A long, long time ago, people enjoyed listening to the work of comedians on vinyl. My grandparents especially enjoyed Peter Sellers. My parents were great fans of George Carlin and Richard Pryor. And no adult in my family ever thought to shelter young ears from their mature entertainment. Much to the delight of us children.
When I read The Sellout by Paul Beatty, I was not only reduced to body shaking laughter with great frequency, but also returned to my childhood. And to the work of Richard Pryor. The brilliance of the Beatty's book, the connections to my past, and the sometimes uncomfortable reminders of the white, liberal guilt I occasionally carry in my bag all made for one of the most satisfying reading experiences I have had in a while. I picked it as my favorite to win the Tournament of Books this year, and it did. Not gloating. I managed to have the correct pick on only a very small number of rounds. Check out Beatty's hilarious acceptance of the award here.
The ToB is an annual fun fest for me not always because of the chosen books but because of the conversation - on the site, in social media, and even (imagine this) in person with friends. It is a reminder that taste, in anything, is not an objective force.
So I went from a mad dash of readings of the entire shortlist for the Tournament of Books to The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. And lost all sense of reading time. Appropriately aligned to a theme from the book as I will discuss in greater depth in a few posts this week. I spent most of my month buried, absorbed in Mann's 700+ page glorious work. As did Richard. And Bellezza loved what she got to, and will be catching up in May after the Man Booker International Prize shadow jury fun concludes. There was not a part that disappointed, and I am excited to get to more of Mann's work this year. It took most of March. It deserved most of March.
And where does one go after two books like that? Not to another work of fiction certainly. So having enjoyed Sarah Bakewell's previous book on Montaigne, I picked up her latest, At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, and then went to hear her speak at my local bookstore this week. She has this rare ability to make even the most abstruse material accessible while never over-simplifying it. The crowd to see her ranged from folks who had limited knowledge of the existentialists to those with very deep familiarity. At the end of the event, it was interesting to see what other books folks picked up including copies of Nausea as well as her previous book How to Live. I am enjoying the book so far, and it serves as a nice balance to my attempts to get my The Magic Mountain thoughts together, both books being somewhat consumed by philosophies based in one's own existence.
Did all your ToB dreams come true this year? What are you reading right now?