What I’ve been reading lately

by Jess

I read Camus’ The Fall for the first time last week.  It’s quite good (like you needed me to tell you that Camus writes well — good grief), and an amazingly speedy read since it’s framed conversationally, although it’s the type of book that I need to study quite a bit to realize its full import.

There’s a lovely little write-up on the book in Harper’s — complete with music!  The author notes, “In most of Camus’s novels we feel the scorching sun and heat of the Maghreb,” so it was a coincidental that I also recently picked up a copy of Henry Shukman’s Mortimer of the Maghreb.

I’m having a hard time with it.  The protagonist of the first few stories, Charles Mortimer, is a disgraced journalist trying to regain his good name by breaking a story in the western Sahara.  He plays it old school; that is, he drinks and smokes and cheats on his wife.  I find him terribly boring.  Apparently, the last few stories — novellas, really — focus on different characters and move from Africa to the Caribbean.  As Alan Riding notes, “To be honest, I was relieved to be done with Mortimer’s gloom and self-pity, and I read Shukman’s three remaining stories with greater pleasure. While his new anti-heroes are also alcoholically challenged, he displays a great deal more humor in the Caribbean than he did in the Maghreb.”

Even with that breathtaking endorsement, I don’t know if I’ll keep going.  There was a time when I couldn’t fathom stopping midway through a book, but I’m 26 now and dizzyingly cognizant of my own mortality, so I stick to those books that I truly love in the breath of time that I have left.

Anyway, I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, and it’s fabulous.  She’s very funny and very talented.  It’s a book on writing that really just makes me want to write, and do nothing else, ever.  Except maybe read this Powell’s interview with her.  And then go write.