Narwhal Party


2009: Books
01/17/2010, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: , ,

So I figured the best way to get this blog going would be to write a few posts looking back on 2009. My favorite albums can be seen below, with more posts to come. I read more books last year than any other year of my life. Here are a few of my favorites (read in, not necessarily published in ’09):

My absolute favorites were 2666 and The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño–expect longer, more detailed and gushing posts to follow. Other books that are helpless next to these, yet were still vastly enjoyable include:

Last Evenings On Earth, Roberto Bolaño

–A wonderful sort story collection. For anyone interested in Bolaño, this would be a great place to begin. It was written much earlier than his masterworks, but still gives the reader a taste of his themes and various styles. Some of the stories are absolutely phenomenal in their ability to contain entire worlds in a limited space.

The Skating Rink, Roberto Bolaño

–This was apparently Bolaño’s first novel published in Spanish. Reading it after reading much of his later work, it’s clearly a warm-up to where he was going. Many of the writer’s favorite ideas and themes—violence, drinking, a Spanish campground, sex, multiple perspectives, expatriate poets—appear in this brief, yet engaging novel.

Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen

I read this quickly over the course of my trip to Boston in the summer of 2009. It still feels hot and sticky and exciting because of it. It’s written playfully—an unreliable narrator, a character that shares the name of the author. It moves quickly, too. Echoes of Nabokov and Pynchon’s Lot 49 constantly ring throughout. It turns out that there is a lot of fun to be had in the mind of a conspiracy theorist who thinks his wife has been swapped out for a doppelganger. I look forward to more from Galchen.

Foreskin’s Lament, by Shalom Auslander

I became interested in this book because of Auslander’s work on This American Life. Though I’m never too interested in memoirs, this is so touching and funny and honest, that I forgive it its genre. In fact, it reads more like a novel, jumping between the childhood and adulthood of a religiously terrified writer who destroys entire drafts in fear of God’s wrath. Auslander’s honesty is powerful and leads to insights that more fearful writers couldn’t achieve. The paradox here: fearlessly detailing your fears. It’s absolutely hilarious, too.

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

The only other Eggers book I’ve read, What Is The What?, was enjoyable but suffered under the weight of its length and its gamble of first-person perspective. Here, Eggers again tells a true account of startling events in the life on an American immigrant, but rectifies the problems he struggled against in the past. Hurricane Katrina happened nearly five years ago, but the shock that Zeitoun unleashes is new and palpable. It tells the story of a New Orleans apart from the tourist magnet of Bourbon Street—inhabited by real Americans with real stories that deserve to be read.

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill

A Dutch-born New Yorker, braving the waters of a disintegrating marriage, gets mixed up with a wild, entrepreneurial Trinidadian, obsessed with the game of cricket. Engaging. O’Neill has a powerful stillness in his voice.

Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

Another New York novel written by an Irishman. McCann takes on several narrators, mostly in 1974. The aging hooker grandma feels a bit forced, yes, but everything else clicks extremely well. A powerful novel about chance and chaos and loss. Winner of the National Book Award.

Lush Life, by Richard Price

Truthfully, this was a bit of a letdown, if only because of the lofty expectations I held for a writer who has been responsible for some of the best episodes of The Wire. I realize those expectations are a bit unfair, just like I realize that this was a joy to read. Another New York novel (third on the list, I know, but don’t worry, I have no intentions to move to, let alone visit the city). Like The Wire, Lush Life paints an objective picture of cops and crime in a city in constant flux.

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3 Comments so far
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Did you get around to a longer review of 2666?

Comment by Autobiography of a Reader

Unfortunately, I never completed a full write-up on 2666. But I looked at your writing on it, and I find it to be a very interesting discussion (why all the violence, the dreams, etc). 2666 was absolutely engulfing for me, and I couldn’t put it down. Something in Bolaño’s prose just clicked with me. I’ve only read translations of Bolaño, so I don’t know how that factors into the discussion, but even though his plotting is deceptively simple, his elegant language is engaging, even enchanting. One of the biggest enjoyments of 2666, specifically The Part About The Murders, was Bolaño’s rhythm. He seemed to control the the pace of the murders, the detectives, and the peripheral characters in the section in such engaging way, that the tension and horror seemed to build like a well-crafted piece of music.

All in all, reading Bolaño has been a mysterious, yet thrilling experience for me, and I trust that in time, writers and thinkers more eloquent than myself will effectively study and parse his words endlessly. But 2666 was one of the most powerful reading experiences I’ve ever had, and The Savage Detectives was wonderful as well. I saw on your website that you stopped reading 2666, and I hope that at some point you take another shot at finishing it, because it’s truly the best book I’ve read in a long, long time.

Comment by narwhalparty

Thanks for your comments, which are measured and thoughtful. I entirely agree about the quality of Bolaño’s writing, as I said. However, this wasn’t the focus of my discussion, which is the relationship between writing and reader.

I will certainly go back to Bolaño in the future, and exactly for the quality of his writing. Rhythm is something I’m particularly interested in at present, and forms the ‘second plot’ in the novel I am currently working on. It’s something that exists not in a text but in us as readers, and Bolaño’s skill is to strike it into life in us.

The matter of translation is particularly fascinating – and important – in the reading of many books; the translator of Isabel Allende, to take just one case I have studied, entirely overlays the Chilean-born author’s ‘respiration’ as a writer with a very dull, standard, logocentric style. She’s not the most interesting writer in Spanish but there at least her seductive rhythms live.

Happy reading.

Comment by Autobiography of a Reader




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