When I asked people earlier this month to tell me about the best book they read this year, several wrote back to say that they honestly couldn’t because, over the course of a long and busy year, they had forgotten many of the books that they had read. Now I’m sure that they could have reconstructed their year of reading by combing through old reciepts and library records and interviewing the local barristas: “I’ll have a tall latte, and do you happen to remember what book I was reading during the last week of March?” But who wants to do that. So, if you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, I would like to propose one. It’s easy: make a list of all the books you read this year. If you want to do something a little more rigorous, commit yourself to putting some words down about every book you read (And if you deem these words ready for public consumption, I’ll happily post them here.) Somehow, this sort of casual reflection makes the reading experience that much more fun. Have a great New Year. Things will be slowly returning to full speed around here, so stay tuned.
Twitter had its big moment last week, but unlike so many other technology start-ups in the seeming parade of millionaire-makers over the last two decades (with the obvious exception of Amazon.com), Twitter has developed a special following in the literary community, from high-brow to low. Perhaps that's not surprising. Writers revel in words, and Twitter, nearly alone among hot technology start-ups, is mostly about words, crafting them to meet the medium's peculiar restraints and sending them out into the world to be engaged with or ignored. Twitter is like some atomized version of the writer's process. With Twitter, ideas go out piecemeal, the whole process taking a millionth the amount of time it would if you were to glom all those ideas together into one big whole and turn it into something as unlikely-seeming by comparison as a book. This speed, then, may be deeply satisfying -- even addictive -- as writers bypass so much of the toil of getting a book out of their brains and off to readers (New York's Kathryn Schulz elaborated smartly on this idea last week.) There is no uniform stance on Twitter in the literary community, of course. Some, like Teju Cole and Colson Whitehead, find it vital; many others -- led by a certain one-time Time coverboy from the Midwest, do not. Some writers have more prosaic feelings about Twitter. Novelist Peter Orner wrote, "Some are talented at it; others, less so." Zadie Smith is not on Twitter. Nor are Jeffrey Eugenides (though his vest once was), Michael Chabon (not really, though his writer wife Ayelet Waldman is), George Saunders, or David Mitchell. Jennifer Egan is, but just a little bit. Nonetheless, Twitter appears to be here to stay, for a while anyway. And it will remain a pastime for writers looking for book news, inspiration, distraction, literary puns, and every other thing they might want. But it wasn't always that way. In the not too distant past, the literary lights of Twitter pecked out their first 140 characters and waited to see what Twitter would bring. Curious, I dug back into the Twitter archive to see how these writers took their first steps into Twitter. What follows are the very first tweets of some of Twitter's well-known practitioners from the literary world. Finishing the website entries for my fall novel The Year of the Flood. — Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) July 8, 2009 How does a petty trader come by N30 million worth of cars? Police hope Israel Ubatuegwu, of Ajah, has a good explanation. — Teju Cole (@tejucole) June 7, 2011 @R_Nash proud to be a part of ennui 2.0 — colson whitehead (@colsonwhitehead) March 15, 2009 Preparing for Book Expo America in the office in Dumbo. The last time we've to schlap boxes ourselves. Next year we pay the Teamsters... — Richard Nash (@R_Nash) May 30, 2007 Last night at the Norman Mailer Award Ceremony in NYC, Oliver Stone said beautifully: "A serious writer is a rebel." — Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) October 5, 2012 trying to figure out if someone does a decent MP3 workout, which will magically transform my iphone and my body at the same time. — Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) January 27, 2009 @JaneGreen I talked to Rufus just this morning...ok, I interviewed him for T+L — Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro) April 24, 2009 Slaughtered by Sam A. and Jefffery Y. at post-diner breakfast ping-pong. Licking wounds. — Dwight Garner (@DwightGarner) February 13, 2009 Here's a video of my speech at the NBCC in NYC last week: http://tinyurl.com/dfe8rt — Ron Charles (@RonCharles) March 17, 2009 Testing... — Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) April 24, 2007 reading — Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) December 23, 2007 doesn't want to be an editor. oops, too