Favorite Reads of the Year (5)

Okay, time to finish this stuff up.

24. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. The first thing to note is the construction of narrative voice and character, which is accomplished in a very unostentatious but extremely true to life manner. (Which is to say, I could see this guy, he was counterpointed into a 3-D being in my head, and his voice remained consistent throughout.) It was a sympathetic voice, though not without its flaws and idiosyncrasies. Then there is the unity of the metaphors: Baker deconstructs objects from everyday life, staplers, trains, shoelaces, popcorn–he brilliantly defamiliarizes them, yet he does this with a system of metaphors that remains consistent throughout the entire novel so that by the end it is like a series of voices in deep conversation. And lastly, the footnote on footnotes is brilliant.

25. S/Z by Roland Barthes. For this one I shall quote the translator’s introduction: “The work so joyously performed here is undertaken for the sake of the 93 divagations . . . identified by Roman numerals and printed in large type, amounting each to a page or two. These divagations, taken together, as they interrupt and are generated by the lexias of the analyzed text, constitute the most sustained yet pulverized meditation on reading I know in all of Western critical literature.” I can’t speak to the accuracy of that claim, but the passion behind it felt valid to me after I read S/Z.

26. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. In Illness as Metaphor (which, by the way, mentions The Magic Mountain more times than any other text) calls this book something along the lines of a warehouse for every metaphorical idea that has grown up around tuberculosis. That’s pretty accurate. The Magic Mountain was written just about when TB was losing potency both as a disease and as a living artistic construct, and fittingly Mann doesn’t so much make use of TB as a metaphor as deconstruct everything it had come to mean. The glorious thing about this book (and about Mann’s output in general) is how TB moves beyond its familiar context to become a metaphor for about four different, inter-related things simultaneously.

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Scott: Excellent list (one of the few interesting ones I’ve seen this year). One more for your reading pleasure: Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo.

Scott: Wasn’t sure where to place a note of gratitude to you but thanks for mentioning David Rhodes earlier in the year. I finished Rock Island Line recently. Along with the novels of Elena Ferrante, and a couple others, RIL was one of the best things I read all year.
Driftless is on the TBR pile. Without your mention of him on this blog, I wouldn’t have found him. Thanks.

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