The Mystery Guest: An Account

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A Year in Reading: Bookdwarf

I’ve been reading Megan’s blog Bookdwarf for a long time now. I met Megan amidst all the crazy book folk at BEA this year and was surprised to find her not as short as one might have expected. While the name of her blog may be misleading, however, her taste in books can be trusted. As such, here are Megan thoughts on the best books she read this year:I love reading the lists you collect because they give me a chance to reflect on what I’ve read this year. I feel lucky – I read a lot of great books this year, some old and some new. One of my favorites was Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler, which I was glad was nominated for the National Book Award in Non-Fiction. Hessler, who has lived in China for over ten years and speaks Mandarin fluently, writes about the changes occurring in China today. Not quite a travelogue nor a memoir, it’s a cultural portrait of a rapidly changing world. What makes it so great is Hessler’s ability to disappear from the narrative and paint a vivid portrait of everyone he meets and everything he sees. He shows us a big picture view with enough complexity and contradiction that we see all nuances.Another favorite this year was Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City, part of the NYRB Classics series. First published to great acclaim in Hong Kong in the 40s, Chang’s short stories are being published in English for the first time. She writes about men, women, and the ways even the smallest actions or words can transform relationships. The cultural divide in Chinese society between ancient patriarchy and the tumultuous modernity forms the vivid background. The stories seem to be about how life never works out. They’re bleak and yet you can’t help but be enchanted by the characters.Other books I enjoyed this year were Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichie, whose talented writing enchants this novel about the war in Biafra, and Random Family by Adrian Leblanc, who spent 10 years researching this finely written portrait of an extended family.PS I also second Mark’s love for Gregoire Bouillier’s Mystery Guest and Ed’s love for Echo Maker, not to mention Cormac McCarthy’s haunting The Road. I think I’ll try to read more older stuff in 2007. It’s part of my job to read the new stuff, but there’s so much out there already that needs reading.Thanks Megan!

A Year in Reading: The Elegant Variation

Mark Sarvas, proprietor of The Elegant Variation, takes some time to share the books he read in 2006 that he found, shall we say, most to his liking. First off, the more I think about it, the less I care for the whole “Best of” formulation. It offends me on a number of levels, not the least of which is by the assumption that one has read enough of what’s on offer in a year to be able to decide what’s “Best”. (And this is no knock on this inestimable blog; rather, it’s a systemic crankiness that’s afflicting me this year.) So I’m going to come instead from the perspective of “My Favorites of the Year,” which seems more inherently more defensible. (And, in an open note to newspaper editors everywhere, why not opt for the more modest construction “Editor’s Choice” or “Editor’s Favorite”? It seems preferable to the untenably pompous “Best of” declarations that have becomede rigeur.)OK. End of my mini-rant. A list, in alphabetical order, of books thatstruck me as being of particular note in 2006:Amphigorey Again by Edward Gorey: What will probably be the last collection from a master.Black Swan Green: David Mitchell proves he can do “human” as well as “clever” with a breakthrough novel.Christine Falls: It will only be available in the US next year, but John Banville’s first thriller as Benjamin Black is drawing deserved praise forits UK release.Dead Fish Museum by Charles D’Ambrosio: The best short story collection we’ve read in years. Breathtaking.The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas: Flawed but exuberant, it’s a Foucault’s Pendulum for the iPod generation.Everything that Rises: Lawrence Weschler’s brilliant John Berger-esque collection of essays on unlikely visual convergences.Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: The graphic novel that finally won me over to the form.The Lost: Daniel Mendelsohn’s brilliantly written memoir answers those who ask if there’s anything left to write about the Holocaust.The Mystery Guest by Gregoire Bouillier, translated by Lorin Stein: A delicious Gallic treat, depicting the party from hell and explaining what every man should know about turtleneck sweaters.Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris: OK, this one is a cheat – it’s not out until March of next year but this hilarious and gorgeously written novel might just change my mind about MFAs.Ticknor by Sheila Heti: If there’s a favorite of the year, this bitter comedy of envy and failure would be the one.Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon: It’s not from this year but I only just caught up with it and can see what the fuss was about.Thanks Mark!

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