Advance Reading

It’s the first day of classes here at the College Just South of the Hill, and we’re all settling down with piles of books and crisp new notebooks. I’m hoping, this semester, to get some mileage out of those classes here in the land of Obsolescence; you can keep up with the readings yourself by checking out the Academic Belatedness link over there on the right.

So the good news is that we’ve got a clean slate, a new semester, and we’re all pretty caffeinated and rarin’ to go. The downside, however, is that for the foreseeable future, all the reading I’m going to be doing will be re-reading. Honestly, when folks hear I teach contemporary fiction, they inevitably ask me whether I’ve read something I invariably haven’t, because they just don’t realize that I spend the bulk of my career reading the same 50 books over and over and over. (And over.)

This re-reading feels like a particular loss right now, as I’ve spent the last couple of months both catching up on some things that came out last year and even reading a few things that have yet to be released. One will hit the shelves tomorrow, as it turns out. One will be released next month. One not until April. I’ve resisted writing about them to this point, being uncertain about the possible reviewerly embargoes on the texts. For the moment, however, I’ll bid my new reading adieu by making these few (ever-so-veiled) comments:

Each is in differing respects a departure from the novelist’s earlier work.

One brings to fruition two strains visible in the background of much of that earlier work, resulting in a novel of a scope and a sensitivity and a lyricism that one might be tempted to call transcendent.

One shows its author leaving aside the whiz-bang concerns of the past — or the future — in favor of a real engagement with the present.

One recapitulates the process of its author’s career, redeploying many of his earlier work’s set pieces and tropes, but does so with the effect of dismantling that earlier work, suggesting the very different world we live in now.

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