Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Fiction/Poetry of the Year Extravaganza!!!

So, as promised merely yesterday (see how on the ball I am) here is the list of fiction/poetry books that most impressed me this year. Turns out that there was some pretty great stuff put out this year; who would've thought 2010 would be such an exciting year for readers besides the whole e-reader phenomenon (maybe we should face the music, though, and just call it the Kindle/iPad phenomenon)? And so well anyway, all these books, of course, are highly recommended, so give your eyeballs some exercise and check one out.


3. Nox, Anne Carson, New Directions Publishing, Apr 27, 2010. This is sort of difficult to call poetry, or anything besides really beautiful. It may arguably not even be a book. It comes in a box and is printed on an accordioned strip of paper. It's made up of quotes, letters, photos, historical data, and jottings relating and dedicated to the author's late, globe-trotting brother. It's an elegy, and the work of a survivor, as Carson puts it; "It is when you are asking about something that you realize that you yourself have survived it, and so you must carry it..."

2. Winter's Journey, Stephen Dobyns, Copper Canyon Press, July 1 2010. Dobyns is an old favorite of mine---in fact, it may be argued that he inspired my attempted literary career---and Winter's Journey is his first work in a long time. And it's different: the pieces are more like political essays than poetry (does it say something about me or about poetry that my favorite books of the subject have so far been rather unlike most poetry?) though Dobyns is as wordy and playful as ever. I'd give you a quote if I had the book on me, but I lent it to my sister, so there. Just suffice it to say that Dobyns has some of the most intelligent things to say about American politics that I've read recently, and the poem in which he fantasizes about being a rhino is pure gold.

1. Human Chain, Seamus Heaney, FSG, Sept 14 2010. Before I get into Heaney's new book I would like to recognize the Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry published by the Harvard Press this year: it's great. Huge and full of everything. Heaney is, obviously, represented in the 1000-plus-page volume, which I didn't put on here because I want to focus on individuals rather than anthologies. Anyway, Human Chain has garnered quite a stir in the literary world, being the work of such a master, and this always makes me happy. Perhaps what I like about it is the accessibility, which is a terribly unsexy thing to say, but. Heaney writes about lost friends, remembers days past, reflects on simple daily occurrences, such as refilling a pen or taking joy in the sound of a gust of wind. I applaud the work of recent American poets-- like the Dickmans--  who really aspire to simplify poetry and take it away from the austerity of academia, but all you have to do is look at the Irish for a lesson of how to make poetry an everyman's passion.


5. Horns, Joe Hill, William Morrow, Feb 16 2010. Joe Hill's work makes me so happy, what can I say? Everything from his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, to his short stories and especially his absolutely great comic series, Locke & Key. Maybe it's just that there's finally a guy who's not Stephen King (yes, I know) who understands what makes horror work, or just his lovable personality (read his blog, follow his twitter,) or that he's actually getting attention while being a genre-writer. Horns is a horror/romance/surrealist romp that is unnerving and often very funny at the same time. One of my other favorite things about Hill is that he's not afraid to be absolutely surreal, and yet talented enough to not let this get in the way of the story. Not that any of this should be your concern. Just buy Horns and enjoy the hell out of it, pun intended and all.

4. The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris, Back Bay Books, Jan 18 2010. I didn't originally think that I would put this book on here because, frankly, most of it kind of sucked. Or rather, the first third of it. Or thereabouts. The third of it from around page 5 to wherever the third ends. The point being, I didn't really start enjoying this book up until around just before the halfway mark. And then, it was only intermittently great and beautiful. So I returned it to the library, glad that I hadn't wasted a twenty on it. But then something happened. I kept thinking about it. It haunted me. The efficient prose that occasionally dipped into poetry was some of it; the man can describe a scene and capture a mood like a motherfucker. But it was also the story: a man is plagued by a disease that makes him walk. Compulsively. Come hell or high-water or marital stress or job-loss. The problems come in the execution, I think. Ferris doesn't lead the reader into the story as smoothly as he could have; we just aren't interested at the beginning. The really haunting thing about the story, I think, is the ideas it represents. Insurmountable problems, compulsion, addiction, the strength of loved ones. This is what makes the novel great: it talks about something important.

3. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen, FSG, Aug 31 2010. You saw this coming, no? For a while I was going to make some sort of statement (I imagined, as if anyone cares what I think) by not including this book on here. But I must. I'm compelled. If this book was terribly written, if the characters were stale, if the dialogue stilted or unrealistic, Franzen would still deserve credit for having the courage to tackle such enormous issues. I mean, this book is about everything. But of course, this book is incredibly well-written, and the opposite of everything else I hypothesized up there. I know, everyone who isn't Jodi Picoult or Jennifer Weiner absolutely raves about this book. Even Oprah. Hell, even n + 1 loved it, and n + 1 doesn't like anything. But I honestly believe that it deserves every bit of praise it gets. Yes, it is the most important novel of the decade, which is to say the century. So I'm not really going to say anything else about it because it's all been said already. (N + 1's symposium on Freedom is great.) Now, you may understandably be thinking how can you say Freedom is the most important book of the decade but not the best book of the year?! My answer is, the last person who tried to quantify me, I ate his liver with a nice Chianti.

2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, David Mitchell, Random House, June 29, 2010. Okay, so. Imagine Mitchell proposing this book to his publisher: "An' so, there's this Dutch bloke in the year 1799, yeah? [for Mitchell is British, and they all talk like that] And he goes to Japan. And then, goings-on ensue!" Because that is pretty accurate. And most publishers I think wouldn't touch it with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole. But then they read it. And they were blown away. Then they published it. It was a huge success, because the perhaps initially reluctant readers were blown away. Much like myself. Wow. What an amazing, unusual, and utterly beautiful novel. It's a hard book to talk about, because it covers a lot of territory, and isn't necessarily about anything especially. It is partly about devotion to a cause, be it love, God, country, money. Freedom. So, what's great about this novel? I think it has something to do with the fact that Mitchell couldn't write a bad sentence if he was drunk, high, and had to type with his toes. He does everything right, even the stuff they say you shouldn't do, like write dialogue in accents. But he writes the accents (working-class Dutch islanders talk like pirates!) and it's great. His imagination is limitless; he writes it all like he was there. This is historical fiction, and he writes it effortlessly and fearlessly. This is a beautiful, stand-alone work of art. A work of pure devotion to literature, and that's why I enjoyed it more than Freedom. 

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, Knopf, June 8 2010. This one's going to be harder to write about than de Zoet, even. Read the jacket sleeve; it doesn't have a clue what it's talking about, it's pointless blathering. Basically, this novel is constructed of separate stories, told from different perspectives and formats (PowerPoint!) set in different time periods about related characters. Here's what it amounts to: people are lovable fuck-ups. The world is lovably indifferent. Things are always getting better and always getting worse. I'm not being glib, here. I love this book. The writing is terrific. Egan captures every voice perfectly. It's just a joy to read her. The book, despite a motley cast a characters, is sort of about hope, and this is a good thing. It ends on a hopeful note. A really hopeful note, as opposed to Freedom's slightly sappy hopeful note. (I keep feeling the need to justify placing Freedom at third; I need to stop that.) But, great book. Great read. Read it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

15 Dec 2010

With the last of my finals turned in, six-pack of Guinness cooling in the fridge, Mumford & Sons (perpetually) in the CD player, I should be feeling pretty great right now. Except I'm feeling kind of angsty, and I know what it's all about. I need to start writing again, and the angst is my conscience's way of making this apparent.

So here's some writing assignments, straight from my conscience to my shriveled creativity department:

New blog coming up about the better of the publishing industry's output for the year.
Blog about this ri-fucking-diculuosly good album by Mumford, et al.
Perhaps an explanation of why I'm endlessly stalling on my other blog, if there is one.
A story before the beginning of next semester.

But for now, conscience, I just want to unwind. So go away.