Once again litblog the Millions has launched its annual Year in Reading series, in which a raft of writers and critics weigh in on their favorite books of the year, regardless of pub date. There are plenty of admirable participants—Joseph O’Neill, Elizabeth McCracken, Nam Le and many more. I gave special attention to Charles Bock‘s list, though, and not just because I admired his novel, Beautiful Children, or because any guy who gives a thumbs-up to Slash‘s autobiography is aces in my book. Bock also plugs a few worthy books that didn’t get nearly as much attention as they deserved (links are to my reviews): Vincent Lam‘s Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures, Leni Zumas‘ Farewell Navigator, and Susan Choi‘s A Person of Interest. Part of the fun of year-end lists is learning about something you hadn’t heard about, but it’s also nice to see your own interests validated by a writer you respect.
One quibble: If Bock wants to recommend State by State, a mediocre attempt at rebooting the WPA guides’ mission, that’s his call, but it couldn’t have hurt for him to note that he has a piece in it. (One of the better ones as it happens, on Nevada.)
This time, Kevin J. Hayes is looking for recommendations of great American short stories, particularly ones of 21st-century vintage. Nobody in the comments has gotten around to mentioning Nelson Algren, George Saunders, Edward P. Jones, and Jhumpa Lahiri, but I’m sure that’ll be rectified soon. And though it’s probably more specific to my interest in noir than in great American literature, but I’ve long been a fan of Dashiell Hammett‘s stories, particularly “The Scorched Face.”
Keith Gessen reviews Richard Cook‘s biography of Alfred Kazin in the London Review of Books.
John Updike‘s speech on American art, “The Clarity of Things,” which I attended in D.C. (and wrote about) is now available at the New York Review of Books‘ Web site. This is a case where it really helps to pick up a hard copy of the issue, which includes reproductions of many of the works under discussion.
And, bringing this full-circle, I have a review of Leni Zumas‘ short-story collection, Farewell Navigator, in this week’s Washington City Paper. If you’re in town, Zumas reads at Politics & Prose on Saturday.
Oh, and One More Thing: That event in Lansing, Michigan, I mentioned last week? The one with Richard Ford, Thomas McGuane, and Jim Harrison? It’s not happening, uh, two days ago. It takes place July 10. So there’s still time to get on board. Apologies for the error, and thanks to the folks at the Michigan Humanities Council for bringing the mistake to my attention.