10. Patron: If I was feeling particularly existentialist, what book would you recommend for me?
9. Patron: Hi. I’m looking for a book called Bay Wolves. Can you help me find it?
Me: Sure, let me look it up for you… Hmmm, sorry we don’t have any books by that name. Do you know the author’s name, maybe?
Patron: No, but I think it’s spelled kind of weird, like B-E-O… wolves.
Me: …Do you mean Beowulf?
8. Patron: Can you help me find the Law Library?
Me: [pulls out a map] The Law Library is right here. You just walk down this street, turn this corner, and you’ll be there.
Patron: Thanks, hopefully they’ll have a book about Newton’s Laws.
Me: Uh, maybe you’re looking for the Physics Library instead…?
Though I’m still reeling to catch up on the great new releases of 2012, and though I already have a set list of books to tackle as my New Year’s resolution, I’m already salivating over the following sneak previews that come courtesy of The Millions. Apparently the first stage of overcoming literature fatigue is admitting that you will never catch up to all the amazing books out there. Maybe I’ll get around to these promising reads in 2016 or so. Til then, well hello Booker Prize winner of 2010…
What new releases are you looking forward to this year?
Umbrella by Will Self: Shortly before Umbrella came out in the UK last September, Will Self published an essay in The Guardian about how he’d gone modernist. “As I’ve grown older, and realised that there aren’t that many books left for me to write, so I’ve become determined that they should be the fictive equivalent of ripping the damn corset off altogether and chucking it on the fire.” Umbrella is the result of Self’s surge in ambition, and it won him some of the best reviews of his career, as well as his first Booker shortlisting. He lost out to Hilary Mantel in the end, but he won the moral victory in the group photo round by doing this.
Scenes from Early Life by Philip Hensher: In his eighth novel, Scenes from Early Life, Philip Hensher “shows for the first time what [he] has largely concealed in the past: his heart,” writes Amanda Craig in The Independent. Written in the form of a memoir, narrated in the voice of Hensher’s real-life husband Zaved Mahmood, the novel invites comparison with Gertrude Stein’sThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Described as a hybrid of fiction, history, and biography—and as both “clever” and “loving”—the inventive project here is distinctly intriguing.
My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak: When Maurice Sendak died last May he left one, final, unpublished book behind. It is, according to a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, a beautiful, intensely serious elegy for Sendak’s beloved older brother Jack, who died in 1995. The story, illustrated in watercolors, has Guy (a stand-in for Sendak), journeying down the gullet of a massive polar bear named Death- “Diving through time so vast—sweeping past paradise”- into an underworld where he and Jack have one last reunion. “To read this intensely private work,” writes Publisher’s Weekly, “is to look over the artist’s shoulder as he crafts his own afterworld, a place where he lies in silent embrace with those he loves forever.”
See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid: For See Now Then, her first novel in a decade, Jamaica Kincaid settles into a small town in Vermont, where she dissects the past, present and future of the crumbling marriage of Mrs. Sweet, mother of two children named Heracles and Persephone, a woman whose composer husband leaves her for a younger musician. Kincaid is known as a writer who can see clean through the surface of things – and people – and this novel assures us that “Mrs. Sweet could see Mrs. Sweet very well.”
Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun: English poet, novelist and short story writer James Lasdun’s new book is a short memoir about a long and harrowing experience at the hands of a former student who set out to destroy him and through online accusations of sexual harassment and theft. J.M. Coetzee has called it “a reminder, as if any were needed, of how easily, since the arrival of the Internet, our peace can be troubled and our good name besmirched.”
All That Is by James Salter: Upon return from service as a naval officer in Okinawa, Philip Bowman becomes a book editor during the “golden age” of publishing. The publisher’s blurb promises “Salter’s signature economy of prose” and a story about the “dazzling, sometimes devastating labyrinth of love and ambition.” In our interview with Salter in September, he told us it was “an intimate story about a life in New York publishing,” some 10 years in the making. From John Irving: “A beautiful novel, with sufficient love, heartbreak, vengeance, identity confusion, longing, and euphoria of language to have satisfied Shakespeare.” Tim O’Brien: “Salter’s vivid, lucid prose does exquisite justice to his subject—the relentless struggle to make good on our own humanity.” April will not come soon enough.
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt: You Are One of Them is Pushcart Prize-winner Elliott Holt’s debut novel. You might be forgiven for thinking she’d already published a few books, as Holt has been a fixture of the literary Twittersphere for years. Holt’s debut is a literary suspense novel spanning years, as a young woman, raised in politically charged Washington D.C. of the 1980s, goes to Moscow to investigate the decades-old death of her childhood friend.
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel: A short story collection that includes the author’s New Yorker debut, “Atria”. If that piece is any indication, the book is more than a bit fabulist – the plot involves a girl who finds herself pregnant and worries she’ll give birth to an animal. The specter of parenthood, as the title suggests, appears in numerous guises, as does the reinvention that marked the protagonists of her novel (the genesis of which she wrote about in our own pages).
