Sam Shepard: A Life is now available in paperback (including a new epilogue).

JohN J. Winters

Some I'm working on for future reviews or classes I'm teaching, but most are simply for fun...


March 2019


William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems
The Library of America has issued, in collaboration with the American Poets Project, some slim and inexpensive collections by our greatest poets. I recently purchased this one and the collection by Amy Lowell. Robert Pinsky provides an insightful introduction here, and alerts us to Williams' "eye," that is to say, his ability to capture so much, from the mundane to the mystical. That eye Pinsky equates with the great poet's soul. Can't say Williams still doesn't often confound me, but I'm enjoying taking up the gauntlet his work lays down.


Joseph Frank: Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

Revisiting parts of this big book that seems very comprehensive to me, despite the fact that it's an abridged version of his five-volume biography of the great Russian master. Of particular interest to me are the parts about the writing of The Brothers Karamazov, including Frank's analysis. Lots of details, but fascinating nonetheless.


Jack Kerouac: On the Road

Next up for my class at the prison. Interested to see what they think of this, one of the formative books of my youth. I've told the students that for young people this is a book about freedom, escape and the great fun of wine, women and song (oh, and lots of drugs). However, coming to this book as an older and now middle-aged person, I've found it to be a sad book. Try reading that final page without getting melancholy. I view that last page and that of Gatsby as both similar and sad. More to come...


February 2019

 

(Spent much of this month on The Brothers Karamazov, see updated thoughts below.)


Sue Prideaux: Nietzsche: I Am Dynamite

A great biography that spends a lot of ink on his time with Wagner, as well as his key ideas, his mental illness, and his impact on the world of ideas and history. Read it in a weekend. The author's own ideas about Nietzsche's works are clear-eyed and presented in just the right amount.

 

Richard Wright: Black Boy

Teaching this in medium security prison in Rhode Island. The students there were quite upset when I told them that parts of this book are exaggerated or happened to someone else. Started a discussion about what's "true," and if an author can employ various effects in order to reach for a higher truth. 

 

John D. MacDonald: The Deep Blue Good-By

My first by this author and sure not to be my last. The plot is not the main point here, as I've said before about one of my favorite crime/mystery writers, Ken Bruen (especially his Jack Taylor novels). MacDonald's language and take on life, morality and the ways in which we all struggle to get by are where he does his best writing. This is the first of the Travis McGee novels. I've already lined up the next few.

 

 

January 2019

 

William Safire (editor): Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History

​Committed to reading one per day. Some are as-advertised great moments in oratory, such as Lincoln at Gettysburg. Surprises? Oh, yeah. How about Calvin Coolidge in 1914, laying out nothing short of a liberal manifesto (in my native state of Massachusetts, no less). Find that one and check it out. It's a great antidote to all that's going on these days. Actually, I found it here. It's titled "Have Faith in Massachusetts."

 

Marcus Aurelius: A Life from Beginning to End

Nice little introduction to the life of this great thinker and leader.

 

James Ellroy: The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women

A candid, brutally honest look at this author's rather pervy life chasing women. Very funny, scary, too. Makes me wonder: Ellroy admits his public persona (ranting right-winger, maximus Gonzo writer etc.) is an act. How much of this memoir is the same? Still, very entertaining. Next up -- his other memoir, My Dark Places, which deals with the death of his mother.

 

George Pelecanos: The Sweet Forever

Re-reading this classic. Still great.

 

David Simon and Ed Burns: The Corner

You may notice a theme here. The Wire still has its hooks in me. Pelecanos, above, wrote for the show, and these guys are the heart and soul of the show. This book was made into a devastating miniseries for HBO back in the 90s. I'll rewatch once I finish the book.

 

George Pelecanos: The Way Home

Doing this on audio, and so far the story is fine company during workouts, walks with the dogs and behind the wheel. Much of it takes place behind bars, which is of special interest to me (see below).

 

Coming up (for work)...

