Monday, October 12, 2020

reading: grant

There are two kinds of annoying biography:

  1. The kind where the author hates the subject.
  2. The kind where the author loves the subject.

This one, a biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow, is so far the second. I’m a hundred pages in, out of 960-odd. It’s a slightly disjointed read, in that bouncing-from-source-to-source and speculating-about-motives kind of way. It tells us how great its subject is with a regularity that quickly becomes grating. Still, it’s full of detail and deeply researched. I’m learning stuff and I’ll likely persist.

p1k3 / 2020 / 10 / 12
tags: topics/books, topics/history, topics/reading, topics/war

Sunday, October 11, 2020

reading: the great offshore grounds

A novel by the author of Zazen, a book I first read back in 2012. At the time, you could read the whole thing on the web, which I did, clicking through until the end. I then bought the paperback and read it again.

I got to Zazen by way of a MetaFilter thread on “The Truck Stop Killer”, a long piece she wrote for GQ drawing on her experiences hitchiking as a teenager and a bunch of research into serial killers. It’s probably one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read.

The Great Offshore Grounds is a book you can tell didn’t come easy to write, and although it’s not a slow read, it’s also not exactly an easy one. Scenes in here will stick with me for a long time. Recommended.

(Veselka, Vanessa. The Great Offshore Grounds. New York: Borzoi Books / Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.)

p1k3 / 2020 / 10 / 11
tags: topics/books, topics/reading, topics/vanessa-veselka

Friday, October 9, 2020

reading: interior states

Interior States: Essays, Anchor Books, 2018.

An essay collection by Meghan O'Gieblyn, picked up after a friend linked me to one of the included essays, “Dispatch from Flyover Country”:

Many of our friends who grew up here now live in Brooklyn, where they are at work on “book-length narratives.” Another contingent has moved to the Bay Area and made a fortune there. Every year or so, these west-coasters travel back to Michigan and call us up for dinner or drinks, occasions they use to educate us on the inner workings of the tech industry. They refer to the companies they work for in the first person plural, a habit I have yet to acculturate to. Occasionally they lapse into the utopian, speaking of robotics ordinances and brain-computer interfaces and the mystical, labyrinthine channels of capital, conveying it all with the fervency of pioneers on a civilizing mission. Being lectured quickly becomes dull, and so my husband and I, to amuse ourselves, will sometimes play the rube. “So what, exactly, is a venture capitalist?” we’ll say. Or: “Gosh, it sounds like science fiction.” I suppose we could tell them the truth—that nothing they’re proclaiming is news; that the boom and bustle of the coastal cities, like the smoke from those California wildfires, liberally wafts over the rest of the country. But that seems a bit rude. We are, after all, Midwesterners.

O'Gieblyn comes from somewhere I half know — a life unlike mine but also not that many degrees off of it: The definite Midwest rather than the ambiguous Plains states of its western edge; evangelical Christianity rather than conservative Lutheranism and rural Methodism; homeschooling like I watched shape friends; an academic/literary path I didn’t go down.

As I went through the book, I realized I’d read a few of the included pieces before, somewhere on the internet, usually with a sense of recognition for their subject matter. These are good essays. It occurs to me that reading them from a place of immediate recognition (I, too, saw Carman in front of a packed house on a mid-90s tour) probably isn’t quite like reading them in the New Yorker as someone who grew up on a coast and feels a vague anthropological interest in the in-between places. I suppose that kind of reader is closer to who these are written for, but it’s to the author’s credit that they still work if you’ve spent time inside the frames they discuss.

p1k3 / 2020 / 10 / 9
tags: topics/essays, topics/michigan, topics/reading, topics/religion