor I felt thirty pages into a chapter with thirty more to go meant this was not a wonderful reading experience for me. All of this is a shame because I was hoping this one would be good, and it seemed like it might be going in. We meet an aging academic who is asked to convene on some new scholarship as a kind of consult, we find out that he’s in possession of an embarrassing secret about a colleague, and that his life is in a little disarray. But as I got into it, I couldn’t find myself all that interested in these lives or this story. It read a lot like an Iris Murdoch novel, with no real gothic elements, and a lot more drudgery. It almost splits the different between Murdoch and Kingsley Amis, without the lightness of Amis or the depth of Murdoch.