Favorite Reads of the Year (2)

7. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann – You don't really need me to tell you that Buddenbrooks is a great book. For those new to Mann, it's the most approachable of his major novels that I've read. It's also the closest to good old 19th-century realism. A highly sardonic, unforgiving tale of a family that just isn't going to make it. Read it with someone you love.

8. Suttree by Cormac McCarthy – I read (or re-read) all of McCarthy this year, but I'm not going to subject anyone to tedious recommendations of most of his works, though I would recommend almost all of them. (Those who still want the tedious dissections of each book can read my lengthy essay on McCarthy.)

I would like to draw particular attention to Suttree, though, which must be the most bizarre and baroque novel McCarthy has written. It's McCarthy channeling Joyce, a true verbal tour de force from an author who is pretty much known for doing that in every book he writes. It's amazing, and if you only know McCarthy from Blood Meridian onward, then you'll be very surprised.

9. The Late Age of Print by Ted Striphas – I reviewed this book here, interviewed the author here, and have discussed it frequently on this blog. I think I've said what I can in this book's favor.

10. The Cardboard Universe by Christopher Miller – See my review in the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

11. Desert by JMG Le Clezio – See my review at The Critical Flame. I'd just like to mention here my great enthusiasm for this book. It's one of the best postcolonial fictions I've read in a long while, and it's also one of the best books of landscape I've ever read. The key to writing well on each lies in the same thing: getting beyond the notions you come in with.

12. Pornografia by Witold Gombrowicz – It didn't take me long to fall in love with the voice of this novel. I eat right up this kind of acidly ironic psychologizing (which, I think, is what appeals to me in Bernhard). Beyond the voice–which, I repeat, is outstanding–this book reminds me of a good play in terms of its taut structure. It more or less occurs in three "acts," and the psychological riddles brought into play are both clearly stated and irresolvably complex.

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Yes yes yes to Suttree… which seems to have gotten lost after Blood Meridian, but thought he was more channeling Faulkner than Joyce (quibble quibble)… just count how many times he uses the word ‘terrific’… and how. The amazing opening pages–a Faulknerian hymn to the Mississippi as it passes under the bridges and past the bottoms of Memphis–all the organ stops full out. McCarthy’s been gradually reigning it in every books since. Was The Road really written by the same man?

Pornagraphia… have you read Ferdydurke yet?

True, Faulkner is a definite debt. (In many circles McCarthy is seen as the Southern heir to Faulkner in his first four novels.)
The stylistic evolution from Suttree to The Road is indeed incredible. Its something that I try to account for in my long essay.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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