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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