Here We Go Again: The First, Last Best Books? The Best List?

1 Jan
Guess what?

Guess what?

Isn’t anyone sick of the ceaseless shit-stream of lists of ‘best’, ‘hottest’, ‘coolest’ ‘781 must- projectile hurled into the ether by an ever growing horde of people with opinions, one of which is that their opinion will be valuable to the rest of the world? Really, how many of these inventories qualify as even useful.

If however you have an interest these predictable journalistic devices the literary website Large Hearted Boy offers an assiduously collected list of lists (which it has been offering annually for eight years)

And, so it was a pleasure and a relief to encounter that literary flower of Cambridge, Katherine Powers’s astute criterion —as in Favorite Books of 2015. In keeping with the spirit of Ms Power’s offering, I canvassed a number of friends and acquaintances for news of their own favorites of 2015*

George Scialabba

One of the great unheralded (except in Cambridge Massachusetts) English speaking public intellectuals.Here’s his website. And here is George’s psychiatric (diagnosis: depression) medical record as published in the Baffler. And of course you will want to read my conversation with George at this very journal.*

 

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The Demise of Virtue in a Virtual America by David Bosworth

 

David Bosworth, The Demise of Virtue in a Virtual Age

 The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford

The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

The Age of Acquiescence by Steve Fraser

The Age of Acquiescence by Steve Fraser

Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence

 Love Hotel by Jane Unrue

Love Hotel by Jane Unrue

Jane Unrue, Love Hotel

What Kind of Creatures Are We? by  Noam Chomsky

What Kind of Creatures Are We? by Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, What Kind of Creatures Are We?

*And keep an eye out for a new collection from that guy with the funny Wop name … George Scialabba, I think … called Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews, 1980-2015, coming in February from Pressed Wafer.

Howard Dinin

If Howard is not a man for all seasons, he certainly is one for many. A skilled photographer, gourmand and cook, he is also a man of many carefully chosen words. But most importantly he is a great and generous friend, advisor and IT consultant. Howard is working on a project ( that I am not at liberty  to discuss) which should I will bring to your attention in the fullness of time.Stay tuned.

I operate on the presumption, long since proven to my satisfaction, that any book worth reading, whatever the subject, is always about something greater than itself—usually falling under the rubric of either cosmology, epistemology, or ontology.

Loathe as I am to admit to reading fiction any longer, accepting the risk of appearing deliberately to be hipper than thou by doing so, the fact is, always admitted sheepishly, that I do read fiction. But I read a great deal of all else of the genera of literary forms. And by literary, I hasten to add, I don’t mean any snot-nosed distinction between what is always someone else’s notion of what is high and what is low; rather it may be what is words alone, or what is words accompanied, like a piece of chamber music, by other sensory instruments, usually sounds and images, but what you will when you come right down to it.

Here’s what amounts to a potpourri of the stack being in descending order from the current date, as it has accumulated. You may conclude that I have read at least some of each, and completed one or another, if not recently, then at least long enough ago that it was time for another intimate re-acquaintance. If the book looks worn or misshapen, it’s for a reason.

I’ve quickly snapped the covers for Brother Birnbaum as I was headed out the door, laden with luggage and food and a sack or two filled with the impedimenta of a gadgeteer/flaneur/photographe on holiday.

The physical books depicted will have to wait for my return, but not a small number are also in residence in e-form on a tablet which rarely leaves my possession.

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All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

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Notes on the Death of Culture by Mario Vargas Llosa

Notes on the Death of Culture by Mario Vargas Llosa

Photography by Ian Jeffrey

Photography by Ian Jeffrey

Photography by Ian Jeffrey

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The Other Paris by Luc Sante

The Other Paris by Luc Sante

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Two Towns in Provence by MFK Fisher

Two Towns in Provence by MFK Fisher

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Portraits by John Berger

Portraits by John Berger

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The Difficulty of Being a Dog by Roger Grenier

The Difficulty of Being a Dog by Roger Grenier

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Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote

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Zone: Selected Poems by Guilluame Apollinaire

Zone: Selected Poems by Guilluame Apollinaire

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Submission by Michel Houellebecq

Submission by  Michel Houellebecq

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The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

FIN

 

Paul Buhle. 

As is frequently the case I became aware of, and filled in, a large gap in my cultural literacy, as I chanced to become aware of Paul Buhle— that happenstance stemming from noting his collaboration with Howard Zinn to create A People’s History of American Empire— a graphic recapitulation of Zinn’s magnum opus.

