The Mulching of America by Harry Crews
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”
- Sylvia Plath
“We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better. We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal.”
- Mario Vargas Llosa
Again, like last year, I managed to get through some fantastic books over the past 12 months. Actually, as I look at the list right now - damn - some great books I’ve been able to read. There were a couple of strange asides from what I would call my normal reading tastes, but also plenty of more standard fare as well. I have made substantially fewer comments about the books this year and have left a bunch off of this list. Anyway, here it is…
My picks of the lot:
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The best character I read all year. Ignatius J. Reilly - a lazy, over-educated, grandstanding, southern behemoth with a valve problem.
Rabbit Redux by John Updike
This book is a masterpiece. The second installment of the ‘Rabbit Omnibus’ shows us another, seemingly once per decade, collapse of the life of Rabbit Angstrom. If you want to read about suburbia, here you go. Updike is a master. It is impossible to distinguish between the first and second books. Will surely finish the series this year. I have no choice.
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
This book got me at a time where I was ripe for the picking. Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe this story of a life suddenly falling apart.
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
I feel like he’s talking straight to me. Am currently devouring everything he has written.
Some Other Favourites:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Voted Guardian best book of the past 25 years for good reason. The title says it all.
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Nice to read something occasionally where everything ties up neatly in the end. Fantastic read and my first Irving experience.
White Noise by Don Delillo
Harsh, morbid, pessimistic, and funny. Dellilo goes after the modern family, consumerism, academia, industry, and more, and he does it brilliantly of course.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Beautifully written short stories that, in my mind, rivals here earlier Pulitzer winning Interpreter of Maladies.
Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut sums it up best, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Vonnegut’s tale of the tangled webs we all weave.
Light in August by William Faulkner
Maybe my favourite Faulkner tale other than The Bear.
Everyman by Philip Roth
First book of Roth’s I have read. A man’s life in retrospect - full of guilt and pride. Fantastic stuff.
Patrimony by Philip Roth
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I must say, I have always been more of a Hemingway guy, but this Fitzgerald book doesn’t just tell you the story of the Jazz Age, it also gives you the truth. No one is as wonderful as they seem. There are some people who never get any better than the day you meet them. This book seemed like a more in-depth Gatsby - how peeling back the layers of people isn’t ever pretty. How we are all damaged by each other no matter what we choose to show the world. Beautiful.
Visions of Gerard by Jack Kerouac
Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
People of the Abyss by Jack London
On Writing by Stephen King
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
My favourite Kerouac yet.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book is growing on me since I put it down a few months back. I think there is a lot I missed that Ishiguro put in there that I am interested in finding out.
Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Biting, smart, fun. Klosterman seems like the type of guy I would have loved to of met backpacking around wherever when I was in college. We could have got drunk together, listen to his insights on everything from soccer in America to metal cover bands, then, after a few nights, say goodbye and go our separate ways before we got on each others nerves.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Clever, well-written, great story. One of the most unique narrators around.
Ape & Essence by Aldous Huxley
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s tales of Paris in the 20’s.
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Woolf makes you work for everything in her writing. It took me a good half dozen tries over the past 10 years to finally develop the fortitude to make it through this one. Well, well worth it in the end.
Paradise by Donald Barthelme
First book of Barthelme’s I have read. Knocked it out on a road trip down to Seattle this past summer. A quick, easy, interesting read.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This was a tough read for me as I am the father of a young girl. Will re-visit this one in a few years time. Nabokov is working on some other level though and you need only read a few passages to get that from this book.
The Damned Utd by David Peace
Brian Clough was a legend. Wish he was still around.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
This was a tough read for me. Story of how both the complexity of grief and the simplicity of merely occupying the same space affects the women in this book. Robinson is amazing.
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Read this after The Crying of Lot 49. Fun, and much easier read. I heard it described as Pynchon-light. I’d agree with that.
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Funny and with some of the darkness we would see in The Unnamed.
Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem
Funny pulp-fictiony compilation of short stories
The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski
Tore my heart out. Thoughts HERE
Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut on Modern art. Enjoyed it.
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
Sequel to Cannery Row. I forgot what happened in Cannery Row, it had been so long since I had read it. Will have to get back to it for a re-read this year, then re-read Sweet Thursday. Sad, nostalgic, sorrowful. Also a bit preachy, but it wouldn’t be Steinbeck if there weren’t some of that in there.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Like To The Lighthouse, I had tried this book on a few times before getting through it earlier this year. Great book. Wish I would of read it 15 years ago when I should have. I call this the ‘Siddihartha Syndrome’ and it happens to me a lot.
Under the Dome by Stephen King
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Didion’s wonderful memoir of dealing with grief of her husbands’ death.
Sons & Lovers by DH Lawrence
Posted this at the start of the year regarding Lawrence. I thought about it the whole way through this book. Amazing, apparently semi-autobiographical book.
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Cracking book. Just finishing it now. There are a few characters here that make me wonder if Murray based them on me at certain points in my life.
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
KV on politics - Watergate, Nixon, Labor. Very good book.
Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So by Mark Vonnegut
Would like to get my hands on this one. His follow up to his 1975 memoir, Eden Express.
Q. How was it growing up with Kurt Vonnegut as your father?
A. It was both inspiring and terrifying to have him around, to have him talking to himself, banging on the typewriter and sometimes swearing. He was a big guy, 200 pounds and 6 feet 3 inches, who could sometimes be very nice and sometimes be furious because he couldn’t write.
There was a point when I was 15 or 16 that I realized that my father wanted me to be a loner. I decided, “It’s okay to be an introvert, but I don’t want to be a loner. I want a few other people in my life.”
Full interview at nj.com - HERE
While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Release Date: Jan 25, 2011
I am ashamed of myself for not knowing about this sooner. Hope it is as enjoyable as Look at the Birdie.
Thank you wifey. I think she looks at this tumblr now and then. Also, this book dwarfs every other book on my shelf. Will have to prepare well before taking it on.
“I’m very flattered by the linkage in so far as it exists. I’ve been admiring John long before I became a writer so the linkage redowns to my benefit considerably. I wish I could write like John Cheever, but I don’t feel I do, and I see him do things effortlessly that I couldn’t do with a great deal of effort. So the similarities to me aren’t as meaningful as the differences.”
John Updike on The Dick Cavett Show, October 14, 1981 - Full show with Updike & Cheever HERE from NYT.
“The only people who can ever put ideas into context are people who don’t care; the unbiased and apathetic are usually the wisest dudes in the room. If you want to totally misunderstand why something is supposedly important, find the biggest fan of that particular thing and ask him for an explanation. He will tell you everything that doesn’t matter to anyone who isn’t him. He will describe paradoxical details and share deeply personal anecdotes, and it will all be autobiography; he will simply be explaining who he is by discussing something completely unrelated to his life.”
“Whatever art offered the men and women of previous eras, what it offers our own, it seems to me, is space - a certain breathing room for the spirit. The town I grew up in had many vacant lots; when I go back now, the vacant lots are gone. They were a luxury, just as tigers and rhinoceri, in the crowded world that is making, are luxuries. Museums and bookstores should feel, I think, like vacant lots - places where the demands on us are our own demands, where the spirit can find exercise in unsupervised play.”