A Year in Reading: Stephen Elliott

I kind of hate to say this, but the very best book I read this year was Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. It's cliche, and he doesn't need the boost. I read a number of smaller press books, some of which were excellent. Bluets by Maggie Nelson in particular springs to mind. But still, I really think Freedom is a masterpiece. I read it as an advance copy, so I had the fortune to read it when there was hype, but not as much hype as there became. I will say this, it was not my best year for reading. It was a year where I read a lot of really good books but almost no great books. Last year I read three books I would consider better than Freedom, though only one of them was a novel, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. It took me six months to read 2666. In the meantime, I also read We Did Porn by Zak Smith, which was also a better book, as was Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. But that was last year, and that's not what this is about. But I don't care. I want to talk about something else. You know what's a great novel? Lush Life by Richard Price. That's from my 2008 list (I keep a list of every book I read). Also, in 2008, I read the novella Ray by Barry Hannah. Are you kidding? You want to talk about great literature, you have to read Ray before you can even have the conversation. And those two books weren't even the best books I read in 2008. Because in 2008, I read the absurdly underrated Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker, which impacts the way I think about creative non-fiction still to this day. And then in 2007, I read Stoner, which would probably top the list of "Best Books I've Read In The Last Four Years." 2007 was a glorious year for reading. Sylvia by Leonard Michaels, Advertisements for Myself by Norman Mailer, The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. I'm not even going to get into 2006. I'd start to cry. More from a Year in Reading 2010 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions

A Year in Reading: Stephen Elliott

I 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. More from A Year in Reading