We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Jeff Bursey, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is a review of My Struggle: Volume I by Karl Over Knausgaard.
To read all entries in this series, click here.
(1) The Letters of William Gaddis: any year with more Gaddis is a good year for writing. This is a handsomely done book with concise and informative notes by editor Steven Moore. Readers of Gaddis can find out something more about his personal life (in his relationships with wives and children), the genesis of his books, and the business of getting published. Throughout, there’s that unmistakeable voice familiar from the novels.
(2) My Struggle Book Two: A Man in Love: Karl Ove Knausgaard continues to astound, with this second volume concentrating on his marriage and his art. Sometimes it’s marriage versus art, and that friction gives this book a terrific range of emotions. Conversations with his friends provide a good view into the different ways Norwegians and Swedes go about life. Is it fiction? Memoir? No one could remember verbatim the conversations recounted at length here, and that, too, is as fine a balancing act as Knausgaard’s depiction of himself as writer and father/husband.
(3) Chris Eaton, a Biography: when a young novelist and musician named Chris Eaton pretends to write his own biography you know there are going to be tricks. Who here hasn’t searched his or her name on the Internet? This novel (as it’s classed on its cover) is a biography of various Eatons from the far past to the present, both male and female, and is a very funny exploration of identity. We’re treated to nicely done sentences, wild conceits (Eaton is a fan of Pynchon), wordplay and some Oulipian games. Great fun.
(4) Varamo: I went on a César Aira kick in the summer, and this title stands out for its apparent geniality, its playfulness with myth, and a scene involving taxidermy (with a hilarious payoff). Other books of his incline toward the surrealist, the metaphysical, and are as enjoyable, but this one comes first to mind. If you’ve not read Aira, it’s a good introduction.
(5) The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800: as in his first volume, Steven Moore demonstrates his wide reading, his wide vision, and his enthusiasm for the offbeat as well as certain classics from all over the world. This book brings to our consciousness Asian and European titles that might not otherwise be heard about, and Moore gives potted summaries and context that show what he likes and why. He also gives readers enough information for us to decide what we ourselves might like to investigate. An essential resource book written in a very accessible style.
Bonus title: in the small field of political novels, Marek Waldorf’s The Short Fall stands out not just for the topic, but for its mixture of text, diagrams, and use of different fonts, and for a narrative told by a brooding, paranoid and paralyzed former speechwriter for a presidential candidate (who was struck, maybe in error, by an assassin’s bullet) that may be completely untrustworthy. There’s a grim humour here, but also a concentration on what makes a campaign work (sinister figures as well as the familiar hacks). Well worth checking out.