Monday, August 2, 2010

Alden Bell

Alden Bell is a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord, whose first novel, Hummingbirds, was released in Fall 2009. He teaches at a New York City prep school and is an adjunct professor at The New School.

He lives in New York City with his wife, the Edgar Award-winning mystery writer, Megan Abbott.

Bell's new novel is The Reapers Are the Angels.

Last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell.

This is the book I’m reading right now. I’m about half way through it, and I’m loving every page. Between starving depression-era farmers, women preachers with pig noses, hare-lip girls in heat, and a curious fixation on turnips, this book has it all. There is something about literature in the Southern tradition that loves to indulge in freakishness—as if to imply that failing crops and hard times lead one inevitably to a perversely fractured outlook on the world. Whatever’s behind it, I always find myself moved by the South’s grotesque human landscapes. Contemporary literature spends too much time, I think, trying to put an accurate mirror up to life. Isn’t the distortion of a funhouse mirror much more worthwhile to gaze upon?

Bodyworld by Dash Shaw.

I’m a sucker for graphic novels, and I recently picked up this one purely based upon the flashy cover and the vertical binding. It’s a (barely) futuristic noir tale that reads like an extended LSD trip. I found myself engrossed—constantly surprised and eager to unpuzzle the intricately interwoven visuals that compose the story. It’s also one of those books that includes a map of the town where the story takes place. I’ve always been a fan of that—eager to take the constant effort to refer back and forth to the map so that I can fix the action in a visually concrete location. In fact, I would rather locate a character on a map than visualize what that character looks like. I wonder what that says about me.

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.

I finally filled in a life-long gap in by reading this book—and I was wowed. How is it that this book isn’t taught in every classroom in America? It should at least be required reading for anyone who would like to be a writer. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from a book called Winesburg, Ohio—it’s not exactly the kind of title that would thrill a marketer. I definitely wasn’t expecting the narrative powerhouse that I got. There is a grace in every sentence, a subtle poetry in every scene. And I particularly like the fact that Anderson makes so much out of so little action. The book offers less of a plot and more of an accumulation of moments that somehow, magically, shape themselves into pure, visceral beauty.

The Black Brook by Tom Drury.

I can’t think of any other writer who writes quite like Tom Drury. Hunts in Dreams, when I first read it, was a kind of revelation to me. And since then, I’ve been making my way through all his books. There is a dreamy, reverie-like quality that pervades his writing—and it resists some of your most fundamental urges toward the traditions of plot and narrative. He slows the story down at points where you expect it to speed up, he lingers over scenes that have only peripheral connection to the plot, he refuses to put up signposts that make you, the reader, feel safe that you are on a well-lighted road with a fixed destination. No, if you climb into the car with Tom Drury, you’re going where he wants you to go, whether you like it or not. And I do like it—I do so much like it.

Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim.

Yes, I read it before I saw it. I know, I know—the theater purists will say that I have done myself a disservice. But it was my first exposure to Sondheim (I’m coming at it late!), and I wanted to make sure I caught everything. Live theater has the advantage of spontaneous beauty, but also the disadvantage of not being able to stop and go back if you missed something. I found myself quite moved by Sondheim’s portrayal of the alienated artist—the figure so dedicated to his connection to his art (and his connection to his audience) that he loses touch entirely with his connection to the people around him.
Learn more about Alden Bell's work Joshua Gaylord's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hummingbirds.

--Marshal Zeringue