A Serving of Brown Bryce

on Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I never thought I would say this. Indeed, my fingers quiver as I type. Here goes:

Thank God for Dan Brown and Bryce Courtenay.

There, I said it! Proudly. Yes, I am glad to say that fiction won out over D-Grade celebrity fauxmoirs and mass cultural reality TV dross in the battle for Christmas book sales in both the UK and Australia. While I would have preferred the new Orhan Pamuk to have topped the charts, I have had a small glint of faith rekindled in the future of literature.

Reports from the UK have heralded the triumph of Dan Brown's latest Robert Langdon (he of the Indiana Jones like propensities, but without anything remotely cool to help him along his way) pulp mill decimator The Lost Symbol over ghostwritten celebrity memoirs. It is difficult to fathom the importance of this news unless you pay attention to sales trends of Christmases past. These celebrity books have dominated for several years. But this year, neither Ant and Dec nor Delia Smith could find their ways into the Poms' stockings at anywhere near the rate of Mr. Brown. In fact, it was that old well-roasted chestnut The Guiness Book of Records that snatched second spot. Turns out that while people in England still love a pile of useless trivia, they prefer it of a general nature and not pertaining to any particular flash in the pan celebrity. Combined with the protest movement that saw Rage Against the Machine reclaim the number one music spot above X-factor's latest West End bit part player of the future, Joe McEldry, I'm starting to have second thoughts about advocating for a republic.

Here in Australia, reality TV's brightest star took a snuffing when Bryce Courtenay's latest tear-jerker, The Story of Danny Dunn edged out Masterchef Australia: The Cookbook Vol. 1 for the top spot. Actually, according to Nielsen Bookscan data, the collection of recipes from those culinary nobodies dropped to number 3 in the Christmas week thanks to (oh I can't believe I have to be thankful for this, but here I go again) Stephanie Meyer's Eclipse. Even if they aren't books that I would choose to read, I'm glad that Australians gave the gift of fiction above the many other Cash-In-For-Christmas options.

Ten For 2010

on Friday, December 25, 2009
The new year is upon us and it is time to get excited. 2009 was a very good year for books. The big blockbusters did their blockbusting thang, while many a serious literary novelist published strong additions to their ouevre. So what do the next twelve months hold in store for us? At the risk of making yet another arbitrarily numbered list, here are the ten things I'm most looking forward to.

1. Bolano Bolano Bolano. Yes, it's a triple treat from the Chilean wild child (though his friends insist he was no Kurt Cobain). Three newly translated novels are due out before the year is through. Probably most exciting is the 144 page novella Monsieur Pain which is due out in early January. It seems to promise echoes of Kafka which, in Bolano's hands, ought to be nothing if not interesting. Next up comes Antwerp and then, in July, The Return. Given that Bolano's short fiction is, in my opinion, his best, I can barely contain my excitement. What a year 2010 will be!!! ***News Just In*** Turns out there is a fourth, The Insufferable Gaucho, to be published in August! Bonus!!!

2. The Boat to Redemption by Su Tong. He wrote one of my favourite books of all time, Binu and The Great Wall. This one recently won the Asian Booker. The blurb suggests another beautiful fable. I can't wait!

3. Solar by Ian McEwan. Sure his later works have been pretty average and this has all the marks of Auster's Invsible, but I still cling to the hope that McEwan has something important to say. I note at the outset that I have been warned, but when it comes to literature I am a sucker for punishment. On the plus side, I can only be pleasantly surprised!

4. Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel. Was Life of Pi a fluke? Can Martel do it again, this time with an Holocaust novel? My antennae dip about cautiously on this one, but I am excited nonetheless to see what he does with it

5. Nemesis by Phillip Roth. He may be the world's greatest living writer, but he has an unfortunate habit of publishing whatever his typewriter spews out. Only Bryce Courtenay publishes more. Thankfully Nemesis looks promising - with echoes of Camus, Saramago and Miller. Like McEwan I continue to hold out hope. Let's just pray he resists the temptation to descend into cringeworthy descriptions of sex. Put on your yellow raincoat and go for a walk, Mr. Roth. Then come back and write the good stuff!

6. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Sweet FA is known about this book other than that it is massive and 'buoyant'. Will this herald a welcome return or is Franzen still treading water? Time will tell.

7. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. How do you follow up a critically lauded 'masterpiece' like Cloud Atlas? Apparently with an 18th century tale of a dutchman in Japan. Could be interesting. Could also win him a consolation Booker seeing as so many people seemed to think he was robbed last time time.

