Posts tagged ‘Lists’

December 25, 2010

Don’t Read These Books: Our Least Favorites of 2010

by thiszine

BY THIS ZINE STAFF

“Best Of” and “Favorites” lists have been coming out all month long (we published our own yesterday), but what about the worst books of the year? For a cheat sheet on which books to avoid, check out our least favorites of 2010.

 


JOHN COLEMAN
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
A good attempt at a fresh Holocaust story, but the book’s hefty devotion to an inner-story play turns it into a train wreck. Martel should have done like his character and written an essay on revitalising Holocaust representation instead of attempting to depict it.

C by Tom McCarthy
McCarthy needs to get out of the Victorian era if he wants the new generation to read his books.

In addition, John’s “on the fence” about David Bergen’s The Matter with Morris : A relevant and needed look at the lives of war parents. Although not as drab as Martel's 2010 offering, there are times when Morris whines about his life in excess. If you don't want to read about male menopause, don't read Morris.

 

SWEETMAN
Sweetman’s 2010 Hit List – because some books are just so much fun to hate!

The Entire Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
Dreadful with dull teeth. I never thought I’d get tired of seeing the word sparkling. I reviewed them on my blog but don’t feel you have to read the ranting – just believe me, I loathed it to the point that Stephanie Meyers really, really, really, really hates me – oh, sorry, I start to write like her when I think about the books!

The Help by Katherine Stockett
A young white woman in the 1960’s in Mississippi is the only person on the planet who strives for racial equality in really annoying Suthun’ patois. Took the book clubs by storm and took every ounce of Sweetman’s will to not throw it against the wall because she was reading a friend’s copy.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Cursed with Jane Austen praise, Ms. Goodman fell far short of any Austen comparison. A long, overwrought, drivel about…well there were a few cookbooks in there somewhere.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I was disappointed in this quick read due to the lack of depth. It read like a condensed version of a more substantial novel.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult
I can’t honestly comment on this because I didn’t finish it. Ms. Picoult appears to have a burning desire to write about the wrenching societal dilemma of the moment with as much engaging flair as the list of ingredients on a cereal box.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I was confused, disappointed and felt stupid because I just could not get into this book! Was it the translation? The violence? The irrelevant details? The boringness? What did I miss? See the movie.

The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar
Boy did I struggle with this biography of writer Patricia Highsmith! Call me rigid and inflexible but I find it easier to read a biography in chronological order and found myself wanting to call up Ms. Schenkar to ask her if that would have been so difficult given the maniacally rigid order that Miss Highsmith reportedly kept of her life and writing.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Ugh Ugh Ugh.

 

URSULA K. RAPHAEL
One of the biggest waste of trees that I’ve ever read was This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson.

Want to know why? Read Ursula’s review, forthcoming in our blog.

 

LACEY N. DUNHAM
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
All the hipsters and Brooklynites will hate me for this one but I found Auster way overrrated, especially after I considered the superb meta-fiction of Mark Z. Danielewski and read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas about a month after I finished The New York Trilogy.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
A sort-of sequel to Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero, which so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the ’80s, Imperial Bedrooms attempts a Raymond Chandler-esque noir and fails to hit anywhere near the mark. While the prose keeps very much to Ellis’s typical style, he can’t seem to successfully merge the type of provocative writing from which he’s largely built his fame and the type of genre writing perfected by others.

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
Shriver’s novel, shaped by the issue of health care in the U.S., was released shortly before the eventual passage of actual health care reform (or Obamacare, depending on your politics). In a novel so carefully wrought, so precisely personal, it’s too bad So Much For That’s stiff prose and exhausting machinations of plot lacks the muckraking ululations for change.

