Summer: a good time to plunge into the ocean, or trek up a mountain. Or maybe do both at once, and try again to finish The Man Without Qualities.
If I fail once more, at least I can do it with a clear conscience, given that Robert Musil couldn’t finish the book, either, and he was a lot smarter than me. Here it lies on the nightstand, all 1,774 pages and 5.8 pounds. If I drop it on my foot, I’ll be able to add sick leave to my vacation time. That would put me right in the spirit of Musil’s protagonist, Ulrich, who knows a lot about mathematics, philosophy, psychology, engineering, military affairs, the arts of flirtation, and the cultural history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but doesn’t care to do much of anything. Meanwhile, during the narrative year when he and his society are busy idling, Europe ticks down toward August 1914.
I have a bad feeling that we’re also currently ticking down to something. I hope it’s going to be less of a catastrophe than World War I—but however it turns out, I want Musil to help me through the summer with his superb, uncompromising laughter.
I stopped by Powerhouse Arena recently—sadly, it’s closing soon!—and picked up Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which caught my eye on the staff-recommendation table because I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. (Staff-recommendation tables: another reason to mourn the loss of bookstores.) Not too long ago, I also bought Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, which I’ve heard great things about. (I particularly enjoyed Doree Shafrir’s profile of Flournoy for BuzzFeed.)
And I just finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which is the perfect summer read not only because it’s hard to put down but also because it depicts a dystopian future in which most of mankind has been killed by the flu, making it best-read on a beach somewhere far, far away from other humans.
In May, I walked into a bookstore and was dismayed to see that poet Jana Prikryl wasn’t there. Turns out I was, in eagerness, a month early for the release party for The After Party, her debut collection. Prikryl, also a senior editor for The New York Review of Books, has released some great poems over the last few years, in magazines like Harper’s and The New Yorker, replete with unexpected images: “a truffle balanced on your sternum,” “the joints announce their new allegiances.” A few of those poems were excerpts from an epic called “Thirty Thousand Islands,” which depicts Canada’s Lake Huron in a polyphonic meander peopled by strange characters. It will appear unabridged in The After Party, and the parts I have seen so far left me clamoring for more. Her poems are documents of experience and vision and their own deconstruction in a tight, aesthetic package.