Sunday, December 20, 2015

Top 5 Books of 2015

It is always a challenge to narrow down a year's worth of reading to a list of only five books. Not only were there outstanding novels that I enjoyed beyond the five I will feature here, there are tons of books that I have not read this year: The Dying Grass, A Brief History of Seven Killings, A Little Life, My Struggle: Volume Four and Fortune Smiles come to mind as books that I will surely enjoy immensely but have not found the time yet to do so. 

This list is not what's "best" by my top favorites of a not-broad-enough swath of a year of contemporary literature. There are omissions, of course, both due to my arbitrary "eligibility" period (sorry Knausgaard) and my decision to pick only five (sorry to Will Self's Shark and to Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying, my six and seven). Still, I remain very excited to share with you, perhaps for a second time, these great books. In no particular order:

Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Big Green Tent

Not since Doctor Zhivago has there been a Russian epic of this scope and finesse. While Ulitskaya's story begins with Stalin's death in 1953 and carries into present-day, this is not a midcentury classic but is decidedly modern in its form. She jumps between plotlines like a illegal samizdat changes hands and sprints through timelines with a brazen disregard for a traditional epic's sense of drama. In The Big Green Tent, narrative "arc" is exchanged for a narrative "network"; it's a difficult read but an appropriate form for the politically expansive CCCP. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

John Banville, The Blue Guitar

John Banville is one of the best living British writers and can command a sentence with masterful grace. His beautiful, vital prose contrasts dramatically with his protagonist in The Blue Guitar, the scummy, cheating Oliver Orme. He's a washed-out painter and a relentless kleptomaniac who, perhaps in an effort to maintain some semblance of the rakish dandy he once though himself to be, steals the wife of his friend. Wryly written in a manipulative first-person narrative, Banville lets a heartbreaking subtext seep through Orme's wretched tryst, revealing much more that his character would comfortably, intentionally share. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

Tom McCarthy, Satin Island

I was shocked that this did not win the Booker Prize this year. I think McCarthy is a genius and that Satin Island has expanded the possibilities of what a novel can do. McCarthy writes as if he's challenging himself with an almost Oulipian level of constraints and limitations: 2010's C. was a dizzying and complicated novel about the history of communication, ranging from a school for the deaf to the dawn of radio, to seances and military transmissions. Satin Island trumps all that tenfold: this is a Kafkaesque novel about contemporary anthropology, written like a bureaucratic report, that manages to spin outward into a treatise about who we are as contemporary readers and writers and where to find artistry underneath our culture's glut of data. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire

The long-awaited conclusion to Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy Flood of Fire sticks its landing and delivers a finely composed epic of masterful storytelling of Tolstoyan caliber. The Ibis Trilogy follows the First Opium War between the Chinese and the British (all with India stuck in the quagmire): Ghosh's first volume Sea of Poppies began in 2008 and in seven years has sailed from the rural villages of India to Hong Kong's Pearl River, amidst British galleons and the threat of cannon-fire. Ghosh proves the vitality of a story and how a well-told tale can not just entertain but stay relevant throughout history. Exceptionally well-researched and flawlessly executed, Flood of Fire concludes what should be long remembered as an essential work of historical fiction. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

Ander Monson, Letter to a Future Lover

I first discovered Ander Monson through his mind-expandingly good collection of experimental essays Vanishing Point. With Letter to a Future Lover he has become an essential voice and a beacon of hope for books and reading and critical theory. Letter to a Future Lover is a collection of short, two-page essays about marginalia and the often-unintended communication between readers across timelines. If I underline a passage in a book, and that same copy is read forty years later by someone who is similarly moved by the same words, the bond that's created between is is more powerful than anything its original creator may have ever imagined. As crazy as it sounds, Letter to a Future Lover is about those connections. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

But there's more: "When possible, each of these essays was originally published (on a 6" x 9" card) back into the space (typically the book or library) that started it... Though they are bound here, no meaning is intended by their ordering." Absolutely fascinating, and enough for me to race out and by the last handmade, unbound limited edition of Letter to a Future Lover. That's the book's clamshell case above; I'll feature it solely here in a forthcoming post. It's a treasure of my collection.

I wish you all a happy holiday of family, books and fireplaces and will continue posting around this time next month. As always, thank you for reading.