In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch
Welch’s undercover foray (as a writer, not a journalist) into the world of Evangelism at the Thomas Road Baptist Church (founded by Jerry Falwell) offers strong writing but lacks new insights into the life and beliefs of Evangelical Christians and certainly doesn’t add much to the conversation between Evangelicals and non-believers. Walking a fine line of respect for her subjects, Welch eventually comes clean to her friends at Thomas Road that she’s an atheist who doesn’t need Jesus to save her soul, but only after her book contract is wrapped up and her editor gives the green light.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
So little action occurs in the first two-thirds of Kostova’s novel that even the overarching sweep of a mysterious woman inching the narrative forward is too minuscule to make me care about what is, ostensibly, the real story that happens in the last hundred or so pages. Even when the mystery is resolved, there is no satisfaction in the predictable ending, nothing that makes the long wait through six hundred pages pay off. Without any real definition to her characters, a lackluster plot, and an ending the fizzles rather than bangs, Kostova delivers a wholly forgettable book.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Ugh, this was awful. I mean, seriously, terrible. It reads fast and still I couldn’t get through it. Yet, it seems to be popular among book clubs, which is why I don’t belong to any book clubs.

December 24, 2010

Our 2010 Favorites

by thiszine

BY THIS ZINE STAFF

Yes, it’s the time of year to reflect on our favorite books of the year. We asked our staff to give us some insight on what they’ve loved this year from what they’ve read. Keep in mind, not all the books were necessarily published in 2010, just enjoyed in 2010.

 

 

 

NICHOLAS Y.B. WONG
Louise Gluck’s A Village Life, no doubt about it.

 

JOHN COLEMAN
This Cake Is For The Party by Sarah Selecky is a great contemporary vision of mid-life Canadians’ issues, written with the sharpness of a sword.

The Sentamentalists by Johanna Skibsrud Giller Prize-winning novel, showing underdogs can dominate Can Lit, in both style and subject matter.

 

SWEETMAN
I love to love books more than I love to hate them – honest! My “Top Shelf” books for the year include:

-Stoner by John Williams
This was the best book of 2010 and possibly one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

– Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
A travel book from the seat of a bicycle, Mr. Byrne’s essays and observations while on his bike were insightful, interesting, funny and evocative. A great book to take-along for intermittent reading.

– First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant
This beekeeping book was written in 1917, revised and rewritten over the years by Dadant’s descendants, has everything for every level of beekeeper. One of the best beekeeping books out there.

– Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
It held up despite the controversy, Franzenspec and Oprah. Dragging parts aside, Freedom was well done.


– Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
This book was placed in my hands by a bookstore manager and it was possibly the best novel of 2010 that I’d never heard about. I completely lost myself in this beautifully written novel.

– Tinkers by Paul Harding
This small novel, elegantly written, is a hefty, substantial read and has stayed with me since I finished it.

– Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
My finest library find of 2010, this a collection of stories about New York city from the 1930s and 1940s that are so well done, I traveled back in time with these stories in my hands.

– The Man In The Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
The prequel to my second-favorite novel of 2010, this is the story of Betty Feathers, wife of Old Filth. Jane Gardam is one of the most insightful, sharp, skilled and brilliant writers I have had the pleasure to happen upon.

– The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
This collection of stories demonstrates the versatility and wit of my new favorite author.

– Old Filth by Jane Gardam
I finished this book wishing I hadn’t read it so I could enjoy it again. This was the first Jane Gardam novel I read and, as you can see by my list, I couldn’t get enough of her. Old Filth was her masterpiece. A close second to Williams’ Stoner for me.

 

LACEY N. DUNHAM
My favorite book of the year was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which is the type of novel that converts you to an author and leaves you determined to read everything he’s ever published. This novel is the type of meta-fiction that puts Paul Auster to shame: clever, beautiful, and intricate without descending into flashy showmanship. My other favorites of the year include:

– Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in our Times by Eavan Boland
An autobiographical meditation on the act of writing poetry as an Irish woman, Boland’s breathtaking prose and shrewd synthesis of the traditions of poetry, both as a male pursuit and as a political act in the Irish tradition, is required reading for women as readers of good poetry and literature and for women intent on carving themselves a name as a writer.

