Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Beast

This summer I became a big fan of the political website The Daily Beast. More recently they've revealed that their bookishness comes from more than just taking their name from an Evelyn Waugh novel. They've added a new section Book Beast devoted to book coverage, and it's not reviews. It's literary controversies, and examinations of what specific people are reading. They've just run a segment of book recommendations from the Oscar Nominated Director of Doubt John Patrick Shanley. I'm very excited by this turn of events, first because I think that celebrities are in a unique position to foster literacy, since so many people are fascinated by them to begin with, and second because it bodes well for the kind of interesting book related tidbits that can be expected in the future from Tina Brown's new website.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rushdie Comes to Brooklyn!

From the good folks over at Brooklyn Heights Blog, I have learned that Salman Rushdie will be giving an as yet undescribed lecture in Brooklyn this March. I can't wait!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Top 10 of 2008

I've decided to list, with a brief explanation, my personal top 10 books of 2008. These are books that I read in 2008, but they could have been published at any time. I list them in the order that I read them, from first to last, this doesn't imply that one was better than another.

Donald Hall's Father's Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport [Mostly Baseball]
This book really surprised me, more poets should write about sports. His essays on baseball, and his own life were really wonderful. If you enjoy professional sports, you will find in these essays someone who really understands their appeal, and if you don't enjoy professional sports, this may help you to understand why others do. I liked this so much that I went out and read one of his poetry collections too, which was excellent.

Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers translated by Richard Pevear
I've been a Dumas fan since I first read a translation of The Three Musketeers in Elementary school and I've read a number of his other books since. This was by far the best translation I've read of his work.

Junot Diaz' The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I think this made a lot of people's lists for 2008, and absolutely worthy of the Pulitzer. I was a bit of a nerd in High School and College myself, which may have helped me get some of the nerdier references. Some people have complained that all of the Spanish that Diaz mixes in makes it hard to follow, but I wasn't bothered by it, though I did look up the odd word. The story is heartbreaking and powerful. I also love interesting narrators, and Yunior is excellent.

Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union
I'd wanted to read this from the moment that I first heard of it. I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and I'm also a big fan of hard boiled detective fiction like Chandler and Hammett (more Hammett). Chabon's creation of a believable Jewish state in Alaska was an impressive achievement, and I enjoyed exploring that world, the strange, apocalyptic plot was also exciting and poignant.

Hugh Nissenson's The Days of Awe
I have had to read this since I saw it on a bookstore shelf. Nissenson lives in the neighborhood where I grew up, and as a result this book about Upper West Siders in the lead up to, and then following September 11th, was very poignant for me. I really liked his writing style, and the combination of religion, secularism, and mythology that pervades the lives of the characters.

Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States 1492-Present
To say that I loved this book would be overstating it, but it was one of the more important books that I read this year. I particularly valued the sheer depth of material covered. This book is an excellent accompaniment to any study of American history as Zinn provides a perspective that is often missing. While I am a big fan of non-traditional uses of Graphic storytelling, Zinn's comic book A People's History of American Empire is not an effective substitute for this book, though it can be a fun gloss.

George Simenon's The Man Who Watched Trains Go By

This is partly to symbolize my discovery of Simenon in 2008. He has quickly become one of my favorite authors, and I read a half dozen of his books. This is one of what Simenon referred to as his romans durs, which are deeply psychological novels. The cold detachment with which he shows one man's transition from bored upstanding middle class business man to wanted murderer is spectacularly effective.

A.M. Homes' This Book Will Save Your Life
This book didn't save my life, but I really enjoyed it. The story of a man slowly rediscovering his own life was a lot of fun. Richard Novak seemed to be almost as unfamiliar with his life as the reader, and as a result, we discovered it with him.

Mark Kurlansky's 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

When I read Kurlansky, he's virtually guaranteed to end up on my year end best list. This is the most political and contemporary book of his that I've read, and I loved it. He has the excellent ability to explain history in a readable and memorable fashion. I can't help but feel that this book colored my appreciation of Zinn, leaving me to wish that he wrote a little bit more like Kurlansky. Of course, Kurlansky covered one year, and Zinn covered over 500, so it's a bit of an apples and oranges situation.

Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger
Somehow this year I read the two major literary prize winning books of 2008, between this and Diaz. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why, but it feels right that they both won their awards in the same year. I like untrustworthy first person narrators, and quirky narrators, and Balram Halwai is both. His story of his life is compelling and his view of India is very different from others that I have seen.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Books Read in 2008

Happy New Year!

Below is the list of books that I read in 2008. Not a bad list, and I'll go over it myself after a good nights sleep. I'm always happy to discuss any of the books on this, or any of my previous lists. Expect a top 10 of 2008 post later this week.