late. — Emma Straub (@emmastraub) December 3, 2008 I just opened my present from Dave McKean, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Heavy as a stone and beautiful. "See?" he said. "I do read your blog." — Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) December 26, 2008 @ShitHomemaker - this is my first tweet and it's your fault. — Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) September 15, 2011 Fine, then. I'll twitter. — John Green (@realjohngreen) December 11, 2008 No matter what I do there are always 5 emails in my inbox that I am avoiding. — Doug Coupland (@DougCoupland) April 1, 2009 I've reached the limit on how many Facebook friends I can add. So here is a new page. — Amy Tan (@AmyTan) August 12, 2010 http://www.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/publishinghouse/books/detail/23 — E L James (@E_L_James) April 12, 2011 First Tweet ever, prompted by Jeff Howe's essay in Sunday's NYTBR. Velly interesting. Helloooooo? — Erik Larson (@exlarson) May 22, 2012 Does anyone know who @BretEastonEllis is? — Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) April 10, 2009 @erlson You just got me to join Twitter. — William Gibson (@GreatDismal) April 1, 2009 coveting Susan Lewis' hair. — Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) April 3, 2009 @chuckpalahniuk This is Dennis, webmaster at ChuckPalahniuk.net. Please contact me via my site email address. Thanks! — Chuck Palahniuk (@chuckpalahniuk) January 28, 2009 Becoming far more wired than I probably really need to be. — Joe Hill (@joe_hill) January 4, 2009 hi, i'm gary shteyngart, a furry 39-year-old immigrant man trapped in a young dachshund's body. LOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/RgLBxjYO — Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) December 1, 2011 I'm going to do it right this time. — Emily Gould (@EmilyGould) May 21, 2009 today felt like the unabomber but i wasn't plotting anything or planning anything or trying to bomb anything and i was wearing 4-inch heels — Kate Zambreno (@daughteroffury) June 29, 2012 Wessex Man http://tinyurl.com/yw93xb — New York Times Books (@nytimesbooks) March 18, 2007 News: Netherland wins PEN/Faulkner award: It was overlooked for the Booker prize and the prestigious US Nat.. http://bit.ly/AufPL — Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) February 26, 2009 Podcasting: http://tinyurl.com/6hc9z4 — NY Review of Books (@nybooks) July 2, 2008 Check out our feature on the best audiobooks coming this spring. — Publishers Weekly (@PublishersWkly) January 31, 2009 Mario Bros. meets Macbeth: What do a pixelated plumber and a murderous king have in common? Nintendo DS -- in En.. http://tinyurl.com/5gr5m4 — L.A. Times Books (@latimesbooks) December 10, 2008 Hello, world! Official Library of Congress Twitter feed here. So nice to see 215 followers before so much as a single tweet! — Library of Congress (@librarycongress) January 27, 2009 Welcome to the new GalleyCat Twitter feed, regularly collecting tweets from Senior Editor Ron Hogan, Editor Jason Boog, and Jeff Rivera. — GalleyCat (@GalleyCat) August 26, 2009 Welcome to @nprbooks! We'll use to to share our book coverage and hopefully talk about some good books, too. / @acarvin — NPR Books (@nprbooks) January 8, 2010 We noticed lots of sites use Twitter for feedback. We created this account as a placeholder, but please visit our Feedback Group anytime! — goodreads (@goodreads) August 19, 2008 56 years after William Styron warned us about chasing the zeitgeist, The Paris Review is now on twitter. From issue 1: http://bit.ly/BCnnE — The Paris Review (@parisreview) September 4, 2009 Culling together work for Electric Literature no.2, planning events for October, spinning splendidly through another day at the office. — Electric Literature (@ElectricLit) August 31, 2009 Rick Moody on running out of luck: http://tinyurl.com/ckno8d — The Rumpus (@The_Rumpus) January 29, 2009 What will be named top book of the decade? http://bit.ly/AMgq8 What's your pick? — The Millions (@The_Millions) September 21, 2009 What's the best part of B.G.'s "Bling Bling" video? Pre-tattoo'd Wayne, zooming red VW Beetles, or the crew's outdoor fine china picnic? — Nick Moran (@nemoran3) February 2, 2011
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Mrs. Millions thanks all of you for your suggestions. We stopped by the Borders today, and she selected Michael Frayn's Headlong. She wanted to purchase The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, as well, but the staff at Borders was unsuccessful in its half-hearted attempt to locate the book for us nor did it appear to be on the new releases/bestsellers table, all of which seemed odd to me because isn't this supposed to be one of the big books of the summer? Well, hardcovers are no good at the beach anyway, so maybe we'll pick it up when we get back. That's all for now; time to go catch a plane.
