Though Christmas is now safely behind us for another eleven and half months, that doesn’t mean readers can’t reflect on holiday memories – specifically mine.
Near the end of 2011, Monkey Puzzle Press released Christmas Things, a personal essay of musings prompted by a holiday visit to an eccentric couple’s house. The nonfiction chapbook, in either print or electronic format, can be ordered directly from the publisher by following this link: http://monkeypuzzlepress.com/books/christmas-things/
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Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Alfred A. Knopf, Arthur Koestler, Best Books, Carson McCullers, Charles Goodrich, Christopher Hitchens, Darkness at Noon, Don DeLillo, Everything, Fiction, George Kimball, Going to Seed, Ian McEwan, Joe Louis, John Schulian, Kevin Canty, Martin Amis, Michael Waters, Milan Kundera, Miles Davis, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, Nonfiction, Norman Mailer, Perfect in Their Art, Poetry, Point Omega, Randy Roberts, Richard Williams, Robert Hedin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Scribner, Silverfish Review Press, The American Interest, The Blue Moment, The Fighter Still Remains, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Naked and the Dead, The Oregonian, The Pregnant Widow, Treasure Island, Yale University Press 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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Posted in Essays, Fighters & Writers, tagged Adam Kirsch, Cambridge, Columbia, Essays, Fighters & Writers, Frank Kermode, George Orwell, Humanism, Literary criticism, Literature, London Review of Books, Martin Amis, Matthew Arnold, New Republic, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Obituary, Personal essay, Slate, The Second Plane, The War against Cliché on August 26, 2010 |
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Does the death of literary critic and scholar Frank Kermode on August 17 signal the impending end of a cultural epoch?
Adam Kirsch, senior editor at the New Republic thinks so. Kermode “was one of the last exemplars of an ideal that dates back at least to Matthew Arnold: the ideal of the literary critic as the humanist par excellence,” Kirsch writes in Slate. “What gave the critic his special authority was the way that he thought and wrote at the intersection – of the classics and the contemporary world, of literature and society, of the academy and the common reader.” In addition to teaching at Cambridge and Columbia, Kermode authored or edited more than fifty books. He wrote regularly for publications such as the London Review of Books, which he helped initiate, and the New York Review of Books.
As it happens, one of the essays in Fighters & Writers germinated with an NYRB review Kermode wrote of a collection of nonfiction by George Orwell. A reference Kermode made to an accusation that could have radically altered Orwell’s reputation prompted me to investigate the charge, delve into books about Orwell, revisit his work and produce a personal essay about his lasting impact on me.
Fighters & Writers also includes a piece on Martin Amis, whose The War against Cliché Kermode discusses in a biting passage Kirsch quotes in his obituary. Kirsch wrote one of the more astute assessments of another Amis collection, The Second Plane, as I note in my essay about that book.
I’d like to think Kirsch is wrong about a literary era’s death coinciding with Kermode’s. I mention the connections with my work simply to illustrate that the intersection Kermode mapped still sees some traffic.
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