Bret Anthony Johnston is the author of Corpus Christi: Stories and the editor of Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, both from Random House. Currently, he is the Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University and can be reached on the web at www.bretanthonyjohnston.com.I know this is heresy, but I'm going to recommend a book that was published this year. (If it helps, the story itself is centuries old.) Of all the books I've read this year, regardless of publication date, genre, or form, The Adventures of Amir Hamza is the best. What's more, I haven't even finished it yet.But it's so, so good. Kind of like a thinking man's, adults-only, Islamic Harry Potter. (The original Urdu text, born out of oral narratives that had been circulated for hundreds of years, appeared in the late 19th century, but English translations have always been censored.) Amir Hamza was the prophet Muhammad's uncle and he got into all kinds of cool trouble. Hamza's soulmate is the daughter of the Persian emperor, but there's a chasm of conflict keeping them apart - Frodo had it easy - and so the book follows, in utterly readable and downright addictive prose, Hamza's struggle to return to her. Did I mention that he rides a winged demon-steed? That his posse consists of a wickedly cool wizard (thinking man's Gandolf) and a funny trickster partner (thinking man's Sancho Panza)? That he has to fight an honest-to-God demon? That his sons turn against him? That, in service of getting back to his one true love, he seduces a good many women? It's a terrifically good and captivating story, bawdy and violent and occasionally poignant and often funny, and it reads just as well as a long odyssey as it does individual short stories. Speaking of, I need to get back to the book: We're just about to rout Muhlil Sagsar and Malik Ajrook!More from A Year in Reading 2007
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The New York Times recently ran an in depth look at the process of learning to deal in rare books. Which made me think of The Monkey's Paw, a rare book store so good that twice now I've personally heard rare book dealers (at both Sellers and Newel and Paper Books) describe, with admiration and a dash of collegial envy, as everyone's favorite book store.
I love that feeling of the unknown before I translate a book. It’s what a reader feels when starting to read a book for the first time. You have no idea what’s in store for you, but you’re eager to find out. And invariably you find yourself changed by the time you reach the end.
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At Bloom this week, check out the feature on novelist Jon Clinch, and the accompanying Q&A, where Clinch talks in-depth about his decision to self-publish his fourth novel after having his first two published by Random House. He says that his second novel, Kings of the Earth, "was set up for success: Oprah’s magazine put it at the top of their summer reading list, and it went on to be named one of the best novels of the year by theWashington Post. But the Oprah nod came six or eight weeks before publication date, and Random House either couldn’t or didn’t capitalize on it. By the time the book hit the shelves, it was already forgotten. I simply couldn’t bear the possibility that The Thief of Auschwitz might slip into the abyss."
For most people, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is the beginning and end of mafia books, the sole notable entry in a sparse and little-known genre. That’s why it’s helpful that Roberto Dainotto, in The Guardian, published this list, which includes The Godfather, Eric Hobsbawm’s Primitive Rebels, and Alexander Stille’s Excellent Cadavers, among other picks.