What follows is an incomplete list of readings from 08. Somewhere around June I started reading more and keeping track less, but these stood out, for various reasons.
My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar: Ariel’s father was born in Iraq; Ariel grew up in the United States. They traveled back to Iraq to search for their roots. The book is in part an account of those travels, but also an accounting of the cultures of both countries, and how they can fit together in the present day. A lot of people, myself included, are still remarkably ignorant about Iraq, despite the events of the past few years. This book’s a great way to break that up.
Correspondences by Ben Greenman: Holy shit, this thing costs $50? Yes, it does. I can’t speak to the beauty of the finished product (though others have) as my copy is a review copy, and so lacking the $50 presentation. I can speak to the quality of the stories, though: great stuff. Greenman comes at various forms of discontent from wildly different directions, in epistolary forms. Clever, but not too clever. Serious, but not too serious. I hope this collection is released in a less elaborate, more affordable format – not to downplay the book-as-object/art, but $50, that hurts. (Just saw on the inrtbwebs that some reviewer compared it to The Royal Tenenbaums. My response: no)
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff: I hemmed and hawed about whether to write at all about books covered to excess everywhere else – thinking maybe I’d just write about books that maybe you’d heard less about. Then I only saw Wolff’s story collection on one or two best-of lists. Maybe in part because most of the collection was culled from other collections, but still, there’s gold in them thar hills.
Touch and Go and P.S. by Studs Terkel: One of those started-and-abandoned posts I wrote about before was a look at my own life-story work at USM, and a look at Terkel’s work. There’s no gold in that thar hill, but I would like to point you toward these two books, particularly if you’re only familiar with his better-known titles.
A Better Angel by Chris Adrian: Can’t tell you how many aborted attempts to review this one transpired here. I got bogged down in a mire of indignance at Adrian not being better known by this point. The Children’s Hospital was excellent, and this story collection is also very fine.
Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg: Loved this. Greenberg avoids self-pity for the most part, and when he veers toward it, he is quick to examine it, turn it over and over. I appreciated the journalist approach he takes (he’s written for the Times Literary Supplement) toward his daughter’s struggles with severe mental illness. I appreciated his dissection of the moment in which he loses it himself. In a year in which I probably read too much fiction about mental illness, this one was a standout.
The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor: This one, not so much. I was so ready to adore this book, but it was too long. Taylor could have tightened it up a bit and had a winner. The ending was ambiguous, for me, and not in that “ambiguous ending” sort of way that I love; probably because by that point, I was irritable that it had gone on for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading (most) of it, and there were some really brilliant parts in there – I loved the essay on “The Life and Works of Tomas Ryal” and thought here we go, now we’re getting into the payoff, but when James (our intrepid mental-illness-suffering narrator) goes back to look at it later, it’s strangely disappeared from the internet as though it never existed! F that, and after the ninth mention in the story of the band “The Go-Betweens” I tracked down the album, and it sucks. Stupid 80’s revivalism.
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill: Jesus, I’m not going to pile on with this one. I would like to note that, at moments, the structure and the self-awareness of the structure raised an eyebrow. A great, gratifying read anyway. I had a draft post started about it called “Bromancing the Ramkissoon” and everything I wrote in the actual post paled in comparison. Bromance!