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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Lost In Lethem Land

I just couldn't wait.

Jonathan Lethem's The Ecstasy of Influence (2011) is so good it was easy to scuttle my longstanding policy of keeping distance between blog posts about books. Lethem's essays deliver so much wallop I was able to temporarily forget how much I've missed reading new non-fiction by John Updike, David Foster Wallace, and Christopher Hitchens. I'm now looking forward to getting lost in Lethem land a lot in the future.

The essays in "Ecstasy..." cover a dizzying array of topics ranging in length from half a page to forty pages - that one happens to be about James Brown. Like all the talented writers I admire, Lethem is a persuasive reading evangelist.  I have yet to read a book of essays without coming away with at least a few new authors to add to my list. Updike was the first to lead me to Anne Tyler; Wallace persuaded me to return to Kafka; Hitchens extolled his friends Martin Amis & Salman Rushdie. And Lethem's suggestions? Among others, he reminded me I'd forgotten to look up Italo Calvino, an author esteemed by another terrific essayist no longer with us - 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 a little out of my depth, I felt smarter just reading him. If you don't have much  time, sample a few of his essays recalling 9/11. 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.

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