Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Year In Reading

[unsubtly borrowed from The Millions]

I try to post on most of the books I read, even if it is just an excerpt of a particularly vivid passage or a particularly evocative poem. So I'm not sure how useful a "look at what I read—ain't I great!" post would be, especially since I haven't done a very good job of reading obscure or out of the way books this year (a fault I hope to correct in the next). If you need someone new to tell you to read Aleksandar Hemon or Roberto Bolaño or Netherland, you probably haven't been paying much attention to books in the past twelve months.

However, there were some books which I read but didn't post about, and I'd like to take a moment to catch up to them here, en masse.

The best book I read this year which I posted nothing on was undoubtedly Ken Kalfus's A Disorder Peculiar to the Country. Mark Athitakis (whose excellent blog I recommend) is another big fan, and sort of like Sam Lipsyte's Homeland, its reputation as one of the better little-read books of this decade seems secure, for better or worse. I plan to read Kalfus's short story collection some time in the next year, and maybe then I'll put up a real post about his work.

Nam Le's The Boat has gotten great notices across the board, and I felt it pretty much lived up to the praise it garnered. I am hoping to write a little more about it at a later date, so I'll leave it at that.

I read Marilynne Robinson's Gilead in preparation for reading her new book Home, absolutely fell in love with it, but somehow didn't end up reading the "sequel." Can such perfection be matched? Well I think that in Robinson's case at least it can, as Gilead matched Housekeeping's perfection (though it played in a different key). I also very much want to read Robinson's essays, as I was very intrigued by the quotes William Deresiewicz pulled in his review in The Nation.

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was incredibly absorbing, visually stunning, the works. Perhaps it was just the fact that they partially shared geographical locations and nearly shared temporal settings, but I thought about it a lot while reading The Lazarus Project. Now that would be one hell of a collaboration.

I was not all that impressed with Frank Bidart's new volume, Watching the Spring Festival. I understand he was trying something different, but he's written great short poems before (even if they can't be called lyrics—e.g. "Hammer" from Music Like Dirt), so I don't think compression was the issue. He's still one of the greatest poets of the past half-century, so...

Similarly, I was let down by Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Some of the early stories were awesome, but as O'Brien's presence and questions of truth came to dominate the middle and later stories, a great deal was lost, I think. The last story is just awful, a complete despoiling of all that came before. I understand that problematizing truth and the position of the narrator and the coherence of a story is, like, the point of the book, but in the first few stories, those questions seemed to be part of how a communal experience was constructed and shared and most of all lived—in other words, a part of the war—but by the end, they were emerging almost exclusively from the solitary experience of The Writer, and the Issues He Deals With (in both the therapeutic and aesthetic/epistemological senses). I like the first part better—I like men better than writers, maybe.

Did I write about George Oppen? Oops. For the record, George Oppen's awesome.

I read DeLillo's Mao II, which was very impressive, though I can't remember anything specific. I need to read more of him, at any rate.

And I see I haven't mentioned D.A. Powell on this blog. I was fortunate enough to meet Powell this summer, but even if I hadn't, I would still say that of any poet I've read, I'm most looking forward to reading what he does next. He's truly one of the most profoundly inventive poets we have; I urge you to take a look at his work, particularly Lunch. His poems are great standing alone (and there are a number of them floating around the internet), but you really need to read them as a sequence for the full power.

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