Books #9 and #10 of 2013

Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews is everything you want in a non-fiction collection: it’s provocative, annoying, stimulating, dull, frustrating, interesting, and amusing by turn. I particularly like Dyer’s writing about photography and jazz–he’s no technician or expert in either field, but he’s more than just a fan, and he turned me on to some photographers I enjoyed browsing on Google Images (What would Walter Benjamin think about THAT?).

Less interesting were Dyer’s little memoirish pieces; he’s no Tony Judt. Meaning primarily that I never thought “Tony Judt is a dickhead” while I read his memoir essays–rather the contrary. I often, however, thought “Geoff Dyer is a dickhead” while reading his. But part of Dyer’s charm is being a dickhead–he’s managed to wrangle a pretty successful life out of abusing the dole and writing about stuff he doesn’t know shit about in a certain sense, but to which he’s paid attention and about which he’s thought carefully . On the strength of the novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Vintage) and this current volume, I will be reading more Geoff Dyer.

The Cement Garden
is another light-hearted and charming romp by Ian McEwan. Dad kicks off, followed shortly by Mom. Their four kids are left to fend for themselves in a castle-shaped house in some weird suburb being dismantled to make way for a highway. It’s kind of like a cross between John Hawkes’ The Blood Oranges and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle because it’s by equal measure disturbing, funny, and sexy. McEwan’s concerns here are the vague barriers between adulthood and childhood, and how very fragile we can be during that transition, especially without kindly predisposed elders to guide us.

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