I’ve decided to only read novels set in New York City for a while. Having grown up in a backwater (several backwaters, actually — as a pipeliner, my dad wagged his family from trailer park to trailer park across the Southeast; which I am not complaining about, by the way), it’s a kick and a strange thing to read stories in, you know, actual books, set in places I walk past every day. I was sitting next door to Edith Wharton’s childhood home, in a chain burrito joint (not Chipotle but the other one, I forget), reading The Custom of the Country, the other day, for example, and the geographical fact of that made me mildly happy in a way that I’d normally be embarrassed to tell people. But we’re all friends here, right? It’s a sort of tourism.
The Custom of the Country is an annoying exercise in the stupidest kind of snobbery. Wharton reveals herself as a mean-spirited old Gilded Age Lady trying, and failing, to invent motivations for a “social climber” that just don’t make sense, that run toward caricature and unbelievability, unless you are a mean-spirited old Gilded Age Lady trying, and failing, to invent motivations. I’m sure that a drawing-room audience of similarly mean-spirited old Gilded Age Ladies would have eaten up every word and convinced themselves that “those people” actually think and live and emote in these ways. Nobody else can possibly find it convincing. At first, I thought it was supposed to be a crazy satire. But it isn’t. I don’t recommend it. I still love The Age of Innocence, where the snobbery, though present, is more, um, self-examined or something. I think. Maybe I should re-read that one, now. (Or maybe not; I hate it when a book retroactively ruins other books I’ve read.)
Anyway, like I said, I’ve decided to only read novels set in New York City for the time being. And I need your help. My tastes run toward literary fiction and SF (but not necessarily both at the same time — SF novels that try too hard to be smart bore me). Right now I’m reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Next up is Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. I suppose I’ll revisit A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Then what? You tell me. One other requirement: they have to be available for reading on my iPad, either by virtue of being in the iBooks store, the Kindle store, or in ePub format somewhere (like Gutenberg). I don’t read books unless I can adjust the font size anymore. I’m old! I’m spoiled!