Thursday, January 25, 2007

some fresh book reviews

Book-review page for 2007 is up now, kicking off with these three reviews:

A Short Guide to Writing about Film by Timothy Corrigan
Slim, steeply-priced volume which deals tidily with the subject promised by the title. Clearly intended for a classroom environment, although general readers wanting more methods for thinking about film might be able to extract something from it as well. (My students are using this book this semester; we'll see how it goes.)

Within the Context of No Context by George W.S. Trow
Encompassing a 1980 New Yorker article and a 1997 companion piece, Trow's book is an exercise in stylish despair. At its most basic level it functions as a critique of a media-based society, but this book is neither manifesto nor jeremiad--it's something altogether more sly. For every point made by an incisive aphorism there's another made only obliquely, by way of, say, a witty anecdote, or an evocative coinage. As a result the critique here is essentially slippery: it seems to explain everything, but by way of not actually explaining anything. Tricky. (Also oddly riddled with typos: you'd think Atlantic Monthly Press would be able to scrape up a few proofreaders.)

The Divine Invasion by Philip K. Dick
PKD at his loopy best: starts out as a spirituality-based thriller (what if Christ were secretly reborn in a dystopian future?), but by the book's midpoint the entire universe has become queasy and unhinged as the novel's theological forces grapple and debate. Messier than Valis and with more "wtf?" moments, but a worthy follow-up nevertheless.

A few more coming soon(ish), and as always, anyone wanting a more real-time-ish feed of my reviews can find such a thing on this LibraryThing feed page.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

year in reading 2006

Happy New Year, everyone. And time for me to crunch the numbers on the reading log:

Total number of books I read last year: 42 (up 7 from 2005)

Novels / novellas: 9 (up four, counting David Markson's This Is Not A Novel and story cycles like David Mitchell's Ghostwritten or Bilge Karasu's Garden of the Departed Cats)

Collections of poetry: 6 (same as last year, counting Geraldine Kim's "poem-novel" Povel)

Collections of short stories: 6 (+5)

Graphic novels / comics anthologies: 5 (-4)

Books on science / technology: 2 (same as last year)

Books of literary criticism: 3 (+2)

Essays / memoir: 3 (+3)

Books on art / architecture / music: 2 (same as last year)

Assorted nonfiction: 7

Authors I read in 2005 who have written at least one book I read prior to 2005: 12 (Manuel DeLanda, Mike Davis, Steven Johnson, David Foster Wallace, Johanna Drucker, Steve McCaffery, Grant Morrison, Rick Moody, Joshua Clover, David Markson, Kathy Acker, Robert Coover)

Trends: whatever I was working through last year seems to have resolved / been repressed: last year I tackled eight heavy books on religion and mysticism, and this year I didn't read a single one. In exchange, this year marked a big return to fiction, with both novels and short story collections up.

Highlights?: Three books especially helped to define the scope of the writing project I'm currently working on: two collections of poems (Geraldine Kim's Povel and Juliana Spahr's This Connection Of Everyone With Lungs) and one experimental novel (Patrik Ourednik's Europeana). A lot of the other fiction I read was less immediately applicable to my own writing, but was impressive on its own merits: traditional novels like Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and stranger fiction like Mark von Schlegell's Venusia, Kelly Link's Magic For Beginners, David Foster Wallace's Oblivion, Kathy Acker's Great Expectations, and Robert Coover's Universal Baseball Association. I also read two great essay collections: John McPhee's Uncommon Carriers and David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster (the latter indubitably being the single best book I read all year).