Saturday, November 27, 2010

List Readers, List Makers

If you’ve read any of these blog entries you are already aware that I’m a big fan of lists, probably because, like writing on this blog, list-making is a form of writing that’s just another form of not-writing, procrastination, a thing I put between myself and the real work.

I’m writing now in praise of the New York Times list of notable books of the year. In a year in which half the internet articles I read are about the “end of publishing,” which is nearly the same argument as the death of the novel that we’ve been hearing about for about fifty years, which is nearly the same as Nietzche’s famous utterance about God, the point being: Hello? None of these things are dead. The other half of the internet stuff I read, by the way, is devoted to arguing that MFA programs are “ponzi schemes,” or some variation thereof. Tired stuff.

Okay, The Times list: it’s wonderful. Terrific books were published in 2010. The only two of the one hundred listed that I read were The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell and The Same River Twice by Ted Mooney. Both are writers whose work I have always loved and both were completely absorbing. The Mitchell was astonishingly good. Every page was a work of art.

I do plan to read the new Franzen and the list reminds me that I want to read Jennifer Egan’s, A Visit from the Goon Squad.

The list also exposes gaps in my review reading; I missed even knowing about Charles Yu’s How to Live in Science Fictional Universe and David Goodwillie’s American Subversive. And, Per Patterson is on the list with a new book, reminding me to read his earlier Out Stealing Horses first. Ditto: Nicole Krauss: read her first one, then this new one, Great House. Anthony Doerr has a new book, too. Antonya Nelson. It’s hard to keep up.

Only two of the books feature Nazis; three are set in the Viet Nam war.

It’s interesting that poetry and fiction are here linked together in the same list, when poetry is often (wrongly) presumed to be a form of nonfiction. I suppose it’s an aesthetic linking, but that’s not right either, is it? That presumes nonfiction is less artful than fiction and that’s not always the case. So, there are among the fifty fiction and poetry selections: three poetry titles. Three. And since two of them are Edward Hirsch and Derek Walcott, both of whom are already institutions unto themselves, I will keep a sharp eye out for the third, Lisa Robertson, of whom I’ve never heard whose book is engagingly titled Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip.

In the nonfiction list: lots to be interested in. I probably won’t read the Rebecca Skloot: it feels so slickly “packaged,” I have the impression, somehow, that “the fix is in.” My loss, probably. I’ve also decided to not read Keith Richards' book, even though I’m curious. I read a terrific review of it in Dan Nadel‘s culture blog in the Paris Review Daily Blog. In a couple sentence summary, he’s convinced me to instead read Jimmy McDonough’s book about Neil Young, Shakey.

Nadel, by the way, is completely engaging in these “reports.” And I had never even heard of him before.

It’s a curious omission that in the list of fifty nonfiction books, Patti Smith’s, Just Kids can’t make the cut, even though it won the National Book Award.

For a list of lists. Check out:

The largeheartedboy seems not to identify himself any more specifically on his blog.

Finally, I find the list very heartening, and yet another thing for which I am thankful, even though it omitted Solomon's Oak, by Jo-Ann Mapson, one of the best books I read in 2010.

Literature, books, publishing are all wildly alive. As ever.

(Bonus video for those who scrolled down this far!)


  1. Very nice DavidS. I just wrote a long comment but the web page expired. Oh well, try again tomorrow.
    I like the suggestions and will find some of these titles when I'm not three books behind.
    On procrastination: best book is "A Writer's Journey to Comfort and Fluency." Major points: 1. never wait until you feel like writing. 2. Writing because you have to meet daily quota never hurts creativity. 3. Imposing daily hour and quota - which has to be REALLY LOW, like one page a day, actually increases output and also creativity. If you make yourself write your work will be much better than if you wait for the muse. 4. It's really important to stick with the agreement to write at a certain time of day. 5. Never, ever, ever binge write. that is, if you skip your two-page-a-day quota, do not commit to writing four pages the next day. You need a comfortable, unmasochistic approach. People who write ten pages in a weekend tend to skip a few days after that, which is not good news when trying to strengthen a skill set.
    Back to editing.
    Mona in Maine

  2. First, is that BIX in the video? How funny is that dog?

    Second, do Sherry & Scott KNOW you are training him to kill snowballs?

    Third, A Visit From The Goon Squad - sounds like all my family converging for the holidays. The secret weapon is pie. Lots of pie. It keeps them full and quiet. At least until game time.


  3. I downloaded Franzen’s Freedom as my “one free audio book for This American Life podcast listeners” in an experiment to see how I liked audio books.

    I think that I don’t like audio books and I still haven’t decided what I thought of Freedom. Initially I thought I didn’t like it because it was so domestic and I don’t really enjoy domestic books, but I also think I just wasn’t that interested in it. There were great moments, but the majority of the book just felt heavy and plodding.