Fourth and Goal

Completing the book list of 2011 shouldn't be taxing. Its first entry after all took in the first three quarters. So where are we? Or to quote independent Ross Perot's 1992 running mate James Stockdale (it IS a presidential year, after all), in a televised debate's opening statement: "Who am I? Why am I here?” (which in con­text was a smart open­ing gam­bit, but mis­con­strued by pun­dits and comics).

With that, apolo­gies for this being the Ides of March 2012. I had the draft, just hadn’t uploaded it. At the end of this month I should have my book report for this year’s first quar­ter. Or let it ride; we’ll see.

2011, Mid-September On

The Ask by Sam Lip­syte, a humor novel but it got bor­ing some­how, did not fin­ish. In the fol­low­ing months I kept see­ing Lipsyte’s name so I got the book from the library again. Same opin­ion. Brick is tough on comic nov­els, and wimpy pro­tag­o­nists have got­ten way too popular.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, col­lec­tion of four “long sto­ries.” I usu­ally stick with lesser King, but there I was on Page 38 into the first novella, “1922,” and it was just a dys­func­tional fam­ily taken to a bloody extreme. I wasn’t engrossed, just grossed.

House of Holes by Nicholas Baker. If there’s lit­er­ary porn and magic real­ism then this must be lit­er­ary magic porn. It is clever, and it should be ashamed of itself, but it’s not. Oh, it’s sex­ual, not erotic.

Octo­ber 2011

Panic: The Story of Mod­ern Finan­cial Insan­ity edited by Michael Lewis, book on CD. A col­lec­tion of arti­cles about U.S. eco­nomic dis­as­ters since the 1980s. It was like lis­ten­ing to All Things Considered’s great­est hits. But the col­lec­tion came out in mid-2008, thus kind-of before the cur­rent reces­sion. Yes our Good Depres­sion has old roots, explained here, but it’s more argu­ment than fact.

Stone Ara­bia by Dana Spi­otta. WTF about rock musi­cian sec­ondary char­ac­ters? Nik Worth here. But Franzen’s Free­dom had one and Egan’s Goon Squad was set par­tially in that milieu. I did fin­ish Stone Ara­bia due to the ele­gance of the writ­ing, but it did not take off until near the cli­max and even then we read­ers were stuck with the mus­ings (though inter­est­ing) of a dull pro­tag­o­nist. Delib­er­ately dull. The rocker brother was the inter­est­ing one. Even the doc­u­men­tar­ian 20-something daugh­ter was prob­a­bly more inter­est­ing. Prob­a­bly is because she barely was onstage, except by “tran­script” of her video talks … about her inter­est­ing uncle, the brother.

Wealth With­out Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Mak­ing Money by Don McNay. An advice-packed book just over 100 pages. Why the heck am I listed in the acknowledgements?

The Year of the Flood by Mar­garet Atwood, book on CD. A dystopian novel, that’s a pre­quel (I think) to Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. This one, in the near and/or par­al­lel future, depicts three women, who had lived together in a not-quite-banned com­mune, fol­low­ing them after the fig­u­ra­tive flood, which actu­ally was a fast-moving fatal epi­demic they coin­ci­den­tally escaped. Funny in spots, des­per­ately sad mostly.

Will Rogers: A Polit­i­cal Life by Richard D. White. A dif­fer­ent kind of biog­ra­phy, lively from lib­eral sprin­kling of quotes from Rogers shows and writ­ings. Did not fin­ish as the bulk was too dry.

Novem­ber 2011

Moth­er­less Brook­lyn by Jonathan Lethem, book on CD. Won­der­ful mys­tery, a know­ing and self-knowing comic novel, funny in the best ways. Plot? A mur­der mys­tery with the detec­tive being a 30-something orphan (hence the title) with Tourette’s syn­drome. Told in the 1st-person so you learn deeply about the afflic­tion. It’s OK to laugh at the guy, not just with him.

The Dis­ap­point­ment Artist by Jonathan Lethem, 149-page essay col­lec­tion from 2005. This month I read some­thing online by or about Lethem and real­ized I should have picked him up a long time ago.

The Ecstasy of Influ­ence by Jonathan Lethem, 437-page essay col­lec­tion from late 2011, Didn’t fin­ish, due to its length and another library patron had put a hold on it.

Decem­ber 2011

Scor­pion Tongues: Gos­sip, Celebrity, and Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics by Gail Collins. A well-researched his­tory of gos­sip. I was hop­ing for more analy­sis, but that was beyond the scope of the book. How do polit­i­cal lead­ers stomp out false rumors? Heck, how do they wig­gle out of true whis­pered tales? Collins answer is that often the vic­tims lose. And when they win, there’s no con­sis­tency in their strate­gies. Good luck with celebrity, I guess.

The Rever­sal by Michael Con­nelly, book on CD. This is my first Con­nelly, a few months ear­lier hav­ing seen on DVD the film adap­tion of The Lin­coln Lawyer star­ring Matthew McConaughey. Turns out the Lin­coln Lawyer was the first of a series about the Mickey Holler. The Rever­sal is in the series, and involves another Con­nelly recur­ring hero, Harry Bosch. A grip­ping court­room thriller. Sur­pris­ingly grisly at the end. Sure that tied up most of the loose end — but not all, sur­pris­ingly — but was that necessary.

And So It Goes: Kurt Von­negut, A Life by Charles J. Shields. Barely started before it came due at the library, with some­one else hav­ing a hold on it. Kurt’s life was about as sad as you might expect.

Con­clu­sions

More Lethem — that’s for sure. More Con­nelly. The for­mer lit­er­ary bal­let on a key­board, the lat­ter is a con­tem­po­rary Ray­mond Chandler/Erle Stan­ley Gard­ner. And I’ll be keep­ing my eye on Jen­nifer Egan, oh yes I will. Franzen? Eh, I’ll read his next novel when it comes out in 2020.

My favorite book of 2011, though is:

How to Live, or, A Life of Mon­taigne in One Ques­tion and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell. It sum­ma­rizes the long medieval clas­sic by way of a fast-paced biog­ra­phy of some­one about whom not all that much is known.

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