As I do every three months here, I'm now going to run down popular Amazon purchases made through links on this site. As a reminder to everyone, purchases made through Amazon links on this site kick back a donation to me and help fund both this blog and The Quarterly Conversation.
1. The Story About the Story: Great Writers Explore Great Literature by JC Hallman
The Story About the Story was the most popular seller for last quarter, as well. This is the book that we at The Quarterly Conversation got behind as one of the more exciting works of criticism to be published in 2009. To briefly review, it's an anthology that JC Hallman put together of lit crit that is done right. To see precisely what he means by that, have a look at this essay of his we published in the fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation.
This attests to the continuing popularity of Roberto Bolano for readers of this website. I only mentioned and linked to Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations at the end of November, but it proved to be a very popular title. Clearly people are interested in knowing more about the man behind the books, and as time passes I think we'll be learning more and more about him, probably at the expense of the Bolano myth.
3. The Land of Green Plums by Herta Mueller
This is obviously a direct consequence of Herta Mueller winning the Nobel Prize. I like to think that Marcel Inhoff's incisive take on Mueller's writing (especially for this novel) contributed to her popularity via this blog.
4. (tie) Kamby Bolongo Mean River by Robert Lopez
The sales of Kamby Bolongo Mean River are pretty much traceable to this review in The Quarterly Conversation. Indeed, I have no problem seeing why people were eager to read this one. The review makes it sound like one of the most interesting works of fiction to cross my eyes in the last three months:
In Kamby Bolongo Mean River our protagonist is confined in an observation cell containing only a bed and a telephone. Behind the two-way glass, white coated doctors observe the incarcerated narrator as he chooses to answer or not answer incoming calls. The sudden ringing of the phone occasionally terrorizes the man whose frequent masturbation spells may or may not be a subject of interest to whoever these observational authorities are.
4. (tie) The Tanners by Robert Walser
This would seem to be attributable to my own enthusiasm for The Tanners, a book that I've periodically remarked on over the last three months and which I reviewed extremely favorably in The Quarterly Conversation.
6. Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
The subject of the story "Quadraturin" is a Soviet city dweller, Sutulin, who lives in an apartment so tiny that when he hears a knock on his door one evening, he doesn't need to get out of bed to open it: he merely "threaded a toe through the door handle, and pulled." The stranger at the door persuades Sutulin to take a free sample of an experimental substance that is supposed to make rooms bigger. Sutulin begins to apply the Quadraturin to his walls as the instructions on the tube advise, but he accidentally spills the entire contents of the tube on his floor. He wakes up the next morning in a "faintly familiar, large, but ungainly room," where his furniture looks awkward and the angles of the walls are uneven. He enjoys the novel pleasure of strolling from one end of his room to the other, but he must enjoy it in secret, for like other citizens he is legally allotted only ninety-seven square feet of living space, and owning more than his share could mean losing his apartment. Sutulin is, like Akaky Akakievich, Raskolnikov and Joseph K, a bachelor whose quarters contain a secret — something at least obscurely embarrassing, perhaps criminal. As usual, there is a talkative landlady and neighbors to be avoided. Sutulin realizes he has to buy curtains to hide his apartment from the eyes of passers-by.
It only gets worse from there: every time Sutulin leaves the room, he returns to find that his apartment has grown still bigger . . .
7. (tie) Pornografia: A Novel by Witold Gombrowicz
I read Pornografia: A Novel over the summer and it made such a large, positive impact on me that I was moved to serialize a chapter from it in the fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation. Interest in the likely stemmed from there and my occasional favorable remarks about it since then.
7. (tie) American Tabloid: A Novel by James Ellroy
But before looking more fully at the book, I want to say something about the genuinely remarkable manner in which this series is written. For a time, the tag Avant-Pop was attached to a certain kind of avant-garde writing, but that's not right for Ellroy. Nor is Avant-Pulp. Whatever it should be called, the literary experience it provides is unique.
James Ellroy's brand of extreme writing is fun to read. At its best, it could be addictive. The stories are told in a uniform, crazed, modern American vernacular, and with such breakneck speed, hairpin plot turns, compression, and telescoping of events that the reader needs to stop and rest from time to time.