Requiem for a Theme
You know school is back in session when you see more required reading than escapist distractions in people’s hands on public transportation. Just the other day we saw a young woman on the bus with a stack of books six-spines tall in her lap, all of them about some aspect of contemporary Latin American politics. It made us remember that we haven’t delved into specific thematic chunks of reading material since humanities seminars or that summer sprint through everything Raymond Chandler ever wrote just to offset a reading list that included such page-turning entertainment as Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society.
These days the old reading habits are much more erratic. A biography might be read simultaneously with a new crime thriller. A 10th or 20th plow through an all-time fave could follow a tedious wade through the supposedly hot new literary wunderkind. (Jonathan Safran Foer? Please.) An anecdote in a New Yorker article sparks a search for something not read in over a decade. We no longer have reading lists, we have reading stacks. The latest copy of Vanity Fair sits on top of whatever books are currently being read, which are scattered over two-weeks-old sections of the Sun and New York Times, last month’s Cosmo, and some paperback trash on the nightstand or coffee table or the hardwood floor. If that sounds like horribly haphazard organization, well, yeah. It’s probably a pretty accurate reflection of the mind that created them.
This year’s Big Books Issue corrals a similar loose aggregate of unrelated subjects and authors, lassoed together just because they’re new books, authors, and subjects that caught our mind. Local publishing outlets ChickenBones and Black Classic Press respond to the rise of African-American “urban” fiction. Jonathan Kozol looks at rapidly resegregating city schools in The Shame of the Nation, a book that predicts tough-love lessons for school districts as struggling as Baltimore City’s. Bruce Fleming examines his idiosyncratic 20-year career as an English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. A whole crop of new books tackles the issue of money in America—and how quickly life turns south when it runs out. Sex and the City’s Candace Bushnell talks about working and loving when the single girl finds herself married and in her 40s. And local psychotherapist Margaret McCraw turns lessons she learned sitting in the psychiatrist’s chair to the problems of the single and looking. We can’t be sure you’re going be interested in everything we’ve got here. But like us, we’re guessing that your mind is active enough never to keep but one hot-iron book in the proverbial burner.
Going Short (9/23/2009)
Some authors simply prefer compact storytelling over the novel's wordy road
Let's Get Short (9/23/2009)
City Paper's Big Books Issue 2009 takes a look at fiction's overlooked gems
Neverending Stories (9/23/2009)
Short stories continue to be where sci-fi writers explore their big ideas
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