Wrapping Up 2011

For the first time in a while, I haven’t been asked to submit a formal list or do a write-up of my favorite books of the year. Rather than feeling shut out of a conversation, I only feel relieved. Even setting aside my aversion to lists in general, there are still a lot of 2011 books I’d like to get to, which would make any top-ten list feel even more tentative and arbitrary than it already is; the tail end of the year is when I try to catch up on what I’ve missed, which means I discover a lot of favorites past early December, when lists usually need to be filed. Last year it was Paul Murray‘s Skippy Dies and Terry Castle‘s The Professor and Other Writings. This year, to pick just two examples, it’d be Ben Lerner‘s Leaving the Atocha Station and David BellosIs That a Fish in Your Ear?, both of which I came late to—past deadline, if there were a deadline to miss.

So, no authoritative final judgments from this camp. Still, I did put together a list of six of my favorite pieces of short fiction for Washington City Paper‘s Arts Desk blog. “Short fiction” instead of “short stories” because one of my selections is a chapter from David Foster Wallace‘s The Pale King—the only part of the book that still sticks with me, and at 100 pages it may test the definition of “short.” But what’s a list without arbitrary categorizations and judgment calls? Click the link; you’ll see.

And that’ll wrap things up here for 2011. Thanks as always for reading; we’ll pick things up again in the new year.

4 responses to “Wrapping Up 2011

  1. Leaving the Atocha Station stuck with me as well, and I still don’t know why. I usually don’t go for novels about writers, but I really loved following Adam Gordon around Spain.

    The only other book of fiction to really grab me this year was Orientation: And Other Stories by Daniel Orozco. Even though some of the stories were written quite a while ago, they read as very prescient.

    Dig the great reviews, by the way.

    • Thanks. I liked the first story in “Orientation” a lot but haven’t had a chance to dig further into the collection. What I admired most about “Leaving the Atocha Station” was the narrator’s deep self-awareness of his thought process—what he was thinking, how he was thinking it, and why it sometimes (often, actually) led to poor decisions on his own behalf. That’s been done before, but Lerner goes a lot deeper than other writers do with that approach, and (most impressive to me) he stripped his thinking-about-thinking clean of any pleas for self-pity. Or, more precisely, his character was willing to be honest about the times when he was recruiting others’ validation. You empathize with him, but never feel manipulated into doing it.

  2. The rest of the stories have a real sweep to them. Again, I’m not articulate/smart enough to really describe what makes them so great. Orozco really focuses on the connections between his characters, however thick or thin those links may be.

    The lack of self-pity is definitely what kept me reading Leaving the Atocha Station. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Looking forward to another year of AFN. Happy holidays, Mark.

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