– A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
The story of five generations of women unable to reconcile the dissatisfaction with their lives to their heritage as progeny of a revolutionary, Walbert reaches forward and backward in time to shape this vibrant, richly expressed narrative through each woman’s voice.

– The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Set in post-WWII England, the myriad specters that haunt Waters’ novel – social class, class envy, sexual repression, and the rapidly changing world – are vibrantly rendered as the isolated and suffering gentry family at the tale’s center witness increasingly violent and preternatural acts. The Little Stranger is a chilling Gothic novel enveloped by beautiful prose that imbues the malevolence with careful restraint.

– Wolf Hallby Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel utilizes every aspect of history to re-create a vivid world while providing dramatic tension from a contemporary vantage point and knowledge of history. Her prose is perfect. Her themes ring true to the current political climate (and, one suspects, to every political climate).


– The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
Mengestu’s novel is set Washington, DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood which, as a DC resident, I thought I knew well. Reading Mengestu’s novel taught me how wrong I was. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is more than an immigrant story: it’s a novel about missed opportunities – in relationships, in life – and the inevitability of, sometimes violent, change. What is gentrification if not sanctioned class violence against the less privileged? And in a country built by immigrants, how does the contemporary, unfiltered immigrant experience compare to the mythology of America’s promise? Mengestu speaks to both of these questions in this stunning, beautiful novel.

– Tinkers by Paul Harding
For the first 40 or so pages of Tinkers, I was unconvinced that Paul Harding should have won the Pulitzer for this father-son novel. However, as the two stories about father and son enter the same frame the magic of Tinkers comes through in its striking imagery and gentle pacing that quietly build momentum through to the powerful ending.

 

photo by Ethan Anderson

August 4, 2010

Cheer up Barack! Recommended Birthday Reads for the President

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U.S. President Barack Obama celebrates his 49th birthday today and the news is, well, not very celebratory. With an anti-incumbent campaign season looming in November, sinking poll numbers (Gallup states that First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton all have approval ratings higher than the president’s) and an economy that’s sluggishly moving forward, Barack may very well skip the parties this year. Because no birthday should be without some type of fun (and isn’t reading fun?) we give you:


BARACK’S RECOMMENDED B-DAY READING


Curious George and the Birthday Surprise by H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey

When the man with the yellow hat tells George that he is planning a surprise, of course George is curious. Let’s just hope it’s not a faltering economy, an oil spill, and sinking poll numbers!


George W. Bushisms: The Slate Book of The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of our 43rd President by Jacob Weisberg

From one president to another: “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there’s no question about it.”


You CAN Retire Young: How to Retire in Your 40s or 50s Without Being Rich by Larry A. Ferstenou

Maybe it’s time to start planning for the big 50 now.


The Promise: President Obama, Year One by Jonathan Alter

Next up, Jonathan Alter presents What the Hell Was I Thinking When I Ran For This Job?: President Obama, Year Two.

June 14, 2010

Kingsolver Wins Orange Prize and The New Yorker Shakes Up the Young Literati

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Awards! Awards! Awards! It sounds a bit like Monday night at the monster truck rally.

Barbara Kingsolver won The Orange Prize for Fiction last week for her novel The Lacuna, an expansive story set primarily in Mexico that entwines the Mexican Revolution, McCarthyism, Freida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The novel took Kingsolver a decade to write and for the honor, Kingsolver beat out perpetual award winner Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and Lorrie Moore’s Gate At the Stairs. According to The Independent, the decision over who should win the award agonized the judges. The Orange Prize is annually awarded to a woman of any nationality for a novel written in English.


The Orange Award for New Writers went to Irene Sabatini, a Zimbabwean writer, for her novel The Boy Next Door, a novel about a relationship between a black woman and the son of her white neighbor, who is suspected of murder. Set during Zimbabwe’s break with British colonial rule, The Boy Next Door examines racial prejudice and post-colonial rule in the context of an interracial couple’s secrets. The award for new writers is given annually to the first published work of fiction by a woman of any nationality.

