Sunday, December 17, 2000
A pox on the critics' breathless obligatory best 10 books of the year. Let's try something different ï¿½ a big ol' holiday gift list and cocktail party primer on the year in books.
Here's the whole shootin' match of this reviewer's reading for the year ï¿½ the good, bad, the unfinished and the stunningly mediocre.
The unbelievably good
ï¿½ "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay," Michael Chabon. Literary fiction isn't supposed to be this rollicking.
ï¿½ "Being Dead," Jim Crace. My current best book of the year. Exquisite and disturbing.
ï¿½ "Mountain City," Gregory Martin. Beautiful and unsentimental tale of a dying Nevada town.
ï¿½ "Mr. Phillips," John Lanchester. Hysterically funny. Probably my favorite reading experience of the year.
ï¿½ "Writing on Drugs," Sadie Plant. Part literary criticism, part biological primer, part critique of the illicit drug trade.
ï¿½ "White Teeth," Zadie Smith. Oh, to be just 24 and so darn talented.
The very good
ï¿½ "The Toughest Indian in the World," Sherman Alexie. Stories that "taste like grief."
ï¿½ "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You," Amy Bloom. Gorgeous stories of love and its discontents.
ï¿½ "House of Leaves," Mark Danielewski. A post-modern ghost story.
ï¿½ "The Question of Bruno," Alexsander Hemon. An exile in Chicago.
ï¿½ "The Name of the World," Denis Johnson. Academic send-up and May-December love story.
ï¿½ "Assorted Fire Events," David Means. Unsparing short stories.
ï¿½ "Pastoralia," George Saunders. Quirkily futuristic stories of losers and woe.
ï¿½ "Noodling for Flathead," Burkhead Bilger. Tales of cock fights, huntin' dogs and channel cats.
ï¿½ "The Hunting of the President," Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. The greatest misses and stunning lows of the anti-Clinton right.
ï¿½ "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," Helen Fielding. Have a glass of wine, sneak a cigarette and enjoy.
ï¿½ "The Night Listener," Armistead Maupin. "Tales of the City" author's long-awaited new novel about sickness, friendship and trust.
ï¿½ "Joe College," Tom Perotta. A Jersey kid goes to Yale and becomes Big Dork on Campus.
ï¿½ "Friend of the Earth," T.C. Boyle. Reliable, amusing writer peeks into the future ï¿½ and it is grim.
ï¿½ "Sam the Cat," Matthew Klam. Very funny. Borderline misanthropic.
ï¿½ "Shopgirl," Steve Martin. Surprisingly good read from L.A. comedian/writer.
ï¿½ "Anil's Ghost," Michael Ondaatje. A beautifully written, but creepy story of Sri Lanka.
ï¿½ "Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain," Michael Paterniti. Yes, Virginia, Einstein's brain used to live in Lawrence.
ï¿½ "The New Gilded Age," edited by David Remnick. Solid collection on the dot-com economy from the writers of the New Yorker.
ï¿½ "Weird Like Us," Ann Powers. Misfits unite!
ï¿½ "The Devil and Sonny Liston," Nick Tosches. A bare-knuckled tale of fury.
Ones I'm still trying to get to or have just started that promise to be good
ï¿½ "The Blind Assassin," Margaret Atwood. Hoping she gets even better with age.
ï¿½ "From Dawn to Decadence," Jacques Barzun. A history degree in 877 pages.
ï¿½ "Sidetracks," Richard Holmes. A biographer explores his craft.
ï¿½ "Quarrel & Quandry," Cynthia Ozick. Smart if not a bit rambling.
ï¿½ "Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World," Cynthia Roth Peirpont. Insightful essays on literary women like Ayn Rand, Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin.
ï¿½ "Make Believe," Joanna Scott. Odd novel seen through the eyes of a 3-year-old.
Ones I started and quit
ï¿½ "How to Read and Why," Harold Bloom. One interesting chapter on Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," but also filled with ï¿½ gasp! ï¿½ typical Bloomian bluster.
ï¿½ "Island of Lost Maps," by Miles Harvey. Great detective story ruined by bad prose.
ï¿½ "A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius," David Eggers. The kids loved it, but I couldn't maintain.
ï¿½ "Dream Stuff," by David Malouf. Couldn't get into these stories.
ï¿½ "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst," David Nasaw. Good chapter on the campaign against "Citizen Kane."
ï¿½ "Blue Angels," Francine Prose. This book was nominated for a National Book Award? Were the judges alive?
ï¿½ "The Human Stain," Philip Roth. Please, no more Zuckerman.
ï¿½ "Rope Burns," F.X. Toole. Tough but overwrought boxing tales.
More overrated than our Jayhawks
ï¿½ "Bobos in Paradise," David Brooks. Self-appointed apologist for elite consumers.
ï¿½ "Suburban Nation," Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. More "architecture for living" platitudes from the New Urbanists.
ï¿½ "In America," Susan Sontag. She blows it in the last third of the book. No business winning the National Book Award.
ï¿½ "Picture Windows," Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen. The changing suburban face of Long Island.
ï¿½ "False Alarm," Heather Drohan. Light San Francisco novel.
ï¿½ "Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man," Joseph Heller. Poor guy. Not a good book to end on.
ï¿½ "Einstein in Love," Dennis Overbye. Einstein was a cad.
ï¿½ "Bodega Dreams," Ernesto Quinonez. A barrio Gatsby.
ï¿½ "Be The One," April Smith. Thriller about a female scout for the Dodgers.
ï¿½ "The Heartsong of Charging Elk," James Welch. An American Indian stuck in 19th-century France.
Please, shoot me before I have to read another page
ï¿½ "Horse Heaven," Jane Smiley. "Horse Hell" would be more like it.
ï¿½ "Tripping," Charlie Hays. A 400-plus page book of first-person accounts of acid trips. Yes, it's as horrific as it sounds.
ï¿½ "Mamzelle Dragonfly," Rafeal Confiant. My first ï¿½ and only ï¿½ byline from the New York Times and the book's a total dog.
Happy holidays and happier reading.
ï¿½ Mark Luce sits on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.