Currently reading:
My Struggle: Volume Four by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Sunday, December 13, 2015

2015: A Year in Reviews

This year was stacked with some exceptional books, and below is a compilation of all the reviews I've put out there in 2015. This was a notable year for me in that I've started to expand my CV with some new publications, both in print and online. I'm particularly proud of the seven reviews I ran with Rain Taxi and the New Orleans Review, and intend to continue contributing to them in 2016. I am also very pleased to have transitioned from the now-defunct Contemporary Literature page to the far more stylish Run Spot Run and am thrilled to be a part of that crew. A lot of great reviews run there and they absolutely deserves a bookmark. Still, I'm consistently on the lookout for more outfits to write for, so if anyone has any recommendations please feel free to get in touch.

The below list is forty-five titles, and (of course) only features those books I've written about. Other notable reads of the year for me have been Between the World and Me, Lila, and over the summer I spent three wonderful weeks with The Count of Monte Cristo. Please take a look below and I hope you find something you like.

Originally appeared in the New Orleans Review:

Douglas Coupland, Kitten Clone
Carlos Gamerro, The Adventure of the Busts of Eva Peron
Michael Joyce, Foucault, in Winter, in the Linneaus Garden (forthcoming)

Originally appeared in Rain Taxi Review of Books:

Masahiko Matsumoto, The Man Next Door (Volume 20, Number 1, print edition only)
Alejandro Zambra, My Documents (Volume 20, Number 2, online edition)
Anders Nilsen, Poetry is Useless (Volume 20, Number 3, print edition only)
Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic, A Gothic Soul (Volume 20, Number 4, online edition [forthcoming])

Originally appeared on Run Spot Run, April - December 2015, and Contemporary Literature, from January - March 2015

Five stars:

Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Big Green Tent (forthcoming)
Adrian Tomine, Killing and Dying
Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire
John Banville, The Blue Guitar
David McCullough, The Wright Brothers
Tom McCarthy, Satin Island
Will Self, Shark
Ander Monson, Letter to a Future Lover

Four stars:

Paul Murray, The Mark and the Void
Julian Barnes, Keeping an Eye Open
Steve Toltz, Quicksand
Jesse Ball, A Cure for Suicide
Tadao Tsuge, Trash Market

Three stars:

Salman Rushdie, Two Years, Eight Moths and Twenty-Eight Nights
Patrick Modiano, So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood
Andrew O'Hagan, The Illuminations
Haruki Murakami, Wind/Pinball
Milan Kundera, The Festival of Insignificance
Mikhail Shishkin, The Light and the Dark
Sarah Hall, The Wolf Border
Anne Enright, The Green Road
Edward St. Aubyn, On the Edge
Ali Smith, How To Be Both

Two stars:

Edward St. Aubyn, A Clue to the Exit (forthcoming)
Umberto Eco, Numero Zero
Vladimir Sorokin, The Blizzard
Jonathan Franzen, Purity
Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers
Mark Z. Danielewski, The Familiar
Toni Morrison, God Help the Child
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
Peter Buwalda, Bonita Avenue
Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning
Mo Yan, Frog
Yu Hua, The Seventh Day

One star:

Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time
Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last
Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Age of Earthquakes

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Adrian Tomine, Killing and Dying (signed with drawing)

I think Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying is the best comic of 2015 and might even make it on my personal Top 5 of the year list alongside some outstanding novels. It's a fantastic example of the comics-as-literature concept that was such a new thing ten or so years ago: Tomine's stories would fit in effortlessly into a Paris Review and unflinchingly boast a literary prowess that could match that of authors like George Saunders, Donald Antrim and James Salter.

I wrote a long review over at Run Spot Run which can be read here. The book is a must for any fan of comics and contemporary fiction, and particularly keen readers will find a astonishing level of formal play at work in the collection's six stories. I highly recommend it.

Tomine was signing books at the Park Slope Holiday Book Fair this past Saturday, although I missed him on account of running int the Brooklyn "Jingle Bell Jog" at Prospect Park this past Saturday (and the subsequent slow brunch with fellow tired friends). However, I was able to pick up a signed-and-drawn-in copy of Killing and Dying from The Strand that was leftover from an earlier event. Pretty cool: this is "Barry" from "Go Owls":

Now, a digression: where is Killing and Dying on the New York Times' list of Notable Books of 2015? While I haven't seen today's book review, I think A.O. Scott's rave review ran in the same issue that they narrowed down their terrible list of top picks for the year to five each for fiction and non-fiction. Scott calls the title story (1/6 of the entire collection!) "one of the saddest and most perfect things I've ever read" ... but that's not good enough to be "notable"? To edge out the frankly pretty terrible Purity and God Help the Child, included likely due to their legacy alone? For that matter, where's Amitav Ghosh's Flood of Fire, Ander Monson's Letter to a Future Lover, Tom McCarthy's Satin Island, etc., etc., etc.? I'm currently reading Ludmila Ulitskaya's outstanding novel The Big Green Tent, and I feel like I'm the only person on the planet who's doing so. Where are its rave reviews? Maybe all of these will do what Richard McGuire's outstanding 2014 book Here did and appear on the NYT best-of list for the following year. Here's hoping for a notable 2016.

