Blitz Takes Part I

by Weston Cutter

In an effort to unclog the apparatus around here, we’re gonna do a couple entries of speedy reviews—not in depth, just quick coverage to deserving books. Hopefully this won’t take too long.

How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

I ended up not liking this book as much as I’d hoped to, nor as much as Ander Monson liked it in the Times (though we do agree that the conceit’s wacky). Here’s what’s for sure: the book cloaks itself, seems to be offering one thing but then offering something quite other at its finish. What you won’t expect, or what I didn’t expect, was such heart, such emotional gravity: there are moments of pretty sincere devastation in this.

Functionally, the story is about a guy, Charles Yu, who is a time-travel machine repair man, and he’s checked out of the regular circadian-rhythmed earth; he’s bubbled himself. His dad’s missing, gone someplace/somewhen Yu can’t find him, and his mom’s in a single hour loop, living the same fictional dinnertime ceaselessly. There’s a sexy computer as a love interest, and a fake dog. Much of the laughter seems to build off smirks instead of anything like guffaws. The Charles Yu of the novel’s looking for his dad, and the end result of his search—the ‘meaning’ and loaded imagery of things—is fine, if a little cloying. It’s an interestingly strange book, if not wholly satisfying: more than anything, it’s a shocking reminder of how visual reading is, and how lost a reader can get without a clear way to see what’s being talked about (the whole book’s set in an alternate universe, once which seems similar to ours but crucially different; the actual conception of how someone can, in some metal contraption/ship, re-enter time, that’s not nearly fleshed out enough).

The Citizen Machine by Anna McCarthy

I’ve meant to cover this book this summer, and it’s actually fair to start even easier: I’ve meant to talk about this book since it’s from The New Press, and since The New Press doesn’t ever miss a beat, and just about everything they release is interesting or beautiful or something you didn’t even realize you desperately wanted to read about, or all three of those traits and more. McCarthy’s text on television was, for this reader, a revelation: for anyone interested in ideas of intent, authority, and agenda (in any form, visual or textual or whatever), this book’s a must-have. It’s more than just notions of intent/authority/agenda that get complexly messed with in The Citizen Machine: the most swept-away aspect is anything resembling that precious word purity, and the questions raised, about what’s gained in that transaction, will make your relationship to television—old TV and tonight’s—much dicier, in all good ways.

Common as Air by Lewis Hyde

I’d hope my tardiness in mentioning this is totally unimportant: this is Hyde, and everyone already knew, as of months ago, that he had a new one, yes? And that, to coincide with the book’s release, a new printing of Trickster Makes This World was gussied up and offered, one with an intro by Chabon?

Look, it’s simple: if you’re not reading Hyde, your life is less rich and more difficult than it needs to be. Meaning what and how, exactly? Meaning he’s one of a dozen or so writers whose work is both monumentally moving and good to read and what’s written will literally change how you see the world. Wallace was like, ditto Stevens, Graham, Jonathan Mahler, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Weschler, OKDavis, Helen DeWitt. In order (chronologically, his nonfiction), Hyde’s made me 1) reconsider what I think I mean/understand by the word ‘value,’ 2) re-evaluate the schism presented in the Stay-In-One-Place vs. Travel-Lots spectrum (which is a brutal oversimplification, but okay), and, now, with Common as Air, Hyde’s made me 3) rethink what ownership means, what it means to use stuff. It’s maybe the book you’ll be most made better because of reading this fall.