Favorite Reads in 2011

December 15, 2011

Trying something different this time… I’m going to actually list these in a somewhat loose order of personal significance. Full reviews of all books mentioned can be found on My Goodreads page.

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
in which a difficulty is earned not by modernist wordplay, but by tackling mercurial and impossible ideas head on, and not without humor. A novel of ideas that is (among other things) also an argument against ideas (or at least against systematizing or simplifying them).

My Friends by Emmanuel Bove
in which the most simple, self-evident language is contained in a perfect novel of quiet humor, sadness, and crystallized beauty; a criminally underread masterpiece.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk
in which the life of one uncompromising SOB is laid out, showing all the seeming contradictions therein, which in the end turns out to be the perfect vehicle for his ideas (or perhaps the idea itself). A thought provoking book, in which I saw many parallels to Musil’s musings.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
in which the trick of hopping around randomly is ultimately trumped by the non-trick of great writing. As one Cronopios put it, this is a very serious game, one that you can put your whole life into.

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
in which a frustrating amount of things keep getting added to the to-do list, though nothing that truly matters is ever addressed; the uneasy feeling produced by this novel rings true for me, and in the end, though nothing is solved, I feel refreshed as if emerging from an ineffably sad dream.

The Atoms of Language by Mark C. Baker
in which a linguist explains the curious logic of all languages, how even the most radically different ones are made up of similar ingredients in different ratios. Also: find out why English is more similar to Indonesian than any other European language.

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
in which Ms. Kalman charms us with her drawings of dodos and superfluous tassels and ladies with big hair from the back and hats hats couches hats. A year of jottings and journalings by a quirky and interesting woman.

g-point almanac: passyunk lost  &
g-point almanac: id est by Kevin Varrone
in which is found the best contemporary poetry I’ve read in the last 5 years or so.

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
in which time-lapse photography is transfigured into written form, the episodes building one on another like a photograph superimposed, significances becoming apparent that aren’t there for the myopic characters themselves. Surprisingly affecting.

Speaking of the Rose by Robert Walser
in which sentences are like contortionists, able to keep your interest in all ways but what is actually being said (and sometimes in that way too).

A Few “I Must Also Mentions” (in no particular order):

  • How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
  • Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson
  • In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent
  • Winter’s Journal by Emmanuel Bove
  • Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
  • Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
  • Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
  • The Tanners by Robert Walser
  • Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh

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