Top Fives for 2012

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I read a lot of great stuff in 2012, though a lot of it was canonical.  I hope to read more contemporary fiction in 2013, especially short stories.  As in past years, I have top fives of both non-canonical and canonical books.  Without further ado, the non-canonical list:

5. The Children’s Hospital, by Chris Adrian.  I read this on a September vacation to Ireland, and it was a fantastic book for the experience: long, immersive, very strange, very otherworldly.  The tale of another flood, an apocalypse overseen by four angels, the only survivors of which are those in a US children’s hospital.  The hospital is magically transformed into a floating ark, complete with “replicators” that provide any basic desire of the residents (but nothing too complicated, like a puppy, or a person).  Jemma, an exhausted med student, is pregnant with the supposed savior of the new world; flashbacks to her childhood with her complicated, fascinating brother, Calvin, who killed himself in a bizarre ritual, are the best parts of the book, especially the incredible Christmas chapter.  It falters a bit near the end, and some of the discussion on the reasons for the apocalypse are rather facile, but Adrian should be commended for the boldness of his vision, and for a book that can provoke discussions about American religion, concepts of sin, and childcare that might actually be interesting.

4.  The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach.  See posts here, here, and here.  Terrific book; the opening fifty pages or so are some of the best baseball writing I’ve ever read.  As I said in one of the posts, if I hadn’t picked up and enjoyed a book about baseball, Melville, and a small Wisconsin college, American publishers may as well have stopped trying and shut down completely.  I am the target audience.  As an aside, the post on Aparicio Rodriguez has quickly become the most popular post on this blog by a very wide margin, so clearly people are reading the book, and clearly there’s a lot of confusion about whether Aparicio is a real ballplayer or not.  (He’s not.)

3. The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien. See post here.  O’Brien is criminally under-read, at least in this country.  He’s the trickster god of Irish literature.  This marvelous, hilarious, surreal book involves bicycle centaurs, hidden treasure, long footnotes on an eccentric inventor, an eternal labyrinth, and most of all, very funny dialogue.

2. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin.  See post here.  Borderline canonical, but no one to whom I mention it seems to have read it, and most have not heard of it.  Nevertheless: one of the great utopian novels of the twentieth century, and an essential book for the 21st.

1. The Emigrants, by W. G. Sebald.  See posts here and here.  One of the great works of literature.  Period.  Everyone should read it.  You: read it now.  This hit me like a bolt of lightning, especially as I really did not expect it.  I had heard of Sebald, and knew I should try him out at some point, but this was a book that was just sitting on my shelf for years.  Now I plan to read everything of his that has been translated in 2013.

Books that just missed the cut: Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray; Talking Heads: Fear of Music, by Jonathan Lethem; Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart.

The canonical list:

5. Mythologies, by W. B. Yeats.  See post above for The Third Policeman.  Utterly wonderful, even Yeats’s weird mystical/hermetic writings, some of which work beautifully as fiction.

4. The Emigrants, by W. G. Sebald.  It belongs on this list, too.  It hangs with the heavyweights.

3. Malone Dies and The Unnamable, by Samuel Beckett.  See post here.  Not quite at the level of Molloy, but damned close.  Masterpieces of language and, it should be emphasized, character.  The characters created through Beckett’s fabled control of language are just as vivid and memorable as the language itself.

2. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.  This was a rereading, and a deeply enjoyable one.  On my first reading, in college, I was floored by the plot pyrotechnics (some literal: spontaneous combustion, anyone?).  On this reading, I was more interested in the language, and the way in which this book can seem the Dickens novel least dominated by character (coming after the book most dominated by character, David Copperfield), especially because its main internal narrator, Esther, is rather boring herself.  This book is all Dickens’s eye and ear, roving across London, through the fog, into the slums, creating cinema.

1. Dubliners, by James Joyce.  See posts here and here.  Also a rereading; a book that I appreciated immeasurably more than on my first reading, in part due to reading Ellmann’s magisterial biography of Joyce, and Joyce’s early “Epiphanies.”  “The Sisters,” “Araby,” “A Painful Case,” “Grace,” and “The Dead,” masterpieces all.  “The Dead,” especially, was incredibly moving to me on this reading.

 

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