January Books

[I’m currently on sabbatical from long-form criticism as a I write a novel. Please follow me on Substack for my weekly literature-and-culture newsletter and (soon) the novel in serial; please follow on Tumblr for occasional squibs, jottings, and polemics. For now, very brief book reviews just to keep track of my reading.]

Paul Auster, The Book of Illusions
“The Lottery in Hollywood Babylon.” Page-turner. Read it on a plane. James Wood cattily said it “was like something written by a hipper John Irving”—yes, what’s the problem?

Jorge García-Robles, The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico
A Mexican writer returns Burroughs’s exotic gaze. Redolent with culture and laden with stories. Unsure of the judgment that Bill was just fulfilling Joan’s death wish—but then, not one of these people was a moralist.

Honoré de Balzac, Séraphîta
Swedenborgean romance about an androgynous angel and the youths that love him and her in Balzac’s hallucinated Norway. Page after page of occult doctrine about the interpenetration of matter and spirit. See also my discussion here.

Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection
Delirious early Delany—polymathic early-20s genius—a modernist SF parable on behalf of newness and difference, the radical transfiguration of culture by its novel constituents. Archaeologists of “woke” will find a point of origin here in the ’60s, but Delany through his epigraph-mania acknowledges his sources in modernism; this has been going on longer than you think.

The Books of Genesis and Exodus
Harold Bloom was right: a poet and a priest are fighting a great duel here over the beginning of time and history. Heed the poet. (I’m reading the Norton Critical English King James Bible edited by Herbert Marks, a landmark work of scholarship.)

Honoré de Balzac, The Girl with the Golden Eyes
A 20-page prologue canvassing every class in Paris to demonstrate the reign of gold and pleasure gives way to the story of a dandy’s erotic obsession, culminating in a bloody, murderous lesbian-incestuous tableau. Decadent fun.

Honoré de Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece
Urgent reading for those concerned with the nature and fate of modern art. Revered by Picasso. See my longer discussion at Substack.

Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis
Revisited Kane after dismissing her years ago as a shock artist, inspired by the Art of Darkness pod episode. This posthumous text is a ’90s Gen-X Waste Land recast as quite literal onstage suicide note. Much great poetry, much raw pain. She was right—and sadly proved it—that psychiatry and psychology couldn’t save her and likely even alienated her further; she hints that she needs—but won’t allow herself—what saved Eliot.

Anna Maria Morsucci, Reading and Understanding the Marseille Tarot
A good primer. My novel is probably going to be called Major Arcana, by the way.