Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Extras

I got a lot of responses to my call for people to share the best books they read this year. Here are some of the shorter entries and lists that I received.Stephen Schenkenberg (who pens an engaging blog) said:Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road -- the best book I read all year -- gutted me. William H. Gass' essay collection A Temple of Texts -- the second best -- has been the balm. Steve Clackson also wrote in:My favorite book this year.Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden - commentsSome others I've enjoyed.Painkiller by Will Staeger - commentsDe Niro's Game by Rawi Hage - commentsBooks by Victor O'Reilly - commentsHeather Huggins named her top three:Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Ishiguro's Remains of the Day is a close third.And finally, Sandra Scoppettone's list: Utterly Monkey by Nick LairdCitizen Vince by Jess WalterThe Night Watch by Sarah WatersThe Girls by Lori LansensWater for Elephants by Sara GruenWinter's Bone by Daniel WoodrellTriangle by Katherine WeberA Spot of Bother by Mark HaddonEat The Document by Dana SpiottaNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThanks everyone!
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Edan Lepucki

My good friend Edan got married this year (to Millions contributor Patrick no less), got published in the LA Times West Magazine, and taught her own fiction workshop. She's also one of the gang I worked with at Book Soup in Los Angeles, where she regularly wowed customers with her literary knowledge. In spite of being enviably well-read, Edan has once again gone the cookbook route for our year end series, as is her wont:Since ALL of my favorite books of 2006 - The Echo Maker by Richard Powers; Everything that Rises by Lawrence Weschler; and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan - have already been sufficiently lauded by other Millions contributors, I figured I'd instead sing the praises of one cookbook:Brunch: 100 Recipes from Five Points Restaurant by Marc Meyer and Peter Meehan I purchased this fabulous book for my husband, who seems to have conquered the kitchen on Sunday mornings because I can't, just can't, rise before ten. It's easy to get into a scrambled eggs-and-potatoes breakfast rut, but this book, with recipes for Bourbon Vanilla French Toast, Ricotta Fritters, Asparagus and Artichoke Baked Eggs and Applesauce Muffins (among 96 others), ensures amazing spreads each time. The book has lovely, drool-inducing photographs for motivation, and chef Marc Meyers (5 Points, I've learned, is a well-known NYC restaurant), urges us to make more bacon "than you think you want (or than you think you should eat)." Bless this man.Thanks Edan!
Year in Reading

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!
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Tabula Rasa

Francois Monti runs a litblog in French - mainly about American literature - called Tabula Rasa. If I could read French, I would probably read the blog, but I can't, so I'm happily making due with Francois' contribution - in English - to our Year in Reading series:I should first point to the fairly obvious: among the books I most liked in 2006, you will find Richard Powers' The Echo Maker, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. I won't elaborate further on these books; they are already all over the literary blogs.There has been much less discussion of Roberto Bolano Los Detectives Salvajes (The Savage Dectives), which is pretty understandable: the book was published in Spanish in 1998 and is yet to be translated into English [Max: it's coming in April 2007]. However, this year saw the publication of the French translation, my mother tongue. Pure bliss! In turn coming-of-age story, roman noir, literary quest, this is a real tour de force, reminiscent of Julio Cortazar and Jack Kerouac while remaining deeply original. Bolano passed away in 2003. He was fifty years old, and I just can't help thinking about what else might have been coming from him. He was undoubtedly a unique South-American writer; dare I say the best of his generation?If we're talking older books, I've read and liked many in 2006, but none as much as The Tunnel. The contrast between the odious main character and the beauty of the prose, the music of William H. Gass' writing, make for a deeply disturbing, fascinating, and ultimately rewarding experience.Thanks Francois!
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Condalmo