8. The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis. The grumpy, middle-aged curmudgeon of English letters is finally back with his much delayed new novel. Can he claw back a modicum of literary cred without brazenly pissing off every minority group in and out of sight, or will this just be another drop in the ongoing fall of a briefly good writer?

9. Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco. Another Asian Booker winner, the blurb has a certain air of Montano's Malady about it. A literary detective tale in which a writer's acolyte investigates his murder by piecing together fragments of the great man's life and searches for a long manuscript, the English translation is long overdue. Come April I can stop bitching.

10. Point Omega by Don Delillo. Hopefully, Delillo has clawed his way out from under the crushing weight of September 11. As Andrew Hagan so boldly pointed out, Falling Man was a disaster, showing up the limitations of this otherwise great author. Thankfully, this slim novel looks to be a return to the brilliance that made me fall in love with his early works. Indeed, the idea of a single shot film about 'a man and a wall' reaks of the 'world's most photographed barn' in Delillo's finest novel, White Noise (I am willing to defend it against those who would put Underworld at the top). All crossable body parts are hereby crossed.

And then, of course, there are the books and authors about which I know nothing yet. The surprise finds are always something to look forward to!

Bring on the new year.

Literesurrections (or The O.D.A Phoenix)

The streets are quiet, the bookshops closed... A fitting time, I suppose, to speak of literary resurrections. Cast your mind back to 2005, when the fiction world went into apoplexy over a certain handwritten manuscript found in a tattered suitcase that was tucked into the back corner of an attic in France. The script was tiny but the story that unfolded epic. Until that time, few people had heard of its author, Irene Nemirovsky, aside from those Francophiles who might have had sixty year old bells ringing in the back of their Vichy-haunted heads. Before the war, Nemirovsky was a fairly popular novelist, renowned throughout France for her Dostoevskian output. Not that that helped her when the tanks rolled in. Thoroughly assimilated, but Jewish nonetheless, she was carted off to the east where she perished in Auschwitz on August 17, 1942. Her final, incomplete novel, Suite Francaise, was stuffed into that suitcase and hidden, eventually recovered by her daughter some sixty years later. Its discovery hit the literary world like a comet, catapulting her into the stratosphere of immortality. Nemirovsky's own sad tale certainly didn't hurt either. Since then, seven of her works have been published in English, all to great critical acclaim.

Nemirovsky was the first in what has become a regular series of O.D.A.s to hit the big time. In case you haven't worked it out, that stands for Obscure Dead Authors. While publishers are always on the lookout for hot new writers to keep the industry afloat, the O.D.A. phenomenon has shown that said writers need not actually still be around. Guess that makes the thorny issue of publishing rights (and literary agents) somewhat easier to navigate. Not to mention the book tour. Two years after the "Nemirovsky Affair", another O.D.A caused an even bigger sensation with his massive road novel of two poets in South America. Almost instantly, Roberto Bolano became one of the hottest literary properties around. Like countless others I await each new release, whether it be his short works (Amulet, The Skating Rink, Distant Star), poetry (The Romantic Dogs) or his other monster tome, 2666. Next year sees the publication of what promises to be another important work, Monsieur Pain.

2009 had its own O.D.A., who in my opinion is the best of the three. Hans Fallada was a popular German novelist with a rather peculiar personal life who was imprisoned by the Nazis because (and this really is a wonderfully wacky reason if I've ever heard one) one of his novels was filmed by Jewish producers in Hollywood. Fallada was not Jewish. He was just liked by Jews. That is, of course, simplifying things. He had a long history of institutionalisation for drinking and mental instability before the Third Reich took exception to him. But there is no doubt his fate would have been different had the film of Little Man What Now never been made. Fallada was, for me, the discovery of this past year. The three books that have thus far been published in English (there are more coming I am assured) are all amazing examinations of the ways in which ordinary people deal with life in repressive circumstances. Be it Nazism, or addiction, Fallada understands like few others because he well and truly lived it. Little Man What Now shows how ordinary people were slowly squeezed out of functional society if they did not conform. The Drinker, of particular note because it was written in code while Fallada was in prison, shows the unremitting grip that alcohol addiction has on a regular guy. The book is both harrowing and very funny, reminding me of Catch 22 in the way it runs in concentric circles around its theme, proving its point in ever more absurd but brilliant ways. And finally there is Fallada's masterpiece, Every Man Dies Alone (or, Alone in Berlin as it was published in England). Based on a true story, it is the tale of an ordinary couple who mount an extraordinary two person rebellion against the Nazi machine by leaving small postcards with messages of dissent around the city of Berlin. I was reminded of another book I love, In The Pond by Ha Jin where anonymous art becomes the means of a minor stand against oppression. At the heart of Fallada's book lies the question of whether a futile rebellion is inherently worthwhile inasmuch as it allows one to live morally through a time when moral fortitude is nowhere to be found. It is an antithesis to Daniel Goldhagen's controversial study Hitler's Willing Executioners, and a very important one at that. I particularly recommend the American edition of the book as it contains an afterward that is not present in the English edition, detailing the true story of the couple upon whom the novel is based.