F = Fiction
NF = Non-Fiction
B = Biography
P = Poetry
PL = Play
GN = Graphic Novel

1) Ha Jin - In the Pond (F)

2) Saul Bellow - The Actual (F)

3) Donald Hall - Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport [Mostly Baseball] (NF)

4) Andy Riley - The Bumper Book of Bunny Suicides (GN)

5) Flann O'Brien - The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman and The Brother (F)

6) Alexandre Dumas, trans. Richard Pevear - The Three Musketeers (F) (reread, new translation)

7) Raymond E. Feist - Magician: Apprentice (F) (reread)

8) Raymond E. Feist - Magician: Master (F) (reread)

9) Raymond E. Feist - Silverthorn (F) (reread)

10) Raymond E. Feist - A Darkness at Sethanon (F) (reread)

11) Raymond E. Feist - Prince of the Blood (F) (reread)

12) Raymond E. Feist - The King's Buccaneer (F) (reread)

13) Bill Bryson - The Mother TOngue (NF)

14) Donald Hall - Without (P)

15) Raymond E. Feist - Shadow of a Dark Queen (F) (reread)

16) Jim Butcher - Captain's Fury (F)

17) Raymond E. Feist - Rise of a Merchant Prince (F) (reread)

18) Raymond E. Feist - Rage of a Demon King (F) (reread)

19) Raymond E. Feist - Shards of a Broken Crown (F) (reread)

20) Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts - Daughter of the Empire (F) (reread)

21) Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts - Servants of the Empire (F) (reread)

22) David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day (NF)

23) Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts - Mistress of the Empire (F) (reread)

24) Christopher Woodward - In Ruins: A Journey Through History, Art and Literature (NF)

25) Haruki Murakami, trans. Alfred Birnbaum - A Wild Sheep Chase (F)

26) Albert Camus, trans. Matthew Ward - The Stranger (F)

27) Adrian Tomine - Shortcomings (GN)

28) Rafael Sabatini - Captain Blood (F)

29) Ernest Hemingway - The old Man and the Sea (F)

30) Elaine Dundy - The Dud Avocado (F)

31) Junot Diaz - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (F)

32) Laurence Sterne - A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy by Mr. Yorick (F)

33) Terry Pratchett - Thud! (F) (reread)

34) Terry Pratchett - Carpe Jugulum (F) (reread)

35) Zbigniew Herbert, trans. Alissa Valles - The Collected Poems: 1956-1998 (P)

36) Glen Cook - Cruel Zinc Melodies (F)

37) Michael Farr - Tintin: The Complete Companion (NF)

38) John Maddox Roberts - SPQR: The Princess and the Pirates (F)

39) Rex Stout - The Second Confession (F) (reread)

40) John Maddox Roberts - SPQR: A Point of Law (F)

41) Terry Pratchett - Jingo (F) (reread)

42) Terry Pratchett - The Fifth Elephant (F) (reread)

43) Alasdair Gray, Francesca Lowe - Terminus (F)

44) Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver - Invisible Cities (F)

45) Graham Greene - The Power and the Glory (F)

46) Simon Rich - Ant Farm (F)

47) Michael Chabon - The Yiddish Policeman's Union (F)

48) Georges Simenon, trans. Robert Baldick - Lock 14 (F)

49) G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday (F)

50) Herman Hesse, trans. Jack Zipes - The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse (F)

51) Alexandre Dumas, trans. Robin Buss - The Women's War (F)

52) John Buchan - Thirty Nine Steps (F)

53) Terry Pratchett - Guards! Guards! (F) (reread)

54) Michael Farr - Tintin & Co. (NF)

55) Kingsley Amis - Lucky Jim (F)

56) Graham Greene - Our Man In Havana (F)

57) I.J. Parker - The Hell Screen (F)

58) Rex Stout - Not Quite Dead Enough (F) (reread)

59) Terry Pratchett - Feet of Clay (F) (reread)

60) Vladimir Nabokov trans. Dmitri Nabokov - Invitation to a Beheading (F)

61) Terry Pratchett - Pyramids (F) (reread)

62) George MacDonald Fraser - Flashman (F)

63) Isaac Bashevis Singer, trans. various - Gimpel the Fool: And Other Stories (F)

64) Terry Pratchett - Men at Arms (F) (reread)

65) Edmund White - The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris (NF)

66) Rex Stout - The Silent Speaker (F) (reread)

67) Steven Brust - Jhegaala (F)

68) Hugh Nissenson - The Days of Awe (F)

69) Rex Stout - In the Best Families (F) (reread)

70) Rex Stout - Before Midnight (F) (reread)

71) Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - Watchmen (GN) (reread)

72) David Green - 101 Reasons to Love the Mets (NF)

73) Primo Levi, trans. William Weaver - The Monkey's Wrench (F)

