I Love the Smell of Books in the Morning

Just finished reading DeLillo's The Names, which is, even for DeLillo, a truly fine novel. There's just something about the way he puts words together, the suddenness and the poetry of his pronouncements, the way he builds up a plot with perfect subltety. In general, I'm more a fan of his later novels than his earlier; Ratner's Star,say, has its charm, but feels too much like a collection of vignettes. The Names feels like the point at which DeLillo really completely gets it right. It was slow going -- DeLillo demands attentive reading -- but worth it.

Speaking of novelists whose work requires an alert reader, the new Richard Powers novel, Plowing the Dark is due out this month, definitely cause for celebration. April saw the release of Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost, which is next up on my to-read list. Also published in April was Evan S. Connell's Deus Lo Volt!, which I've been meaning to pick up a copy of, although Deus only knows when I'll find time to read it. Connell's got a knack for taking historical events seriously on their own terms, a respect that extends both to world-view and language, and I'm pretty intrigued by the prospect of an authentically medieval take on the Crusades (Sheri Holman's A Stolen Tongue was a lot of fun, I think at least partly because she knew precisely how far to take her 15th-century historical accuracy, and exactly when to stab it in the back and jump up and down on its corpse).

There's also some good stuff coming down the pike in the months ahead. Philip Pulman's The Amber Spyglass will arrive in October along with a massive promotional campaign, closing out the His Dark Materials trilogy. Also in the heavily-hyped pile, or perhaps so heavily-hyped that it's a pile all its own, the fourth Harry Potter book (even the title is shrouded in secrecy, although Amazon was calling it Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament for a while). Given how good the first one was and how much each of the two that followed improved on its predecessor, I have high expectations, along with the other 131,685 (at last count) people who've pre-ordered it from Amazon. Haruki Murakami's much-beloved but little-available Norweigan Wood, which existed in English only in a long out-of-print edition from Kodansha (a translation Murakami apparently considered so awful that he himself did whatever he could to hide the volume fromm public view) is being issued in a new translation by Jay Rubin (who did the excellent translation of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). It should hit the shelves in September. November will see the release of another Sherri S. Tepper novel, apparently entitled The Fresco. Her last few novels haven't been quite up to the standard of her work from the late 80s and early 90s, but hope springs eternal.