The three Fallada books should keep you going until another is published or, at the very least, until another O.D.A. comes along. Start scouring your attics people!

Lost In Retranslation

on Thursday, December 24, 2009
As I continue to revel in the brilliance of Breon Mitchell's new translation of The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, I can't help but wonder whether it needed to be revisited. Back at university I studied German literature and loved Mannheim's perfectly functional translation of the book that Professor Graewe set us. That version adequately captures the terse cynicism and surrealism of the German original (insofar as I believe it is there), as well as the remarkable density of Grass's prose. The author, however, disagrees. This new translation was his idea. To celebrate fifty years since it was first published, Grass wanted a translation that properly reflected The Tin Drum as he insists he wrote it. Indeed, he oversaw Mitchell in the process to ensure its fidelity. Almost fifteen years have passed between readings for me and though I am greatly enjoying this new version, I can't discern any particular difference between it and Mannheim's translation. I'm sure I'm wrong, but that is hardly the point.

Masterworks of foreign literature tend to be translated over and over again. I can only speculate as to why. Integrity, perhaps? Conflicts of interpretation? Newly discovered restored texts? Who can doubt that any of Kafka's work, as edited by his butcher/executor Max Brod, is vastly different from the original versions as the author appears to have intended them? Two new major retranslations appeared in the past year - the Grass and Solzhenitsyn's In The First Circle. The latter contained several new chapters that had previously fallen victim to censors and as such, was an easily justifiable endeavour. But what is to be made of this new Tin Drum and, more generally, 'new' translations of other great novels?

I have read Kafka's The Trial in at least five translations and there are certainly differences to be found. I enjoyed Breon Mitchell's the most - he brought Kafka's complex humour out to a greater extent than any of the others. Both Robinson and Wylie's translations felt clunky. The Muirs' was good, but a product of their time. As it happens, it is the first version that I read, translated by Waller and Scott that spoke to me in the most meaningful way. This might have something to do with it having been my first encounter, but I suspect there's more to it. I can no longer find my copy, but I clearly recall that in their translation the first line is rendered in a manner that, from my reading of the others, might actually have been better than Kafka's original!


Muir and Muir: Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

I. Parry: Somebody must have made a false accusation against Josef K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.

B. Mitchell: Someone must have slandered Josef K, for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.

D. Mitchell: Someone must have been telling tales about Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.

D. Wylie: Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.

R. Robinson: Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested.

As I recall it, compared to all the translations above, Waller and Scott's reflects the tone I wanted Kafka to have; absurd, slightly humorous hopelessness and frustration. They also use "telling lies" which has a vastly different meaning to "false accusations", "telling tales" and "slandering". But the rest of their sentence has a more solid flow than the Muirs or Wylie, both of whom use "telling lies". And therein lies the issue. Reading in translation is more than a matter of trust. It is a leap of faith. Translations appear to be as much about the interpretation the translator chooses to imbue into the text as what the author put on paper. Hence Kafka the dark absurdist, Kafka the humourist, Kafka the oracle, Kafka the tedious bore. Which translation you happen upon will almost certainly influence your perception of the original, despite you having no idea how accurately it has been rendered. Without being able to speak any useful Czech or German, the two languages in which the majority of my favourite novels were written, I am a slave to my literary faith. As such, I am glad to have a multiplicity of testaments!

As for The Tin Drum, if you have yet to read it pick up Breon Mitchell's translation. I can't really comment on the nuance and fidelity of the translation, but irrespective of such things it is one of the greatest novels of the last century.