Though relatively new, Matthew Tiffany's blog Condalmo quickly became a must read for me - and many others, I'm guessing. With Condalmo, Tiffany strikes the essential balance between quick news items and longer, thoughtful posts that has been mastered by many of my favorite bloggers. With his entry for the "Year in Reading" series Matt asks us to believe the hype about a book that was a favorite of many book bloggers this year:I had a pretty great year for reading - I was exposed to a bunch of new (for me) writers (Laird Hunt, Brian Evenson, Stephen Dixon, Marguerite Duras, Walker Percy), and got new books from some better known writers as well (Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami). The two newest Auster books were kind of a letdown, partially as part of "I liked the old stuff better, the new stuff sucks" syndrome, but partially also due to Laird Hunt's The Exquisite.In a year with lots of contenders, this one keeps on bubbling to the top - it's got the best elements of vintage Auster, combined with some weirdness that could be culled from Haruki Murakami or David Lynch, combined with a great narrative structure. It's no pastiche of any of those sources, but just struck the same tones of enjoyment for me as those artists do. Hunt's got his own style; I recently read his Indiana, Indiana which has an entirely different subject matter, but the same wonderful voice. I'll bet someone reading this is thinking "again?", as The Exquisite has been mentioned by a number of good Web sites already, but there's a reason for it. This one's got the goods. Thaanks Matt!
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Derek Teslik

My longtime friend and former roommate Derek Teslik is the guy who got me into blogging. He was once an avid blogger himself but has long since left the fold, and believe me, the blogging world is less for it. Luckily he has consented to send me a once yearly post from his undisclosed location:The Psychic Soviet by Ian Svenonius. The former frontman of Nation of Ulysses and The Make-Up, now singer for Weird War (aka The Scene Creamers), finally delivers a theoretical tome to back up the agitative manifestos he places in his liner notes. Svenonius, who I have called the "kool keith of indie rock," expounds on some of the great questions of rock and roll (e.g. Beatles or Stones?) while drenching the whole thing in pseudo-socialist theory and protecting the pocket-sized book from beer and sweat stains with a handsome pink plastic cover.State of Denial by Bob Woodward. The most influential largely-unread-but-published book of the year. Woodward's modern history provided the nation with the Geraldo-in-the-Superdome moment of the Iraq war, allowing the nation to come out and say what they knew in their guts but tried to hide in their brain. Because the most damning revelations of the book (the Bush inner circle was dismissive of the al-Qaida threat in the months before 9-11, etc.) had long been lunatic fringe allegations, they were dismissed as "old news" and somehow didn't have the staying power and impact they should have. But the book's publication shifted the American psyche on the war. Proof? After it's publication, even Chris Matthews grew a pair, at least on the subject of the war. I only read the first fifth or so, but MAN, is Rumsfeld a dick!Stephen Colbert's Alpha Squad 7: Lady Nocturne: A Tek Jansen Adventure by Stephen Colbert. This unpublished work has already spawned a cartoon series and a late night talk show. From the galleys I've had a chance to read, it's a real page turner! Colbert picks up the pace a bit after the darker Alpha Squad 6: Death Be-comes Her, Or Does It?, returning to what fans of the series love the most - sex and gut-gripping fantasaction. This will make many best-of-2007 lists as well.If I Did It by O.J. Simpson. State of Denial for the Dr. Phil set. And Chris Rock called it years ago.Thanks Derek!
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Corey Vilhauer

