Tag Archives: Novels

End of the Year Post

Sorry for the silence around here. I started a new job in November—I’m now a Field Sales Manger for Penguin Random House, selling Penguin books to the independents here in New England. I’ve been busy setting up a home office, getting to know my accounts, and reading Summer 2015 books.

While adding a few books to my Reading List, I noticed that I’m almost at 100 books for 2014. I’m not pressuring myself to hit 100, but sere’s hoping I do it. I’m about to get on a 6 hours flight to San Francisco, so I’m sure I can get at least 1-2 read. It was interesting going my reading list. There were definitely a lot of books that I forgot that I had read and clearly didn’t stick with me. But then there were the ones that did. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite books of 2014.

  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
  • Another Great Day by Geoff Dyer
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • Nobody is Every Missing by Catherine Lacey
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
  • Neverhome by Laird Hunt
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  • All 3 of the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante

One of my resolutions for 2015 is to write more here. I’m hoping to review some books, post about cooking projects, and perhaps write some observations about the life of a sales rep. I’m pretty sure I make the same resolution every year, but now that I’m working from home, with no boss looking over my shoulder, I can post as I please! And it’s work-related, so there.

Happy holidays folks. See you in the new year.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

If you’ve read World Made By Hand, you get the feeling that James Howard Kunstler is smugly waiting for the apocalypse in his bunker just so he can say “I told you so.” Of course, this is also true in almost any other end-of-the-world fantasy, from Dawn of the Dead and its warning of rampant consumerism to Justin Cronin’s The Passage and its parable of military experiments with vampires.

In Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel manages to avoid that trap entirely. Her novel is divided between post- and pre-apocalypse scenes, each populated by fully realized characters shot through with wistful desires for what it cannot have. A paparazzo wishes for more meaningful work. A successful actor realizes he has been horrible to all three of his wives, and it has in fact been his fault. A woman struggles to remember if both light and coldness came from refrigerators in the world before. A survivor picks through an abandoned library in search of celebrity gossip magazines and Justin Cronin novels.

In Mandel’s world, a particularly virulent flu comes from nowhere to wipe out most of humanity. The survivors cobble together what they can – a museum in a former airport. A newspaper published monthly and disseminated by horse-drawn cart. A traveling orchestra and theater troupe. A cult.

And the villans, if villains there be in this tale, are those who seek to put a moral on the disaster. Who leads the violent cult? A man whose mama always told him “things happen for a reason.”

No they don’t. Nature doesn’t care about you. Only humans care.

Mandel has a masterful novel here. Not just in its narrative structure, or in its language – although it is beautifully built and beautifully told. But it is also a masterpiece in the way it illuminates the flaws of the current world and the folly of our wishing for apocalypse and the simplification it might bring.

Mr Bookdwarf Reviews: Who is the great novelist you’re missing?

A few weeks ago my parents asked us for reading recommendations. Specifically, they said, “so, who’s the greatest living English-language novelist I haven’t heard of?”

Because that’s the kind of question my parents ask. It’s not an easy one to answer, though.

Meanwhile, my mother loaned me a copy of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station. She said she loved it, but I gave up less than halfway through. The constant asides and on-the-fly reinterpretations reminded me of David Foster Wallace, and not in a good way. The novelist and the narrator both seem to have an inability to simply be or mean something, replaced by obsession with the performance of being or meaning. My mother admits that she’s got a soft spot for “narcissistic young men who are enchanted with words,” which explains why she liked that book, and is probably also how she put up with having me for a teenaged son. But since I didn’t give birth to Ben Lerner’s protagonist, I don’t feel obligated to love him.

In other words, I don’t think Ben Lerner is the great novelist you’ve been missing.

I think it’s Marlon James. I haven’t read The Book of Night Women yet, but based on John Crow’s Devil and the new A Brief History of Seven Killings, he’s a genius we’ll be coming back to for decades.

Seven Killings spans thirty or so years in the history of Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora, an attempted assassination of Bob Marley,  political parties funding criminal street gangs, CIA involvement in foreign politics, the rise and fall of rock journalism, and the crack epidemic. Most of the characters are fictional, but a lot of the events happened, more or less &endash; the epigraph of the book is the Kingston saying If it don’t go so, it go near so.

These novels are not perfect little gems. They sprawl. They have more characters and more settings than are strictly necessary. You may need to consult your Urban Dictionary to make sure you know the difference between a batty man and a samfi man. But the style alone is worth the ride: the rapid code-switching as different people talk in different ways to each other, to themselves, and to strangers, is masterful. And beyond the style, James seems to have created an entirely believable window into the minds of dozens of people.

James does include the occasional ghost or inexplicable happening, and that will probably draw comparisons to García Márquez, because tropical climate and the spirit world always do. It’s not an unfair comparison, because there’s a hallucinatory sort of quality to some of these scenes, but his work isn’t just some dreadlocked version of magical realism.  It’s an entirely different animal, and it’s amazing.