A few days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
There are four books currently on my coffee table. (Though since I don't drink coffee, it's really a tea table.)Visit Christopher Conlon's website and blog.
The volume on top, New Selected Essays: Where I Live by Tennessee Williams, is an old favorite of mine, recently expanded in a new edition which I'm enjoying greatly. I first encountered the original version of this collection when I was about twenty-two: the perfect age, really, as Williams wrote so much and so eloquently in this book about his struggles as an artist, and I felt my own early struggles reflected in much of what he had to say. I still think many of the essays are absolute gems.
The next two in the stack, Endpoint and Collected Poems, are both by John Updike, a writer whose work has never, until recently, done much for me. I used to read his short stories when they appeared in The New Yorker, but rarely found myself affected by them; a couple of stabs at his novels left me cold. But in the past couple of years Updike published in various magazines some poems which, I was surprised to discover, moved me; so when I saw his latest (and last) verse collection in a bookstore, Endpoint, I picked it up--and promptly fell in love with the urbane tone, the gentle melancholy, the witty language. It inspired me to also get his Collected Poems, and reading through it has confirmed to me that Updike was, and is, woefully undervalued as a poet.
The last title is Dear Husband, by Joyce Carol Oates--her latest collection of short stories. I've loved Oates's work in shorter forms (short stories and novellas) for many years. (Generally speaking I'm less enamored of her novels, though I must admit that I loved both You Must Remember This and We Were the Mulvaneys). Dear Husband, continues in the traditions of Oates's later work, often with extreme, even bizarre situations and characters. Though I'm finding these stories a bit less distinctive than what I consider to be her very best work (try The Collector of Hearts or Wild Nights!), that's an extremely mild criticism. There isn't a short-story writer in the United States better than Joyce Carol Oates.