As many of you already know, I live on the third floor of a row house in West Philly. I have large windows which overlook my crampt and densely populated street, so I often feel as if I'm in Rear Window. (I never feel as if I'm in a Laura Mulvey essay, for which I am grateful.) My roommate is a dancer, and about three weeks ago the New York Times published a photo of him hanging upside down in a harness. I'm playing roller hockey for the University of Pennsylvania club team, which among other things allows me to experience -- at some distance -- the intense fratmospheric pressure of Penn. I spend my weekdays dealing with difficult authors who've never heard of TIFFs or dpi. And that's about it.
To make up for my absence from the Grouse, I thought I'd list the five best books I read from June through September:
- Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (Vintage)
Broadly focused Marxist history of the "short" 20th century which manages to be honest about the failures of communism while arguing forcefully for its historical importance.
- George Gissing, New Grub Street (Penguin)
Unfairly regarded as second-tier Victorian literature; populated by late Victorian London's literary underachievers and inflected with insightful, if unsubtle, social commentary.
- David Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature (Norton)
Fascinating history of the many campaigns to alter the German landscape.
- Kevin McLaughlin, Paperwork (Penn)
Concise, sometimes daunting display of intelligence and sheer etymological knowledge.
- Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl (Chicago)
Argues that urban sprawl, rather than being demonized and regulated, should be appreciated as an inevitable consequence of the economic maturity of Western cities. More an "important" book than a good one, but still well worth reading.
Paperwork will appeal mostly to those who have haunted McLaughlin's office hours or have otherwise obsessed over him, but the other four are highly recommended. Also, the worst book I read in the last four months was Chris Ott's book on Unknown Pleasures for Continuum's 33 1/3 series.