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 A Ticket to the Circus, Edith Wharton, Fighters & Writers, J.G. Ballard, Memoirs, Norman Mailer, Norris Church Mailer, Now: Zero, Poetry in Pictures Series, The American Interest, The Executioner’s Song, The Fight, The Mailer Review, The Naked and the Dead, Walt Whitman on December 9, 2010 |
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“The most electric of nations must naturally provide the boldest circuits of coincidence,” Norman Mailer proclaimed. My coincidences involving the writer my not amount to anything grand or revealing, but they might be worth mentioning all the same. Twice now Mailer-related work of mine which was written earlier appeared in print very soon after one of my subject’s death.
The title essay of Fighters & Writers was first published in an edition of The Mailer Review commemorating the novelist’s life soon after it ended. I discuss several writers, but Mailer does figure prominently in the piece. I’d started composing it years earlier and finally finished it soon before he died in 2007. In another essay in the collection, I mention a critic who made a derisive remark about Mailer in something that ran soon after the public memorial service held to honor the author of The Naked and the Dead, The Fight and The Executioner’s Song.
Which brings me to coincidence number two. The January/February 2011 issue of The American Interest contains my assessment of three Mailer-focused memoirs, including A Ticket to the Circus by Norris Church Mailer, who died on November 21, 2010. I wrote the not-very-kind review essay a few months before it actually ended up in the magazine.
While my essays about Mailer and his wife simply happened to show up soon after their deaths, two instances of this put me in uncomfortably proximity to the narrator of J.G. Ballard’s story “Now: Zero” who believes his writing about people can spell their demise…
Flipping through a copy of TAI, I stumbled on minor coincidences of another kind. On one page I saw a reference to Edith Wharton; on another, a poem by Walt Whitman. As it happens, the fourth short film in the Poetry In Pictures Series is based on a Wharton poem; the second, on a Whitman poem. (I wrote the third.)
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