11.27.2006

Cropping the NYT Notables List

Of the NYT 100 Notable Books of the Year, these are on my TBR (to be read) list. I'm in the midst of reading two now: Black Swan Green; and the Ishmael Reed poetry collection. I would have included Joshua Clover's, The Totality for Kids, and leaned more heavily towards la poésie.

Ed points out that Scott, and Levi enjoyed Liesl Schillinger's review of Against the Day. Liessl is the best of the NYT reviewers, according to Ed. I find her writing to be the most poignant, stylistically original, believable, and sharp.

Here's a taste of Liesl on the new Pynchon,

"Where to begin? Where to end? It’s both moot and preposterous to fix on a starting point when considering a 1,085-page novel whose setting is a “limitless terrain of queerness” and whose scores of characters include the doomed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a dog who reads Henry James, the restless progeny of the Kieselguhr Kid and a time-traveling bisexual mathematician, not to mention giant carnivorous burrowing sand lice, straight out of “Dune,” that attack passengers of desert submarines — or, rather, subdesertine frigates. In any case, Pynchon (speaking, one presumes, through his characters) dismisses the existence of time as “really too ridiculous to consider, regardless of its status as a believed-in phenomenon,” asserting that civilization has been dead since World War I and “all history after that will belong properly to the history of hell.” He also rejects a fixed notion of place. To him, delineations of the known world are merely maps that “begin as dreams, pass through a finite life in the world, and resume as dreams again.” Let us proceed, then, like Pynchon: as we wish, without a map, and by bounding leaps."

Here are my selections from the list, many of which were also recommended by lit bloggers and friends.

FICTION:

ABSURDISTAN. By Gary Shteyngart. (Random House, $24.95.) A young American-educated Russian with an ill-gotten fortune waits to return to the United States in this darkly comic novel.

AGAINST THE DAY. By Thomas Pynchon. (Penguin Press, $35.) In Pynchon's globe-trotting tale, set (mostly) on the eve of World War I, anarchic Americans collide with quasi-psychic European hedonists and a crew of boyish balloonists, anticipating the shocks to come.

APEX HIDES THE HURT. By Colson Whitehead. (Doubleday. $22.95.) In this parablelike novel, a commercial "nomenclature consultant" is hired to name a Midwestern town, and his task turns into an exploration of the corruption of language.

BLACK SWAN GREEN. By David Mitchell. (Random House, $23.95.) The magic of being a 13-year-old boy and exploring the world intersects, eventually, with the trials of real life.

THE ECHO MAKER. By Richard Powers. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) This novel's heroine tries to help her brother after a mysterious truck crash leaves him with a rare form of amnesia.

THE KEEP. By Jennifer Egan. (Knopf, $23.95.) Old grievances drive the plot of this novel, set in a castle and a prison. Egan deftly weaves threads of sordid realism and John Fowles-like magic.

NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS, 1964-2006. By Ishmael Reed. (Carroll & Graf, $25.95.) Poetry of politics and diversity, suffused with humor.

THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ISLAND. By Michel Houellebecq. Translated by Gavin Bowd. (Knopf, $24.95.) In this new novel from the French author, a radical libertine becomes the progenitor of a line of clones.

THE ROAD. By Cormac McCarthy. (Knopf, $24.) A man and his son travel across a post-apocalyptic landscape in this terrifying parable.

SUITE FRANÇAISE. By Irène Némirovsky. Translated by Sandra Smith. (Knopf, $25.) Before dying at Auschwitz in 1942, Némirovsky wrote these two exquisitely shaped novellas about France in defeat. But the manuscripts came to light only in the late '90s.

NON FICTION:

FLAUBERT: A Biography. By Frederick Brown. (Little, Brown, $35.) The man behind "Madame Bovary" is brought to life as a romantic and a realist, a dreamer and a debunker.

THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA: A Natural History of Four Meals. By Michael Pollan. (Penguin Press, $26.95.) Pollan embarks on four separate eating adventures, each of which begins at the very beginning — in the soil — and ends with a cooked, finished meal.

THE UNITED STATES OF ARUGULA: How We Became a Gourmet Nation. By David Kamp. (Broadway, $26.) Personalities from Julia Child to Emeril Lagasse drive this lively history of the postwar revolution in American gastronomy.

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