Friday, December 26

Books I Read in 2008

Some might say a year-end booklist is something like a literary cock-showing contest. If that's true, then mine is short and incomplete. In an attempt to compensate, I've muscled up my reviews. (Thanks to Lincoln and Blake who inspired me to put this together.)


1. The Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolaño. Choked full of urgency and heart. A book that will leave you staggering around and emotionally tumescent (heart boner). Soul-crushing, life-altering. Everything you've read about it is true. A verifiable and bonafide masterpiece. I could go on forever about this one. I won't.

2. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell. I've not read his other books but I like his articles a lot. This was possibly the most readable book I've ever read. Not as rigorous as I think I wanted it to be, but great and highly thought-provoking. The best part is in the middle when he talks about the guy with the off-the-charts IQ who is, essentially, doing nothing with it (he was a bouncer for awhile). Fascinating and heartbreaking. Also good is when he explains why Asians are so smart.

3. Personal Days - Ed Park. A tornado of increasing tragicomedic build-up that sucks you in and vomits you into a better place. Some killer one-liners in there. Tangentially lost my iPod because of this book.

4. Ray - Barry Hannah. Liquor-fueled literary mayhem. Hannah was, as the story goes, something of a drunk while writing this. I get lost at times, but on a scale of sheer linguistic originality and sharpness, unparalleled.

5. Last Evenings on Earth - Roberto Bolaño. What more can I say about Bolano? All the things that are working in The Savage Detectives are also present here. Perhaps more focused than TSD. Maybe more perfect and less staggering? If not a masterpiece, then close.

6. Barbarian In The Garden – Zbigniew Herbert. Brilliantly-written travelogues by a brilliant bastard. Sarcastic and humane.

7. Orality and Literacy - Walter J. Ong. As far as "non-fiction" thought-provokers go, this was my favorite of the year, over Outliers. Some pretty dense, heady stuff, though still highly readable. A lot of convincing arguments. Read it over the span of a night.

8. Drown - Junot Diaz. Seminal, formative work. Of great and convincing power. The story "Fiesta, 1980" makes me never want to be eleven again. The story "Edison, New Jersey" makes me never want to go to New Jersey again. I'm completely down with this book. This was a book for my class with Gary Shteyngart.

9. Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri. Pretty and dramatic. It was OK enough (you could not ask for more elegantly crafted sentences), but I guess wanted a little more grit, a little more blood in the stool. Shteyngart.

10. Pnin - Vladimir Nabakov. One of the best novels I've ever read. Maybe my favorite. Hilarious, sad, extremely well-written yet readable as well. "Written as all great literature should be -- which is, ecstatically," says Updike or some crap. And you know what? He's right. I was reading it in the stuffy quiet library on campus. The girl sitting next to me must have thought I was weird because I was so visibly enjoying the book. She kept looking over at me. Shteyngart.

11. Women - Charles Bukowski. You could probably call this one repetitive, but it killed just the same. Bukowski's ability for pith and one-liner is gas. People like to say Bukowski can't write, but them people are fools. If you could talk like him and Woody Allen, you could really go some places. Like to the bar, for example, or to the analyst.

12. The Quick and the Dead - Joy Williams. 80% through. Deadpan, odd, hard to pin down, deceptively unadorned and prosaic. Even banal. All of this done to great effect. Love it so far. Also very funny.

13. Actual Air - David Berman. I can't remember if I've finished this one, but there is so much weird beauty and heart in here, some of the poems I can't stop thinking about. The story about the guy "what's his name" haunts me to this day.

14. Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You - Frank Stanford. Only 1/3 of the way through this massive book, but I'm going to go ahead and declare it. Pound for pound heavyweight poetry champion of the world. Stanford has maybe the purest voice I've ever heard. Reading this is like drinking unfiltered nectar from the gods of youth and then careening on the rickety brokedown antebellum machinery of the heart. "Stanford is gas."

15. Notable American Women - Ben Marcus. 63% completed. This has on and off kicked my ass like a brain wearing a boot. The first section is cripplingly beautiful in its odd and moving sincerity, its life of heartbreak and disappointment disguised within the cruel and exacting tone of an science manual. Subversive. Sentences as sharp as the stick that carved them. Looking forward to getting back into it upon my return to NYC.

16. Home Land - Sam Lipsyte. Not done with yet, but some powerful, bruising shit in here. His first book Venus Drive is a beacon. Filthy good.

17. Journey to the End of the Night - Louis-Ferdinand Celine. 95% through. Will finish when I get back to NYC. Another soul-staggerer.

18. The Moviegoer - Walker Percy. I think I'm halfway through. Liked it a lot so far. Lonely and elegant.

19. The Fermata - Nicholson Baker

20. No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July. I've liked this book. Offbeat, quiet and beautiful.

21. Jesus' Son - Denis Johnson. Reread. Monstrous. Classic. A truly fundamental and formative book.

22. Red Calvary - Isaac Babel. Reread. Savage and visceral. This book will scramble what you think fiction is capable of in three pages. A triumph of speed and force and urgency.

23. 60 Stories - Donald Barthelme. There are probably still a few stories in here that I haven't read, but this collection absolutely kills. "The Balloon", "Me and Miss Mandible", "The School"...these are canon. Must-read for anyone who wants to do something "new" or "innovative" or "experiemental" or "literary".

OK, I'm tired of writing this. Maybe I'll finish. But probably I won't.


24. Young Revolutionaries - Chelsea Martin, Catherine Lacey, Ellen Kennedy. I liked this chapbook a lot. Some really cool, fresh stuff being done. The best part in Kennedy's story is where the teenagers are watching the reality television show where the ex-wrestler slash host guy is talking about "'roid rage". Juvenile, genius.

25. Women and Children - The Royal Art Lodge. I liked this art book a lot. Dark yet light. Plain yet awesome. Funny yet sad. Bent.

26. Canteen Issue #2. Exactly what a journal should be. The content, both the prose and the art, is first-rate. The layout is clean. Everything about it, I love: the aesthetic vision of the magazine, the phenomenal color, the weight and paper used, even its smell. I particularly liked Peter Orner's shorts, Gina Gionfriddo's play about bear sex, and Todd Zuniga's story about "Life".

27. Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art #45

28. Noon #8



nice list, a lot of great books here. no notes on the fermata? there are scenes from that i can't get out of my head even 5 years or so after having read it.

ray is the shit

James said...

i liked your list too, blake.

i either got lazy or haven't finished the ones i didn't fill in. the fermata probably shouldn't be up there, but i felt my list size was inadequate.

i thought the first half of ray was some of the most interesting and beautiful writing i've ever seen. i got sort of confused toward the end, though. maybe too much time travel? i read it at the beginning of the year, so i'm a little fuzzy.

Lincoln Michel said...

Yo what is up with the heading COMPLETED and then half the descriptions are like "oh, I'm only 50% done with this"?

Why must you turn your blog into a house of lies!?

James said...

it was kind of an accident and then i thought it would be funny to just leave it there.