Saturday, December 12, 2009

Best Books from Salon

It's time for another approaching-the-end-of-year-best-books list, and this one I'm particularly excited about. It's from Salon, the online arts and culture magazine, and the articles are written by Laura Miller. The lists stand out for me for two reasons. First because each has a few "newbies" on it that I haven't seen on other lists this season, and, second, because they acknowledge a couple of books that I'm excited about and would like to see get a broader reading, one a novel and one a memoir.

The novel is Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon. Chaon is the author of an excellent collection of stories called Among the Missing, which I really enjoyed and which was a finalist for the National Book Award. I haven't yet read Await Your Reply, but I kick myself just about daily for not doing so. I'm hoping to get to it after the mad dash of the holidays moves along.

Await Your Reply tells the story of three strangers whose lives interconnect in unforeseen ways with unexpected consequences -- a "mind-bending meditation on identity in the modern world." Chaon is the author of another short story collection, Fitting Ends, and another novel, You Remind Me of Me. He received the 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chaon currently teaches creative writing at Oberlin College in Ohio.

The memoir I'm particularly excited about is Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill, a 90-something Brit who worked as an editor for years, editing the likes of Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Jean Rhys, V.S. Naipaul, and John Updike. At age 83 she published her first memoir, Stet, which described her life in the book world. Stet is a an editing term that means "leave it in," when you've initially marked something in a manuscript for change or deletion.

Now in her early 90s, she continues to write as a free-thinker and with startling frankness, writing about sex (and the lack of it) and relationships and the physical indignities of growing old. Somewhere Towards the End won the Costa Award for Biography and has recently been released in paperback. She writes that she has moved almost exclusively to reading nonfiction because she is no longer interested in analyzing the intricacies of human relationships but "I do still want to be fed facts."

Her memoir ends with this observation: “There are no lessons to be learnt, no discoveries to be made, no solutions to offer. I find myself left with nothing but a few random thoughts. One of them is that from up here I can look back and see that although a human life is less than the blink of an eyelid in terms of the universe, within its own framework it is amazingly capacious so that it can contain many opposites. One life can contain serenity and tumult, heartbreak and happiness, coldness and warmth, grabbing and giving — and also more particular opposites such as a neurotic conviction that one is a flop and a consciousness of success amounting to smugness.”

These are definitely two books I recommend checking out. Here is the full list from Salon:

  • The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt
  • Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon
  • Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem
  • Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories, Lydia Millet
  • The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
  • A New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, with 200 wide-ranging short essays
  • Somewhere Towards the End, Diana Athill
  • Columbine, Dave Cullen, about the 1999 Columbine High School killings
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, Richard Holmes, about the visionary scientists of the late 18th/early 19th centuries
  • Tall Man: The Death of Doomadgee, Chloe Hooper -- true crime, courtroom drama, and social expose about the death in 2004 of an aboriginal man while in custody of the Australian police.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the many good books out there...I better get my list ready for Santa!


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