The New Yorker released its list (which, coming from the pages of The New Yorker is basically an award) of the 20 best writers under the age of 40 to watch, a list that, when last compiled a decade ago, included then-unknown writers Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Jonathan Franzen (whose novel Freedom is due in late August). While the list certainly sent many young, hopeful writers to extra therapy sessions, the UK’s The Guardian noted that the list was an “interesting and diverse line-up.” The New Yorker editor David Remnick said the list is “meant to shine a light on writers and get people to pay attention.” Presumably he means to great literature and not to his own publication.

(Aw shucks, we are taking the piss out of the magazine a bit but who can resist? Don’t worry, this editor Lacey N. Dunham has a secret subscription to the magazine, proving that it’s okay to make fun of friends.)

So here, complete with books to recommend and their age, the top 20 list:


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32, is probably best known for her 2007 novel Half of a Yellow Sun. She has written other novels and, most recently, a short story collection.

Chris Adrian, 39, author of three novels (a forth is due later this year), including the McSweeney’s published The Children’s Hospital.

Daniel Alarcón, 33, a novelist, most recently edited The Secret Miracle: A Novelist’s Handbook.

David Bezmozgis, 37, has published a collection of short stories called Natasha: and other stories.

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38, most recently published The Ms. Hempel Chronicles.

Joshua Ferris, 35, has published And Then We Came To The End and, most recently The Unnamed.

Jonathan Safran Foer, 33, is probably best known for Everything is Illuminated, a meta-novel whose American protagonist, Jonathan Safran Foer, travels to the Ukraine to uncover information about his Jewish grandfather.

Nell Freudenberger, 35, has published a novel, The Dissidents, and a short story collection, Lucky Girls.

Rivka Galchen, 34, published her first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, in 2008.

Nicole Krauss, 35, is most known for her novel The History of Love. She has a new novel, Great House due out this fall.

Dinaw Mengestu, 31, is best known for The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and has a forthcoming novel How To Read the Air due in October.

Philipp Meyer, 36, published his novel American Rust last year.

C .E. Morgan, 33, recently published her first novel, All the Living.

Téa Obreht, 24, is the youngest writer on the list. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, among others. Her novel The Tiger’s Wife is currently scheduled for publication in 2011.

Yiyun Li, 37, has published two collections of short stories and most recently the novel The Vagrants.

ZZ Packer

ZZ Packer, 37, published a short story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere in 2004.

Karen Russell
, 28, has published the collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and has a novel, Swamplandia!, due in 2011.

Salvatore Scibona, 35, is the author of the novel The End.

Gary Shteyngart, 37, has published two novels, most notably Absurdistan. His latest novel, Super Sad True Love Story, will be published in July.

Wells Tower, 37, has published a collection of short stories, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.

Read the editors’ note on how they selected their list and then enjoy a Q&A with each of the writers mentioned.

September 9, 2009

Man Booker Short List

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The judging committee for The Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2009 announced the shortlist on Tuesday. The cool thing is that interviews with each of the authors can be found in the Perspective section along with audio extracts of each of their titles. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 6 October 2009.

 

If you’ve read any of these titles, please leave a comment for us or write a review about the book!

 

Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2009
Shortlist Nominees

A S Byatt
The Children’s Book

 

J M Coetzee
Summertime

 

Adam Foulds
The Quickening Maze

 

Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall

 

Simon Mawer
The Glass Room

 

Sarah Waters
The Little Stranger

August 30, 2009

Classic Children’s Books

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I never knew until recently what a list fiend I am. I’ve always dismissed “top ten” lists (which is probably why I’ve never enjoyed David Letterman) and all those “What’s hot/What’s not” lists in various magazines. And yet here I am again writing up another list for this zine’s blog. I guess I love book lists (I keep an active Goodreads account, both for the blog and for myself).

 

In the spirit of excellent lists (as opposed to mediocre lists), here’s NPR’s A Classic List of Children’s Must-Read Books (with comments).

