Monday, October 8, 2012

George Cotkin

George Cotkin is a Professor of History at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. His books, in addition to his just published Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick, are William James, Public Philosopher, Reluctant Modernism: American Thought and Culture, 1880-1900, Existential America, and Morality’s Muddy Waters: Ethical Quandaries in Modern America.

Recently I asked him what he was reading.  His reply:
I gorged myself on fiction this summer (especially excellent, Paul Russell’s The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending, William Boyd, Waiting for Sunrise, Thaisa Frank, Heidegger’s Glasses, Irvin Yalom, The Spinoza Problem, and some of Alan Furst’s espionage novels). Now, I am fulfilling a hankering for non-fiction.

That desire has been satisfied lately by two books. I stumbled somewhere upon a citation to a book that I had never heard about before: Jonathan Williams, A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude. A poet, raconteur, hiker, and all around appealing “odd duck,” Williams delights with photographs and text. He travels around the south searching out strange characters and places. He writes with exuberance and sly sensitivity about outsider artists such as Howard Finster and about old friends (many of them famous poets and photographers). There is much that is delightful about this book.

A new book project, Feast of Excess: Creating a New American Culture, 1952-1974 has got me to reading Judith Malina’s Diaries from 1947-1957. Along with her husband Julian Beck, she was a founder of The Living Theatre. Malina knw everyone – John Cage, Merce Cunningham, James Agee, to name a few – in the Village in the early 1950s. She writes with great insight into her therapy with Paul Goodman, into the challenges of doing experimental theater in an age of conformity, and much about her rather enthusiastic search for love. And her diary entries are both literary and revealing.

I just picked up last night two new books. Paul Elie, Reinventing Bach and Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. Although I have no strong interest in Bach as such, I am a big fan of Elie’s earlier book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, which was about Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. I had read Simmons’s book on Serge Gainsbourg with great interest and since I appreciate Cohen’s music, I anticipate finding much of interest in her new volume.
Learn more about George Cotkin's Dive Deeper at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue