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The Bookshelf

Doug's bookshelf: read

AntwerpWarsaw BikiniIcelandHow the Soldier Repairs the GramophoneThe Original of LauraBrief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Time Since Reboot

  • 1177 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes, 37 seconds ago

My Year In Reading: 2010

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  1. The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, Álvaro Mutis
  2. How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, Saša Stanišić
  3. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee & Walker Evans
  4. Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky
  5. The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño
  6. Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas
  7. Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, David Foster Wallace
  8. The Sonnets, Ted Berrigan
  9. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens
  10. The Book of Frank, CAConrad

 

The list above represents my top ten favorite reads of 2010, a la the The Millions‘ ‘year in reading’ series.  A couple of salt grains for you: 1) these books, obviously, were not all published in 2010 (in fact, only CAConrad‘s wonderfully humorous, sad, intense poetry collection, The Book of Frank, meets that criterion); 2) I’m not a professional author or literary critic and do not possess a single credential that qualifies me as someone who should be recommending a book to anybody.  Of the 27 books I read this year – a number I am desperate to improve upon in 2011, by the way – these were the most enjoyable. 

The reasons vary.  I think, for example, that even if Álvaro Mutis had written about twenty or thirty more volumes chronicling the journeys of Maqroll the Gaviero, it still would not have been enough.  I adore this book.  The stories are ageless meditations on the joy, sorrow, romance, desperation, philosophy and drive of the endless searcher – the traveler with no destination.  I lost myself here and it was pure bliss.  I want to be the Gaviero. 

Where Maqroll submerges you for a lifetime, Stanišić’s Gramophone is a great split-second burst of ecstatic inventive energy.  His protagonist/narrator, Aleksandar, and the way he copes with the tragedies of the Bosnian-Serbian conflict of the early 1990’s by escaping into his imagination and the magic of storytelling, is at the same time heartrending and life-affirming. 

I found a used hardbound copy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men on the shelves of the Housing Works Bookstore Café – my current favorite place in all of New York City.  James Agee and Walker Evans traveled into the Heart of Dixie to live among and document the lives of three Alabama sharecropper families during the Great Depression.  Both Agee’s prose and Evans’ photography are masterful achievements of their respective forms and paint an achingly true and empathetic portrait of the lives of white tenant farmers in the old South.  A delightful surprise.

Judith Schalansky‘s Atlas is another delight.  On the surface, as its title and subtitle suggest, the book is an atlas of "50 Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will."  Two pages are devoted to each island.  On one page is a map.  The other page includes some vital statistics (population, size, location, etc.) and a short page-long poetic narrative of the island’s semi-fictionalized history.  There is a beauty here that is impossible to define without holding it in your hand.  It is, like Maqroll’s adventures, a love-song for the life-long children in awe of the vastness of the world and the overwhelming need to explore, find, chart and continue on. 

All of the praise you continue to hear for Bolaño and Wallace in modern literary discussions, forums, blogs and so forth is true and richly deserved.  In the mood for a memoir?  Perhaps some insight into the oppressive Castro regime or the plight of homosexuals and/or intellectuals in communist Cuba?  Arenas.  Where CAConrad succinctly pushes the boundaries of poetic content, Ted Berrigan‘s sprawling Sonnets reinvents, experiments and wrestles with poetic form.  And Hitchens is Hitchens.  Agree with him or not, God Is Not Great is passionately written and is an important work at the forefront of the modern theological debate.  (Get well soon, Hitch.)

Below you will find the complete population of my 2010 books listed in the order in which they were read, along with the publishing house and original publication date.  What can I say?  I like lists

 

books_2010

El Cabezón

 

 

photo gallery is not current.

A Few Notes About College Football

First: Congratulations to all my friends, my family and my darling wife who are Auburn University alumni and fans.  On the playing field (1), your Tigers annihilated all of the competition and deserve to be in the BCS Championship Game.  Here, in the cold, clear light of day, and one week removed from the heart-rending agony of inexplicably and inexcusably blowing a 24-point fucking lead in the Iron Bowl (2), I can say unashamedly that I hope you beat the Oregon Ducks and continue the Southeastern Conference’s current trend of football superiority — I, in fact, intend to be there in person to see you do it (3)

Second: I would have had it another way, obviously, but I can draw solace in the certainty that the back-to-back national championships of Alabama and Auburn will swell our already epic rivalry to biblical, end-of-the-universe-as-we-know-it proportions for years to come — as it should be.


1:  I hope that playing field was a level one.  I hope the disgusting off-the-field decisions of your quarterback’s father truly end with him and do not spill over the Mississippi state line to taint your season, your quarterback, your university, and the game of college football.  Contrary to what internet message board and talk radio caller filth would have you believe, no true, passionate supporter of college athletics wants the allegations against that kid to be true.  I am reserving judgment, and I hope that we got our asses beat fair and square.

2:  On my hard drive there is a 1000-word essay describing my feelings on the 2010 Iron Bowl fiasco in the form of an open letter to Coach Saban and the University of Alabama coaching staff.  It will not see the light of day, mostly because it reads like a third-grader wrote it while simultaneously crying and bashing his head against a brick wall.  In summation, Point A: We aren’t paying those hefty salaries for an unimaginative offense and an uninspired defense to spend an entire season not living up to their potential.  Point B: Conference and national championships and season kickoff games and bowl appearances and individual award winners: they’re just the icing on the cake.  We expect you to beat Auburn.  (We also expect our team to hold on to 24-point advantages… over anyone.)

3:  Don’t expect me to wear orange or blue or sing anything or clap very loudly.