74) Rex Stout - Gambit (F) (reread)

75) Howard Zinn - A People's History of the United States 1492-Present (NF)

76) Omar Khayyam, trans./adapt. Edward Fitzgerald - The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (P)

77) Georges Simenon, trans. Marc Romano & D. Thin - The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (F)

78) Rex Stout - Plot It Yourself (F) (reread)

79) Rex Stout - The Black Mountain (F) (reread)

80) Rex Stout - Three at Wolfe's Door (F) (reread)

81) Rex Stout - And Four to Go (F) (reread)

82) Dave Eggers, ed. - McSweeney's Issue 27 (F)

83) Georges Simenon, trans. David Watson - The Bar on the Seine (F)

84) Rex Stout - A Right to Die (F) (reread)

85) Georges Simenon, trans. Geoffrey Sainsbury - A Man's Head (F)

86) Allen Ginsberg - Kaddish and Other Poems: 1958-1960 (P)

87) Rabih Alameddine - The Hakawati (F)

88) A.M. Homes - This Book Will Save Your Life (F)

89) Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. Klara Glowczewska - Travels with Herodotus (NF)

90) Rex Stout - The Father Hunt (F) (reread)

91) trans. Ciaran Carson - The Tain (F)

92) Georges Simenon, trans. Linda Asher - The Yellow Dog (F)

93) Spain Rodriguez - Che: A Graphic Biography (B/GN)

94) Micheal macLiammoir - The Importance of Being Oscar (PL)

95) Rex Stout - The Rubber Band (F) (reread)

96) Rex Stout - The Mother Hunt (F) (reread)

97) Rex Stout - Might As Well Be Dead (F) (reread)

98) Graham Greene - The Quiet American (F)

99) Rex Stout - The Golden Spiders (F) (reread)

100) Czeslaw Milosz, trans. with Robert Hass - A Treatise on Poetry (P)

101) James Hamilton-Paterson - Cooking with Fernet Branca (F)

102) Rex Stout - Champagne for One (F) (reread)

103) Richard D. Polenberg - The Era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1945: A Brief History with Documents (NF)

104) Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco - Hellblazer: All His Engines (GN)

105) Guy Delisle - Albert and the Others (GN)

106) Saul Bellow - The Adventures of Augie March (F)

107) Joseph Moncure March, illus. Art Spiegelman - The Wild Party (P)

108) Honore de Balzac, trans. Richard Howard - The Unknown Masterpiece (F)

109) Georges Simenon, trans. Geoffrey Sainsbury - The Madman of Bergerac (F)

110) Mark Kurlansky - 1968: The Year That Rocked the World (NF)

111) Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger (F)

112) Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones - The Other (NF)

113) Muriel Barbery, trans. Alison Anderson - The Elegance of the Hedgehog (F)

114) Alison Bechdel - Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (B/GN)

115) Georges Simenon, trans. Anna Moschovakis - The Engagement (F)

116) George Soros - On Globalization (NF)

117) Harold Pinter - Death Etc. (P, Pl, NF)

118) Euripides, Wole Soyinka - The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (Pl)

119) Howard Zinn, illus. Paul Buhle - A People's History of American Empire (GN)

120) Dave Gibbons with Chip Kidd & Mike Essl - Watching the Watchmen (NF)

121) Sholem Aleichem, trans. Hannah Berman - Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance (F)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Remainders of the Day

Some time ago I read a post on Alison Bechdel's blog where she referenced the Clive James poem 'The Book of my Enemy has Been Remaindered.' It's a great poem, a lot of fun. I tried to find the post on her blog, but my 1337 search skills failed.

This is on my mind because today I finally picked up a copy of Bechdel's memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. The paperback has just come out, so the hardcover was remaindered. The result was that I picked it up for an exceedingly affordable amount at Shakespeare & Co. my favorite local bookstore chain. It's proving to be just as good as I thought.

I'm happy to have my hardcover copy, because graphic novels are strangely the one type of book that I really prefer in hardcover. It's probably not really that strange. Still, my best wishes for Alison that the paperbacks sell astonishingly well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Interview with Alaa Al Aswany

Salon has posted an excellent brief interview with Alaa Al Aswany explaining something of his craft, and his life as a writer in the Arab world. It's not very long, and very much worth a glimpse. Also, if you haven't read The Yacoubian Building, you should.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Driving Mr. Paterniti

Michael Paterniti, the strange man who decided to drive across country with Einstein's brain, does a brief interview with the NYTimes Book Blog. In it he mentions that he's working on a new book about a small village in Spain that seems to be about cheese and murder. I'm looking forward to it. You should to, also you should read Driving Mr. Albert, his book about driving cross country with Einstein's brain. That book was the first thing that made me really want to drive across country.