His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon: Stephen Dixon, a writer known for rendering unbearable experiences, has built his 15th novel around a premise that is almost unbearably simple: A man named Martin is thinking about the loss of his wife, Gwen. Dixon’s long and fruitful career includes more than 500 shorts stories, three O. Henry Prizes, two Pushcart Prizes and a pair of nominations for the National Book Award. His Wife Leaves Him, according to its author, “is about a bunch of nouns: love, guilt, sickness, death, remorse, loss, family, matrimony, sex, children, parenting, aging, mistakes, incidents, minutiae, birth, music, jobs, affairs, memory, remembering, reminiscence, forgetting, repression, dreams, reverie, nightmares, meeting, dating, conceiving, imagining, delaying, loving.”
Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff: Rakoff passed away last summer at the age of 47, shortly after completing this slender novel “written entirely in verse.” His previous books have been largely satirical, so this final work is a departure: stretching across the country and the twentieth century, the novel’s stories are linked by “acts of generosity or cruelty.” Ira Glass, who brought Rakoff to the airwaves for more than a decade, has described the book as “very funny and very sad, which is my favorite combination” (a fair descriptor of much of Rakoff’s radio work, likethis heartbreaking performance from the live episode of “This American Life” staged just a few months before his death.)
Blast, this Top Ten only made it halfway through the year! There’s just too much brewing to be able to discern what will be the true standouts. For the full list, arranged by release date, head over to The Millions immediately.
Better Book Titles is an amusing collection of attempts to rename well-known works of literature. The results are pithy and appropriate, summarizing everything you really need to know about a book right on its cover (ex. Oedipus Rex becomes “How I Met Your Mother,” The Giver = “Love in the Time of Death Panels,” and Atonement translates to “Kids Say the Darndest Things”). There are so many entires to browse and chuckle over in the archive, it was difficult to comprise just one “top ten” list from them! Take a peek at the selection below, then tell us which book you’d like to rename in a comment.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
IQ84 by Haruki Murakami
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Is it possible to rank the world’s best literature?
Well, no, and we’re certainly not going to try. Although in 2007, one publication did. Now we ask, did it get it right?
The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books is a collection of “Top Ten” lists provided by some of the world’s most respected authors–125 altogether, from Norman Mailer, to Jonathan Franzen, to Stephen King and Annie Proulx. In all, a total of 544 works were mentioned at least once in the 125 lists, which were further separated by different criteria to concoct a number of other lists:
• The Top Top Ten Books of All Time
• The Top Ten Books by Living Writers
• The Top Ten Books of the Twentieth Century
• The Top Ten Mysteries
• The Top Ten Comedies
… and many more.
Despite the book’s seemingly absolutist mission to seek out the best ten books ever, its editor J. Peder Zane views the collection more as a reading guide. He was inspired by a dream that other readers will probably find familiar; stranded on a desert island and thirsting for nothing other than a really good book, Zane suddenly found himself pelted from above with one masterpiece after another, turning his “little isle into a Tower of Biblio-Babel.” He interpreted the dream to represent the “opportunity and befuddlement” book lovers face, and resolved to answer that perpetual reader’s question, “What should I read next?”
“Part Rand-McNally, part Zagat’s, part cultural Prozac, it takes the anxiety out of bibliophilia by offering a comprehensive and authoritative guide to the world’s best books.”–J. Peder Zane
Something notable about the reduction of a near infinite choice of works to one relatively small collection is the resultant ability to point out patterns in the writers’ selections. Amongst all of them, there is an overwhelming prevalence to go for “memorable character-driven dramas of love and death, delineated by nuanced prose,” as Sven Birkerts so elegantly puts it. We can also see that across all of the lists, the 1920s produced the most popular works, comprising 15 novels named on two or more lists. (The twentieth century in all was the far more appreciated century.) The book’s appendix cross-references the 544 books by many other illuminating standards.
And yet, can we really reduce the supposed best literature of all time into lists, no matter how many we have of them? Annie Proulx, who submitted a list of her own top ten didn’t seem to think so as she penned, “Lists, unless grocery shopping lists, are truly a reductio ad absurdum.”
Whatever you believe, whether the 544 books in The Top Ten can be considered the best books ever or not, the collection must at least highlight a multitude of books that can all be deemed “worth your time.” Close your eyes and stab your finger on any one of its pages and you’ll stumble upon a good read (or at least somebody’s good read). After all, given that 125 famous and respected living writers contributed to the list of “top top ten” below, it wouldn’t do you any harm to give each a try. At least, I know what my next New Year’s resolution will be.
Thanks to Flavorwire, we have a nifty infograph to pictorially dilute the massive amount of information found in the book. Have a look through the results and tell us what you think in a comment. Who was shafted? Who doesn’t deserve to be on the list? We want to hear your thoughts!