Sunday, February 12, 2012

Alexander Yates

Alexander Yates’ first novel, Moondogs, was published in 2011 by Doubleday and was listed among the best books of the year by Kirkus Reviews, Librarything and the USA Network. Other stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Salon, The Kenyon Review, and American Fiction.

A few weeks ago I asked Yates what he was reading. His reply:
The first thing I should say is that I’m not reading nearly enough, and it makes me feel like a mind-slug. My wife and I (and our two cats) are going to be moving to Rwanda in a few weeks, and preparations for that move (which include full-time French lessons) have eaten what I used to consider “free time”. That said, there are a few things I have read lately that have blown my mind.

Pacazo, by Roy Kesey, is set on the desert coast of Peru, and is about an American sunk deep into the murk of rage and grief. We witness the protagonist mourn and reel in the wake of his wife’s horrific rape and murder, cringing as he all but self immolates, taking his young daughter and friends along with him. With this subject material, the book could easily have devolved into despair tourism. But Kesey is such a generous, tender writer—he has such love for every character he breathes life into. And his sentences are sharp, prismatic. Tilt them just so, and they change meaning entirely. Tilt them just so, and the whole book does.

The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman also captivated me for the few short days it took to burn through them. Some people say “readable” is a backhanded compliment. F#@& those people. These books (the first two parts of a trilogy) are way fun, and way smart—part of an ongoing conversation that Grossman is articulating about the moral implications of a magical universe. I’m already looking forward to the third.

The Birds of East Africa, by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe is probably not a book you’re supposed to actually, like, read. It’s a field guide, replete with stunning illustrations of the birds found from the Great Rift all the way to the African east coast. My sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas, and I’ve been drooling over its pages ever since. It should be clear, at this point, that my wife and I are a bit nerdy on the bird-watching front. But seriously, do a Google Images search on the Eastern Paradise-Whydah, and see if you can avoid muttering an amazed expletive.

The next thing on my to-read list is On the River Styx and Other Stories by Peter Matthiessen. He wrote At Play in the Fields of the Lord and Far Tortuga, two of my favorite novels of all time. I had been looking for a copy of his early short fiction collection for a while, and then last week I found it in the laundry room of my apartment building. Don’t know if I’ll be able to crack the pages until our flight to Kigali, though.
Visit Alexander Yates' website.

--Marshal Zeringue