I saw a reference on another blog to what my household is calling the <a href=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18628613/site/newsweek/”>Newsweek thing</a>– my rather inexplicable appearance in a regular column that, the week before, featured Tom Wolfe. There is a story behind the story. Another writer dropped out, they needed someone at the last-minute, my e-mail is readily available, the editor’s mother had once profiled me . . . But the reason I’m mentioning the article here is because I can’t help wanting to expand on the (somewhat impossible) task of picking five books.
LOLITA: No contest. Everyone knows I love this book. I’ve read it over and over; I felt terrifically affirmed when Martin Amis said it was one of the best novels ever. One of the things that fascinates me about Lolita is that Nabokov got many of the details of pedophilia exactly right – in an era where it wasn’t much discussed, much less understood. Humbert’s rationalizations, his “barter” system with Lolita. It also knocks me out that one of the clues to the identity of Lolita’s kidnapper (as Humbert thinks of him) is hidden in plain sight, in a letter. There are a lot of Poe allusions in LOLITA, and while I don’t think the annotated LOLITA specifies this as one of them, I would count it.
DANCING BEAR, by James Crumley. I’m a creature of habit, for those who don’t know. And, in my 20s, one of my habits was having breakfast every Saturday at the same San Antonio bakery, Twin Sisters, then going across the street to the Bookstop, where I bought a lot of Vintage paperbacks. This is how I discovered Crumley. I’d like to advance a theory that many of today’s best crime writers are, in fact, Crumley-ites, which I define as those who could write literary fiction, but prefer to write crime fiction.
ZUCKERMAN UNBOUND, by Philip Roth. I had to pick a Roth, but I wanted to pick one of the less-obvious ones. The fact is, I think Zuckerman Unbound is one of the first hardcover novels I bought as a young reporter in Waco. It cost $10.95. At the time, I made $175 a week. To the <a href= “http://www.westegg.com/inflation/”>inflation calculator</a>, Batman! That same book would cost $25.83 (in 2006 dollars) and my weekly salary was the equivalent of $412.85. Hey, I was kind of poor when I was 22.
I think I also picked ZU because this passage has been on my mind as of late: “Andre was right to give it to him: you lock yourself away to stir up your imagination, then you lock yourself away because you’ve stirred up theirs.”
LOVE STORY: If you know me well, you know by now that my not-so-secret dream is to write a biography of Ruth McKenney. This is, for the most part, a very funny book, but McKenney’s life does not strike me as particularly comic.
The Betsy-Tacy books: Almost all the e-mail from the Newsweek piece was generated by my mention of these books. And some of the mail actually echoes the watch-cry of the<a href=”http://www.betsy-tacysociety.org/bolts.htm “>Betsy-Tacy Society</a>– “I thought I was the only one!” I’m re-reading BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF now, and marveling at it.
As for my dis of CATCHER IN THE RYE – if space had allowed, I would have added that I still like NINE STORIES, RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAM, CARPENTER, and FRANNY AND ZOOEY. Truthfully, if I could get away with it, I would chuck my hardcover copy of CATCHER.