Edan Lepucki is a regular contributor to The Millions, and her short fiction will soon be appearing in Avery and the Los Angeles Review.An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken. McCracken’s memoir is, as the New York Times puts it, “an unstinting account of the novelist’s emotions after the stillbirth of her first child.” It’s also about the happiness she experienced before the tragedy, when she was pregnant in an old farmhouse in the south of France, and the happiness she feels now as the mother of a second, healthy child, even as the death of her first child remains an indelible fact. It’s about grief: how it never fades, never heals, even as life continues. Like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, the book’s structure bears the confusion and enormity of this grief – it cannot, will not, follow chronologically. McCracken’s memoir was the most moving book I read this year.Look at Me by Jennifer Egan. I’ve written about this terrific novel before, calling it “equal parts beautiful, entertaining, satirical and sad,” and I’ll write about it again because I enjoyed it so much. Egan’s scenes are intricate and entertaining, her sentences enviable, surprising, and buttery smooth. She is one of my new favorite writers.The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. In the fantasy-version of my life, I grow a garden outside my one-bedroom apartment, I compost, I make my own bread, I can food and prepare my own jelly, and I’m not too cowardly to ride a bike on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Thankfully, I now have this handbook to show me how to become such a person. Coyne and Knutzen live and farm just two neighborhoods away from my own, and their accessible guide to “revolutionary home economics” and “livestock in the city,” is not only inspiring, it’s also practical and useful. This time next year, I might even own a goat or two…More from A Year in Reading 2008
Elizabeth McCracken is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Center for Advanced Study. Her most recent book is An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.I read plenty of terrific books this year, but two stick out in my head:For some reason it took me 100 approaches to The Maytrees before I finally got off the first page; now I can say that it’s one of my favorite books of all time. (About 20 years ago, I had the same exact experience with Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.) The Maytrees is not about much, but at the same time it’s about everything: domestic love, parental love, human beings in houses, houses in the natural world, the passage of time, memory, illness, drink, death, art. I don’t want to summarize the book because it defies summarization, and because one of the pleasures of the book is how surprisingly it’s shaped on every level, phrase to sentence to chapter. I’m not selling it very well, I’m afraid. Let me add: the book is about a group of people who meet in Provincetown after the War, and that Annie Dillard accomplishes that rare thing: portraits of genuinely eccentric people who are not sweet, or picturesque, or naive savants, but weighty, complicated human beings.I just finished Red House: Being a Mostly Accurate Account of New England’s Oldest Continuously Lived-in House, by Sarah Messer. Full disclosure: I know Sarah. I’d met her before this fall, but this year we have offices in the same building and I started the book out of politeness and with that usual fear: what if I don’t like the book as much as I like the person? Oh my heavens I loved this book. Red House, like The Maytrees, also defies description – part memoir, part history, written by a poet and fiction writer, built in some places out of old documents, Red House is the story of a 17th century house in Marshfield, Massachusetts, the family who built it and lived there till the 1960s, and the author’s family, who bought the house from the builder’s descendents. It’s about loving the myths of the place you live, and the siren pull of impractical architecture. The book itself feels like the house, rooms added onto rooms, fascinating objects and observations pulled out of walls, layers of history and wallpaper and quotidian ghosts. it’s a book that feels as weighty as an artifact, and as beautiful as life. It’s also just exceptionally smart.More from A Year in Reading 2008
The distractions of a good book have been in high demand this year. A quiet corner and a transporting story offered a reprieve from relentless campaign news not to mention cheap entertainment for the many feeling a sudden impulse for thriftiness. 2008 was a loud year, and this final month seems likely to be only more deafening. The annual shopping frenzy has already ramped up, this year with overtones of desperation and the macabre.Yet in the spirit of the season (though in defiance of the prevailing mood), we offer a month of gifts – collected with the help of many generous friends – to our readers. There will be plenty of lists in the coming days assigning 2008’s best books (and movies and music and everything else you can think of), but it is our opinion that these lists are woefully incompatible with the habits of most readers. As it does with many things in our culture, what we call “the tyranny of the new” holds particularly strong sway over these lists. With books, however, it is different. We are as likely to be moved by a book written 200 years ago as we are by one written two months ago, and a list of the “Best Books of 2008” feels fairly meaningless when you walk down the aisles of your favorite bookstore or library.Being a reader is about having millions of choices, and a lucky reader has trusted fellow readers as her guides. With this in mind, we’ve asked a number of our favorite readers (and writers and thinkers) to be your guides for the month of December, with each contributor sharing with us the best book(s) they read in 2008, regardless of publication date. And so we present to you our 2008 Year in Reading, a