Sunday, November 25, 2007

Listing heavily

Based on the Guardian's nice long list, here are three reasons why I like to read books of the year lists.

Gratification: Toby Litt choosing Pierre Joris' translations of three Paul Celan collections: "I find him more moving than any other 20th-century poet". I knew this already of course, but it's good that someone else is saying it in public.

Curiosity: Peter Ho Davies recommends (in part 2) the work of Charles Baxter, "a quietly profound thinker about art" who has, he says, written "perhaps the single best book about writing". Never heard of him but this certainly intrigues me (even if he looks suspiciously commonsensical).

Revelation: After reading the dismaying first sentence of Geoff Dyer's entry, I realised why, at the end of his fine book on US American photography, the inclusion of James Nachtwey's work seemed so incongruous and ill-judged.


  1. Anonymous3:19 pm

    And awash with sentiment ……

    The Guardian’s Books of the Year is a special weekend in the book review reader’s year: the remit given to the reviewers is independent of plugging what was published in the year, the consequence of which has been, over the years, a treasure trove of discoveries. However, this year someone seems to have changed the rules by asking for books for Christmas Past, Present and Future (Monica Ali’s entry is three neat sentences’ worth.)

    While I was reading, and waiting, what came to my attention instead were the few reviewers who were able to begin their few words without openings such as I remember at the age of eight snuggling up with my battered copy of Pound’s Cantos … There were moments when I thought I was reading Private Eye.

    My “Revelations” turned up in The Observer, where one can find the same reviewers as the Guardian recommending different books. This year it was Peter Ho Davies who provided it when he mentioned Charles Baxter’s new book, The Art of Subtext. A delight to find that he has a new book. In Ho Davies’ short paragraph, he mentions Burning Down the House, which I read earlier this year. In his introduction to this book, Baxter quotes another critic to define what he means by his title: “the bliss of escaping from codification and definition altogether, by dispersing and scattering oneself through the codes.” The book contains such chapters as Dysfunctional Narratives, On Defamiliarization, Against Epiphanies, and are written in Baxter’s sharp intelligent, non-academic prose. I should add that his short story collection, Believers, showed an impressive range of fictive capability. Nothing way out in experiment-land but good work in a difficult form. I have also, this year, read essays from The Business of Memory (The Art of Remembering in an Age of Forgetting) of which he is editor. Like the other non-fiction this is published by Greywolf Press. His fiction is published in the US by Vintage. I have yet to see a UK edition of anything published by Baxter, sadly.

    It only takes one Revelation to make it worthwhile.

  2. Anonymous10:48 pm

    From the Guardian list I took (and have ordered) Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, recommended by Colm Toibin.

    Charles Baxter has been coming at me from different directions for a while now, so I feel a discovery imminent there too.

    When Dyer's The Ongoing Moment came out, I was so excited (Dyer! On photography!) that, while waiting for my copy to arrive from Amazon, I saw a signed one in my local bookshop and so ended up with two.



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