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Zachary Lazar is the author of Sway.I have mixed feelings about the best new book I read this year, Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, which just won the National Book Award. The novel reminded me at different times of Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove, Ecclesiastes, and Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. Four hundred pages in, I still wasn’t sure what Johnson’s intentions were, whether the book was important or just exhaustive, though the dialogue is the best I’ve read in some time and Johnson’s expressionistic blend of horror and beauty makes for dozens of memorable descriptions, blackly funny and cosmic (even when he’s describing bowling). Its sinister intensity links it in my mind to my current obsession with the novels Democracy and The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion, who was also honored – again – with a National Book Award this year. Didion does more in two hundred pages than most writers manage in three times that many. Even more pithy, and more apocalyptic, is my other current obsession, the poet Frederick Seidel, whose newest book, last year’s Ooga-Booga, makes “The Waste Land” seem like the sweetly optimistic work of a kindlier era. I read it whenever I’m feeling depressed about anything, and the sheer evil candor of it works for me like Prozac is supposed to.More from A Year in Reading 2007
Seth Lerer is one of the nation’s foremost scholars of medieval literature and culture and a distinguished professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. His books include Chaucer and His Readers, Boethius and Dialogue, Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern, Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language, and, most recently, Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History as well as a new edition of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. In 2009, he will become the Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of California, San Diego.The most memorable book I read this past year was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Originally published in 1908, it is more than just a children’s book. It is a document of Edwardian English fantasy, a rich reflection on nature and culture, and a meditation on the aesthetics of domestic life. At times, the prose is a lush reminder of the age of Oscar Wilde. At other times, it is a witty, theatrical evocation of the idiom of Gilbert and Sullivan. In the figure of Mr. Toad, Grahame has created one of the great literary heroes of modern prose: a blend of tragedy and farce, narcissism and nicety. It is as if Charles Dickens had written an entire novel with Mr. Micawber as the true hero, or as if Shakespeare had written a whole play about Falstaff (which, in some sense, he did, and there are bits and pieces of The Merry Wives of Windsor larded into Mr. Toad’s adventures). And, more than animal adventure, the book also reflects on the political and social upheavals of the early twentieth century – the closing rescue of Toad Hall from the invading stoats and weasels resonates with the the literature of invasion and rebellion so popular in the first decade of the century, while at the same time looking forward decades later to Orwell’s Animal Farm.The thrill of reading this book — now as an adult — has provoked my preparing a new, annotated edition of it for Harvard University Press, to appear in May of 2009.More from A Year in Reading 2008
Another year of living, another year of reading. And, if you’re like us, when you look back, you’ll mark out the year in books — weeks, months, even whole seasons that will forever be wedded in the mind to a memorable reading experience. Each book put back on the shelf becomes a postcard reminder.
And now, as we kick off another Year in Reading, we become the postcard collectors, learning where the minds of some of our favorite writers and thinkers traveled in 2013.
For our esteemed guests, the charge was to name, from all the books they read this year, the one(s) that meant the most to them, regardless of publication date. Grouped together, these ruminations, cheers, squibs, and essays will be a chronicle of reading and good books from every era.
We hope you find in them seeds that will help make your year in reading in 2014 a fruitful one.
As in prior years, the names of our 2013 “Year in Reading” contributors will be unveiled one at a time throughout the month as we publish their contributions. You can bookmark this post and follow the series from here, or load up the main page for more new Year in Reading posts appearing at the top every day, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook or Twitter and read the series that way.
Stephen Dodson, co-author of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, proprietor of Languagehat.
Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs.
Choire Sicha, co-proprietor of The Awl, author of Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City.
Alice McDermott, author of Someone.
Hamilton Leithauser, lead singer for The Walkmen.
Sergio De La Pava, author of A Naked Singularity
Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing.
Norman Rush, author of Subtle Bodies.
Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure.
Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon.
Garth Risk Hallberg, staff writer for The Millions, author of A Field Guide to the North American Family.
David Gilbert, author of And Sons.
Sarah Waters, author of The Little Stranger.
Jason Diamond, literary editor at Flavorwire, founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn
Mark O’Connell, staff writer for The Millions, author of Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever.
Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them.
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of Brief Encounters with the Enemy.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun.
Michael Nye, author of Strategies Against Extinction.
Lydia Kiesling, staff writer for The Millions.
Hannah Gersen, staff writer for The Millions.
Thomas Beckwith, social media writer for The Millions.
Edan Lepucki, staff writer for The Millions, author of If You’re Not Yet Like Me.
Nick Moran, social media editor for The Millions.
Anne K. Yoder, staff writer for The Millions.
Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Book of My Lives.
Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner.
Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light.
Charlie Jane Anders, managing editor of io9.
Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge.
Scott Turow, author of Identical.
Chang-rae Lee, author of The Surrendered.
Janet Potter, staff writer for The Millions.
Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers.
Tom Drury, author of Pacific.
Gabriel Roth, author of The Unknowns.
Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
Paul Harding, author of Enon.
Janice Clark, author of The Rathbones.
Reif Larsen, author of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.
Elizabeth Minkel, staff writer for The Millions.
Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods.
Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors.
Mohsin Hamid, author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.
Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti.
Emily St. John Mandel, staff writer for The Millions, author of The Lola Quartet.
Bill Morris, staff writer for The Millions, author of Motor City.
Tess Malone, intern for The Millions.
Adam Wilson, author of Flatscreen.
Michael Bourne, staff writer for The Millions.
Sonya Chung, staff writer for The Millions, author of Long for This World.
Kathryn Davis, author of Labrador.
Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask.
Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin.
Teddy Wayne, author of Kapitoil.
Kelly Link, author of Monstrous Affections.
Olivia Laing, author of The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking.
Dara Horn, author of A Guide for the Perplexed.
Kate Milliken, author of If I’d Known You Were Coming.
Michael Robbins, author of Alien vs. Predator.
Parul Sehgal, editor at the New York Times Book Review.
Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy, Snow, Bird.
Kristopher Jansma, author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards.
Kevin Barry, author of Dark Lies the Island.
Kevin Hartnett, staff writer for The Millions.
Bennett Sims, author of A Questionable Shape.
Ann Hood, author of The Obituary Writer.
Charles Blackstone, author of Vintage Attraction.