non-denominational advent calendar of reading recommendations to take you through to the end of 2008.We’re doing it a little differently this year. The names 2008 Year in Reading contributors will be unveiled one at a time throughout the month as we post their contributions. You can bookmark this post to follow the series from here, you can just 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 and follow along in your favorite feed reader.Stephen Dodson author of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, proprietor of LanguagehatNam Le author of The BoatBenjamin Kunkel founding editor of N+1 and author of IndecisionRosecrans Baldwin founding editor of The Morning News and author of You Lost Me ThereHamilton Leithauser lead singer of The WalkmenMark Binelli author of Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!Dan Kois founding editor of VultureAmanda Petrusich author of It Still MovesJoseph O’Neill author of NetherlandRex Sorgatz of Fimoculous.com.Elizabeth McCracken author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My ImaginationJoan Silber author of Ideas of Heaven and The Size of the WorldAnder Monson author of Other ElectricitiesDon Lee author of Wrack and RuinTraver Kauffman of Black GarterbeltBuzz Poole author of Madonna of the ToastEdan Lepucki of The MillionsJim Shepard author of Like You’d Understand, AnywayPeter Straub author of seventeen novelsRachel Fershleiser co-editor of Not Quite What I Was PlanningCharles Bock author of Beautiful ChildrenEdward Champion of The Bat Segundo Show and edrants.comHelen Dewitt author of The Last SamuraiManil Suri author of The Age of ShivaCharles D’Ambrosio author of The Dead Fish MuseumChristopher Sorrentino author of TranceWells Tower author of Everything Ravaged, Everything BurnedLawrence Hill author of Someone Knows My NameJohn Wray author of LowboyEd Park founding editor of The Believer and author of Personal DaysSarah Manguso author of The Two Kinds of DecayKrin Gabbard author of Hotter Than ThatJosh Henkin author of MatrimonyJosh Bazell author of Beat the ReaperBrian Evenson by The Open CurtainCarolyn Kellogg of Jacket Copy and www.carolynkellogg.comHesh Kestin author of Based on a True StoryScott Esposito editor of The Quarterly Conversation and proprietor of Conversational ReadingGarth Risk Hallberg author of A Field Guide to the North American Family: An Illustrated Novella, contributor to The MillionsSana Krasikov author of One More YearSeth Lerer author of Children’s Literature: A Reader’s HistoryLorraine López author of The Gifted Gabaldon SistersAnne Landsman author of The Rowing Lesson and The Devil’s ChimneyMark Sarvas author of Harry, Revised and proprietor of The Elegant VariationBrad Gooch author of City PoetKyle Minor author of In the Devil’s TerritoryChristine Schutt author of Florida and All SoulsTodd Zuniga founding editor of Opium MagazineDavid Heatley author of My Brain is Hanging Upside DownV.V. Ganeshananthan author of Love MarriageFrances de Pontes Peebles author of The SeamstressLaura Miller cofounder of Salon.com author of The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in NarniaDustin Long author of IcelanderMaria Semple author of This One is MineRob Gifford of NPR, author of China RoadJohn Dufresne author of Requiem, MassMatthew Rohrer author of Rise UpMickey Hess author of Big Wheel at the Cracker FactoryGregory Rodriguez author of Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans and VagabondsDavid Ebershoff author of The 19th WifeTim W. Brown author of Walking ManPablo De Santis author of The Paris EnigmaHugo Hamilton author of DisguiseJoshua Furst author of The Sabotage CafeKevin Hartnett of The MillionsRoland Kelts author of JapanamericaNikil Saval assistant editor at n+1The Year in Reading RecapBonus Links: A Year in Reading 2007, 2006, 2005
Chall writes in with this question:Any National Book Award predictions?Awards season is upon us. The Booker shortlist is out, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced in the next week or so, and the National Book Award finalists will be named on October 15th. Chall’s question gives us an excuse to engage in a bit of speculation, though we’ll stick with fiction for the most part. Offering up some guesses at who might make the NBA cut are Garth and Edan, our two contributors most plugged in to the latest in contemporary fiction.Edan: (some of whose guesses were “completely pulled from thin air, for no reason.”)The Boat by Nam Le (see Edan’s interview with Nam)America, America by Ethan CaninFine Just the Way It Is by Annie ProulxIndignation by Phillip RothThe Good Thief by Hannah TintiEdan also likes An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken and The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston in non-fiction.Garth: (“Edan’s got some good stuff going on with her picks. I think there will be at least one debut author and one book of short stories, and The Boat is a good call. The Canin is interesting, too, as he’s well-regarded and this book hasn’t gotten as much ink as it might have. For the sake of doing something different, I’m going to go another way”)Home by Marilynne RobinsonThe Lazarus Project by Aleksandar HemonAtmospheric Disturbances by Rivka GalchenA Better Angel by Chris AdrianLush Life by Richard Price (a “sleeper” pick)Incidentally, both also wanted to pick Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, which was recently snubbed by the Booker. But I don’t think O’Neill is a U.S. citizen, and that would disqualify him from the NBA. And here are a few of my guesses:Max:Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa LahiriThe Monsters of Templeton by Lauren GroffPeople of the Book by Geraldine BrooksCity of Thieves by David BenioffHome by Marilynne RobinsonShare your picks in the comments below. Name up to five books, and the whoever is closest will get bragging rights. Remember: only books with “scheduled publication dates between December 1, 2007 and November 30, 2008” are eligible. And the author must be a U.S. citizen.