 A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn and Paul Buhle

A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn and Paul Buhle

From that useful discovery I found out that Buhle is a former member of the sixties era radical organization Students for a Democratic Society and a devotee of Marxist and cricket scholar, CLR James. He is the author/editor of nearly thirty books, among them: Images of American Radicalism, Marxism in the United States, Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story behind America’s Favorite Movies, The Encyclopedia of the American Left, The Immigrant Left in the United States, The New Left Revisited,Insurgent Images: The Agitprop Murals of Mike Alewitz,From the Lower Eastside to Hollywood: Jews in American Popular Culture.
Che Guevara, a Graphic Biography, Wobblies! A Graphic history of the Industrial Workers of the World Jews and American Comics and Bohemians. Paul was kind enough to take the time to offer some suggestions…

Paul Buhle

Paul Buhle

Odd Angles of Literary 2015

These are some of the favorites that would otherwise hide themselves under my desk or in the attic. They deserve readers.

Crime Does Not Pay by  OR: Dark Horse Books,

Crime Does Not Pay by OR: Dark Horse Books,

Crime Does Not Pay, Volume 4. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, from 2013 first edition. 217pp, color, $49.99.

These are the pleasures of sin, straight out of the middle to later 1940s as War Comics lose their charm and crime comics, with mobsters, molls (in “headlight” tight sweaters) and assorted victims get plugged full of lead thanks to this best seller of the era. Most oddly, publisher Lev Gleason had been a near-communist supporter of the Spanish Civil War’s Abe Lincoln Battalion, publisher of a short-lived slick lefty magazine and of a more successful knockoff of Reader’s Digest. He found his faithful readers in bloodthirsty teenagers. Actually the stories are lively and the art by some of the best, including bizarre figures like Bob Wood, alcoholic and murderer, just like his characters.

La Lucha    Drawn and Written by Joe Sack,

La Lucha Drawn and Written by Joe Sack,

La Lucha: the Story of :Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico. Drawn and Written by Joe Sack, edited by Adam Shapiro, with a Preface by Lucha Castro. New York and London: Verso, 2015,96p, $16.95.

A Spanish Association for Human Rights project centering upon a true heroine in the world South of the Border, notably Chihuahua, more like the underworld where violence is a daily occurrence and violence against women. The art is soft-expressionist, suitable to murder and impunity from arrest, “disappearances” with no seeming resolution and heroic efforts at popular resistance. The happy ending promised US authorities by the Calderon government only brings more death and misery. Read, learn, wince.

Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose. Edited by Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson.

Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose. Edited by Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson.

Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose. Edited by Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson. Indianapolis: Pressgang, 2016, $15?

This is one of the most unusual comics ever to find itself in my mailbox. Neufeld, an erstwhile collaborator with Harvey Pekar and acclaimed comic artist of post-flood New Orleans, joins editorial partner, novelist Sari Wilson, and many artistic-literary partners in trying to push fictional or semi-fictional prose and comic art against each other. A two-pager by Lynda Barry would, alone, make this book worth seeing. Perhaps the remainder is best seen as young people experimenting. I had difficulty following these brief and varied efforts, but appreciate the effort.##

 

Steve Fagin

Steve Fagin [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Steve Fagin

 

Frankly I believe it should be sufficient to point out that Steve and I have been friends since high school in Chicago (Mather, Class of 1964). And that once a year Steve comes up to Boston from Manhattan and we visit Fenway Park. However, I do feel compelled to note he was a Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California at San Diego. His videos include The Machine That Killed Bad People, Zero Degrees Latitude, Virtual Play, Memorial Day (Observed), The Amazing Voyage of Gustave Flaubert and Raymond Roussel and TropiCola which focused on contemporary Cuba. Also, he is the subject of the book Talkin’ With Your Mouth Full: Conversations With the Videos of Steve Fagin.

Talkin' With Your Mouth Full edited by Steve Fagin

Talkin’ With Your Mouth Full edited by Steve Fagin

A Noah’s Ark of 10 2015 favs

Theater

Phoebe Fox, Russell Tovey, Mark Strong, Nicola Walker, and Michael Gould star in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, directed by Ivo van Hove

Phoebe Fox, Russell Tovey, Mark Strong, Nicola Walker, and Michael Gould star in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, directed by Ivo van Hove

1) View From the Bridge @ the Lyceum
Van Hove does Miller

a super saturated rendition squeezes blood from a turnip of a play and reminds one that the over wrought , well done, can turn melodrama into great tragedy

A scene from Elevator Repair Service's The Sound and The Fury

A scene from Elevator Repair Service’s The Sound and The Fury

2) The Sound and Fury @ The Public theatre
Elevator Repair Service does Faulkner

Understanding , in certain cases , can be greatly overestimated. Being lost and confused only brings into focus the desperate ,hopeless idiocy of these terminally handicapped Faulkner babbling things .

