Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year in Reading

I told De Campo to look real purdy whilst reading Fred Exley's gut-wrenching 'A Fan's Notes' on vacation and dammit if she don't pull that off right good

Books I’ve read in sequence, and in brackets, how I’d rank them. Below that is a short spiel.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (35)
Homeland by Sam Lipsyte (34)
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanel West (3)
Hunger by Knut Hamsum (8)
Wait Until Spring, Bandini By John Fante (21)
Untitled by Gavin Butler (22)
Cadence of Grass by Thomas McGuane (9)
The Savage Detectives by Bolano (33)
Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (20)
The English Major by Jim Harrison (19)
Will it be funny tomorrow Billy? by Stephen Cummings (29)
Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford (24)
Sport and a Pastime by James Salter (30)
The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane (5)
Returning to Earth by Jim Harrrison (27)
House on its Head by Ivy Compton Burnett (18)
Middlemarch by George Eliot (6)
Aja by Don Breithart (31)
Nobody’s Angel by Thomas McGuane (14)
Old School by Tobias Wolff (26)
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1)
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (7)
Who will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore (25)
Less than zero by Bret Easton Ellis (28)
Vineland by Thomas Pynchon (13)
Sam Fuller by Nicholas (32)
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (23)
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (12)
Laughing Gas by PG Wodehouse (17)
Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson (11)
Three Men and a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (10)
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates (2)
The Lazurus Project by Alexander Hemon (25)
True Grit by Charles Portis (4)
Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan (15)
Captain Maximus (stories) by Barry Hannah (16)

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
A second-hand account of a ludicrous character. My feeling is that this novel that took Diaz eleven years and won the Pulitzer Prize shouldn’t have been written.

Homeland by Sam Lipsyte
A sarcastic bag of lame.

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanel West
Short and sharp. After the shitty start, I needed to regain my reading rhythm and what better read than this dependable masterpiece. Gets a little darker and a little less funny each time, but it’s considerable genius festers inside me, haunts me down, gets in my dreams. Wow.

Hunger by Knut Hamsum

This actual Nazi was a favourite of Fante and Bukowski, they themselves starving writing non-Nazi’s. What I loved most about it was how the Hungry could go from euphoria to despair in the space of one paragraph. Hamsum was really keyed into man’s fragile mental state in a world gone mental. How a gust of wind could turn a lovely day reading the newspaper at the park into a risible state of outer turmoil under the most desperate of circumstances!

Wait Until Spring, Bandini By John Fante

A loosely autobiographical novel about growing up in Twenties small town Colorado. A young Fante imagines his buff brick-laying Dad hooking up with a wealthy widow. Lays more than bricks for her. Heartbreaking.

Untitled/unpublished by Gavin Butler

A loosely autobiographical novel about waking up in Canberra in the foetal position and going ‘Dude, I’m a 40 year-old public servant.’ Brims with a fierce hilarious anger reminiscent of Amis. Birthday milestone prompts a reflection on growing up on punk rock. Includes some of the best, brazen, most satirical attacks on pompous ex punkers and the journalists who get a woody over them. Plus some original thoughts on pop cultures’ “thinkers” — you know the guys who spend Mondays around the photocopier discussing the latest middlebrow horror from Africa. This book has it all - even a three-dimensional female character. Even though the main guy is a little unsympathetic you get over that when the style and humour is this good. But who will ever get to read it? Appalling that this book is not fought over by Australian publishers so the people can get on with reading it and raving about it.

Cadence of Grass by McGuane
Among McGuane’s very best. Word of warning though: there’s a soporific scene early on that goes on forever describing the repetitive work of a cowboy. Bored shitless from it, I looked into it out of curiosity and found that that scene fulfils McGuane’s interest in the Zen-like methodology of Japanese literature. Personal points awarded for creating a gigantic transvestite farm-hand who lives with his parents and has a penchant for cranking Beefheart in his bedroom. The book closes with a haunting tone poem/elegy to the cowboy that seems to reside more on the astral plane than the Montana soil it makes footprints in.

The Savage Detectives by Bolano
A new voice in literature, but also an infuriating one.

Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
Touching novella beautifully told. Does to suburban LA what Yates and Cheever did to those places in Connecticut.

The English Major by Jim Harrison

Top shelf Harrison.

Will it be funny tomorrow Billy? By Stephen Cummings

Memoir by local rock and roll singer about his new wave meltdowns. Talented writer who goes next level when he goes unhinged, but then he tends to upset a lot of people. Still probably worth it. The writing about touring the US should at least be anthologised.

Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford

In slimy tropical 1970’s Miami, a devilishly opportunistic art critic plots an elaborate scam on a legendary French painter who’s been silent for years. Seriously creepy pulp by a master of the form.

Sport and a Pastime by James Salter
Strange novel about relentless, imaginative sex in Paris. Chilling in parts.

The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane
McGuane’s debut is a literary pissing contest tour de force if that makes sense. Not for girls.

Returning to Earth by Jim Harrrison
Three perspectives centred around a 45 year-old Native American father dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Richness and humour of life one moment, gently preparing you for death, the next.

House and its Head by Ivy Compton Burnett
Burnett’s known for putting her sting on the English aristocracy and does so brilliantly here. Her dialogue is deliciously ironic.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
An entire world is encased in this massive marvel.

Aja by Don Breithart
Fun read about the inner workings of Steely’s celebrated album.

Nobody’s Angel by Thomas McGuane
My hero with another solid effort.

Old School by Tobias Wolff
A private school with literary prestige holds writing competitions for the chance to pal around and pick the brains of visiting writers: Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, Ernest Hemingway, et al. Terrific premise that in retrospect perhaps tries to do too much.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Flawless head-spinning evisceration of middle-class pretensions.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
Modern guy working Yates’ territory very well.

Who will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore
Most exceptional thing about this book is I cried at the end. Pretty wild given she’s best known as a comedian. A minor work.

Less than zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Against all odds, the nagging surface level tedium of LA’s lost souls achieves a poignancy in this insidious first novel by the well-deserved writing star

Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
There’s a race of people — although that designation is perhaps too generous — they-re stiffs, zombies; I don’t really see the point of them in this novel. They live in the woods off the coast of Northern California not far from where a lot of the action takes place. Are they information burn-outs? The book basically asks what if the hippies pulled a Rip Van Winkle on us and woke up in ’85 with Bonzo in the White House. In addition to the Thanatoids mentioned above, there are anarchists, ninjas, psychedelic and bubblegum and surf rock bands, hilariously bad TV show ideas, copious acid consumption and doobies galore. Bret Easton Ellis seemed to execute this theme a little better in Glamaroma, but Pychon’s artillery is so deep. A perpetual stoned belch of funky prose.

Sam Fuller by Nicholas Garnham
My only non-fiction read if you don’t count Didion and I don’t — too allusive. Read it in anticipation of the Sam Fuller retrospective at Cinemateque. Author makes gnarly claims to Fuller and Norman Mailer to being all but separated at birth.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
The heavily medicated California in Less than Zero was seemingly hi-jacked straight from the pages of this collection, particularly the titular essay about nomad teens in Haight-Ashbury around the time their vibe got crushed by dystopian come downs, bad acid, paranoia and whatever.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Even non-tokers cant help feeling a little baked trying to keep up with Pynchon’s steady stream of wacky characters. It’s actually not a whole lot of fun trying to keep up with all of them, there are possibly too many to begin with. However I totally dig Pynchon’s anthropology of early 70s LA surf culture and genre-aping pulp. Contains the funniest anecdote ever about a giant burrito.

Laughing Gas by PG Wodehouse

P.G.’s pitch-perfect prose has a parade on Hollywood and it’s preposterously hilarious.

Cooking with Fernet Branca James Hamilton-Paterson

Dazzling comedy. Could lose the whole spy angle though.

Three Men and a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
Indoor types, pasty shut-ins rather, attempt to cure their vague malaise by boating up the Thames. Funny as hell with a suppleness of prose.

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates
The best short stories I’ve ever read.

The Lazarus Project by Alexander Hemon

Originally from Bosnia, Hemon visited Chicago in 1992 and then when Bosnia went under siege he got stuck there. Picked up English and has since written a number of books in it. Has some cool ideas. This one is a about a writer, a Bosnian expat in Chicago, researching this Lazarus feller, victim of an unlawful murder at the hands of the police chief in early twentieth century Chicago. The writer traces Lazarus back to his home country accompanied by a bonkers photographer and learns who he really is. Fine meta-fiction. Dumps on Auster's work rather savagely.

True Grit by Charles Portis
Pays a kind debt to Huck Finn with a 13 year-old narrator whose precocity will knock your socks off. With a suspense-filled heroic finish.

Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan
Fresh prose for 1964.

Captain Maximus (stories) by Barry Hannah
Swaggering short heavy stuff, except for the notes from the unmade Altman film at the end, which is swollen, tedious and hurty.

View last year's.

2 comments:

de Campo said...

Why fanks!

Helen said...

I’ve been most successful using your last suggestion. Nothing else has worked. I’m unable to “stack” these for some reason, so I’d love to figure that out, but thanks for the tips so far.

Helen Neely