All three of these books, from the past year, are similar only in that each wrestles with daily existence in ways that have startled me, made me rethink everything I had done up to that moment, and made me reevaluate how I want to move forward. Reading each of these books is an active, rather than a passive, experience. In each I have found moments—several moments—where something I’ve never seen conjured in language before somehow rises up, before my eyes. How each writer—a poet turned essayist (Biss), a poet channeling Ginsberg with long, rangy meditations (Zucker), and a novelist arriving at his first memoir (Elliott)—arrived at these moments is both mysterious and seemingly simple—each picked up a thread of thought (racism, motherhood, murder), an image (telephone poles, zapruder films, adderall), and followed them, or, rather, allowed themselves to be led, into an unknown place. Each of these books is thrilling, in their plainspokeness and in their brilliance.
David Leavitt is the author of several novels and short stories, most recently, The Indian Clerk. He is a recipient of grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and was recently named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library. David Leavitt divides his time between Tuscany and Gainesville, Florida, where he teaches at the University of Florida.Don’t be deceived by the cover of Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read. Despite appearances, this extraordinary book is, in fact, an eloquent meditation on the act and art of reading dressed up as a sort of etiquette guide to Parisian parties. (Apparently at Parisian parties, as opposed to American parties, people talk about books and take for granted in one another a more than basic knowledge of books.) As his starting point, Bayard considers novels by Balzac, Musil, Eco and Greene that he knows intimately, whether he’s read them or not, and explores the role that not reading plays in each of them.Also well worth pursuing: Bayard’s earlier Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? which proposes an alternative solution to Agatha Christie’s famous murder mystery.More from A Year in Reading 2007