So how are you doing? It's September, it's 2016, and I'm just returning from a long summer vacation. I didn't get much reading done this summer, but what I did read is discussed below.
1. A.S. Byatt - Babel Tower
By turns pretentious and extremely boring, I only got halfway through this book. There's something in there about several heavily repressed British people, something else that veers toward the Marquis de Sade (patron saint of the sexually repressed), and a third something about domestic abuse and an attempt at divorce. What struck me most forcibly was how thoroughly I disliked all of the characters in this novel, and how it seemed to be yet another lame attempt by an uninspired author to write the story of her life.
I'm not sure what's going on with the Booker Prize, but they seem to award it to the most pretentious and uninspired books ever.
2. Donald Barthelme - Sixty Stories
This book I finished. Barthelme isn't as well known as he once was, but in the late 60s and early 70s he was known to readers of (serious) fiction.
He is also the first author I've encountered whose work really brought the word "postmodernist" to mind. Much of what he writes suggests the idea that fiction really struggled after James Joyce, and that in Joyce's wake many authors had to push themselves to find new forms, and new modes of expression.
All of Barthelme's "sixty stories" are wonderfully, irredeemably weird. I liked most of them, even though many weren't strictly stories at all, but rather portraits of psychological states. I don't know that I would bother with any of his novels (though for all I know they're quite good), but if you like Delilo or Pynchon you'll probably also like this.
3. The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction
What I Learned From This Book: If the person assembling the stories which comprise the anthology you're reading happens to be an author whose work you're not that fond of, it's very likely that you'll be similarly unfond of the anthology.
In this case, Ursula K. Le Guin is the assembler, and no, I wasn't that fond of the anthology. A lot of great names are included, but the stories that represent these names aren't what many would call their best work. Instead of the really classic science fiction stories, what we get is an attempt to revise history by including only the most politically correct examples from each author.
Most people don't read a science fiction anthology because they're looking for the most "inclusive" examples in the genre. We read anthologies for good stories, and there are surprisingly few of those to be found here.
I tapped out after a hundred pages. Those looking for a much better anthology are hereby directed to The Year's Best Science Fiction (2006).
In fairness, the introduction by co-editor Brian Attebery brings up some interesting points.