Thursday, January 1, 2009

Top Ten 2008 (plus 2009 notes)

Well, here it is, the first day of 2009 and I have officially missed the mark. I will finish 50B 2008 in a distant third, having read only 46 books. I started a new job this year teaching middle and high school English in Brooklyn and I blame that for the drop-off from last year--I thought about making a finish-line dash toward the end, but I've just been too busy and will have to settle. It's okay, though, I'm still beasting the two-year rate at 108 books (to 100 each for Carlton and Brent).

Looking forward: At some point we should be transferring to Wordpress and maybe putting a little effort into a redesign. But for right now I've changed the color scheme--I'm open to criticism, but personally I think it looks sharp. And after all, 2009 is a good year for Carolina blue.

As of right now, we have nine participants for 2009. Five are from 2008: Myself, Brent, Carlton, Liz, and Brooke. Nathan will be rejoining us, plus three more of my friends, Helen, Jim and Pieter. Awesome. Everyone has administrator capabilities as far as I know, so if you know anybody who wants to get in on the book madness, go ahead and invite them!

My top ten: I'm missing three reviews, I know. My computer's been on the fritz lately. I promise, they're coming. But here are the top ten books I read this year, beginning with number 10:

10. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski: Danielewski's House of Leaves is the kind of book that really ought to annoy me--it's a gimmicky quasi-horror story wrapped in several layers of frame story, and often is written in strange shapes or directions like a concrete poem or a Jonathan Safran Foer novel. Not all of it works, but the central story--about a man who discovers that a corridor in his house may contain an infinite labyrinth--kept me up at night. No Stephen King book could possibly be this scary.

9. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster: You might call The New York Trilogy a collection of three detective stories, but that's only glancing at what they're about. The detectives of Auster's book often begin in earnest detective fashion, keeping an eye on their targets, but by the end they are all in some fashion spying on themselves, searching for clues about the nature of self and identity.

8. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West: I still think that this may be too low for West's angry little book, but I'm not sure if any of the books above it deserve to be any lower. The novel is about Hollywood, but not the Hollywood populated by movie stars but the one populated by extras, set painters, and various has-beens and wannabes who do very little but fuck, drink, and fight. It may be a lot less glamorous, but I bet it's a lot closer to the common experience, even today.

7. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov: Nabokov makes the most complex concepts seem effortless. This book is half poem, half crazed commentary by a man who believes himself to be a deposed king of a fictional country. A lot of people argue about what truly is going on in this work of fiction--an irony that Nabokov surely meant to engineer.

6. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: If House of Leaves is about the scariest place ever, McCarthy's Blood Meridian is about the scariest man ever--a hulking, Gnostic murderer and child rapist known only as the Judge. What's even scarier is to think that he's based on a historical figure.

5. The Magus by John Fowles: One day I will re-read The Magus and the bizarre machinations of its antagonist, millionaire hermit Maurice Conchis will make complete sense. Or maybe I won't, because the utter strangeness and surreality of it are what make it such a thing to behold. Like House of Leaves and Blood Meridian, here is a book that thrives on suspense without R.L. Stine-style cliffhangers.

4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: Maybe one of the quintessential novels about death and man's obsession with avoiding it. Strangely enough, probably also the funniest book I have ever read, along with A Confederacy of Dunces. I wish I could read this in my class, but I think the strange sequence--which jumps around time as if at random--would confuse my students. Oh well.

3. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger: Salinger turned ninety years old this week, refusing to die and bestow upon the world whatever he's been ferreting away in his New Hampshire filing cabinet. Until then, we'll have to make do with a pair of novels and a handful of stories like these, which are unmatched in their representation of real dialogue and their incisiveness as character studies.

2. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy: I started to read The Moviegoer in high school, but it bored me; the second time around I couldn't put it down. I think that perhaps it's a novel meant for those who have reached their twenties (and most definitely for those shuffling into their thirties), putting onto paper all those inexpressible feelings of confusion and angst that elude description by most writers. This book simply blew me away.

1. The Rabbit Series by John Updike (2 3 4): Okay, I'm cheating a little--but I didn't want to make my top ten all Rabbit novels. I'm not sure how to describe what exactly it is I love about these books, which follow Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom from his thirties into his sixties--they're not page-turners, like House of Leaves or The Magus; they're not as singularly unique as Pale Fire or Blood Meridian, or as transcendent as The Moviegoer--but there's something so real about Rabbit that makes them so engaging. I think that I have never read about another character who seemed so alive, so similar to a living, breathing human being and I doubt that I ever will. I understand that many people would probably find them boring, but hey--life is boring. I think that the level of hyperrealism achieved by Updike probably takes more skill and imagination than anything written by Tolkien or Lewis.

Also:

Fifty Booker most likely to have a crush on me: Carlton Farmer


Happy New Year, everyone!

5 comments:

Nihil Novum said...

Good capsules. I like the color scheme too, but I'd prefer a darker blue for the right hand box, I think.

Christopher said...

That causes a contrast problem with the links. Be my guest if you'd like to tinker with it.

Carlton said...

I'd prefer the background be pinstripes of some sort.

Christopher said...

Carlton: asking too much since 2007

Carlton said...

Also, way to out me on the whole crush thing. Thanks a lot.