 

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I loved The Boxcar Children series growing up and read all of the originals plus extras written by ghost writers after Warner had passed on. Mystery, thrills, orphans, boxcars (though it took me a while to learn what, exactly, a boxcar was) this series was my first of many obsessions.

 

The Witches by Roald Dahl
I’ve actually never read The Witches. (gasp!) In fact, I never read any Roald Dahl growing up, unless it was for school (James and Giant Peach). I did, however, see the movie Mathilda, based on a Dahl book, probably thousands of times as a babysitter of young children. I’ll have to add this to my list of books to read.

 

The Devil’s Storybook by Natalie Babbitt
Ditto to this. Never read it though I love the title.

 

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Ditto. Man, NPR is busting me up.

 

Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
Wasn’t there a Lindsey Lohan movie of the same title?

 

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer
I loved this book growing up, even if I didn’t quite get it. What’s not to love: he boy representing the .5 in the 2.5 kids for the average American family; the Promethean task the protagonist is given; the wonderful and curious illustrations. I need to go back and re-read this one.

 

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
Okay, wow, another one I’ve never read. Did I just have an abnormal childhood?

 

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg
Konigsburg’s tale combined two of my favorite things growing up: learning and mysteries. While I can’t quite remember all the details of the mystery involved, I do remember my immense jealousy that the siblings in the story were able to stay the night in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, long before Ben Stiller hit the Smithsonian with a synergized pale comparison.

 

Watership Down by Richard Adams
I truly must be the only American youth who has not read Watership Down. I’ve heard lots about it though: talking rabbits, references in Donnie Darko, death, destruction. One of those classics I suppose I should pick up someday and enjoy with the pessimism of an adult.

 

The House with the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs, illustrated by Edward Gorey
I’ve never even heard of this but I love Edward Gorey’s dark drawings and twisted humor. This is definitely on my to-read list.

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August 24, 2009

15 Books in 15 Minutes

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RULES: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Next, share your list with 15 friends.

 

I took seven minutes to come up with my list. I don’t unilaterally love all of these books. Some are on the list as books that “will always stick with [me]” for better or worse. There are three short stories on the list because I love short stories and as I was thinking of my fifteen books, they came into my head. Also included are a play and a children’s book. The list is in the order the books came to me.

 

this zine’s 15 Books in 15 Minutes:

1. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
2. Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol
3. 36 Children by Herbert Kohl
4. Madame Bovary by Flaubert
5. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
6. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
7. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
8. Singing from the Well by Reinaldo Arenas
9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
10. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
11. “The Descent of Man” (short story) by T.C. Boyle
12. “Rape Fantasies” (short story) by Margaret Atwood
13. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
14. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
15. “The Dead” (short story) by James Joyce

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July 28, 2009

Man Booker Longlist 2009 Announced

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The Man Booker Prize announced its longlist for the 2009 prize.

 

Below is the complete longlist. We’d love to hear your comments and opinions on the books below!

 

Chaired by broadcaster and author James Naughtie, the 2009 judges are Lucasta Miller, biographer and critic; Michael Prodger, Literary Editor of The Sunday Telegraph; Professor John Mullan, academic, journalist and broadcaster and Sue Perkins, comedian, journalist and broadcaster.

 


Man Booker Prize Longlist 2009

A.S. Byatt, The Children’s Book
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime
Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze
Sarah Hall, How to paint a dead man
Samantha Harvey, The Wilderness
James Lever, Me Cheeta
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer, The Glass Room
Ed O’Loughlin, Not Untrue & Not Unkind
James Scudamore, Heliopolis
Colm Toibin, Brooklyn
William Trevor, Love and Summer
Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger

 

July 25, 2009

You’re Fired! (from the Canon), Pt. 2

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this zine’s 8 Books to Drop-kick from the Canon

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Natural by Bernard Malamud
-Anything written by Christopher Marlowe
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
-Anything written by Ayn Rand

 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Twain’s novel meanders carelessly through the various characters in a “plot” that some critics have compared to the winding Mississippi River down which Huck and Jim travel. I find this a pretty sorry excuse for a novel that wanders aimlessly and inconclusively and, ultimately, asks far too much of the reader. Huck’s shenanigans aren’t amazing to grown-ups and are presented in a way more appropriate to a young adult novel. Twain’s novel is often sited for bringing awareness to the plight and troubles of African-Americans. If that’s so, then he does it in a narrow and Huck-obsessed way.

