(John Lingan is a frequent contributor to The Quarterly Conversation. In the Winter issue, he reconsidered William Gaddis’s novels The Recognitions and J R through the lens of work.)
A number of my most rewarding reads of 2008 were total surprises, but I plan to follow their lead into ’09. First, my inaugural encounters with Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem (A Scanner Darkly and Solaris, respectively) led me to work backwards and revisit some of H.G. Wells’ early novels, which I loved as a kid. These were all exciting enough that I’ll be making a concerted effort to belatedly get into science fiction (I suppose I should be calling it "sf"?) this year. Looking at the bookshelf, it seems I’ll be starting with The Left Hand of Darkness, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and James Blish’s Cities in Flight tetralogy. Obvious choices, sure, but I’m a neophyte here and have some catching up to do. Recommendations welcome.
I also started both Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Loren Eiseley’s The Invisible Pyramid purely by pulling them off different shelves on a whim. The former is as canonized as the latter is obscure, but both are the kind of meditative, morally urgent writing that I find myself desiring more and more these days. Leopold was a naturalist and outdoorsman and Eiseley was a scientist, but they both used the natural world and man’s destruction of it as a jumping-off point for nearly Montaigne-like (in both scope and aesthetic achievement) pronouncements on greater themes. With those two (and bits of William Vollmann’s The Atlas) as my inspiration, I’ll be searching out more nature/travel nonfiction writing, starting with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Apsley Cherry Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, and, if I’m up for the attention-span challenge Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West.
Happy reading to everyone in the new year.