Thursday, December 07, 2006

Critical Mass: My favorite books of the year

[For those of you joining from the National Book Critics Circle blog—welcome! For those of you starting here, take a look over there for my top pick...]

Turning to fiction: Lawrence Douglas's debut novel, The Catastrophist is seriously underrated. I don't naturally gravitate toward the academic novel or the midlife crisis novel, but it doesn't matter—Douglas's prose is marvelously fluid, smart, and funny. The fact that I keep thinking "Nabokovian" can't be a bad thing. Other standouts (no particular order): James P. Othmer's The Futurist; Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children; my Believer co-conspirator Heidi Julavits's page-turning The Uses of Enchantment and (similarly narratively playful, completely original) T Cooper's Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes; Michael Friedman's very strange Martian Dawn; Laird Hunt's cool Sebald cover version, The Exquisite; Max Allan Collins's The Last Quarry, from the glorious recidivists at Hard Case Crime. Of course there are a dozen books (new Pynchon, Eggers, Lynne Tillman, Ngugi wa'Thiongo, et al.) that I haven't had a chance to finish/read yet and that I suspect would land on this shortlist. (Maybe make that two dozen.)

Nonfiction favorites: Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss's Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder; Richard Halpern's Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence; Brandon Stosuy's endlessly browsable Downtown-lit compendium Up Is Up, But So Is Down; Simon Reynolds's post-punk history, Rip It Up and Start Again. Among the people laid off by The Village Voice this year are two with excellent new books. Toni Schlesinger's Five Flights Up collects her inimitable "Shelter" columns (which I edited for several years), a wildly entertaining ride that's pure New York. And ex–film editor Dennis Lim has put together The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies From Classics to Cult Hits. It's a treasure trove of smart, elegant reviews from the paper's once-sui generis film section, authored by familiar names (J. Hoberman), old legends (Andrew Sarris, Jonas Mekas), and the occasional surprise guest (Oliver Stone, writing passionately on Breathless in 1972).

And I will plunge straight into conflict-of-interest land for my poetry picks—three uniquely brilliant things, by three friends whose tastes have shaped mine: Joshua Clover's The Totality for Kids, Sarah Manguso's Siste Viator, and Jane Yeh's Marabou.


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