A Year in Reading: David Gutowski (Largehearted Boy)


Picking my favorite book of the year is a daunting task. I just started narrowing down my favorite novels of the year list, and after the first culling I am left with over 30 books, all of which I loved. One book, however, stood out this year from the pack, Adam Levin’s The Instructions.

I had heard good things about The Instructions from friends whose tastes I have come to respect (notably Michael Schaub and Jason Diamond). Throw in the David Foster Wallace comparisons Levin has quickly earned, and the book rose to the top of my anticipated reading list. However, doubts surfaced when I received my galley of the book, and its 1,000+ pages were spread over two thick volumes. I wondered if I would have the time to read it, and put the book aside to finish several others. My friends’ recommendations started to haunt me, so I picked up the book. A couple of days later, after a couple of marathon reading sessions, I finished The Instructions and immediately regretted there wasn’t more.

As hefty as The Instructions is, it never seems too long. Adam Levin works genius in his debut novel. Mixing humor, pathos, and violence with ease, Levin creates¬†characters that are fully realized, even the minor ones, and his young messianic protagonist is simply one of the year’s most fantastic and unforgettable literary figures.

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A Year in Reading: David Gutowski (Largehearted Boy)


Naming my favorite book of the year is a lot like naming your favorite child (or in my case, my favorite pet). I enjoyed a vast majority of the 200+ books I finished this year, but one does stand out, Victor LaValle’s novel Big Machine.

Why was Big Machine my favorite book of the year? Much has to do with timing. Early spring brought many books my way, but none interested me past the first 50 pages or so (my deadline for finishing or closing the book for good). I probably gave up on 15 books in a row, several of which I had held high hopes for, before I picked up Big Machine.

Elegantly written and suffused with equal parts pathos and humor, the novel captivated me at once. LaValle’s skills for drawing believable characters and capturing the essence of their conversations on the page drew me into one of the finest works of speculative fiction I have ever read.

Once I finished the book, I sought out the rest of LaValle’s books and made time to read them. For me, that is the ultimate tribute I can give a book, that it impressed me so much to explore the author’s work further (especially with my crowded reading schedule). Victor LaValle restored my faith in literary fiction.

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A Year in Reading: David Gutowski


David Gutowski runs the popular music and culture blog Largehearted Boy.As I get ready to move, I have been packing away the books I have read this year. A bit obsessive about my reading, I keep separate shelves for my blog’s 52 Books, 52 Weeks and Book Notes projects, along with a shelf for everything else I have squeezed into the year. Gathering my yearly input has given me a rare insight into how amazing this year’s books have been for me, especially Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.I keep a “to read” list on my laptop, right now it features over a hundred books, ordered by interest. The Omnivore’s Dilemma had been on the list for over a year, ever since my friends started recommending the book to me, always with the wide eyes of recently converted zealots. My wife jokes that my personal mantra is, “I’m skeptical,” but with so many people whose opinions I respect behind the book, I decided to give it a chance (and slotted it between the literary fiction and graphic novels that make up the majority of my yearly reading).The Omnivore’s Dilemma is the rare book which changed the way I live. Michael Pollan gave me new insight into the true cost of the food we eat. Last year I read Jay Weinstein’s The Ethical Gourmet and reconsidered my diet with regard to ecological concerns, but Pollan takes the argument to another plane altogether. As he follows the food chain of industrial, organic, and even foraged foods, he delves into the government’s involvement in our diets and the perils facing family farms with graceful prose and strong arguments. Like a good novel, I read the book in one sitting, transfixed by the personal story Michael Pollan shared as well as the national and global ramifications of our diet.More from A Year in Reading 2007