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2009 Reads

January 6, 2010


An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira, and…

How I Became a Nun by Cesar Aira

in which Argentinian writer (and we all know about them Argentinian writers) takes us on adventures involving surreal shape-shifting narratives, philosophical insights, and much attention to language (yes, it’s well translated).

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

in which I emerge from a fog of folklore and historic tangents infused w/ personal memories of a little boy Malte (read: Rainer in feeble disguise) all grown up and wandering the streets of Paris having excessive thoughts on death, poverty, and ghosts.  WTF, Rainer?  Is this really what you call a novel?  Whatever, at least it’s fucking great.

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

in which a bunch of pirates end up accidentally kidnapping a bunch of kids.  Poor pirates.  These kids are merciless.  Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.  I recommend this book for people who love kids.  Bonus: many animals, death, and various other perfundities.  Is that a word?

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

in which two serious ladies engage in various random acts of nonconformity in order to escape from their dull lives.  Many strange people met on the way.  Funny and charming and sad and indeed.

Frances Johnson by Stacey Levine

in which one, Frances Johnson, is introduced wherein she is worried about various contrivances say her warts or some other thing or where oh where her bicycle takes her.  A very experimental novel, but also a touching and soft one too, which is nice to know: that that is still possible I mean.

Stoner by John Williams

in which a most boring college professor’s life is recounted in bibliographic and chronological order which sounds really boring but actually I have no idea how it snuck up on me and was just the most powerful book ever and made me cry and cry and cry.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

in which a little girl grows up in the slums, and finds ways to be positive around every corner, and somehow almost always evading sentimentality.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

in which Gustave my man Gustave writes his tercid prose is that a word tercid?  does it mean turd-like?  Well, no matter, this book that bowled me over with passage after passage, is about a woman who is never satisfied and almost never happy.  Sweet lord, what a book.

Moviegoer by Walker Percy

in which something happens in New Orleans inside of the head of Binx Bolling who happens to have some ideas in there as well, and they knock around, and this book came out.  Funny, I remember hardly anything about this book anymore.


The Story of Mary Maclane by Mary Maclane

in which Mary Maclane, a nineteen year old girl stuck in Butte Montana in 1901, writes a sort of definition of herself… or a manifesto, of sorts.  She is a genius!  She has a “peripatetic” philosophy inside of her “wooden heart”.  She has a crush on a lady friend.  She worships Napoleon and has 17 portraits of him.

Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny

in which the true story of Mary Bell, an 11-year old girl who killed 2 boys ages 3 and 4 many years ago, is finally revealed through intense writing and recounting of the events that followed the events preceeding, as well as through personal interviews with Mary Bell, who is now out of jail and has children of her own.  Did I mention “intense”?  This book is enough to give you a fever, and make you think twice about why children do the things they do.  Was Mary Bell evil?  Or was something else at work here?

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

in which the secret of happiness is revealed to be a state of mind achieved through unriveted attention, well-defined goals, clear feedback, and the perfect level of difficulty (not too hard, not too easy).  A very interesting book, which doesn’t just stop at the science, but includes very human elements.

Breaking the News by James Fallows

in which the horrid state of journalism is detailed in every way possible.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you realize that this book was written during Clinton’s era, and that things have gotten much worse with Fox News, Reality TV, and a bunch of other things that I don’t even want to think about.  Someone kill me now.


Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell

in which Rainer Maria Rilke is very poet-like in the traditional sense of being inspired by angels while holing up in a castle for ten years.  The Duino Elegies blew my mind, and I can’t believe I had not discovered Rilke until 2009.  Get this translation, especially, it is superb, if I can say that.

The Making of Pre by Francis Ponge

in which Francis Ponge, being French, labors over the phenomenological atoms of rivers and plains, coming up with a meadow on which theoretical swords are crossed and yet one is felled in practice.  Mr. Ponge, you killed me on the Pre, but this is a very interesting read.  Bonus: lots of words vehemently crossed out.

Isle of the Signatories by Marjorie Welish

in which nobody else got it but I did and started reading it all the way from the bookstore till I got home.  Something about words or signs and what they pointed to, and how pretentious that is, and how like an academic with a tenure track going round and round.  But more visceral, in my opinion, more stabby.

The Romance of Happy Workers by Anne Boyer

in which no word is the blip of its own passing, and Anne Boyer is a woman of sufficient means moving over the page with slight curtsies because, well, just because.  I think I’m turning into Dawn with this review.