Asterios Polyp

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The Millions Top Ten: April 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for April.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Corrections
6 months

3.
3.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
5 months

3.
2.

Reality Hunger
3 months

4.
4.

Let the Great World Spin
5 months

5.
10.

The Mystery Guest
5 months

6.
9.

Stoner
4 months

7.
6.

Wolf Hall
4 months

8.
5.

The Big Short
2 months

9.
7.

The Interrogative Mood
5 months

10.


War and Peace
1 month

Graduating to our Hall of Fame this month is W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, which appeared on both our panel’s list and our readers list in our "Best of the Millennium (So Far)" series last year. Our panel’s winner in the same series, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, stays in the top spot. We’ve been looking forward to Franzen’s next novel, Freedom, out later this year.
Our only debut this month is a classic. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace landed on lots of reading lists after we published Kevin’s thoughtful meditation on the book and what it means to be affected by great art.
Near Misses: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, Asterios Polyp, The Known World, Tinkers, Solar, Twilight of the Superheroes

See Also: Last month’s list

The Millions Top Ten: March 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
2.

The Corrections
5 months

2.
5.

Reality Hunger
2 months

3.
10.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
4 months

4.
6.

Let the Great World Spin
4 months

5.


The Big Short
1 month

6.
9.

Wolf Hall
3 months

7.
3.

The Interrogative Mood
4 months

8.
4.

Austerlitz
6 months

9.
7.

Stoner
3 months

10.
8.

The Mystery Guest
4 months

Graduating to our Hall of Fame this month is David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which was the readers’ favorite in our "Best of the Millennium (So Far)" series last year. That allows our panel’s winner in the same series, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, to take over the top spot. Of late, readers have begun looking forward to Franzen’s next novel, Freedom, out later this year.
Our only debut this month is Michael Lewis’ look at the financial crisis of the last two years, The Big Short. Of the hundreds of books on the topic, Lewis’ was one of the most widely anticipated, both because of his long history writing about Wall Street’s excesses and because of the powerful essay he penned on the topic for Portfolio magazine at the height of the crisis.
Near Misses: Asterios Polyp, The Known World, War and Peace, Then We Came to the End, Union Atlantic

See Also: Last month’s list

The Millions Top Ten: February 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Cloud Atlas
6 months

2.
2.

The Corrections
4 months

3.
4.

The Interrogative Mood
3 month

4.
3.

Austerlitz
5 months

5.


Reality Hunger
1 month

6.
6.

Let the Great World Spin
3 months

7.
8.

Stoner
2 months

8.
5.

The Mystery Guest
3 months

9.
10.

Wolf Hall
2 month

10.
7.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
2 months

 
New to the Top Ten list this month is Reality Hunger, a book by David Shields.. We had an early look at the book, a twopart interview with Shields, and Shields’ shared his Year in Reading in December. Dropping from the list is Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli.
Meanwhile, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections stayed atop the list, but that top spot will open up next month as Cloud Atlas is poised to join the Hall of Fame.
See Also: Last month’s list

The Millions Top Ten: January 2010

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for January.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Cloud Atlas
5 months

2.
4.

The Corrections
3 months

3.
3.

Austerlitz
4 months

4.
2.

The Interrogative Mood
2 months

5.
9. (tie)

The Mystery Guest
2 months

6.
5.

Let the Great World Spin
2 months

7.
8.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
2 months

8.


Stoner
1 month

9.
9. (tie)

Asterios Polyp
5 months

10.


Wolf Hall
1 month

January saw two more books graduate to The Millions Hall of Fame, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. Larsson’s books have been the beneficiary of a surge of interest in the late Swedish writer’s series of thrillers. Eggers’ Zeitoun has won much praise for its nuanced look at one immigrant New Orleanian’s Katrina story.
New to the Top Ten list this month is Stoner, a book by John Williams from NYRB Classics. The novel was singled out for praise as part of our Year in Reading series by Millions contributors Patrick and Edan as well as by Conversational Reading’s Scott Esposito. Also debuting is Booker Prize winner Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. The book was also named a finalist recently for a National Book Crtics Circle Award.
See Also: Last month’s list

The Millions Top Ten: December 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for December.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
3.

Cloud Atlas
4 months

2.


The Interrogative Mood
1 month

3.
7.

Austerlitz
3 months

4.
5. (tie)

The Corrections
2 months

5.


Let the Great World Spin
1 month

6.
4.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
6 months

7.
1.

Zeitoun
6 months

8.