Sports

1) Anderson defeats Murray 4th round of U.S. Open @ Armstrong Stadium

There is nothing better than the 4th round of the U.S. Open with upwards of 6 matches in a single venue . The intimate Armstrong Stadium with both temperature and humidity in the 90s is ectasy(SUMMER IN THE CITY)

2) Duel in the Sun,

deGrom outpitches Greinke as the first place Mets end Greinke’s 45 + scoreless innings streak and beat the Deserter Dodgers @ CitiField

LOVE,Love, love those pitchers

Movies

Films unlikely to win audience awards@ New York Film Festival

Film festivals have been kinda ruined by the audience award. The point of a festival should not be to pander but to challenge. I hate Sundance, I hate Sundance, I hate Sundance

J’taime Cet obscur objet du désir

!) Guy Madden’s Forbidden Room

2)Apichatpong Weerasethakul ‘s Cemetery of Splendour

Opera

More and less Kentridge

1)Kentridge’s Refuse the Hour at BAM

The first 21st century opera I have liked and liked it AND HOW. If forced to choose I liked the music by Phillip Miller better than the text and ART by Kendridge , but cannot squabble with the overall effect…WOW

2)Berg’s Lulu directed by Kentridge at the Met

Well, as I suspected I thought the Berg music , described by some “clever person “as Schoenberg and Mahler played at the same time, worked less well with the visuals of Kendridge than his spectacular version of Shostokovitch’s brilliant the Nose , but that was some hard act to follow. I’m sure many would squabble with my preference for Shostokovitch over Berg , but I think few would argue that Kentridge’s schtick works better with Shostokovitch than Berg

BOOKS

  Sidewalks  by Valerie Luselli'

Sidewalks by Valerie Luselli’

1)Valerie Luselli’s Sidewalks , but not her rave reviewed The Story of My Teeth. I find Story of My Teeth derivative, but perhaps both books are and I just prefer the antecedents to her essays in Sidewalks? Put another way, Sidewalks feels like a book written by an old person, Teeth by someone very young.

The Leopard  by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

2)The Leopard: A Novel by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa
I kinda cheated on this because I put it on my list every year and by the by I defy you to tell me a better book movie combo that the di Lampedusa novel and the Visconti movie

Peter Guralnick If you ended up in this way station you would , at the least. be familiar with Guralnick’s seminal two-volume biographical essay on Elvis Presley. But me not being a Presley admirer I didn’t come to Peter’s work until his excellent exposition of Chicago musician Sam Cooke’s (“A Change is Gonna Come”)life in Dream Boogie. I reconnected with Peter in conversatio with him on his latest opus devoted to the life of rock and rill pioneer Sam Philips( Elvis Presley, Howling Wolf, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King and more. Soon to see the light of day will be that conversation…

Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway’s Boat – Paul Hendrickson
The digression (always) rules. Like Tristram Shandy and Footsteps by Richard Holmes, this is to be cherished both for its cunning narrative strategy and for the firm truths that reside at its center.

 The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
Compact, emotionally and politically expansive, and broadly, tragically humanistic in the choices and resolutions that it tentatively offers.

The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary

The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary

The Horse’s Mouth – Joyce Cary
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this, or seen the movie (written by, and starring, Alec Guinness), but I am savoring it all the more this time more for its Blakeian essence and unabashedly romantic celebration of freedom.

The Hollywood Trilogy by Don Carpenter

 

The Hollywood Trilogy by Don Carpenter
I had read a bunch of Don Carpenter novels, including The Class of ’49 and his celebrated down-and-out classic, Hard Rain Falling, but nothing prepared me for the rambunctiousness of these three novels. (Well, maybe his posthumously published Friday at Enrico’s…) I guess I should have paid more attention to his biography. I mean, he did write the script for Payday, starring the inimitable Rip Torn as Hank Williams?/Waylon Jennings? the ultimate archetype of a falling star.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
Sprightly, exploratory (better time-travel than The Man in the High Castle) but fundamentally rooted in the human equation, with deeply etched portraits that stay with you forever. Very much like her earlier Life After Life and her wonderful Jackson Brodie detective novels.

 Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn

Dogs of Winter

by Kem Nunn
Mythic – and real. Great (melo) drama, probably the pinnacle of his surf-noir novels. Just as The Power of the Dog (what’s with all these dogs?) may be Don Winslow’s cartel peak. But in each case there’s so much more.

The Neapolitan Trilogy by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Trilogy by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Trilogy – Elena Ferrante
I haven’t gotten to the fourth yet, but I can’t wait. It’s as if the Patterson, New Jersey of William Carlos Williams had been transported to Naples.

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
Another great novel from a writer who defies categorization. Every one of his books is altogether different – every one is accomplished in its own right. (But start with Beautiful Ruins if you’re looking for sheer delight.)This is a re-read. I can’t believe how much – well, delight – I missed the first time around.

 Three Junes by Julia Glass

Three Junes by Julia Glass

Three Junes – Julia Glass
This was another re-read, I think prompted by her latest, And the Dark Sacred Night, and leading me back to all of her other interconnected books, with their thoughtful (and likeable) characters and depiction of a familiar and frequently interior world that you can go back and visit again and again.

 Inherent Vice by  P.T. Anderson

Inherent Vice by P.T. Anderson

The Master by P.T. Anderson

The Master by P.T. Anderson

Inherent Vice and The Master – P.T. Anderson
Like all of his films, great, detailed, and fundamentally uncategorizable literary landscapes. There Will Be Blood? Come on.

  Carried Away by Alice Munro

Carried Away by Alice Munro

Carried Away – Alice Munro
The tops. I read it every year. Every reading yields new levels of meaning and mystery. I can think of no one who can suggest all the manifold and contradictory dimensions of a world (in a short story!) like Alice Munro.

Richard Hoffman Although I think I was a Facebook friend of Richard’s I did not meet the poet/essayist/college mentor/social activist until we sat together before, during and after attending Professor Jabari Assim’s
surreal court hearing for a preposterous traffic violation (look it up in the Boston area newspapers) in my current hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. As with Peter Guralnick, you can look forward a lengthy unexpurgated conversation between 2 alta kackers (me and Richard). Look out, World.

You fill find here a recent essay by Richard Hoffman.

http://www.assayjournal.com/confronting-our-fears–richard-hoffman.html

Dear Citizen 786534219,

I’m going to chicken out when it comes to contemporaries whom I know, and especially colleagues; if I missed somebody I’d feel bad. Between my students’ writing, the reading I do for my literature classes, the work of my colleagues I try to stay up with, contest judging, reading ARCs for possible blurbs, there’s time for only a few of the growing stack next to my chair. However, among those who made it from that stack to a more permanent berth on my shelves are the following:

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon. This hybrid of memoir and cultural commentary was recommended to me by bookseller Matt Pieknik when I read at McNally Jackson in NYC. He had read my Love & Fury and thought that Eribon and I were covering similar ground. He was right. I love the book because he isn’t afraid to throw over, revise, outgrow, his former thinking. He is a biographer of Foucault, a respected French avante-intellectual, but with the death of his father the long bungee cord of his parentage pulls him back to Reims and his working class family. He sifts through complex questions of loyalty and identity and the political consequences of the left’s near abandonment of working people. It’s just a terrific book.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour. I am acquianted with Mandanipour through PEN New England. (He’s teaching now at Tufts.) This is what it is like to live as a literary person under the boot of authoritarian censors. The thing is, this book is a hoot! It’s a novel, like Catch-22, that renders its condemnations by illuminating not merely the cruelty of such a system, but its utter absurdity, all the while keeping in view the tragic price people must pay for resisting. A brilliant, inventive, laugh your ass off and get scared at the same time book.

 The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry A. Giroux


The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry A. Giroux

The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine by Henry A. Giroux. For a deep cultural, economic, and political analysis of our current inability to act in our own best interests, Giroux has no equal. Maybe being Canadian helps him; maybe he can see the mess clearly by looking over the backyard fence. People may be familiar with him in his role as a political commentator on the web at Truthout.

The Last Interview: James Baldwin

The Last Interview: James Baldwin

The Last Interview: James Baldwin. Melville House Publishing brought together four substantial interviews with Baldwin here, including his last, with Quincy Troupe in France in 1987, the year Baldwin died. I think it is amazing how much Baldwin in conversation sounds like Baldwin in his essays: his voice is his voice. It makes me wonder how writing and speaking influence one another throughout a writer’s life. There’s clearly some kind of feedback loop. Both his talk and his essays are a perfect balance of the spontaneous and the carefully considered. His presence, his integrity, his anger, warmth, humor, and defiant wholeness knock me out. It’s something to aspire to, I can tell you that.