Currently reading:
Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Big Green Tent

Currently listening to:
The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Sunday, November 29, 2015

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Signed, slipcased edition from Powell's "Indiespensable")

It's difficult for me to resist literary hype, and so Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire has finally made it into my home. I have a hard time seeing book hype as a bad thing and think that its potential to stir up critical controversy or acclaim is wonderfully representative of our voracious literary public. The divisive Karl Ove Knausgaard made way for Elena Ferrante, and when that wave of excitement crashed last fall with Ferrante's fourth book, it seemed to usher in what may be the most anticipated book of 2015, City on Fire. While Hallberg's reputation precedes him, from his seven-figure book deal to his nearly four-figure page count, City on Fire is sure to captivate, divide, immerse and upset scads of readers. We'll all talk about it. It's going to be great.

My copy arrived this weekend from Powell's "Indiespensable" subscription. This is my third Indiespensable book, following a beautiful cloth-bound copy of Richard Powers' wonderful novel Orfeo and the Booker Prize-longlisted Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. The subscription costs $40 a shipment, and features a signed first edition that has some sort of Powell's-exclusive element.

While I'm very excited to read City on Fire, this is a far cry from the special feel that the Indiespensable Orfeo had. Orfeo had a Powell's limitation page bound in and was bound in full cloth, City on Fire just feels like signed overstock from a recent event with Hallberg. While I don't mind supporting Powell's, and do think the fireworks-slipcase is very nice, I would love to see something a little more unique in future installments.

Still, Powell's will keep me subscribed if they keep having such a great lineup. I'm very curious to see what their next pick will be!

Currently reading:
The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Adam Johnson, "Fortune Smiles" (signed 1st edition, winner of the 2015 National Book Award)

Didn't see this coming: Adam Johnson, who previously won the Pulitzer Prize for The Orphan Master's Son, won the National Book Award this week for Fortune Smileshis first collection of short stories. I've not read Fortune Smiles yet; it's been on my shelf since August. It's one of those strange books that I am certain is perfectly great but non-essential as far as prioritizing it up the to-be-read pile. Now that the National Book Award have decorated it, I be giving it a shot sooner than I'd originally planned. (Superficially, it's great to see a collection of short fiction where the pieces run as long as 50-60 pages.)

This is a signed first edition (on a tipped-in page) that I picked up from Community Bookstore in Park Slope:

And, the colophon:

There are a lot of these out there in the $50 range, so there's still time for you collectors to snag a copy at a relatively reasonable price.

Currently reading:
Tony Tulathimutte, Private Citizens

Currently listening to:
Max Richter, "From Sleep"

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nick Cave, King Ink (Black Spring Press, 1988)

My wife and I recently took some photos of our apartment with the hopes that we might be listed on some design blogs. It's particularly fun for a book collector to come up with some stylizes stacks - here's one we used for my bedside featuring a few books by Nick Cave. Let's take a look at 1988's lyric book King Ink, published by Black Spring Press.

This is a collection of lyrics and poems from Nick Cave's Birthday Party and Bad Seeds albums. It's interesting to see how these fit into the Nick Cave timeline - the book came out before Tender Prey, but includes a handful of songs like "The Mercy Seat" and "Crow Jane" that had yet to make it to studio albums.

Also included are some great pages of handwritten lyric pages full of little drawings. Here's the page for one of my favorite Bad Seeds songs, "Sad Waters":

For reference, here's a photo of the colophon:

Currently reading:
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

Currently listening:
"From Sleep" by Max Richter

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

David Mitchell, Slade House limited edition (signed and personalized in New York)

My limited edition copy of David Mitchell's Slade House arrived just in time yesterday: tonight Mitchell did a reading at the 92nd Street Y and I was able to get my book personalized after the event. I'm about 60 pages into Slade House and it's already a really fun, old-fashioned spooky read: described by Mitchell as a "pententacled monsterette," Slade House tells in five parts an eerie tale about a haunted house that consumes an unsuspecting guest every nine years. And, to consume Mitchell fans in a different way, the author integrates many of the mysteries and recurring motifs of his sprawling novel The Bone Clocks.