The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
1 month

9. (tie)
7. (tie)

Asterios Polyp
4 months

9. (tie)


The Mystery Guest
1 month

December saw a flurry of activity as four books made their first appearances on the list. Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood, endorsed by both Jonathan Lethem and Rick Moody, caught readers’ interest. Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin has been building momentum since its National Book Award win. I also reviewed it here and last month, Reif Larsen wrote glowingly of the book. Our recent interview with superstar translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky clearly got readers interested in their latest effort, a Tolstoy collection. And David Shields’ Year in Reading contribution, while eclectic, nonetheless drew readers’ focus to Gregoire Bouillier’s The Mystery Guest.

Powered by continued interest in The Millions’ Best of the Millennium series, where the book had a strong showing on both out panel list and our readers’ list, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas took over the top spot in the Top Ten.

And finally, dropping from the list were Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño, The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and The Wild Things by Dave Eggers.

See Also: Last month’s list

A Year in Reading: Dan Kois

As usual, my reading life in 2009 was split into comics, which I read voraciously and with a eye toward timeliness, and everything else, which I read haphazardly and with an eye toward pleasure. Start with the everything else.

Plans to review the Broadway production of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests sent me to my old copy of the plays, still battered from when, in college, I tried to convince a theater company to let me direct a cast of undergrads in a farcical British trilogy starring a middle-aged British sexaholic. Thankfully for everyone, I was turned down, but re-reading the plays again was a pleasure. In performance, Ayckbourn’s dialogue and construction seem effortless, but on the page, you can tease out the keen sense of narrative that makes these plays so satisfying.

My first real job was at the Bull’s Head Bookshop in Chapel Hill, just after I graduated from that college, and my boss — Erica Eisdorfer, still to this day the best boss I’ve ever had — released her first novel this year, The Wet Nurse’s Tale. I am happy to report that it is great: funny and rousing and just a little bit sexy, despite all that nursing going on. Susan Rose, the novel’s earthy, determined heroine, sets herself apart from other costume-drama heroines with her first words, bellowed out while delivering her first baby: “It’s like shitting a pumpkin, it is!”

The years I was living in Chapel Hill were the peak of the indie-rock bumrush the local music scene received in the wake of the town being declared “the next Seattle.” (I remained mostly unaware of the frenzy, happily reading books and putting on plays.) But Our Noise:The Story of Merge Records, a big, lively, comprehensive oral history by John Cook, Mac McCaughan, and Laura Ballance, tells the story of how one small local record company managed to withstand the tidal wave of big-label attention and focus for twenty years on what it did best: 1) Putting out albums by great bands like Superchunk, Neutral Milk Hotel, Spoon, and the Magnetic Fields, and 2) Not being assholes.

Our four-year-old has very specific tastes in books, and each night picks a title out of a rotation of maybe ten, total, that we read over and over and over. A lot of the books do not hold up to rereading if you are not four: Purplicious, for example, is no Pinkalicious. But a hand-me-down from my old bookshelf, Richard Scarry’s Favorite Storybook Ever, is so packed with detail and charm that it never gets old, and for that I’m grateful to Scarry and his anthropomorphic animals (and their bananamobiles).

Now, comics. For anyone who reads and writes about graphic novels, the year’s big dog was Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli’s long-awaited story of a New York architect whose buildings have never been made and his desperate journey into Middle America. And it was as good as advertised: intricate, funny, lovely to look at, and as carefully assembled a comic as I’ve ever seen. I hope Mazzucchelli doesn’t take ten years to make his next book, but I’m grateful that the ten years it took him to create this one were well-spent.

An autumn trip to Montreal led me to a number of the city’s great comics stores, where awesome Francophone bandes desinées line the shelves, making me wish I still remembered my AP French. At Librarie Drawn + Quarterly in Mile End — the bookshop run by Montreal’s terrific art-comics publisher — I picked up the one of Michel Rabagliati’s series of autobiographical comics that I hadn’t yet read, Paul Has a Summer Job, and devoured it that night in our hotel room. Like all of Rabagliati’s books, it takes the quotidian details of life — in this case, a summer spent as an underqualified counselor at a Quebec camp for underprivileged kids — and transforms them into lovely, perfect stories. Bonus points for the most touching ending I’ve read in years.

Although it was nominated for an LA Times Book Prize, Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole flew under the radar a little bit; it was officially published by Top Shelf last year but (due to shipping problems) not actually in stores until the winter. It’s a wildly imaginative and thoughtful story of two stepsiblings linked by affection and incipient schizophrenia, pushing against the doctors and loved ones who only want to help them. Powell vividly draws swarms of cicadas, talking elves, and grumpy pills with teeth, but at the heart of this gorgeous story are two teenagers trying to work out when everything will finally get better — just like we all felt once. It was my favorite book of the year.

