By John Darcy
Every now and again, I think it does a person good to wade through the deepest corners of their bookshelf. It’s a kind of reset button for the soul, bringing back the books that bursted you wide open. The hardest part, at least when it came to formulating this blog post, was finding the four I wanted to share. Rest assured in knowing that the selection process was lengthy, involved, and extremely arbitrary.
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
By Pynchon-fandom standards, I’m definitely on the lesser end of the spectrum, but Inherent Vice has always been the book of his that resonated with me. This is a psychedelic kaleidoscope of a novel, the story of Doc Sportello and the death of the of counterculture-sixties, about the ways in which challenges to the system become coopted by the system itself. It is absolutely batshit crazy, of course, but more than any other work of Pynchon’s this book pushes through the postmodern craziness to strike moment after moment of heart-wrenching sincerity. There’s a scene at the end of the novel where Doc is driving through a covering fog, united with the other drivers on the interstate, relying on their headlights as they are on his, and he looks down to see his gas tank is just over half-full, his mug of coffee is still warm and he has a new pack of smokes – the simplicity of this hard-won contentment is enough to knock me over with a feather.
Steps by Jerzy Kosinski
This is about the weirdest, strangest, scariest book I’ve ever read. Sparse and spooky, really, is the best way to describe the not-quite-vignettes, not-quite-parables through which the book finds its structure. It’s impossible not to feel a singular sort of loneliness when reading Steps, but it is a provocative type of isolation, rich in both color and kind. In the end, the central focus of this book is on morality, on sexuality especially, on the Big Questions. And, at least in my experience, it seems as if the Big Questions are the most difficult to summarize.
Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann
Louise Brown, the protagonist of Nancy Lemann’s mind-blowingly funny and eccentric novel, has to rank among the most enduring literary characters I have ever come across. Louise is a classically trained southern belle, returning to her home in New Orleans after four years in college on the east coast. The novel reads as a kind of complicated love letter to the past, a song for innocence lost. It is droolingly good, and filled with what I’ve seen referred to as “wolf sentences,” sentences that, at some point in their unfolding, take linguistic turns so sharp and brutal and viscous as to leave the reader gasping for air.
Hitchcock/Truffaut by Francois Truffaut
Any cinephile, and really anyone with an interest in stories, ought to read this. Published in 1962, this book came out of a week-long conversation between the wildly influential directors at Universal Studios. They discussed movies, story structure, thematic concerns, and they analyzed every single movie that Hitchcock made, one by one. The entire conversation took place through translators, as Hitchcock did not speak French, nor Truffaut English. Somehow, this fact makes what is perhaps the most important discussion about movies ever to occur even more inspiring.