 

The Natural by Bernard Malamud
I’m not a huge fan of most sports, baseball included. I find little stimulation in watching a slow moving, non-intellectual game played by overgrown schoolboys pumped up on steroids. (My home state team growing up were the Detroit Tigers, which might have had something to do with my baseball lethargy as well.) Going into The Natural, I was determined to remain open-minded and enjoy the novel, despite the baseball premise. Wrong. Malamud’s story is sentimental and overly-romantic, both about baseball and love. There’s little for the reader to sink her teeth into unless she’s David Halberstrom and, even then, I found this book about as thrilling as watching my cats sleep, which is to say, skip it. Skip the movie Robert Redford/Glenn Close movie too.

 

Anything written by Christopher Marlowe
Oh Christopher Marlowe, where to begin? A contemporary of Shakespeare’s, Marlowe is half as a talented and four times as grating as watching even Shakespeare’s dullest plays (in my opinion, the histories). To both read and watch a Marlowe play is to feel oneself trapped inside a horribly repetitive fun house mirror where everything is terribly distorted. Characters who shouldn’t matter do. Characters we want to learn more about are never brought to light. The narrative starts at the beginning and loops back again and again and again without adding anything each successive pass except the increasingly annoyance of the reader/audience. The only play I’ve ever walked out of was Marlowe’s Edward II and the ticket was free. Walking out of a play I’ve paid nothing to see? Yes, it was that bad.

 

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Philip Roth has written a lot of good books. The Plot Against America is not one of them. The book is written from a historical imagining that the anti-Semite and isolationist Charles Lindbergh won the 1940 presidential election (instead of FDR) and, as a result, 1940s America starts to look increasingly like 1940s Germany. The premise is wonderful and Roth an expert novelist. The problem with The Plot Against America is that in the political and coming-of-age confusion felt by the characters in the novel is transferred too well to the reader. The wonderful premise disintegrates and the novel suddenly feels like a propaganda piece of a very different kind.

 


A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole
I enjoy novels with unusual, even despicable protagonists so long as one redeeming quality exists to hang my sympathies on. In A Confederacy of Dunces, that’s exactly what I’m missing: Ignatius J. Reilly gives me so little to sympathize with that I can’t enjoy the novel. He’s rude and abusive to his mother, he’s lazy and self-indulgent, and his egotistical whimperings when he’s forced to find a job are beyond pitiful. Reilly is such an obnoxious and grating character that I couldn’t see past his bloated figure to the humor the novel is generally much beloved for.

 

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Speaking of self-indulgent and egotistical masturbatory tales, Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius beats them all. Widely considered “postmodern” (because he draws a stapler in the intro? because he’s meta? because he settles in San Francisco and uses sarcasm?), Eggers’ memoir is self-congratulatory while also being precious and self-deprecating. I don’t know if Eggers founded the whole hipster movement in fashion and movies but he’s certainly one of its leading spokespersons. An acquaintance once told me the reason she loved this book so much is because he acknowledges in the intro that certain sections are boring and should be skipped and, when reading the sections, she found she agreed with him. Does this acknowledgement make him a genius? Or just a verbose and self-involved wanker whose editor was paid-off to leave in things better left out? Unfortunately, I believe I’m in the minority with my conclusions.