 Something Crosses My Mind  by Wang Xiaoni

Something Crosses My Mind by Wang Xiaoni

I read a lot of poetry, but I know a lot of poets and as I said above, I’ll not name any of my friends or colleagues. Maybe I’ll stick to work in translation. One book I’ve enjoyed immensely is called Something Crosses My Mind by the contemporary Chinese poet Wang Xiaoni, translated by Eleanor Goodman. She writes of contemporary China in a way that de-exoticizes it for a western reader, there is enough of the observational (think Frank O’Hara,) the classical, and the epigrammatic, plus something that is the poet’s own, to make this a book of poems to read slowly, each one several times, for their resonance, their beauty, and their ability to reveal themselves a bit more with each reading.
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 Sobbing Superpower by Tadeusz Rozewicz

Sobbing Superpower by Tadeusz Rozewicz

 Light Everywhere  by Cees Nooteboom

Light Everywhere by Cees Nooteboom

Each Day Catches Fire  by Bitite Vinklers.

Each Day Catches Fire by Bitite Vinklers.

I’ve also enjoyed reading the selected poems of the Polish poet Tadeusz Rozewicz, Sobbing Superpower; Light Everywhere by the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, who is known more as a novelist in the west (translated by Joanna Trzeciak), and I’ve just finished a remarkable little book of poems by the Latvian poet Imants Ziedonis, Each Day Catches Fire, translated by Bitite Vinklers. I became aware of this poet when I read on a bill with Vinklers for The Manhattan Review. He is unique in that he writes, literally, fabulous poems, but ones that always begin and end in the real world. Many of his poems are short bursts of prose, and many of them manage to talk about writing under censorship without, of course, writing about living under censorship. More than that though, they are a delight. In one poem he writes, “Along with the moths tonight, love runs into the windowpane./ (‘Turn off the light, or we’ll have no peace.’)”

(Citizen 7083921848)

Thomas Wickersham Thomas is the event maestro at the hallowed independent bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.I came to know of him through his mother Joan who mentioned him in a conversation I had with her upon the occasion of her wonderful story collection,The News from Spain. Thomas has been astute enough to invite me to chat with David Gates and Don Winslow during their appearances at Booksmith last summer.

Below are nine of my favorite books published or reissued in 2015 and a tenth bonus pick from the past. The books are in no particular order and the list could change tomorrow.

 The Cartel by Don Winslow


The Cartel by Don Winslow

I had impossibly high hopes for this sequel to one of my all-time-favorites, The Power of the Dog. Winslow miraculously delivered. Together, these two books are a stunning documentation of the 40+ year history of the Mexican-American drug conflict. Injected with political urgency while while remaining a page-turning thriller, The Cartel is epic in scope, yet heartbreakingly intimate. This is not a crime novel- it is a tale of war.

 The Whites by Harry Brandt

The Whites by Harry Brandt

Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt)- The Whites

I draw a distinction between mysteries with a police protagonist and “cop novels.” While there is a mystery at its heart, The Whites ranks with Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys and Kent Anderson’s Night Dogs as one of the finest cop novels I’ve ever read. Its stark naturalistic world of Night Watch policing is a living breathing nightmare land. Cops guzzle energy drinks and take selfies with murder victims. Evil is not the enemy so much as the absurdity of the streets.

 GBH by Ted Lewis

GBH by Ted Lewis

Ted Lewis- GBH (Originally published in the U.K. in 1980. First U.S. printing 2015.)

I read GBH exactly one year ago, almost to the day, and it has haunted me since. It is the story of a gangster in hiding. There are no nice people in this book. There are no happy endings. And yet, there is an intoxicating quality to the alternating storylines of terror and gloom. A cold sheen of glamor clings to the pervasive danger.

 Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Leonard Gardner- Fat City (Originally published in 1970, but reissued by NYRB in 2015)

Nominated for the National Book Award against Slaughterhouse Five and Them when it was first released in 1970, Fat City was woefully out-of-print for years. Nominally a boxing novel, it’s truly a book about desperation and hope. Again and again it captures the disconcerting emotions you didn’t realize you had. The best prose I read all year

 The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America by Colin Quinn

The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America by Colin Quinn

Colin Quinn- The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America

Based on his experiences growing up in ethnically-mixed Brooklyn, Colin Quinn tells the history of New York City through personal stories rich with laughs and rife with self-effacing humiliations. The Coloring Book is a memoir of one comedian’s formation, a celebration of what makes us different, and an ode to the life and death of American cities.

download

Peter Swanson- The Kind Worth Killing

A diabolically twisted web of double crosses that echoes Strangers on a Train. Sinister, but packed with sly irony, it is the most queasily enjoyable and ingeniously plotted thriller I read all year.

 Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville- Those We Left Behind

Stuart Neville has become a master at tackling psychological trauma. As an avid reader of crime fiction I am aware of my complicity in what is essentially violence for entertainment. For me, the “cozies” (The Kitty Who Painted a Poisoned Pie at the Beach) are in worse taste than graphically realistic police procedurals. Stuart Neville is by no means preachy or dry, but he doesn’t let you forget the cost of violence on victims. Reading Neville is the last time that a book literally made me miss my train stop.

Gang of Lovers by Massimo Carlotto

Gang of Lovers by Massimo Carlotto

Massimo Carlotto- Gang of Lovers

Massimo Carlotto is my favorite writer going for straight crime fiction. His Alligator series echoes many of the tropes of modern Private Eye novels. You have the melancholy music-loving heavy-drinking detective aided by his two friends: the techie and the honorable triggerman. Yet there is still a jarring unpredictability and lack of morality to the books, no doubt greatly influenced by Carlotto’s own wrongful imprisonment for murder. The Alligator series is a fine place to start (though Gang of Lovers is a direct sequel of sorts to Bandit Love), but The Goodbye Kiss and At the End of a Dull Day are the Carlotto masterpieces.

 A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar-

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar-

Lavie Tidhar- A Man Lies Dreaming (comes out in March 2016 in the U.S. but already released in Britain)

A Man Lies Dreaming is the most audacious perversion of the private eye novel ever written. Alternate history, revenge fantasy, or sorrowful daydream; each element of this book brilliantly forms a whole as mysterious for its structure as its plot. Approach it with as little foreknowledge as possible and never forget.

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper-

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper-

Bonus: Dennis Cooper- The Sluts (published in 2004, but on this list as the only book in 2015 that I read in one night)

* editor’s note—I forswore heavy-handed editing and graphic consistency, except to attempt to eliminate most ,if not all, graphic and grammatical infelicities. To paraphrase Voltaire, “Perfection is the Enemy of the Good.” And m st the time the Good is the best that I can do.

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7 Responses to “Here We Go Again: The First, Last Best Books? The Best List?”

  1. normanlevy January 1, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

    So where is my next installment of the Free Book of the Month Club?

    Liked your Rahm arrested in Cuba for Human Rights violations comment. Send the idea to Michael Moore before Rahm leaves.

    Also have this fearful vision of Rahm as the successor to Meyer Lansky, using the vacation ruse to restart the gambling business in partnership with younger generation Castro Princelings. Destructive of your Cuban romanticism, but you heard it here first.

    Have you ever heard of or read any Geoff Ryman? Brit fantasy/ sci fi/ futurist novelist who was/is popular in Britain, but I see little mention of him in the US. Also a very successful web entrepreneur.

    Tends to run amuck in many of his books, but very creative. Wrote about retroviruses in 1989 (!) in a sci fi novel entitled “The Child Garden” that included, as examples, virus transmitted knowledge, sentient bears, interspecies lesbian love affairs, and the World Wide Web/Tron like imagery. Won that year’s Arthur Clark Sci Fi book award. Has written four or five others, all equally inventive. Created an early web based novel entitled “253”, in which the 253 riders of a London Underground train are each described in 253 words, and variably linked to each other via html’s linking tools. Was available on the web for several years, but no longer. A written version was subsequently published, but suffers for absence of the web linking. I don’t think any of his books are currently being printed in the US, but you can find some on Amazon or in larger public and university libraries.

    Norman Levy 16 Koch Road Norwich Vermont 05055 Levynorman01@gmail.com

    >

    • robertbirnbaum January 2, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

      Free Book of the Month Club is back on the case…expect the unexpected…

  2. Steve Lipsey January 2, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

    Damn..thanks to you, my “unread books” pile is now measured in “remaining lifetimes”…even my kindle (actually my new preferred reading device, the iPhone 6S Plus) is getting too heavy to carry from all those literary bits…..

    • robertbirnbaum January 2, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

      From one (me) who does not read books on screens) I marvel at people who use e readers , especially smart phones…do the name Sysiphus ring a bell?

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