Elif Batuman is a grad student in Russian literature, and these essays are about her adventures. Aside from some dense portions related to the actual Russian literature, this book moves, due in no small part to Batuman’s dry, quick-witted humor that pokes fun at everyone from the Uzbek landlord who feeds her from an ant-covered jam jar to the elderly professor who literally shits his pants. The real gems, however, are Batuman’s introduction on why she avoided creative writing (reminiscent of her essay “Get a Real Degree”) and her reflections on grad student obsessions—both pointed commentaries on academia.
I love Nick Hornby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading column (which he’s written on and off for The Believer since the 2000s, and perhaps will again when the magazine finally makes its return??) because he talks about books like a real person, avoids pretentious review-speak, and jokes about how Americans don’t understand British football. Though this review collection’s in the same vein as his others, I missed the more stylized jacket flaps and the book excerpts that came with the first two collections, which made finding new books for my own towering To-Read stack that much easier.
Begley’s biography of writer John Updike exhaustively covers its hero’s rural Pennsylvania childhood, his stint as a twentysomething New Yorker writer, his years in suburban Massachusetts, his elderly descent into isolation, and his many, many novels. Though Updike’s serial adultery plays a key role, Begley keeps the details vague for privacy reasons—unfortunate, since it often feels like there’s more we’re not getting as Begley instead summarizes the autobiographical facets of Updike’s vast oeuvre. The result reads more like literary criticism than biography, but still decently flushes out one of America’s most prolific 20th century writers.
Where I Got It
Ordered online in Fall 2016.
If you haven’t already, you should probably read Rabbit, Run instead, because it’s excellent.
DePietro’s collection covers forty years of interviews with British novelist and man of letters Kingsley Amis, who has a lot to say on the writing process, British politics, and the working-class hero in post-WWII fiction as he moves from card-carrying Communist party member to hardcore Thatcher supporter over the course of forty years. The collection also serves as a useful, expedited autobiography of Amis’s life (with his philandering only alluded to), but can be repetitive since Amis retells the same anecdotes over and over—how many times can we hear him deny being one of the Angry Young Men?
Where I Got It
Bought online a few weeks ago as part of research for the new novel.
1975 Interview with Amis for the Paris Review
Or, check out Amis’s first and most famous novel Lucky Jim instead
Nick Hornby writes with down-to-earth honesty, and this second collection of Stuff I’ve Been Reading essays (which partially inspired this book blog) for The Believer is no exception. Its most poignant moment comes in the preface, where he encourages people to actually read books they enjoy and to not read certain books just because they seem important: “Please, if you’re reading a book that’s killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren’t enjoying a TV program.” Books should be fun, so let’s keep them that way.
Where I Got It
Christmas gift, 2014, along with Nick Hornby’s two other collections of book essays (one of which still remains in the stack…).
Housekeeping vs. The Dirt at McSweeney’s
Nick Hornby’s Website