David Foster Wallace, John Updike, and now Christopher Hitchens are gone. So I'm thrilled to have recently discovered "The Ecstasy of Influence", a book of non-fiction by Jonathan Lethem. Given how thoroughly I enjoyed the essays of those three giants no longer writing, I'm looking forward to getting lost in Lethem land a lot in the future.
The essays in "Ecstasy..." cover a dizzying array of topics and range in length from half a page to 40 pages - that one happens to be about James Brown. Like all the talented writers I admire, Lethem is persuasive as a reading evangelist. I have yet to read a book of essays and not come away with at least a few new authors to add to my list. Updike led me to Anne Tyler; Wallace persuaded me to return to Kafka; Hitchens convinced me to sample the work of his friends Martin Amis & Salman Rushdie. Lethem's suggestions? Among others, he reminded me I'd forgotten to look up Italo Calvino, an author highly esteemed by another terrific essayist - the always provocative Gore Vidal.
I hope someone will pick up Lethem's book and tell me what you think; he's a writer that begs to be discussed. Even when I was a little out of my depth, I felt smarter just reading him. If you don't have much time, just read a few of his essays recalling 9/11. A little more time? Try the title essay and "Postmodernism As Liberty Valance". I'm guessing you'll get lost in Lethem land a little bit too.