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Well, my near-miss this year was Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill. I was six pages into it when my head said something like this: "Once again I am trying to read and enjoy a work of contemporary American 'major' fiction, the kind that is reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, and once again I am stymied by the usual things: the obligatory quasi-journalistic framework (in Gaitskill it's the AIDS crisis, in Messud it's 9/11) that really is the only thing that qualifies a novel for 'major' status in the minds of the deadline-jockeys at the NYTBR; the usual narratorial voice, a mix of the quirky-colloquial and the certifiably 'literary'; the odd, lazy imprecisions that masquerade as colloquialisms--a character is decribed as 'all red and fleshy'; and the assumption that New York is the ultimate metaphor of everything (the NYTBR likes that too)."

So I will leave Gaitskill where I put her--the "sell" heap--and declare my love for Magdalena Tulli's Dreams and Stones (Archipelago Books, 2004). Yes, it's a Polish novel, and yes, it is published by a tiny press and reviewed in Rain Taxi, and the NYTBR would consider it a minor work because it is not about how dissident graphic designers' lives were changed by the rise of Solidarity. It's an abstract novel fullof concrete detail--the protagonist is culture itself, building itself via the rise of an unnamed city. There are no "characters," only plans, forces, events, and reversals. It is packed with realia, but not a single psychological cliche (because there are no "minds" in it except a strange Hegelian will). Though the Times would probably call it a cult book for comp-lit grad students, it is immensely wider and more oxygenated than any Upper-West-Side-book-club novel.


Oh man oh jeez. Yes, I'd have to agree with the above post on Veronica. It was almost amazing. And I guess by now you know very well how I felt about Pessl's STICP. Barf. And all the adulation of it was especially offensive in a year when there were so many other more interesting & brilliant books! The first ones that come to mind: American Genius, Lynne Tillman; The Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier; The Best People in the World, Justin Tussing; Ticknor, Sheila Heti; Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die, Mark Binelli. And so on! And those are just the ones that came out this year. I can't pick just one. Sigh.

The book I'm most excited out in the next year is Miranda July's short story collection, due out in March I think. Those should be pretty all right.

What about you?


Oh wait and also Human Oddities by Noria Jablonski. I think that came out last year but it was a great collection of short stories.


K, you already know my favorite book of the year was Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Thanks for letting us know they didn't have to be new -- I seldom read books the year they are released. My other favorites of the year are (in no particular order): 10th Grade by Joseph Weisberg, an unflinching look at sophomore year, full of digressions and run-on sentences but lacking in punctuation. No great revelations or lessons learned, but a hilarious read. Deliverance by James Dickey. Read this before ever seeing the entire movie. The book's amazing; no film version could ever capture the descriptive tone. I really liked The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Stephen Marlowe, a fractured telling of Edgar Allan Poe's life. I got very confused by the multiple storylines, but enjoyed the prose and what I could understand of the story.

Great query, K.


In response to "what else did I like," I would have to put the Things They Carried and C.S. Lewis's A Grief observed among the discoveries of older books and three British books–Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes; The Delivery Room by Sylvia Brownrigg, and The House of Meetings by Martin Amis–rounded out my favorite new books. Oh yes, and Twilight of the Superheroes was satisfying. I almost liked Ticknor. The only new prose that absolutely blew me away was the first 100 or so pages of the Amis, which surprised me because I'd almost given up on him.


The Known World, Edward P. Jones

The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch

P.S. I was trying to get to your blog and kept typing "unpredictableversion." I think you should start a spinoff. This ranks right up there with a conversation I was having with an Egyptian student yesterday in which I called America a "company" instead of a "country." We just laughed and laughed. And then we cried.


I discovered Haruki Murakami this year and proceeded to read Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart, South of the Border, West of the Sun, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and after the quake. I'm enthusiastic about Murakami in a way I haven't been enthusiastic about an author, particularly a living author, in a long time.

I also enjoyed Zamyatin's We.

After I finish a re-read of a book on SAT/ACT/IQ testing I'm changing pace with a Bruce Sterling novel, and then jumping into Dream Boogie, the Peter Guralnick biography of Sam Cooke. Very much looking forward to that book.


Now that I'm no longer ranting, I wanted to add some other books enjoyed this year: Trish Hampl's new essay-memoir, Blue Arabesque, in which she finds a way to write about art and history in a way that is personal without swallowing the subjects in...subjectivity. Saccidananda by Abhishiktananda, which sounds like exotica but is actually a beautiful reconciliation of radical Vedanta philosophy with--the Trinity! Abhishiktananda was a French Catholic priest who took initiation in Indian sannyasa (hermithood) and struggled to reconcile the two great mysticisms East and West. And under quite old books: a wonderful discovery was Lord Macaulay, whose Historical Essays--two volumes--are just the best,most lucid,and most rip-roaring historical writing I think I've ever read. He's biased, he's excitable, he goes for the bright basic colors, but he is also subtle about politics and human motives. And he can sum up great world-historical trends in sentences that take the top of your head off--he makes you think you are as brilliant as he is--oh delightful delusion!


Am I doing this right? I don't know how to post anything.

The Bell, Iris Murdoch (My likes are talking to Mandy's likes)

Everything I read this year (that I can think of) that was semi-new I didn't like so much: Beasts of No Nation, Gilbert Sarrantino's A Strange Commonplace, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I have read some wonderful stories in magazines, though. So there!


Oh man, I'm forced to remember what I read this year--and I'm finding gaps in my memory. This can't be good.

Still, here are two very good ones:

Ghost Dance by Carole Maso
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann



Hmmm. Did I read any books that were actually published in 2006? I don't think so.

I tried to read Chuck Palahniuk's Choke and couldn't do it. Really? Really. So that's what I didn't like. What I loved: Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire, Annie Proulx's Close Range: The Wyoming Stories, Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider. I'd never read Porter before, which is absurd. I believe she's largely out of print now, which is also absurd. I ADORE her. I also really liked Robinson's Gilead...

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