This year, Corey Vilhauer, a blogger from South Dakota, joined us on twelve occasions to present his book of the month. I viewed his regular installments as letters from the reading trenches, from a reader who's willing to try anything as he expands his horizons to new genres and eras of writing. You'll be seeing the 2007 CVBoMC starting in January. (to see last year's entries, you can start in December and work back)I wasn't asked, but I'm barging in on the Millions Best Books of 2006 section of the party and yelling loudly about what I like. Because it's brash, and brazen, and lots of other words that start with "B."Actually, as is the pattern with the Vilhauer library, I only read two or three books that were released in 2006. Two of them – David Mitchell's Black Swan Green (which made my top 10) and The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup (honorable mention) – were actually quite worth it.However, my two favorite books this year are as follows:John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) - Never before has the plight of the dispossessed seemed so important. With The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's classic Dust Bowl epic, the Okies get the center stage they deserved, one that holds the injustices and bad luck that followed them around up to the light for the entire world to examine. And while one might think that these stories have lost their weight, that modern culture has cut Steinbeck's novel off at the knees, it's simply not the case. The Grapes of Wrath is just as important today as it was in the 40s. In fact, you can't deny the similarities between the Dust Bowl's mass exodus and New Orleans' migration of displaced people. Bad luck, injustice – it's all pretty much parallel.McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13, edited by Chris Ware (2004) - I somehow missed the comic phenomenon when I was younger. But, after receiving McSweeney's #13 in the mail ("the Comic Issue", with a wonderful cover penned by Special Editor Chris Ware) the fire was rekindled slightly. This book is beautifully bound, with hundreds of full color prints, articles from some of the most well known authors and graphic artists, and simply packed to the gills with today's important comic creators. If you want to get into modern comics and graphic novels, get this first. You won't be disappointed.Of course, there were more books - I've got an entire top 10 (and more, including honorable mentions) at Black Marks on Wood Pulp. It's the year end edition of "What I've Been Reading." So if you don't mind mindless plugging, go ahead and visit.Thanks Corey!
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Garth Risk Hallberg

Let's say you're slightly to the left of the Bell Curve: you read, on average, a book a week. And let's say you're also slightly leftward-listing in your survival prospects: that, due to the marvels of future medicine (and no thanks to the blunders of contemporary foreign policy) you'll live to the fine old age of 90. Let's furthermore presuppose that you're one of those people, the precocious ones who were reading Kesey and King and Kingsolver and Kipling at 15. How many great books will you get to read in a lifetime? Assuming you've already answered the adjunct question (why?) for yourself, the prospect of having to choose only three thousand books from among the many Millions may sound daunting. My Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of World Literature contains some entries on authors alone, and is hardly comprehensive. Balzac alone could eat up almost one percent of your lifetime reading. On the other hand, as usual, limitation shades into wonder... because in an infinite reading universe, we would be deprived of one of the supreme literary pleasures: discovery. Half of my favorite works of fiction of the year were by authors (women, natch) I'd never read, had barely heard of: Kathryn Davis' The Thin Place, Lynne Tillman's American Genius: A Comedy, and Mary Gaitskill's Veronica.And if I had gone my whole life without discovering Deborah Eisenberg, I would have missed something like a literary soulmate. The beguiling, bewildered quality of Eisenberg's Twilight of the Superheroes - the sentences whose endings seem to surprise even their writer - is so close to the texture of life as I experience it as to be almost hallucinatory. On the other hand, Eisenberg's world is much, much funnier and more profound than mine. She's single-handedly rejuvenated my relationship with the short story... and just in time for the remarkable new Edward P. Jones collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children. I've already expressed my suspicion that Jones has been a positive influence on Dave Eggers, as evidenced by What is the What. So I'll just round out my survey of new fiction by mentioning Marshall N. Klimasewiski's overlooked first novel, The Cottagers - a dazzlingly written thriller.In between forays into the contemporary landscape, I've been trying to bone up on the classics. I'm ashamed to say I hadn't read Pride and Prejudice until this year; it's about the most romantic damn thing I've ever encountered, and I'm a sucker for romance. Pricklier and more ironic, which is to say more Teutonic, was Mann's The Magic Mountain - a great book for when you've got nothing to do for two months. Saul Bellow's Herzog completely blew my doors off, suggesting that stream-of-consciousness (and the perfect evocation of a summer day) did not end with Mrs. Dalloway. Herzog is such a wonderful book, so sad, so funny, so New York. So real. I can't say the same thing about Kafka's The Castle, but it is to my mind the most appealing of his novels. As in The Magic Mountain, futility comes to seem almost charming. E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate was another wonderful discovery - a rip-roaring read that's written under some kind of divine inspiration: Let there be Comma Splices! Similarly, I was surprised by how well page-turning pacing and peel-slowly sentences worked in Franzen's first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City. Ultimately, it's sort of a ridiculous story, but it's hard to begrudge something this rich and addictive. Think of it as a dessert. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the rip-roar of that most sweeping of summer beach books, Lonesome Dove. And if the last three titles make you feel self-indulgent, because you're having too much fun, cleanse the palate the way I did, with the grim and depressing and still somehow beautiful. Namely, Samuel Beckett's Texts for Nothing or W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn. (What is it with those Germans?)Nonfiction-wise, I managed to slip away from journalism a bit, but did read James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men while I was in Honduras... sort of like reading Melville at sea. I made it most of the way through Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (God knows why, half of me adds. The other half insists, You know why.) Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of the Enlightenment lightened things up... Not! But I will never read Cosmo Girl the same way again. Come to think of it, pretty much all the nonfiction I loved this year was a downer, about the impure things we can't get away from: Susan Sontag's On Photography, Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces, David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity, and especially the late George W.S. Trow's astonishing, devastating Within the Context of No Context. Lit-crit offered a little bit of a silver lining, as William H. Gass' A Temple of Text and James Wood's The Irresponsible Self. Wood's essays on Tolstoy and Bellow remind me that "the world is charged with the grandeur of God"... which is, I guess, why I'll keep reading in 2007.
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Ed Champion