Whenever there's a new David Mitchell book, I always try to grab one of Sceptre's limited editions. They always feature alternate artwork, a slipcase, special endpapers and a ribbon, are signed and numbered, and consistently worth the $70 price that they can be obtained for online. They've done them since Black Swan Green, so you collectors should keep an eye out for that, Jacob de Zoet, and The Bone Clocks.

This is the book outside of its slipcase, featuring the fox-headed hairpin that Nathan's section introduces:

The endpapers look like the Slade House gardens, crossed with a Bone Clocks kind of maze:

Each copy of this limited edition is signed and numbered on a dedicated page. This is copy 1304/1500. 

My copy was personalized and dated on the title page:

And for a spooky finish, check out this clock on the back cover! It reads "TIME IS / TIME WAS / TIME IS NOT". How ominous.

Currently reading:
David Mitchell, Slade House

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ivan Vladislavic, The Folly (Archipelago Books, signed 1st paperback edition) (and a review of Double Negative, published by And Other Stories)

I recently picked up a few signed books by Ivan Vladislavic after an event in Park Slope in Brooklyn; this is The Folly, published last month by Archipelago Books. Archipelago does some great, inspiring work and their commitment to world literature is second to none (Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elias Khoury are among their active roster). Vladislavic is a South African writer who I discovered through And Other Stories out of the UK. The Folly is his first novel, which was first published in 1994. Although I missed Vladislavic read from The Folly I was lucky enough to pick up a signed copy (along with And Other Stories' 101 Detectives). I've not read The Folly yet but am looking forward to it -- I thought Double Negative and The Restless Supermarket were quite good and have read some great reviews of this one.

While we're on Vladislavic: in an effort to salvage some of my reviews from the recently shuttered Contemporary Literature, here is a 'reprint' of my text on the author's excellent novel Double Negative.

Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic
Review by Jeff Alford
Originally published by Contemporary Literature

In a familiar fit of teenage malaise and political dissatisfaction, Neville Lister drops out of school and returns to his childhood Johannesburg home to the dismay of his parents. Finding his son's actions unacceptable, Nev’s father coordinates a meeting with Saul Auerbach, a professional photographer and family acquaintance, with the hope of providing his son a new perspective on the world around him. Auerbach (with a British journalist in tow) takes Nev on a day-long shoot driving through forgotten neighborhoods outside of Johannesburg. Perhaps unknown to Nev at the time, Auerbach teaches him valuable lessons about recognizing subtlety and nuance in the world around him: “The presence of a great photographer…the pressure of his calculating eye, created subject matter. Wherever you looked, you saw a photograph. Not just any photographer either: an Auerbach.”

Like Saul Auerbach, South African author Ivan Vladislavic waits for light, for shadows to expand and wane across an otherwise uneventful page. The developments of apartheid unfold fiercely offstage in Double Negative but can be seen glowing through the cracks of Vladislavic's stoic scenes. Double Negative doesn't place its readers deep amidst violence and protests, but instead takes them down under-traveled side streets, to placid scenes where drama unfolds slowly. Masterfully, Vladislavic imbues this slowness with the quiet hum of untapped significance.

Double Negative is divided into three sections, each around a decade apart. The novel's first section, “Available Light”, is set in the 1980s and serves as a kind of overture: both political and stylistic themes are introduced here that are developed over the remaining eras of the book. Readers may be surprised at the lack of action, but these scenes of driving with Auerbach unfold exactly as a photographer like Auerbach (or David Goldblatt, the real-life photographer on whom Auerbach is based) would orchestrate their shots. We wait and revisit the same characters until they begin to change, or seem to change among their roiling, fluid circumstances:

“Repetition. Things had begun to double. There must be a term for it. Is it a natural process or an historical one? Should it be encouraged or suppressed? Or simply endured? Perhaps every gesture will beget its twin, every action find an echo, every insight becomes a catechism, like some chain reaction that can never be halted. The concatenated universe.”

Vladislavic's restraint is admirable, as even among the most still moments one can find exemplified the author's complex photographic technique.