 


Tender is the Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s last novel and was written while his wife, Zelda, was committed to a psychiatric hospital for schizophrenia and he was continually in need of money. As a result, the novel is darker and more brooding than his earlier works which, although critical of the characters’ upper-class snobbery, still manage to let a bit of sunshine through the commentary. I think it shows that Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s last; it lacks the clear prose and moving story of The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald’s distress over his wife’s physic state as well as his own dwindling literary reputation is too evident. Reading Tender is the Night is like watching Britney Spears fall fast and hard until, in a final act of desperation, she reaches her breaking point.

 

Anything written by Ayn Rand
I’ll probably get tons of hate mail from the various Objectivists (aka followers of Ayn Rand) for this one, but it’s true: Rand novels are unbearable propaganda pieces that are all propaganda and no style. (Yes, I’ve actually read all of Rand’s novels after my dentist recommended them to me. Never, ever trust your dentist’s book recommendations.) Objectivism is a sort of Reagan-style economics mashed together with a Horatio Alger “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mythology blended with a Bush/Cheney doublespeak that, on its face might sound good but upon deeper reflection turns out to be more horrifying than the Golem. Rand used her novels, chiefly Atlas Shurgged and The Fountainhead, as a platform to disseminate her philosophy and recruit others. Both novels lack style and content. Think of that guy in the park espousing his ill-founded beliefs. And then picture him writing a 1200 page novel. And publishing this novel. Yeah, that’s pretty much Ayn Rand.

 

(P.S. Rand was buddies with President Gerald Ford and a mentor to former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan – who managed to “overlook” the flaws in banking regulation that ultimately contributed to the housing market implosion and the present economic recession. Need I say more about her or her works?)

 

Now that you’ve heard our picks for what has to go, we want to hear yours. Submit a comment with your own list – and don’t forget to include one or two reasons why!

 

Why did we write
this zine’s 8 Books to Drop-kick from the Canon
?

 

Later: Books we’d like to see included in the canon….

 

July 24, 2009

You’re Fired! (from the Canon)

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Earlier this month, Second Pass published a list of 10 books they want fired from the canon.

 

Yikes! This list is no joke! While I haven’t read all of the books included, I have read a book by almost all of the authors on it and strongly disagree with at least two of the selections.

 

Below is the list. To find detailed (though occasionally maddening) reasons behind why these particular books should be “fired” you’ll have to read the article.

 

First, I’m going to defend two of the books on this list. Second, I’m going to create my own. Finally, I invite you to create your own list of books you think should be drop-kicked from the canon… and maybe a reason or two why.

 

The Second Pass “Fired From the Canon” List

-White Noise by Don DeLillo
-Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
-One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
-The Road by Cormac McCarthy
-The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
-On the Road by Jack Kerouac
-The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
-The USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos
-Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

 

Photo: Barnes & Noble

Photo: Barnes & Noble

In Defense of White Noise and Absalom, Absalom
While White Noise may not be DeLillo’s best work (that honor, in my opinion, goes to either The Names or Underworld), it is a post-modern warning bell about the path our suburbanized, commodified culture is headed down, at least in the world of white, educated affluence. White Noise is a fast-paced indoctrination of our culture but it is not a “protest piece” the way one might consider an August Wilson play. It’s also a moving story about a family’s decline in a world of faceless technology and minimal interactions. There are very few novelists whose work I read in near entirety and DeLillo is one of them. It’s been at least seven years since I first read White Noise and I’m thinking now might be a good time to return to it.

 

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

William Faulkner can be a challenge to read, yes, and Absalom, Absalom especially so, but this prequel to The Sound and the Fury was hot long before the idea of prequels was conceived by Lucasfilms as a lucrative money making venture. In Absalom, Absalom the reader is granted knowledge of the basic premise of the story from the very beginning. The joy of continuing to read is both to discover how the story unravels and how it is told and re-told by various characters. For close readers of Faulkner’s work, the familiarity with many of the lives adds the tension of dramatic irony to a story about family, birthright, heritage, and blood lines. Faulkner himself thought Absalom, Absalom was his masterpiece.

 

Tomorrow: What 10 books would we fire from the canon? (Ha! Pun intended!)