A Year in Reading: Stephen Elliott

December 10, 2009 | 3 books mentioned 2 min read

covercoverI shouldn’t be answering this question because my answer is the most boring answer in the world because the best book I read this year was 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. The second best is a book you probably never heard of, We Did Porn by Zak Smith. But it would be a lie to answer anything other than 2666 to this question.

I know it’s lame to name a book that’s already received such accolades. Still, I wake up thinking about this book. It took me six months to read it. I put it down several times to read other books including Zeitoun, which is also one hell of a runner up, the best thing Dave Eggers has written, I think. One of the weird strengths of this book is that you can put it down and pick it up a month later and not miss a beat.

But really, the part about the murders, is there anything like that in literature anywhere? And what about the part about Fate, where you have this page that struck me so hard I typed the whole damn thing out:

What’s sacred to me? thought Fate. The vague pain I feel at the passing of my mother? An understanding of what can’t be fixed? Or the kind of pang in the stomach I feel when I look at this woman? And why do I feel a pang, if that’s what it is, when she looks at me and not when when her friend looks at me? Because her friend is nowhere near as beautiful, thought Fate. Which seems to suggest that what’s sacred to me is beauty, a pretty girl with perfect features. And what if all of a sudden the most beautiful actress in Hollywood appeared in the middle of this big, repulsive restaurant, would I still feel a pang each time my eyes surreptitiously met this girl’s or would the sudden appearance of a superior beauty, a beauty enhanced by recognition, relieve the pang, diminish her beauty to ordinary levels, the beauty of a slightly odd girl out to have a good time on a weekend night with three slightly peculiar men and a woman who basically seems like a hooker? thought Fate. Do I really know enough about Mexican hookers to be able to recognize them at a glance? Do I know anything about innocence or pain? Do I know anything about women? I like to watch videos, thought Fate. I also like to go to the movies. I like to sleep with women. Right now I don’t have a steady girlfriend, but I know what it’s like to have one. Do I see the sacred anywhere? All I register is practical experiences, thought Fate. An emptiness to be filled, a hunger to be satisfied, people to talk to so I can finish my article and get paid. And why do I think the men Rosa Amalfitano is out with are peculiar? What peculiar about them? And why am I so sure that if a Hollywood actress appeared all of a sudden Rosa Amalfitano’s beauty would fade? What if it didn’t? What if it sped up? And what if everything began to accelerate from the instant a Hollywood actress crossed the threshold of El Rey del Taco?

I wish I could recommend an undiscovered gem, and I am when I say you should read We Did Porn. But 2666 is more than a book, it’s an experience. And if that sounds cliche it’s because it is, but I’m trapped there.

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is the author of seven books including The Adderall Diaries. He edits The Rumpus.