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 Uncategorized, tagged A.J. Liebling, Albert Camus, Anne Fadiman, Anne Hathaway, Bloomsday, Favorite books, George Orwell, Herman Melville, Ian McEwan, James Joyce, Joan Didion, John Hersey, Joseph Conrad, Martin Amis, Moby-Dick, P.T. Barnum, Philip Larkin, Philip Roth, Ralph Ellison, Robert Louis Stevenson, Salman Rushdie, Susan Orlean, The New Yorker, Tim O’Brien, Tom Wolfe, Ulysses, Zadie Smith on June 16, 2010 |
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The books writers name as all-time favorites reveals something about their interests, outlook, attitudes and perhaps even their values. Illustrating this very point, The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog posted Susan Orlean’s list of the books that changed her life. She cites works by Joan Didion, John Hersey and Tom Wolfe, and it’s not hard to see why the author of The Bullfighters Checks Her Makeup, The Orchid Thief and other works of nonfiction would regard them as influences. She also includes fiction that I would include on my list, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses (appropriate for a Bloomsday post), Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
In the same spirit of giving some sense of what I’m about, here’s an incomplete first attempt at such a list of the books that made the most impact on me (in no particular order).
- George Orwell’s Ninety Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia and his essays – just about all Orwell, actually.
- Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man and The Piazza Tales as well as M-D.
- A.J. Liebling’s The Sweet Science and A Neutral Corner (Liebling raised writing about boxing to an art, and Fighters & Writers certainly owes something to his example, if only in aspiration.)
- Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love and Saturday
- Albert Camus, The Plague and The Myth of Sisyphus, at least
- Philip Larkin, Collected Poems
- Salman Rushdie, Step across This Line
- Philip Roth, The Counterlife, The Facts and The Human Stain
- Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act
- Martin Amis, The War against Cliché
- Anne Fadiman, At Large and At Small
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Zadie Smith, On Beauty (which I liked better than the novel that inspired it)
- Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness
- Anne Hathaway, The Year of the Goat
- The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself
This is by no means exhaustive…
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