In “Available Light”, Auerbach and his accompanying cohorts initiate a challenge: each person would select a house to approach and engage with as an investigative photographer would. Here, their artistry borders on breaking and entering: they charm their way into the homes of strangers and mine their lives for poignancy. Vladislavic slyly brings the ethics of photography into focus in these scenes: Nev tells the readers later that Auerbach walked away that day with some of his most famous photographs, but it's difficult not to interpret the work as stolen.

Two of the three homes yield impressive results, and they decide to call it a day before engaging Nev's selection. In Double Negative’s second section, Nev is revealed to have grown into a semi-professional photographer living in London. The shadows of "Available Light" still flicker in Nev's mind: on a visit home he returns, alone, to the third home that he and Auerbach skipped. Nev and the home’s occupant begin a captivating and surreal relationship that, like his first visit to the neighborhood, continues to shape him as he further grows into adulthood.

While the great success of Double Negative is contingent upon its slow development, the novel’s subtlety and careful pace might turn off some readers. The excitement of Double Negative will develop upon a more broad reflection on the novel: taking the story on a thematic, technical level will reveal much greatness, hidden in plain sight.

Currently reading:
A Clue to the Exit by Edward St. Aubyn

Currently listening to:
The Undertones, "Teenage Kicks"

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Joe Brainard, New Work (Black Sparrow Press, 1973, signed and numbered)

Took last week off after enduring the Rhineback Fall Foliage half marathon, but am back with an exciting recent acquisition by one of my favorite artists/authors, Joe Brainard. This is New Work, which was published in 1973 by Black Sparrow Press. This is #6 of 200 signed and numbered copies bound in a silky red floral fabric - there were 26 lettered copies that came with an original drawing by Brainard (more on those later).

New Work compiles some poems and short prose pieces that Brainard originally self-published in various staple-bound zines and poetry pamphlets. It's only about 50 pages but a fantastic selection, including this gem:

Now, as a collector I've been ridiculously tempted by these lettered Brainard books - there are a few out there, including The Vermont Notebook (with John Ashbery) and Kenward Elmslie's Circus Nerves. I've seen a lot of these and while it's great to see original ink drawings, they're not particularly special pieces. I've seen a drawing of a fence, a house, a toothbrush. These are priced high but somewhat within reach after a year or so of saving up. I've held out for years thinking I'd find one at a more reasonable price, but instead I found some original collages on eBay. I'll post some really exciting finds once they come back from the framer! 

Currently reading:
Keeping an Eye Open by Julian Barnes

Currently listening to:
Kurt Vile, "b'lieve i'm goin' down"

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chris Ware, Ira Glass and Tim Samuelson, LOST BUILDINGS ("an on-stage radio and picture collaboration")

As a fan of Chris Ware, I've seen this book Lost Buildings circulating on eBay and abebooks for close to a decade and only recently did I finally pick one up. Like Ware's first book Floyd Farland, Lost Buildings had a strange sort of "rarity" surrounding it that I suspected wasn't particularly sound. It always struck me that there was a shop somewhere in Chicago that had tons of these, and nobody took the effort to sell them online beyond a handful of flippers who could dictate the price. Years ago, this was selling for $50-$100, but this copy (although dinged up a little) ran me about $15. Strange how time can wind down the hype. (there's a $15 Floyd Farland on eBay right now, if you're so inclined.)

Lost Buildings is a fun little book, around five inches square, and looks, at first glance, nothing like you'd expect from Ira Glass and Chris Ware. Lost Buildings tracks the history of Louis Sullivan's architecture in turn-of-the-century Chicago. Tim Samuelson, a Chicago historian, takes the lead throughout the Lost Buildings book, but if you dig deep, so much of Ware's essence (and Glass's narrative quirk) shines through Samuelson's stories. To think of the architectural paean that was Ware's Building Stories and his forays into journal-editor with old-timey Ragtime Ephemeralist makes Lost Buildings click into place.

The book also includes a DVD of Ware, Samuelson, and Glass's "on-stage radio & picture collaboration," to be viewed with the text in tandem. Lost Buildings is a curious little volume and a delightful expansion of my Chris Ware library.

