With Neil, Maybe Every Third Thought is About Books
Neil Peart writes like a true fan of postmodern fiction, and of course he’s built not a small number of Rush songs on a postmodern infrastructure. Think “The Camera Eye” in Moving Pictures and a good number of songs on the band’s 1985 Power Windows album. “The Big Money” and “Grand Designs” both borrow from John Dos Passos, as does “The Camera Eye,” and “Bravado” from Roll the Bones borrows from John Barth, who certainly appears to be one of Neil’s favorite writers, based on his admiring comments about his writing.
Postmodernism means different things to different people but a common marker for all of it is reader participation. As the reader, you have to really be engaged and stay with the writer to do the work justice, otherwise it’s just hard to get your arms around. But for the reader who persists, the rewards can be great.
In the first update in quite some time to Bubba’s Book Club, his collection of book reviews, Neil pulls off a remarkable stunt and reviews not one book or two books but 21 books, all of which he’s read over the past year or so, including one from postmodern titan John Barth and one from a personal favorite of mine, Dave Eggers. He threw in John Irving’s latest novel as well, and unlike many casual readers who look at an Irving novel and go, “Oh, no, not another New England prep school with wrestling!” Neil seems to appreciate Irving’s mastery of these recurring motifs, which he uses as a base to explore whatever his latest subject is.
Among the other authors Neil tackles: Michael Chabon, Michael Ondaatje, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Theroux, and Douglas Coupland.
So, how do you organize a review of 21 books all at once? Well, as it happens, all of the books (19 novels and two nonfiction works) were released in the last dozen years or so and they’re all by living authors, some quite young (meaning anyone under, say, 50).
As a collection they give any lover of good writing a reason to breathe a sigh of relief that the digital era hasn’t put a fatal stake in the heart of literature yet, although, as Douglas Coupland says in a quote that Neil shares, “I kind of miss my pre-Internet mind.” We might all miss our pre-Internet mind, but at least writers are still able to produce great work. Whether we still have the patience to stick with them—that’s another matter.
In any case, Neil tackles the authors alphabetically, starting with Barth and ending with Carlos Ruis Zafón, whose book, The Shadow of the Wind, is a Foucault’s Pendulum-type mystery that exploded onto the literary scene in 2001.
In Neil’s view, all of the books are excellent. As he points out, since he’s doing this only for the enjoyment of it, he chose only the books he loved, so if you’re looking for a recommendation for a book to read, you can pick any of the 21 and know that at least one other person thoroughly enjoyed it.
But don’t look to Neil’s reviews for a summary of the plot; he’s good at whetting your appetite without spoiling anything about the story.
Note: In Barth’s novel Every Third Thought, the title refers to what people think about after the turn a certain age, and it’s death. Before they reach that age, it’s about the process that leads to creating that other thing that’s the opposite of death. If you like good writing, maybe every third thought is about writing. Probably not, but it’s better than thinking about death!–Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
Access his Book Club essay directly.