As I do every three months, it's now time to round up the most popular titles purchased from the Amazon links on this site.
The most popular title this cycle ended up being The Loop, a novel that is something like a cross between Proust and Oulipo. It is book 2 in an immense 6-book cycle about memory and time, and it is written by one of the most famous living Oulipoians, Frenchman Jacques Roubaud. Undoubtedly, this book was propelled to number one by these facts alone, although an essay by Dalkey editor Jeremy Davies and an excerpt from the book itself (in addition to my excessive enthusiasm for this title) must have helped. Some have also ventured to buy the first book in the cycle, The Great Fire of London.
In the #2 slot is a holdover from last quarter's list, Machine by Peter Adolphsen. I woudn't be surprised if this book became a perennial favorite, as it certainly remains one of the more interesting titles that I've heard of this year. To quote myself from last quarter's roundup:
And here is what I quoted from the review:
Although Danish author Peter Adolphsen has made a name for himself as a formalist for whom economy is a virtue (to date his five novels and short story collections are less than 300 pages combined), “as a reader,” one reviewer writes, “you feel you have covered a huge distance with him.” Drawing comparisons to Borges and Kafka, Adolphsen has written parables and parodies, “ultrashort biographies,” children’s books, and a collection called En Million Historier (A Million Stories), which allows the reader to construct, well, a million stories, from ten pages of interchangeable two-line segments. Machine, Adolphsen’s second novel to be translated into English, fits very well within this paradigm, spanning millions of years, several continents, the lives of three people, and one drop of gasoline within its brief 85 pages.
The book opens with the untimely death of a prehistoric horse. This end, however, is really the beginning: “Death exists, but only in a practical microscopic sense,” the quirky omniscient narrator intones. “Biologically, one cannot distinguish between life and death; the transition is a continuum.” And so, ever so slowly (over fifty-five million years), the heart of this horse is transformed into a drop of crude oil. Once refined, “our drop” is pumped into the engine of a Ford Pinto. It then combusts, becomes exhaust, and a few hours later, transforms one last time into a carcinogen. And that’s Machine in a nutshell.
For #3 we have a tie. First is News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso, a book that sold itself largely on a mention that I made of it as a forthcoming book. Unless everyone is wrong, this is a major Mexican work of recent years, and as I've mentioned before, I mean to read it soon.
The other book is The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales, which I discussed here as the work of schizophrenic Cuban Hemingway. Its a strong work that's largely been passed over by the American media, so I'm pleased to see people keying in on it from this blog.
In fourth we have not a book but an author: Horacio Castellanos Moya. I'm a big proponent of his work, and his first novel, Senselessness, has been doing well. Moya has two more books in English this year (The She-Devil in the Mirror, Dances with Snakes), and although these have obviously gotten less play since they're not even for sale yet, people have been pre-ordering them.
Other fun stuff going on this quarter includes:
- Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire by Jose Manuel Prieto: This is a previous novel from Jose Manuel Prieto, whose just-published novel, Rex, has been one of the big translations of the past few months.
- Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann: Some folks have been taking me up on my great enthusiasm for this book. This is about as difficult as they come, but your persistence will be rewarded.
- Searching for Sebald: An unusual approach to critically evaluating and understanding the work of W.G. Sebald.
- Tranquility by Attila Bartis: My favorite translation of 2008 and our winner of the Best Translated Novel award for the same year.
And lastly, the top buys from Q1 2009.