Currently reading:
Quicksand by Steve Toltz

Currently listening to:
"b'lieve i'm goin down" by Kurt Vile

Sunday, September 27, 2015

John Banville, The Blue Guitar (signed first edition with link to review)

So far, I think John Banville's The Blue Guitar is the best book of the fall season. I'm surprised it wasn't included in this year's Booker Prize, as I think the book is simply masterful (far superior to books like The Green Road and The Illuminations). Banville's story here is nothing new -- a pompous man prone to petty thieving steals his friend's wife -- but the way in which Banville renders this narrative is absolutely exquisite. His sentences are delectable, made for rolling over the tongue like tasting a fine wine.

I wrote a lengthy review of The Blue Guitar over at Run Spot Run. Please go take a look!

Now, as a reviewer I get scads of galleys and I think it's a particularly telling moment when I find a book that I want to upgrade to a hardcover for my collection. I reached out to Knopf to see if Banville had pre-signed any first editions and sure enough, he had. I was told the only copies he signed were sent out west to The Elliot Bay Book Company and one other store in California I've since forgotten. Strangely, this ended up not being completely true... after I placed by order with the exceptionally accommodating Elliot Bay Book Company, I saw a copy sitting in the window of Crawford Doyle, up the street from my office. Oh well!

Banville's signature appears on a tipped in page, like below:

It's really a spectacularly good book and I encourage all you literary-minded readers to seek it out.

Currently reading:
Jiri Karasek ze Lvovic, A Gothic Soul

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon collaborative zine from David Zwirner Books (signed from NYABF)

While my wife and I were at the New York Art Book Fair this weekend, we put in our time to a very lengthy line to get a signed copy of Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon's new collaborative zine. The book is amazing and published by the year-old "David Zwirner Books". Of course all major galleries publish exhibition catalogues, but it's exciting to think of Zwirner taking it a step further and operating more officially as a publishing house. I hope they continue to put out books as bold and creatively curated as Dzama Pettibon.

Dzama Pettibon is a full-color digital offset staple-bound zine, printed in an edition of only 200 copies. I'm sure at least 100 sold on Saturday at the book fair. Dzama and Pettibon graciously signed copies for about an hour and a half doing illustrations in everyone's books. Dzama would start with a bat or some kind of spooky thing and pass it to Pettibon who would sign with some kind of iconic (and often incongruous) imagery. Below, take a look at a Dzama bat, signed "ALL OUR BATS", with a Pettibon-added "AND ALL MY MFCKN BASES" (which might be a reference to this?) Who knows! All very cool and crazy to see the zine's completely gone already. 

Currently reading:
Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last

Currently listening to:
This Mortal Coil, "It'll End in Tears"

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Man Booker Prize shortlist announced

As I expected, this year will be a fight between Satin Island and A Little Life but who really saw those other four books coming? Not this guy.

Full list is as follows:

Satin Island, Tom McCarthy
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagigara
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
The Year of the Runaways, Sunjeev Sahota
A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
The Fisherman, Chigozie Obioma

Have you read any of the longlist? Between Tyler, Sahota, James, and Obioma, what should I check out next?

The winner will be announced 13 October.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

2015 Booker Prize Shortlist prediction (official announcement coming Tuesday 15 September)

On Tuesday 15 September the Booker Prize shortlist will be announced. In years past I'd kind of given up on following the prize but the inclusion of Satin Island, one of my favorite books of the year, pulled me back in.

The longlist this year is quite good - as usual, there are a lot of book's I'd skip out of a general lack of interest (A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, for instance, doesn't appeal) but there are some really fantastic outliers here.

I've read four of the thirteen books so far: Satin Island, The Illuminations, The Green Road, and Lila. A Little Life (pictured) is on my stack of books to get to and I have very high hopes for it. I hear it's absolutely fantastic and I have a strong hunch it will be carried to the shortlist and even has a chance of winning.

I've written about a few of these for Run Spot Run, which can be found here:

The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Green Road by Anne Enright

I do *not* expect O'Hagan or Enright to make it to the shortlist. These two novels are perfectly fine and expertly crafted but aim for a relatively low mark (dysfunctional family returns home in the Enright, aged woman fades into dementia in the O'Hagan). These two are great books by great authors but they're not remarkable works. It's a difficult line to establish but I would hold them back from the semifinals.

Satin Island should win; the book pushes the limits of the novel and I think McCarthy is a genius. He deserves the award.

All that being said: here's my prediction of the shortlist, including books I've not read but think have a chance based on reviews and the prize committee's attempts at creating a diverse list.

Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (I've got a signed/limited coming from Powell's so fingers crossed for this one)
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

I'll update again on Tuesday when we've got the final list.

Currently Reading:
Two Years Eight Months Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie