Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A backwards glance

My reading dwindled to almost nothing towards the end of the year -- holiday ennui, I guess -- but here's some thoughts on the stuff that I did get through.

First, the good:

  • Going Native by Stephen Wright -- Rough going until its structure slowly reveals itself, layer by fascinating layer. Wright is one of my favorite writers working today -- The Amalgamation Polka is sitting on my shelf with a come-hither look that's becoming difficult to ignore.
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski -- For all its typography tricks and Eggers-esque layout zaniness, the story still holds a tremendous, primal pull. At its heart it's an old-fashioned page-turner, wearing an experimental shell. Mournful, gripping, and constructed with incredibly elegant precision.
  • Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau -- Probably the most fun I had reading anything all year. Queneau packs more delightful wordplay and narrative inventiveness into less than 200 pages than any other writer I've ever encountered.
  • It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis -- "Prescient" is the best word for this, a political satire outfitted with barbs, fangs and a we're-all-screwed attitude that never once seems anything less than immediate. Every single page draws blood.
  • Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe -- To call Sharpe the heir apparent to Vonnegut's gonzo-satirist crown is to take something away from the fierce individuality of his vision. Sharpe's got a great way with one-liners and screwball-comedy plotting, yes, but there's real genius in the way his characters' thoughts and feelings collide, echo and mingle.
And as for the "meh" department...
  • Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin -- "Twee" was the word that kept coming to mind. The writing is easy to admire but hard to enjoy; some seem to find it enthralling, but I thought it was like having to read a still-life painting. After the 1500th description of the utter fabulousness of some so-called magical element of Helprin's reimagined New York City, I was fully prepared to never go there again in my entire life.
  • Grendel by John Gardner -- I can see why English professors just love it. I can also see why their students would want to shoot themselves after the first 10 pages or so. "Beowulf" scholars can have their cake and eat it too, while the rest of us lowly morons are left with a lot of circuitous sermonizing.
  • The Sportswriter by Richard Ford -- Well-heeled middle-aged white people have angst. There. I've just saved you 350 pages worth of your time. You're welcome.
I never get around to reading one of the doorstop books that are perpetually calling my name. Perhaps this is the year that I read nothing but big, fat tree-killers. Behemoths like Atlas Shrugged, Life and Fate, Against the Day, Infinite Jest, Ulysses, et al -- you're on my list, suckers. And there are plenty that are begging to be reread, as well -- Moby-Dick, War and Peace, hell, even Gravity's Rainbow if I feel frisky enough. Let us see how it goes...

1 comment:

Simon Crowe said...

Hah! I've read Infinite Jest....