Ed put in another year unchallenged as the litblog world's preeminent gadfly, offering blanket coverage of all things literary with impressive depth and ample humor. His Bat Segundo show was equally impressive, offering dozens of interviews with top authors this year. I still need to catch up, but Ed has found the time to contribute to our ongoing series:I am withholding my top ten list until the turn of the year, not because I don't find you sexy or stunning, Mr. Magee, and certainly not because I don't possess a taxonomic mind set. Rather, I object to associating one's literary compulsions with the dreaded consumerist impulses of the Xmas season. So that list will have to wait until we've all been thoroughly gorged with goose and egg nog and a few carolers have contracted laryngitis due to their relentless and cloying largesse.Thankfully, sir, you have been kind enough to confine your question to one peremptory and all-encompassing one, an absolute value that I am all too happy to answer. And I can say, without a doubt, that Richard Powers' The Echo Maker is the finest book I had the honor of reading this year. I did not ride the National Book Award bandwagon on this one. I knew this tome was the Great Book early on, well before the NBA longlist was launched. I was enchanted, lost, and entirely inveigled by Powers' deceptively simple premise: a man gets involved in an accident, suffers a rare condition called Capgras' syndrome, and cannot recognize the sister who has sacrificed her job and the many threads of her life to care for him. This sounds like a ridiculously melodramatic premise. But it is Powers' adept narrative skill that makes this scenario fundamentally real and a fundamentally poetic tapestry revealing post-9/11 transformations within America.The book, as Margaret Atwood has suggested, demands to be read twice. This book is the full realization of Powers as social novelist, an experiment he attempted before with Gain, albeit with some didacticism attached. But almost a decade wiser, Powers has given us a daring Rorschach Test that any person who cares about literature is indebted to pick up and get lost in.Thanks Ed!
Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: SlushPile.Net

I was first introduced to Scott at BEA in DC this past spring, and though I'd come across his blog, SlushPile.Net, in passing before, I began reading it in earnest after we met. I'm glad I did. He delivers a steady flow of commentary that is instructive and often funny. I've been enjoying it quite a bit so I'm glad he found some time to talk about the best book he read this year.I must say, it's a challenge. Sometimes I feel like I read so much that it all kind of runs together. And even though I KNOW there are great books, they kind of get dulled by all the others.Anyhow, looking back on the year, the book that I really enjoyed, and stands out because it was such a pleasant surprise was...Seaworthy by T.R. PearsonThis nonfiction book details the trans-Pacific journeys of William Willis. At an age when most people enjoy retirement, Willis built a raft by hand and sailed from South America to Australia. He set out on his first trip when he was sixty. He repeated the adventure when he was seventy. Willis was part hero, part idiot. The storyline itself is compelling enough, but Pearson's warm, sophisticated tone suits this tale impeccably.Thanks Scott!