April is always a busy month in the academic calendar and the first few weeks of May ramp up, if anything. And yet this is the best time of year for sitting in the outside and reading. I only finished three books this month, but summer is coming.
The Professor and the Siren, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
My first foray into Lampedusa’s work, this slim volume contains three short pieces–the eponymous story, a parable called “Joy and the Law,” and “The Blind Kittens,” which was originally conceived of as the opening chapter to a novel that he never completed. My favorite of these three of was “The Blind Kittens,” which just sets the stage for a story about familial land competition in Sicily. “The Professor and the Siren” was interesting, but at its core was a tale about how the impetus for great scholarship (or art) is the combination of a blaze of eroticism in youth (as though to prove vitality) and monastic deprivation thereafter. There is more to this story than that bare narrative, but I don’t like the basic trope.
The Postmortal, Drew Magary
An epistolary what-if novel. What scientists discovered a cure for aging? Not a cure for diseases (including cancer) or against a violent death or to reverse aging that has already happened, but one that freezes the process of aging exactly where it is when the injection takes place. What would the public debate around legalizing such a thing look like? Would there be death cultists who launch campaigns of terror against the postmortals? People who deliberately maim these people who will live for a very, very long time? What happens to marriages that now run the risk of permanently binding people together? Will some deranged mothers give the cure for aging to their infants to keep their babies forever? Will some world governments ban the cure? Will the government eventually introduce euthanasia programs? Will there be a collapse?
These are many of the questions that Magary asks in this clever novel. Magary has a recognizable voice as an author, honed through years of writing things like a long series of “Hater’s Guide to xxx,” but while aspects of it come across as goofy commentary or twists, the medium is supposed to be unpublished blog posts, curated by unnamed individuals sometime after the narrator ceased writing. The form works and many of the ludicrous, tongue-in-cheek, satirical developments are frighteningly plausible.
Desert, J.M.G. Le Clézio
Reviewed here, a sprawling story about the interaction between North African children and the Western Civilization that seeks to oppress them. It is possible to debate the “children” tag, since the common reading seems to link North African freedom and servitude of colonialism, but I find it notable that both narrators are children. This changes the reading in a couple of ways, but the fact that there are multiple adult characters leads me to believe that it is not simply an equation of the colonial subjects with children, as was a part of colonial propaganda.
The Postmortal was my favorite from last month. I’m now working through Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin, which is a grotesque comedy about Naples after it was liberated by the allies during World War 2.