One good step into 2010, and I still haven’t finished up my 2009 summaries. I lost heart when I attempted to compress all the memoir/poetry/nonfiction into a single post: time to divide it out, give it some space.
In the meantime, a sampler platter of thoughts and updates.
At the end of the year, we get the standard assortment of top ten lists (with the bonus lists for the decade this last round), immediately followed by all the complaining about the existence and nature of those lists. Here is why I like them: people getting enthusiastic about books and recommending them all at once means that works I might have otherwise missed get tossed in great handfuls into my awareness. A sampling of books I read recently that came from year-end lists include Williams’s Stoner, Powell’s Swallow Me Whole (from an entry in The Millions’ fantastic wrap-up), Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (from an old year-end list), and a strange hybrid I just picked up, Kramer’s Should You Leave? (mentioned in this article, which will also have me reading McGrath and pushed the Boyd book onto my request list). All three of the perfect books I read last year came from 2008’s lists. It’s not about objective judgment or flawed systems of reward, it’s about letting kindred readers in on books that might have slipped past us otherwise.
Lack of transition!
I’m currently reading seven books at wildly different paces. In the glacial pile: Dickens’s David Copperfield (couple hundred pages in, still loving my nightly nibbles on the trashy soap opera of poor wee Davie and his hard times), Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher (I seriously considered giving this one up* but skimming ahead promised lots of freaky happenings so I’ll keep struggling along), Thomas’s Man Gone Down (not loving this, but after this long and this many pages, I want to know what happens to the dude. which means I’m getting my hopes up for an ending I fear will not deliver).
Regular speed: Miller’s Meditations on Violence (a loan from the director at my self-defense place, and one of the most personally disturbing/scariest books I’ve ever read—so much so that I can’t read it at night), the Winnicott collection I’ve been dabbling in for months (recently won back from the other requester, who racks up some monster fines with her tardiness, and who continues to make snarky comments in the margins).
Crazy squirrel speed!: Winton’s Breath (surfing in Australia, yet I can’t put it down, except…), Kramer’s Should You Leave? (subtitle: A Psychiatrist Explores Intimacy and Autonomy—and the Nature of Advice). The linked article above does a pretty good job selling this, but even after that, I didn’t expect it to be this compelling. A mix of psychology, self-help, second-person fiction, and cultural criticism, with a dash of mystery and po-mo self-evaluation. I don’t really know how to explain what I mean when I say that I can’t wait to see what happens. Who does the “you” end up being? Will he give the advice? Should advice really ever be given? I literally cannot stop thinking about this book today, even when I’m supposed to be thinking about other things. Like finishing up my 2009 lists. Or blogging.
*here is a representative paragraph. And by representative, I mean at least every other paragraph reads like this.
“The man catapults backward into the chair. He stands, steaming, like a racehorse that has brought home a lot of victories. In order to be rewarded for victories and to prevent defeats, he demands expensive treatment and tender loving care, at the very least like a silver service for twelve.”
This thickness of language and imagery laced through a novel is fine, but every single page? The dude just sat down. Let him just sit down, please.