Critical Mass

What I’m Reading: David Gates

By David Gates

So far I've been reading and re-reading mostly nonfiction this summer, partly with an eye to teaching my first real nonfiction course this fall. I just finished Jonathan Raban's masterly book about Eastern Montana, Bad Land—apropos, since I'll be at the University of Montana—and I'm now immersing myself in essays by E.B. White, David Foster Wallace, Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, W.H. Auden, Phillip Lopate—and God knows who-all else I'll go on to.

I just got the galleys of Tom Piazza's nonfiction collection, Devil Sent the Rain, and re-read his now-classic profile of the bluegrass musician Jimmy Martin, and his wonderfully counterintuitive essay on obsessively watching old Charlie Chan movies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Back in June, I indulged myself with Buzz Bissinger's Three Nights in August, a tour de force of reporting in which he clings to the St. Louis Cardinals' manager Tony LaRussa like a mind-reading barnacle.

The only fiction I have on the night table is Ethan Frome, which I hope is as good as I remember; Villette, which I've never read; and Roberto Bolaño's 2666. This last comes recommended by a friend whose judgment I trust, and I suppose it's past time I found out what all the fuss is about.

And I just re-read the knowing-yet-heartfelt stories in Alethea Black's marvellously fresh first collection, I Knew You'd Be Lovely, which I'd first seen in galleys. I poked around in The Old Curiosity Shop to see if Quilp would leap out at me as vividly as he used to do. (Afraid not, but I liked Sampson and Sally Brass better.) And, as has been the case for years now, my read-yourself-to-sleep reading has included all the Sherlock Holmes stories and a bunch of the Nero Wolfe mysteries.

David Gates was a finalist for the NBCC Award for Fiction in both 1998 and 1999, for "Preston Falls" and "The Wonders of the Invisible World," respectively. His first novel, "Jernigan," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This fall, he will begin teaching in the creative writing program at the University of Montana.