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.
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.
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.
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.
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.