Posted in Essays, tagged Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Joseph Conrad, Logos, Michael Scammell, Paul Berman, W.H. Auden on June 17, 2011 |
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To write a single book of true literary merit and enduring influence is no small accomplishment. Biographer Michael Scammell sees value in works by Arthur Koestler other than Darkness at Noon – mostly because of their prescience on politics – but it’s really because of that novel that anyone knows Koestler’s name.
And it’s impossible to consider Koestler’s work, life and legacy without invoking the names of other giants of twentieth-century literature, as I demonstrate in a Logos essay. Orwell, Camus, Conrad, Auden, Sartre and Hemingway, among others, factor into his story – and not always in exclusively literary ways.
Koestler sometimes vacillated on the core principle of his best writing – that ends do not justify means – but Darkness at Noon expresses it superbly and powerfully. Paul Berman sensibly groups Koestler with Orwell and Camus, whom he deems the best writers on totalitarian themes of their era. That trio still has few rivals.
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Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Joe Louis, Norman Mailer, Ian McEwan, Carson McCullers, Richard Williams, Miles Davis, Poetry, The Oregonian, Robert Louis Stevenson, The Pregnant Widow, George Kimball, Everything, Kevin Canty, Nonfiction, Milan Kundera, Charles Goodrich, The American Interest, The Naked and the Dead, Best Books, Don DeLillo, Point Omega, Going to Seed, Randy Roberts, The Blue Moment, Fiction, John Schulian, The Fighter Still Remains, Robert Hedin, Michael Waters, Perfect in Their Art, Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Treasure Island, Scribner, Yale University Press, Silverfish Review Press, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, Alfred A. Knopf on December 24, 2010 |
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In order to write about them for The Oregonian, The American Interest and other publications, I read a fair number of brand new books in 2010. Nevertheless, I can’t make an honest top-ten list. Here are six that truly stood as exceptional:
- Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow (Alfred A. Knopf)
- Kevin Canty’s Everything (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
- Don DeLillo’s Point Omega (Scribner)
- Charles Goodrich’s Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden (Silverfish Review Press)
- Randy Robert’s Joe Louis: Hard Times Man (Yale University Press)
- Richard Williams’s The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music (W.W. Norton & Company)
The short list reflects my tendency to read roughly proportional amounts of fiction and nonfiction. I probably read more poetry in 2010 than in most years, and Goodrich’s small volume was my favorite of several contenders.
The year 2010 saw new books by authors I once thought of as reliably remarkable – Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera – that I found disappointingly inferior to their earlier efforts. I could name several very good but not quite excellent books. Here’s one: George Kimball and John Schulian assembled a fine collection of boxing-related poems in The Fighter Still Remains. A few years earlier, however, Robert Hedin and Michael Waters edited Perfect in Their Art, an anthology containing much of the same material – and a great deal more.
This leads to the Achilles heel of year-end lists: the absence of the great older stuff. While I read many books published during 2010, I also read many from other years, which are automatically disqualified from “best of” contention but deserve mention all the same. I reread some classics, like Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. (I also read several books about Mailer, but these weren’t so good.) I also finally got around to some wonderful books I should have read much sooner, such as Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. If I were to list the ten books I most enjoyed during 2010 regardless of publication date, the four named in this paragraph could be added to the six above.
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