A couple days ago, I sent out an email asking a fairly large group of writer, editor and publishing friends to send me their nominations for “top 3 books published this year.” I told them to interpret “top” any way they chose to, and to feel no pressure to expound on their choices in any particular way. The plan is to publish a large list of all the Top 3 lists next week (so far I’ve received 20 contributions, and they’re still coming in) but yesterday I kicked off the festivities early by posting one response by Zak Smith in advance of the full list. Today I’m offering up my own selections, prefaced by a short explanation of the way I chose to interpret my own injunction to choose the “top” books of the year.
I spent large swaths of 2009 struggling with fiction, especially novels, while also struggling to write one. (Anyone see a relationship between those two facts? … Didn’t think so.) Here are three novels that challenged and expanded my notion of what a novel could, should, or ought to be, but more important than that: they provided me with enormous entertainment and edification. The three are vastly different, but each is, I think, a work of startling interiority, and this seems to be what I needed in ’09. Each book in its own way offered me succor and deliverance from the confines of myself, by offering up for a getaway space the extraordinary confines of some other self, and I returned from each readerly excursion in better shape than when I left.
Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin.
The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell.
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.
ALSO: A special shout-out to My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, which has a 2008 © in it but didn’t really surface until early ’09. A massively important book and instantly among the most important and treasured Collecteds I own.
December 12th, 2009 / 12:18 pm
Last week I read Nicholson Baker’s new novel, The Anthologist, all in an evening sitting propped uncomfortably across the smaller of two sofas in my apartment. One thing about reading Nicholson Baker is in his exorbitantly minute and often startling descriptions (his first novel, The Mezzanine, is simply the thoughts of a guy during a ride up an escalator, which sounds boring but is incredible), you might think that it would then be easy to get caught up in the vibe, overthinking ideas and elements as you sit in the presence of a master doing the same. And yet, Baker is so good at catching all the spillage of thought you might have in listening to him speak, there is actually very little loosening of one’s own awareness while in the grip of even such an often everyday-aimed and frank voice as he wields. I hardly even recognized how uncomfortable I get usually while reading. It all went down, as have all of his books, leaving me hungry and excited, even in, again, a seemingly arbitrary subject matter: The Anthologist is about a guy, Paul Chowder, preparing to write the introduction to a poetry anthology. There is simply probably no one else alive who could pull this off, and Baker does, quite so.