in no particular order these are the best five books i've read in 2008. i feel i have some validity in my choices as i graduated with a BA in English Literature this year and have read copious amounts of published goods that were and were not required of me. i also realize that i have previously published blogs on two of these works as i obviously found them noteworthy at the time. I feel bad trying to recommend books that i love because nothing I could ever say would portend what lies between the covers of these books. sigh.
Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
beautiful, hushed, strange--a story of transience and loneliness and unique bonds. it will quietly and painlessly begin to break your heart. i have a previous post dedicated to this novel you can link to here
Querelle Jean Genet
2008 manifested to me my love of the queer, the bizarre, the strange--that is strongly the binding quality to my favorite works of literature. the English translation of Querelle (originally French) is easily one of (if not) the best translations I've ever read. the lyrical beauty of the work remains wonderfully in tact which only begs me to learn french so that i may read it in its original version to see what (if much) was lost. Querelle is super thick, rich, compelling, and dark. The filthy world of sailors and brothels lends itself to one of the queerest (here i meant "strangest" until I realized that it fully embodies both meanings of the word) things I've ever read. It's difficult, but worth getting through.
East of Eden John Steinbeck
again i've blogged on this book which you can read here
Steinbeck's description abilities blow my mind. East of Eden has absolutely some of the best character development of any novel I've come across. Cathy is by far my favorite character of the novel, followed by Lee and Sam Hamilton. For being such a lengthy text there's no lull in plot-- it's full, rich, complex and complete. near perfection. 2009 looks to be a promising year for Steinbeck and i to further our relationship as i've already received some of his under-read works as Christmas gifts. i've been enchanted with him to say the least.
Nightwood Djuna Barnes
wow. nightwood. a cult classic of both Modernist and lesbian fiction. okay, so that's not a great intro. One of the most bizarre things I've ever come across, Nightwood is only a mere 180 pages--don't be fooled--its extremely difficult and intricate. The style is carnivalesque and baroque, filled densely, densely with metaphor. It's easy enough to get through if you listen to as though it were poetry (T.S. Elliot initially targeted the book to such an audience) but to try and untangle the passages and monologues would require some serious re-reading, and patience. The language is insane, the syntax perfect. The elevated nature of the language could put the book off to people as pretentious but I beg to differ on this one, it's bizarre enough that the ostentation is compelling rather than obnoxious. I think the preface says it more perfectly than i ever could "Nightwood is demanding. You can slide into it, because the prose has a narcotic quality, but you can't slide over it. The language is not about conveying information; it is about conveying meaning. There is much more to this book than its story, which is slight, or even in its characters, who are magnificent tricks of the light. This is not the solid nineteenth-century world or narrative, it is the shifting, slipping relative world..." It takes time, no word skimming, but I'm willing to stab at it again, and again, and again.
Blood Meridian: Or the evening of redness in the west Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy embodies the American tradition of queerness. Certainly not an easy read, Blood Meridian sucked me into its dark world. The text is a series of extreme fast forwards and lengthy descriptive pauses. The bare-bones writing style of McCarthy leaves nothing out, but adds nothing extra. Every word, every punctuation mark is there because its absolutely necessary-its extremely admirable, but you must be super attentive during reading or you're bound to miss something, or many things. The dark carnival of parallels and meridians is bloody and gorey if you've got the stomach for it, but easily Judge Holden is one of the most strange and wonderful characters i've ever had the pleasure to meet. Blood Meridian is the next McCarthy book set to debut on the big screen following the success of No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses. My boyfriend is writing his honors thesis on this Blood Meridian so I am and have become intimate with the text, it's good, it really is..
5 other note-worthy reads of 2008
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov- I read this book for the 3rd time this year. I can never say anything to do it justice as it is so rare and heartbreaking to find something so beautiful. in my top 3 of all time.
Franny and Zooey J.D. Salinger- i just found out Salinger is still alive but a total recluse, making Thomas Pynchon look like a tabloid whore. F&Z is a book of 2 short stories, adorable and quirky, about the Glass family that are much akin to the Tenenbaum children.
the Fountainhead Ayn Rand- My second go on this novel. Rand's philosophy didn't change my life as it did when i was younger but the book is undeniably well done. not to mention that rape has never looked so good.
Sula Toni Morrison- I really like Morrison, I don't love love Morrison, but i still consider myself a feminist... ha ... Sula is super compelling with a uniquely inverted value system, where shame, loneliness, and debasement are embraced and celebrated. i do really want to read a Mercy that was just released.
Venus in Furs Leopold von Sacher-Masoch- the original story from which the ideology Masochism is derived. I would say it's cliche and awesome, almost campy, but it's the original so i'm not sure it can parody itself? it's definitely also intellectual with inverted christianity all over the place lending itself to Dante.
5 to-reads for 2009
No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith
The Executioners Song