what I read this year (an annotated list)

I just love lists right now. Some of these books I still have yet to finish or, in the case of If On A winter's Night A Traveler, have given up on yet keep by my bed 'just in case.'

Regarding the Pain of Others - Susan Sontag
. So amazing. Just read it. It made me think differently about the entirety of the media, not just war photography and images of graphic violence, but everything we experience on a daily basis.

The Poetics - Aristotle.
The original theatrical and literary critique. Acute and generally succinct, but in the hindsight of so much media criticism it is hard to find anything you haven't already thought. And maybe it could do with a few jokes?

Remainder - Tom McCarthy
(of Man-Booker C fame). Hated it. Good concept (freakishly similar to the ideas behind Synecdoche, New York), but rendered in the dullest way with the most boring language. Why do writers think EVERY story needs to be told in first person??
How much am I actually learning about this narrator?

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee. Poignant, funny and brilliant. Masterful language and in depth character analysis of seemingly all the inhabitants of the thirties hickville town struggling with racial inequality. READ THIS BOOK.

On Writing - Stephen King.
Like, whatever Stephen King. I fucking hate your novels. I love the TV adaptations and perhaps I might even have loved this autobiographical take on the art of being a contemporary writer. Yes, I think I did. Unexpected. Very insightful and of course easy to read. It gave me a new respect for Mr Beady-eyed-killer-car-psychic-psycho-school-girl-King.

The Art of the Novel - Milan Kundera.
As you might imagine, a more theoretically infused book with intentions towards profundity. It's more of a deconstruction of the modern European novel. Interesting ideas, particularly around the 'celebrity author' - Kundera believing that all writers should remain anonymous so that their life does not become confused with their work.

The Finkler Question - Howard Jacobson.
Hated the first fifty pages. Basically felt like I didn't 'get it' in terms of the comedy, which is certainly very deliberate. Yet Jacobson's intellect turn what could be corny puns into amusing satirical takes on people that you somehow recognize. Fair enough Man-Booker judges of last year.

The Kreutzer Sonata - Leo Tolstoy.
I was waiting for the narration to become in some way ironic, yet, like
Britney Spear's new song, no such self awareness appears to exist. Dull and melodramatic. I can't say i feel inclined to spend the next five months thumbing through War and Peace.

don't judge this book by it's cover.
The cover is the best bit.

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguru.
Never Let Me Read Another Book By This Dude. It's like watching 24 hours Big Brother. All the unimportant bits seem to have been left in. Reputedly not his best book, it has still recently been made into a film with
a gorgeous young British cast.

In a Strange Room - Damon Galgut.
Shortlisted for the Man-Booker Prize last year (missing out to Howard). A perceptively told tale of a guy who has no definition in his life and pretty much just follows people round the world trying to find meaning. Written in three parts, the first two flow together well in their detached yet cutting style and brevity of prose. The last part, following the narrator years later, seems arbitrary and badly edited. I think this is why it didn't win.

On The Road - Jack Kerouac.
Famously the voice of the Beat Generation. Really interesting and original style of prose, which Kerouac worked on tirelessly and sweatily. According to his wife he would type so veraciously that he would sweat through five shirts a day. Despite the 'crazy dumb-saint of the mind' style the meandering characters and lack of plot made me get two thirds through and uncertain if finishing it would really be worth anything.

Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon.
Still roaming through this 902 page epic of post modernism. The style is the opposite of the Hemmingway-ian brevity that I generally favor, looping around itself in great metaphors so extended as to encompass whole pages, but utterly compelling. Following an American captain in London at the end of World War II, a secret plot unfolds through the ruined streets somehow involving the H-bomb. Already compared to Moby Dick and Ulysses in terms of literary epicness.

If On a Winter's Night a Traveler - Italo Calvino.
Fuck you, Calvino. And fuck your little imaginary cities too. This is basically only good if you have never heard of modernism or post modernism. It is so hideously self aware it makes Dogville look naive. I think I'll watch Britney instead.

The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch.
Amazing. To begin with I was sceptical that I wouldn't be very interested by an old woman writing as an old man who has moved to a small coastal town to reminisce about his old loves. However, Murdoch is a master (mistress??) of language in a way that I almost feel can never exist again, language having altered so much in so short a period of time. But perhaps it only appears this way because it is slightly antiquated. So surprisingly gripping, humorous, true and in many ways cruel, certainly in its bland cruelness that exists within its narrator. This cruelness is also very true, and makes it brilliant. I love you Iris.

Definitely added in a couple of pre-Christmas ones and missed out a few. But you get a rough kind of picture. Looking back over this list makes me realise how terrifyingly opinionated I am. Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments box.


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