Saturday, January 1, 2011

Favorite Books Read in 2010

(full reviews of all these books can be found on my Goodreads page)

NONFICTION

The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski
in which Ryszard shows us Africa around the end of colonialism (not that it ever ends). He makes it a great read as it is satisfying in many ways: as history, as memoir, as anthropology, and as travel writing.

Kabloona by Gontran de Poncins
in which Gontran, being French, and the year being 1938, travels to arctic Canada to study the Eskimos and writes this piece of anthropological gem, both interesting as a study of his whitey attitudes and as a study of the local population and their strange habits. This one is special, people… a highly entertaining book.

Broadsides from Other Orders: A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell
in which each chapter is lovingly dedicated to explaining away one little critter, often as common as the daddy longlegs or the less heard-of camel cricket which I'm sure lives in your basement as we speak, although "explain away" is inaccurate as there's still so much we just don't know about them.

ALMOST NON-FICTION

Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
Vertigo by W.G. Sebald
in which Winfried Georg, being German, being inscrutable, lulls me into deep meditative conversation in which I stop caring what is being talked about. He often writes from a very serious place, of memory and architecture and place; his fiction is a combination of essay, memoir, old photos, and a lot of walking.

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
in which Chris and husband decide to woo an acquaintance, Dick, by writing him love letters. This novel, which is obviously thinly veiled nonfiction, soon leads to a series of postmodern investigations taking the form of epistolary novel, feminist manifesto, art criticism, tell-all memoir, critical theory, personal essay, and diary. Bonus: makes for great reading in the men's locker room.

FICTION

Recollections of Things to Come by Elena Garro
in which magical realism was written before magical realism was even defined. And oh she does it so well, so much better than mr. marquez. This story, a political one but not in an annoying way, is told by the town itself. It is a devastating story, and one that made me read nonstop.

The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil
in which you will think it is another coming of age boarding school novel, but this one searches so deeply it reminds me of Rilke's poetry, in its ability to wrestle with the most complex spiritual, philosophical, and psychological themes.

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
in which Fate smiled down on me and told me I had to read it as the copy I bought for $5 in Chicago was SIGNED by JB himself with the note: "for Jimmy or be that James". A novel about religion but also about many things, he goes down deep into the empathy of every character and the result is powerful.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Sun City by Tove Jansson
in which Ms. Jansson writes about childhood and old age with equal skill and a light touch; this writing serves its function without an ounce of fat. The episodic tales unwind around flawed yet human and lovable characters.

The Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda
in which she writes about devastation in a series of incremental impressions from a naive character, but one whose grief, though she doesn't understand it herself, also catches the reader by surprise.

Skylark by Dezs? Kosztolányi
in which a very ugly daughter and her parents have their routines disrupted when said ugly daughter leaves to visit a relative. A funny, sad book.

Pan by Knut Hamsun
in which Mr. Hamsun outdoes his own masterpiece Hunger, having written here an even better, more complex portrait of the mind's infatuation and raw feverish irrationality.

SHORT FICTION

Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist
in which so much is merciless and violent, and the people in these stories, poor things, are moved around by cosmic forces into monsters without their knowing it, swept up in the reconfiguration like a bit of bread in the bowels. The Marquise of O… in particular is one of the best stories I've ever read.

1 comment:

ronnie cordova said...

I will read the books on this list that I haven't already read. Or maybe those too since they are great. I hate lists, everyone says they love lists, reading and making them, but I can't stand lists, but I like this list so I'm taking it as a sign to not merely read the list or nod but pursue this list's contents, consume the list. It's a problem of attention, overabundance, I get bogged down in other peoples' favorites and become disoriented. But this list is the right length most of all.