Maria Semple wrote for Arrested Development, Mad About You and Ellen. Her first novel, This One is Mine, is being published by Little, Brown in December 2008. Read more about it at www.mariasemple.com.Having my first novel coming out this year, I ended up becoming kind of obsessed with the “New Arrival” fiction table at bookstores. Of the dozens of books I bought, my favorite was When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale. It’s the story of a mentally ill woman dragging her children around Europe, written from the point of view of her nine year old son, Lawrence. The voice is so charming and poignant that months later, it melts my heart just thinking about it. Still, the story is a harrowing one. Another favorite was Two Marriages by Philip Lopate. I’m a fan of anything Lopate writes, so it was a real thrill to devour these two novellas. Speaking of an unforgettable first-person voice, the narrator of the gripping “The Skeptic’s Marriage” is both pitiful and maddening. Lopate manages to have great compassion for his stuffy narrator while knocking him around in a wild and hilarious plot that’s full of surprises. More from A Year in Reading 2008
The funniest book I read all year was a book of poems. I didn’t expect to laugh, which is often the best way to embark on said activity, and then I couldn’t help it: Michael Earl Craig’s Talkativeness, which came out in 2014 from Wave Books, is both lovely and hilarious. I haven’t been so bowled over by a poet’s sense of humor since…well, possibly ever. Too often the poems that cross my desk seem like a word salad tossed almost entirely for a hipster luncheon at the We’re All Poets Club (a phenomenon Craig touches on, possibly, in a poem called “Perhaps You See Where I Am Heading”). Such poetry uses words like “diacritical” that are too lofty for the likes of me and tend to make the enterprise of poetry seem more like an intellectual pose than an access to the ineffable. But Craig’s book is clearly 4 All Mankind, as it says, just a tad ironically, on the label of those two-hundred-dollar jeans — which isn’t to say it’s not subtle and idiosyncratic, because it is. I’m not talking Ogden Nash; Talkativeness is never cute. It’s full of wisdom and elegance and beauty, all those good things lined with a comic edge so sharp it made me laugh aloud (as I sat on an airplane this is a completely full flight beside a woman who held on her lap a very large deep-dish pizza).
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