More from A Year in Reading

The Millions Top Ten: November 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
2.

Zeitoun
5 months

2.
1.

Inherent Vice
4 months

3.
3.

Cloud Atlas
3 months

4.
4.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5 months

5. (tie)


The Corrections
1 month

5. (tie)
7.

The Skating Rink
4 months

7. (tie)
5.

Asterios Polyp
3 months

7. (tie)
10.

Austerlitz
2 months

9.


The Year of the Flood
2 months

10.
6.

The Wild Things
2 months

Dave Eggers bookends our list as Zeitoun moves into the top spot and The Wild Things lands at number 10. Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 novel The Corrections hits our list two months after a panel of writers, editors and critics assembled by The Millions named it the Best of the Millennium (So Far). The book joins Cloud Atlas and Austerlitz, which both figured prominently in the series as well. Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood has re-entered the list after falling off last month. And dropping from the list are Felonious Jazz by Bryan Gilmer and Imperial by William T. Vollmann.
See Also: Last month’s list.

The Notables: 2009

This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year list is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Sticking with the fiction exclusively, it appears that we touched upon a few of these books as well:

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (a most anticipated book)
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli (my review, Millions Top Ten book)
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (a most anticipated book, The Millions Interview with Dan Chaon, Best of the Millennium Longlister)
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (a most anticipated book, The Kakutani Two-Step)
Do Not Deny Me by Jean Thompson (Jean Thompson on Edward P. Jones)
Don’t Cry by Mary Gaitskill (Best of the Millennium Longlister)
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (Wells Tower’s Year in Reading, a most anticipated book, my review, Best of the Millennium Longlister, Millions Top Ten book)
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (a most anticipated book, Edan’s review)
Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers (a most anticipated book)
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (Manil Suri’s Year in Reading selection, National Book Award Finalist)
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips (National Book Award Finalist)
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (a most anticipated book, my review, National Book Award Winner)
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Booker Shortlister)
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Lion, The Witch and Ishiguro)
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (a most anticipated book)
The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips (Anne’s review, Arthur Phillips’ Year in Reading, Arthur Phillips on Kelly Link)
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Booker Prize Winner)
Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (a most anticipated book)

The Millions Top Ten: October 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Inherent Vice
3 months

2.
2.

Zeitoun
4 months

3.
7.

Cloud Atlas
2 months

4.
3.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
4 months

5.
5. (tie)

Asterios Polyp
2 months

6.


The Wild Things
1 month

7.
4.

The Skating Rink
3 months

8.
10. (tie)

Imperial
2 months

9.
5. (tie)

Felonious Jazz
6 months

10.


Austerlitz
1 month

Dave Eggers lands a second book on our Top Ten with his novelization of the Spike Jonze movie The Wild Things. (Eggers is having similar success on some other distinguished lists.) Here at The Millions, Wild Things was a Most Anticipated book and Emily recent revisited the beloved children’s book that started it all. Also debuting is Austerlitz, the 2001 novel by W.G. Sebald. The book recently landed at #7 in our “Best of the Millennium” series.

We didn’t have any new Hall of Fame inductees this month, and falling off the Top Ten were The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Future Missionaries of America by Matthew Vollmer, and Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.

And, finally, Inherent Vice and Zeitoun hold on to their top positions.

See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: September 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Inherent Vice
2 months

2.
2.

Zeitoun
3 months

3.
8.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
3 months

4.
6. (tie)

The Skating Rink
2 months

5. (tie)


Asterios Polyp
1 month

5. (tie)
10.

Felonious Jazz
5 months

7.


Cloud Atlas
1 month

8.


The Year of the Flood
1 month

9.


The White Tiger
1 month

10. (tie)


Future Missionaries of America
1 month

10. (tie)


Imperial
1 month

10. (tie)
9.

Netherland
4 months

Four inductees to The Millions Hall of Fame plus gridlock in the tenth spot on our list meant room for plenty of new titles on the list in September.

Graduating to our Hall of Fame were four illustrious titles, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Matthew Diffee’s The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker, and Carl Wilson’s Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. The former two titles are good examples of our readers’ taste in fiction (Wao in fact won our recent readers’ poll of the best fiction of the decade). The latter two are niche titles that sparked an enduring interest in readers despite relatively minor mentions at The Millions.

