It is very difficult for me to say what I liked without telling you what disappointed me the most, and that is NW by Zadie Smith. I got off at the wrong stop with this one, and ended up in some foreign country where I had no chance of ever learning the language or customs, and ended up starving to death, and I swear by Zadie Smith.
My good friend Ron Rice has edited a fantastic little book from Black Dog & Leventhal called My Bookstore; Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, (on sale now). This book is top shelf, a really cool gift to give the book person in your life. It’s got great writers writing about Independent Bookstores they love. Richard Russo does the introduction, and wonder woman, aka Emily St. John Mandel writes the afterword.
It’s been an interesting year for books. I didn’t read the Tom Wolfe, or the Jess Walter, though I should read the Walter. Bringing Up Bodies held no interest for me, but I did find books that really flipped my nickel, most of them coming out in January/February 2013 or even as far away as next summer. The first is Love is a Canoe, (1-13) and I completely fell in love with this book. Ben Schrank is a pal of mine from my salad days, and it’s great to see him write such a thoroughly entertaining and American novel. The second is & Sons (7-13), by David Gilbert (Remote Feed and The Normals). If I don’t get my hands on this right now, I might explode. Gilbert has a story in a recent New Yorker called “Member/Guest”, and it is beyond brilliant. & Sons is supposed to be a Salinger-like tale of New York, and that’s all I know. But I suspect that the story in the New Yorker is taken from the novel (it’s a story they say, um, not it’s an excerpt of a forthcoming novel, see recently Franzen and Eugenides). Also, Middle Men, a collection of stories out of S&S coming in February from a new talent, Jim Gavin. These stories are blistering gems, shooting stars, and totally convincing. I want you all to read it when it arrives in stores 2-13.
2012 was a good year. The world is changing, while the book business tries to stay the same. I don’t think publishers are necessarily in the business of selling real books. At least not in the numbers it needs to keep the business afloat. It all comes down to awareness, buzz, exposure, author building instead of cash grabbing (Lena Dunham). There should be a real urgency to turn a retail-based culture towards books, and make it part of everyone’s entertainment. People (non-book people) need to have their brains exposed to the great stories that are published each year. So far, the folks who market books focus on the same book people time after time. I think those people get it.
As you all know (or should), I avoid non-fiction, but it’s not a hard fast rule. I did read the first essay in the Kate Roiphe collection from Dial Press, In Praise of Messy Lives. She sums up those post marriage months perfectly, and sorta said, “don’t feel sorry for me, I’m happy to be alone, stop projecting your worry on me.” It is scalpel accurate. I picked up this book because it begged me to, and I trust in Dwight Garner implicitly.
A.M Homes has been setting the Cheever/Updike suburban ideal on fire for her entire career. May We Be Forgiven is a tough and relentless book; there is no way around that. She delivers one brutality after the other, and for some unknown reason, she’s still not a big deal. I just don’t get it? Strangers should be stopping you on the street, any street, in any town, and telling you about her novels. She is without a doubt the best living novelist working in America right now. No contest. DH and I gave this book a good working over, and I’m thrilled that Ms. Homes is young enough, and willing, to keep me happy for many years.
I don’t like Dave Eggers, and I don’t know why. Okay. I do. HBWOSG is dead to me, and my copy rests on the side of the New Jersey Transit train line, in a shrub, (RIP), and that’s probably for the best. It angered me. The Real World section in particular. The tone. The writing. BUT, and this is a big BUT, he’s done some fine work, (maybe his best) in The Hologram for the King. Eggers sums up the American loser with such precision, it’s very hard to watch or look away from. The book itself is a pompous package, but seriously folks, the story is just flat out breathtaking. I know Eggers is a good guy (his integrity on the literacy front is sterling), and maybe someday he can convince me of that in person. I love his wife’s books, Vendela Vida, and wish she would write faster, or just write novels and send them to me only. How would that work?
The Patrick Melrose Novels, I’ve only read the first two in the series, and it’s clear to me that this writer is a true force of nature. The young Patrick gets buggered by his father, and is there to collect the ashes after the old man dies. Patrick is a son conceived by a rape, and it’s brutal to read. Martin Amis owes St. Aubyn a thank you note, as Bad News is an incest sibling of Money, the searing novel from Amis.
Finally, 2012 wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to my brother Jonathan Evison. His novel The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is both funny and tragic. We never properly covered it here on the blog, (fearing nepotism) but I have to say it is probably one of the most entertaining books I have ever read. Any man could identify with this book and any women could see a part of their man in those pages. For that I tip my hat to you Johnny.