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The first of the three books I read between starting and finishing The Fortress of Solitude is The Underdog: How I Survived The World's Most Outlandish Competitions by Joshua Davis. Hilarious. I am not sure where to begin but Davis's interest in excelling in obscure or at times plain ridiculous fields of "sports" stems from two sources: the Ipski-Pipski stories his dad told him during his childhood (where Ipski-Pipski would overcome any and all difficulties in a very James Bondesque manner) and his mother's undying hope that her son be best at something (she was the 1962 Miss Nevada and a contender for Miss Universe, who barely missed first spot because of a bad hairdo). So, Davis decides to overcome his shortcomings that keep him from becoming a traditional achiever (such as a high school basketball star or college football player) and get rid of his unfulfilling job as a data-entry clerk by embarking on a quest to be really good at something. Davis not only faces the challenge of finding out what he can excel in but also of providing for his wife, who is about to enroll in gradate school and considers his actions very childish. It is, therefore, difficult to see where Davis is going when he chooses arm wrestling as the first sport to prove himself in. At 125 pounds and 5 foot 9 (and wearing glasses) Davis is not the usual imposing arm-wrestler you would imagine. But despite his physique, Davis manages to join the American Arm Wrestling Team and attend the world championships in Poland, ranking 19th worldwide due and placing 4th in the lightweight category worldwide. Quite a title for a first timer, but it sure helps that there were a mere 4 lightweight contenders. Encouraged by his mediocre success, Davis pursues bullfighting, sumo wrestling, backward running and a Sauna World Championship. Through each of his misadventures Davis meets people such as celebrity bullfighter Miguel Baez Litri, sumo wrestling Yokozuna (grand champion, a title granted to only two people) Musashimaru, world-class backward runner (and inventor) K. Veerabadran, and the Swedish sauna lover Markku Mustonen, who influence and encourage him to pursue his heart's desire. As Davis runs (at times backwards) from one outrageous feat to another, he also manages to pull his family together, please his wife and land a job at Wired as a staff reporter. The Underdog is an unusual and genuinely encouraging take on the American dream of being all you can be (or whatever you want to be) and it points out that doing ridiculous things might work after all.My second book during the Lethem intermission was Kurt Dosyasi (The Kurdish File) by Ugur Mumcu. Mumcu is a Turkish journalist murdered in 1993 (suspects still at large) whose works were very detailed and influential. I talked a lot about him during my journalism school applications, which made me want to read more of his work. Mumcu was murdered while working on Kurt Dosyasi, hence it is unfortunately cut short in its early investigative stages. The parts that were published, however, tell the parallel stories of (currently imprisoned head of PKK) Abdullah Ocalan's life as a student, as well as his involvement in the 1970s left-wing student movements, and the government policies regarding the Kurdish population in the Eastern and South-eastern parts of Turkey in the 1930s. The documents that Mumcu presents are interesting and shocking, such as reports by ministers and minutes of parliamentary hearings that talk about assimilating Kurds to Turkish society, dispersing Kurdish clans, and replacing internal populations for the Turkification of Eastern Turkey and the Kurds. Kurt Dosyasi also draws on the government's shortcomings in peacefully penetrating Kurdish societies and its failure to deal with the threats posed by armed militias that disrupted trade, prevented investments and threatened the newly founded republic with uprisings. Unfortunately, Mumcu was killed before tying all the pieces together and explaining the emergence of Ocalan as the leader of the Kurdish insurgency in 1984. I am sure that his work would have been invaluable in assessing the "Kurdish Issue" in Turkey and it is a shame that it is incomplete. Still, it is a great source of information and sheds some light on the wrong nationalistic policies of the 1930s that led to the creation of Kurdish discontent in Turkey. I would recommend it to all parties interested in the issue; the only drawback is that you have to know Turkish, as the book is not translated.My third and last intermission book was another one by Ugur Mumcu: Sakincali Piyade (The Problematic Private). This collection of short memoirs constitute a satirical take on life, as mostly experienced by Mumcu, in the period following the coup d'etat of March 12, 1971, in Turkey. This was the second time since the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923 that the military dissolved the parliament, declared martial law and ran the country until new elections, which, in this instance, they took place two years later in October 1973 (the other 2 coup d'etats are May 27, 1960 and September 12, 1980 - there is also a military decree issued in February 28, 1997 that caused the government to resign). Mumcu was an Assistant Dean of the Ankara Law School at the time. His leftist politics were widely know and not hidden. In the two years that the military administered the country a lot of leftists were persecuted on extremely flimsy charges. Mumcu was one of them. His bitter experiences led to Sakincali Piyade, which points at the outrageous claims made against him, as well as other leftist scholars, thinkers and activists of his generation. His memoirs chronicle life in prison, court hearings and the army. Mumcu had to serve his mandatory military service in this period and at the hands of army officials that hoped to "correct" his "thinking" during the service. The courtroom antics that Mumcu lists are ridiculous in retrospect, but point directly to the gravity of the situation in the 1970s and the sad consequences of "enforcing" democracy through the military. I would recommend Sakincali Piyade to everyone who is looking to laugh and think deeply (and do those simultaneously) about the tragic-comic situations that plague Turkey to this day. Unfortunately, Sakincali Piyade is also not translated.Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5