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

This will be my third or fourth time through this great book. I'm teaching it in an American Lit. class I'm teaching in the state prison system. Interested to hear the inmates' takeaway on this novel that says so much about America.

 

December 2018

 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov

Halfway through. Like Crime and Punishment, I expect this novel will be one that stays with me forever. I can't define the aspects of Dostoyevsky's writing that makes these books page-turners for me. UPDATED Feb. 28: Took me a while, but it was well worth the effort. But for a few very long and relatively static chapters, this book was gripping start to finish. Of course, the psychological is Dostoyevsky's strong suit (well, one of them), and it's so subtle in its deployment here, which makes it all the more effective. It's a winding tale (you can tell it was first serialized book by book), but it all fits together into an epic tale about family, ethics, and how each of us his his/her brother's/sister's keeper.

 

Jeff Tweedy: Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)

The leader of Wilco, one of my favorite bands of all time, tells (just about) all in this memoir. Reviewing it for the Times Literary Supplement. Will post review once it's published.

 

November 2018

 

 

George Pelecanos: The Man Who Came Uptown

This great crime novelist (The Sweet Forever,The Cut etc.) and writer for film (D.C. Noir) and television (The Wire, Treme, The Deuce) returned to his day job, and in five months whipped this up. It moves quickly, but not without suspense, details, humor, and a strong tug on the emotions. A quick read that stayed with me long after the last page.

 

Herman Melville: Benito Cereno

A short novel we are reading for a brainy book club. More to come.

 

Saul Bellow: The Dean's December

Yes, it's wordy as hell, much too brilliant and at times The Great One sounds like a crank, as if his titular character were his own mouthpiece. But you stay in for the gems of insight and wisdom that Bellow tosses off like I do belly button lint. Revisiting Herzog now (on audio).

 

J.M. Coetzee: Darklands

His first novel. Just getting it underway.

 

October 2018

Prediction: I feel a major J.M. Coetzee binge coming on. Seeing him at Harvard tomorrow night (10/17).

 

J.M. Coetzee: Waiting for the Barbarians

Just started. Previously read Disgrace. Ending left me messed up for days. This novel is disturbing in other ways, depicting brutal colonialism, fear of "the other," and worse. The protagonist is torn between ignorance, innocence and guilt, as he rationalizes his way through the story. Coetzee has some gem-like observations about the ways in which oppression taints all of those in its proximity.

 

School work prevented me from additional personal reading...

 

 

September 2018

 

William Kennedy - Bootlegger of the Soul

Reviewing this for the Times Literary Supplement. If they post it online, I'll share it. In a nutshell, this is a collection of reviews and research papers discussing Kennedy's novels. There's also a short story and a one-act play by Kennedy. The editors have also included photos of historical Albany and link them to specific parts of Kennedy's novels.

 

William Kennedy - Legs

His second novel, my second time through it. Held up well.

 

William Kennedy - Billy Phelan's Greatest Game

His third novel, and Kennedy really hits his stride, turning Albany into his greatest character.

 

Bob Woodward - Fear

Confirms the worst of our fears. The biggest takeaway for me was that Trump still believes it's 1945, or at least wishes it was still 1945. All his misguided beliefs exist snugly within his shitty nostalgia for those good ol' days.

 

Jonathan Abrams - All the Pieces Matter/The Wire

Halfway through season four now (about time!). I already watched the final season when it first ran. What a great show. Very interested in David Simon's taken on the world and how it is made manifest in his greatest creation.

 

John le Carré - Call for the Dead

My first JL novel; figured I'd start at the beginning. Simple story, well told. I know he builds majestically from here. George Smiley is already a great character in this, his first appearance.

 

Seneca - Letters From a Stoic

Read a little each day, like a multi-vitamin. 

 

Thomas Merton - A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals

One-a-day thoughts from this great thinker and man of peace.

 

Herman Melville - Bartleby the Scrivener

A quick read for a reading group at the Providence Athenaeum. Really looking forward to this go-round. Melville and Conrad, can't beat that pair.