Newly appearing on the list are some recently published titles. Asterios Polyp, which we reviewed not long ago, Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and William T. Vollmann’s Imperial, which were both on our most recent Most Anticipated list, and Future Missionaries of America by Matthew Vollmer, who was an interviewer and an interviewee for us in June.

Also debuting are Cloud Atlas, which emerged as a big favorite in our Best of the Millennium project, and The White Tiger. That one’s a bit of a mystery because we haven’t talked about it much, but it did, of course, win the Booker Prize a year ago.

Finally, Inherent Vice and Zeitoun hold on to their positions, but there are still several new releases on tap for the fall, so they may be challenged soon for the top spots.

See Also: Last month’s list.

Mope Free: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

At the risk of being exposed as a graphic novel novice, my problem with the genre has always been that graphic novels never quite seem to take full, exuberant advantage of the potential afforded by the form.Too often, no matter how visually accomplished and how intricately plotted, the characters (paradoxically perhaps) are too one-dimensional. To put it simply, they are mopes. Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a towering achievement of intricate artistry and bifurcated plotting, but Jimmy himself doesn’t buzz and hum along with the rest of the presentation that Ware provides.In my experience with graphic novels, Art Spiegelman’s Maus is the towering exception to this rule. The two-volume set eschews the angst to give a gripping history lesson. The books were, for me, a stirring departure from angst-filled graphic novels like Chester Brown’s I Never Liked You, and Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World, which tread the same emotional ground as Corrigan.And so I picked up David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp knowing next to nothing about it and wondering if it too would shroud an awkward, angst-filled character in glorious, hand-drawn finery.The answer is no, but before I get to that, I should note that Polyp is a gorgeous book, an object with beautiful textures and colors within and without. This isn’t a new insight, but Polyp reinforced for me that these lavishly produced graphic novels will be among the niches in which the future of the physical book is secure. I would not have wanted to experience the book via the wan light of the screen.Polyp the book is pleasingly tangible, and so is Polyp, the book’s eponymous protagonist. Asterios Polyp is an architect, drawn in sleek geometric form by Mazzucchelli. Polyp’s twin brother Ignazio died at birth and narrates the story from the ether, while also appearing regularly in Polyp’s dreams. Unlike Corrigan, Polyp’s as assured and complicated a character as you’ll see stride through a graphic novel (this side of the super heroes of course). Mazzucchelli threads two plots in alternating chapters, one plot following Polyp from birth to a successful career and to marriage and the other following an older Polyp beginning with his 50th birthday, when his apartment catches fire and he gets on a train to go as far as his money will take him. Polyp is drawn in the classic mold of the hard-headed architect that so many writers have found to be fruitful archetype. But unlike the stony Howard Roark, Polyp is brimming with contradictions and a capacity to evolve under his architect’s mask.Joining Polyp is a colorful cast of characters, who, like Polyp with his architectural angularity, have their own traits subtly mirrored in the style Mazzucchelli uses to draw them. At its heart, Polyp is a love story about Polyp and Hana, a sculptor. In some ways the plot follows a more recognizable romance (or even romantic comedy) trajectory, but Mazzucchelli has many other threads going and delves into – with glorious abstract detail and inventive art and hand lettering – questions of free will, theories of representation, and the nature of the self. But the path of Polyp and Hana is the most moving element of the book. Here Mazzucchelli’s artistic cleverness is used to great emotional impact. When Hana and Polyp are getting along, they are drawn in with same line weight and color, but when they aren’t, Polyp becomes a jagged, assembly of orthogonal solids, while Hana becomes sketchy and impressionistic.A note: It took me about two hours to read this book. The book lists for $30 (Amazon has it for $20). It was a very immersive two hours, and the pages are detailed and would support repeated readings. It occurred to me that most books occupy your time for many more hours but often cost less. But its also true that few books are as engrossing and offer a visual experience on this level. A better analogy is a DVD of a favorite film, also offering two hours of immersion and bearing repeated watching, but costing more than a paperback might.Another note: I know next to nothing about Mazzucchelli, but I’ve heard that he is very highly regarded for his Batman: Year One book and also that Polyp, unlike his comic-related projects (no matter how worthwhile), is an opportunity to see his vision unmitigated by the necessary adherence to the the established tropes and tics of characters like Batman. PW said of him, “For decades, Mazzucchelli has been a master without a masterpiece.” Is Polyp a masterpiece (as PW goes on to assert)? It might be. Polyp doesn’t have the mind-bending density of Corrigan, but it has both a novelistic and artistic exuberance that will make me much more likely to reach for it again.

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