What is A/S Reading? – No. 2

You know when you’re at a friend’s house, and you find yourself idly going through their iPod and formulating character judgments? This is the same thing. It’s time for What is A/S Reading?

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Fiction Editor John Cusick just began Forever by Pete Hamill:

Apparently about a man who lives forever as long as he stays on the island of Manhattan. I’m only twenty pages in, and so far we’re kicking around idyllic 19th century Ireland, and I absolutely love it.

Distribution King and Managing Editor Adam Read-Brown is still working on Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace:

As page 400 recedes in the rear-view mirror, I have finally had confirmed my suspicions and vague ideas about IJ as a distinctly post-cold war, pre-9/11 novel. Not that this is such a great intellectual stretch on my part (it came out in 1996), but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until the narrator told me that it was an era when:

…the U.S. sort of turned on itself and its own philosophical fatigue and hideous redolent wastes with a spasm of panicked rage that in retrospect seems possible only in a time of geopolitical supremacy and consequent silence, the loss of any external Menace to hate and fear. (p. 382)

Part of me wants to call in sick for a week and hole up like one of DFW’s drug dependent tragicomic characters: blinds pulled, phone unplugged, fully stocked fridge, and Infinite Jest. Alas.

Managing Editor Laura McMillan has a new non-fiction title, Dread: How Fear and Fantasy have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to the Avian Flu by Richard Alcabes:

Reads like a cross between The Tipping Point and Guns, Germs and Steel. The subtitle’s a bit misleading–this is more about how social institutions have used fear of disease to advance agendas, and the slow process of understanding contagion as a physical phenomenon caused by pathogens. Full of unexpected tid-bits: Municipal taxes started as a levy to support quarantine houses for plague victims and lepers (a lot of whom never really had Hansen’s disease, but other non-contagious skin conditions). In 1860, one out of four New Yorkers had been born in Ireland. Cholera probably existed as periodic low-level outbreaks throughout most of India until British colonialism forced Indians into more crowded and urbanized living conditions. During the SARS panic, airports screened 1.4 million passengers for higher-than-normal temperatures, but found not a single case of SARS.

Poetry Editor Evan Simko-Bednarski is still reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell:

Phenomenal. Cloud Atlas is fast becoming a book that makes me miss my subway stop. I’m on the fourth section at the moment, and I’m struck by the number of high-concept conversations Mitchell’s characters can have without (1) ever sounding forced or affected or (2) ever sounding like one another. The number of voices Mitchell can master is equalled only by their depth. And its a damn fun read too. Mitchell’s brain must be a fascinating place to live.

Non-Fiction Editor Kevin Dugan has jumped into the melee and picked up Freedom by Jonathan Franzen:

Readers tend to have strong opinions about Jonathan Franzen, and I am certainly no exception. The lit press wants to canonize him, the academy tends to regard him with a shrug. The Corrections is probably the second best American novel of the 90s, next to DFW’s Infinite Jest, and only by a hair. I have a sense that the structure of Freedom, which I am a little over halfway through, will be similar to his last book, in that there will be a big reveal near the end that fundamentally shifts everything the reader though he understood. That said, I will reserve judgment on the whole, and say that so far it is very good, though can get a little diatribey at times. In Franzen’s collection of essays, How To Be Alone, he talks about his breaking through past the social novel, that which tries to Fix/Understand The World, by focusing on characters, and understanding people. There are great moments of insight into his characters, but I’m not convinced that he is able to improve on his inventions in Corrections. But I’m waiting to be proved wrong.

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