7 From 75

A few weeks ago, playbackstl.com published "A Book for Every Stocking," a list of 75 pre-holiday-shopping book recommendations from me to you. The downer was that it was just a title-and-author affair, with no corresponding descriptions. So here now-at the start of a new year (happy that, by the way), when maybe you've scored some Xmas cash, or gift certificates, or just made some sort of New Year's resolution for taking more book recs from people you don't know-I'm offering expanded descriptions of seven of what I all but blood-promise will be rewarding reads. All are highly affordable paperbacks, save the last. Hope you connect with at least one.

Cormac McCarthy: Suttree (Vintage International, 1991)
What It Is-A masterful, deeply affecting novel from the author of Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses. McCarthy's considered by more than a few to be the finest living American writer, even up there among the finest of the entire 20th century. His writing can lift you up and dazzle-spin you like Faulkner's, but you understand more of what's actually going on. Plus when McCarthy lands you back on the ground, you sometimes feel like your organs are now on the outside of your body. Certain passages appear like gruesome miracles, and you find yourself both sad and grateful.

What You're in For-Desperate characters Cornelius Suttree and Gene Harrogate shivering, drinking, head-shaking, and hoping through their ghastly lives in a town off the Tennessee River. Told with more haunting lyricism and humanity than I could describe, so I'll just say that I'm not sure I've ever read better writing than what's in these pages.

A Taste-"A figure came down from the fire and squatted in the grass and rose and went back. The willows at the far shore cut from the night a prospect of distant mountains dark against a paler sky. Halfmoon incandescent in her black galactic keyway, the heavens locked and wheeling. A sole star to the north pale and constant, the old wanderer's beacon burning like a molten spike that tethered fast the Small Bear to the turning firmament. He closed his eyes and opened them and looked again. He was struck by the fidelity of this earth he inhabited and he bore it sudden love."

Annie Dillard: For the Time Being (Vintage Books, 1999)
What It Is-A deeply personal, humble book of vignettes from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
What You're in For-Dillard whisper-blows monumental ideas and questions off her palm to us, like bits of dandelion, inviting us to consider with her the mysteries of what the hell we're even doing here.
A Taste-"Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap like shingles. We don't fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat's stem slits the crest of the present."

Ben Sonnenberg: Lost Property: Memoirs of a Bad Man (Counterpoint, 1999)
What It Is-An odd recommendation, but this memoir-by the son of one of the first and most powerful PR men in New York-is moving in completely its own way every time I pick it up.

What You're in For-Watching "a collector's child"-a privileged junior aesthete-poser who's surrounded by power and high art-grow to manhood, receive perspective, and recount his sexual, intellectual, and social sins, slowly and coldly.

A Taste-"One afternoon, watching Susy, on the needlepoint rug, in the paneled library, I remembered how once at a dealer's, a decrepit old collector came, with his young wife and new baby, to inspect a white-figure wine jug of the fourth century B.C. The baby pulled at something, the lekythos nearly fell, and from the way the collector looked, I knew if he had had to choose between the vase and his baby, the baby would be dead. I'm not like that, thank goodness, I thought, watching Susy on the rug, watching my parents watching me, turning my foot from side to side, catching the light on my shoe."

William H. Gass: Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation (Basic Books, 1999)
What It Is-A brief, far-from-academic tour through some of Rilke's life and verse, as well as the efforts of translators along the way. St. Louisan Gass closes with his own translation of Rilke's famous Duino Elegies.
What You're in For-There's good odds you've read some Rilke, or you've been given some Rilke, or you've heard movie characters drop his name in asides. With his book, Gass offers you a seat quite close to both he and the poet, and both seem better for the company.
A Taste-"The Duino Elegies were not written; they were awaited…According to the Elegies, we are here just to utter. To sew concept to referent like a button on a coat…a button meant not to button but to be."

Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov(translated by Richard Pevear & Lrissa Volokhonsky) (Vintage Classics, 1991)
What It Is-You probably already know. But if you haven't read it, you've got a great chance with this acclaimed recent translation. Plus, I wanted to list at least one classic (Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, translated by John Woods, being the close second).
What You're in For-Meaty, funny, torrential heart- and mind-storms whirling through issues of family, guilt, faith, and forgiveness.
A Taste-[The elder, to Ivan:] "You weren't quite joking, that is true. This idea is not yet resolved in your heart and torments it. But a martyr, too, sometimes likes to toy with his despair, also from despair, as it were. For the time you, too, are toying, out of despair, with your magazine articles and drawing-room discussions, without believing in your dialectics and smirking at them with your heart aching inside you…The question is not resolved in you, and there lies your great grief, for it urgently demands resolution…"

David Foster Wallace: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (Little, Brown, 1997)
What It Is-A very funny and engaging book of "essays and arguments" from Infinite Jest novelist and, you guessed it, the best writer of his generation.
What You're in For-An extremely gifted observer sitting on some sort of floating, spinning ceiling fan observing (himself observing) the Illinois State Fair, a luxury cruiseliner at sea, a professional tennis tournament on the margins of the circuit, TV watchers, and a David Lynch movie set.
A Taste-"Finally, (7), know that an unshot skeet's movement against the vast lapis lazuli dome of the open ocean's sky is sun-like-i.e., orange and parabolic and right-to-left-and that its disappearance into the sea is edge-first and splashless and sad."

Franz Wright: Walking To Martha's Vineyard: Poems (Knopf, 2003)
What It Is-The newest book from living poet Franz Wright, oft-published in The New Yorker and Pulitzer-nominated for The Beforelife.
What You're in For-Wright's poems are brief bursts of light and humor and pain and passion. Whether writing of the apple tree outside his window, or the "kindersluts smoking and giggling" on Broadway, Wright's continual intoxication is "the / tall blue starry / strangeness of being / here at all." I know of no other current writer who can sit in a room, string together three lines on a piece of paper, and create in me stadiums of feeling.
A Taste-From "Shaving in the Dark": "There's nothing like today // And contributing one's atoms to the green universe / how strange is that // And some have managed to live in a constant awareness / that all things, every evil thing / will be forgotten, neglecting / to mourn for every radiant thing, and so seeing / the radiance." | Stephen Schenkenberg

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