Readers Without Borders

on Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Call me petty, but it warmed my heart a little to see the collapse of Borders in the UK. I break out in hives whenever I am forced to think about the crushing power of the book-as-mass commodity mindset championed by these monster barns. Not that Borders is the only guilty party. I vomited a little in my mouth recently when I heard some people discussing the amazing book bargains at Costco, the first festering store of which has just landed in Melbourne. Pity the poor independent bookstore that is forced to compete against a few-opoly of small minds that conspire to bring down the perceived value of the printed word to a level that cannot possibly be sustainable for publishers, let alone indie booksellers.

Rumours have long abounded that the Australian arm of Borders was to suffer a similar fate. I think it was two years ago that I first heard that the Jam Factory store was to close by Christmas. Unfortunately, David Fenlon, CEO of Redgroup, owners of the Aussie Borders franchise, assures us that the pulp megastore is not only alive and well, but getting set to float. Redgroup hits the ASX ticker tape charade sometime next year if reports are to be believed. It's a nice way out of an economic pickle, so long as anyone cares enough to bite. Personally, I see it as a missed opportunity for killing two birds with one stone. Redgroup also owns Angus & Robertson, whose green backlit signs help dull down countless suburban shopping malls.

Snobbery aside, I am all for encouraging as many people to read as possible. I recognise that there is a place for Dan Brown, Danielle Steel and J. K. Rowling (ok the first 3 books were pretty good, but thereafter where was an editor???). I just worry about the future of independent bookstores and local publishers. We might have had success with the defeat of the parallel book importing laws, but I can't help but feel it was just a case of buying time. Between the e-reader and the cannibalisation of the smaller stores by totalitarian regime styled, homogenising super companies (read HMV who ate Waterstones who ate Hatchards, one of the finest London bookstores), the future looks grim.

I hold out small hope that the failure of Borders was the first domino. When the bottom line is the bottom line, bookselling cannot be a viable long-term investment. Perhaps when the giants do fall, people will be encouraged to go to their local little bookstore where they might pay a bit more but will rub shoulders with customers and staff who love and actually know about books, while supporting a small but crucial pillar on which our culture stands.

Dmitri's Dilemma Debunked

on Monday, December 14, 2009
In the pompous introduction to his father's posthumous sketch "The Original of Laura", Dmitri Nabokov tells us that he has grappled for years with the issue of whether he ought allow the index cards-cum-manuscript to be published. Old Dad Vlad apparently wanted them burned. As Junior notes, Franz Kafka wanted the same of most of his unpublished work, though he entrusted the task to the one person he certainly knew would never do so. Similar doubts probably need not be raised here - Nabokov Snr was far too sick to do it himself and may actually have hoped that his son would grant his flaming wish. He was, after all, a master stylist. The thought of a rough draft escaping into the hallowed Nabokov canon must have been nigh unbearable.

Now Dmitri is himself an old man nearing death. He could no longer put off the decision. And so, because he is a 'nice guy' who wants to 'alleviate the suffering' of the countless fans eager for one last taste of the great emigre's genius, he has deigned to bestow upon us Saint Vladimir's literary table scraps. Like one of Vladimir's beloved butterflies, "The Original of Laura" now flaps around this cruel world while all manner of lit-hunters swoop at it with their critical nets.

Many more words than are contained in the actual manuscript have already been written about it. Most have been derisory, both of the book and, more often, what is taken to be Dmitri's last attempt to bask in reflected glory. But let us not visit the sins of the son upon the father. "The Original of Laura" is not bad. In fact, it is actually quite good so long as you keep a few things in mind. As I have said before, it is a first draft. An incomplete first draft. It is not a novel. It was probably never going to be. A novella, perhaps. Maybe a short story. But not a novel. Also it is hard to ascertain the order in which the chapters, or in some cases the individual cards, were intended. Knopf's decision to publish the book with removable index cards was prescient not only in terms of creating a stunning object d'art, but also to allow the reader to experience it precisely as Nabokov himself would have experienced it. We can create and recreate the story, deciding for ourselves how it ought to play out. Keep in mind, however, that no matter how you choose to do so, it is unfinished. This is not a complete book. It is riddled with the author's doubts and failings.

What it does show, if only in infancy, is a man still in love with language, merrily playing games of alliteration and the like, whilst grappling with some serious philosophical issues. The twin stories of a magnificently talented young woman's dalliances behind her husband's back and the 'book-within-a-book' memoir by one of her lovers, which turns out to be a catalogue of bodily ailments above anything else, are both pure Nabokov. The brief appearance of one Hubert H. Hubert, an obvious reference to the both loved and reviled narrator of Lolita, avoids being naff, and in a mere half chapter manages to flesh him out in a peculiarly meaningful way. And then there is the writing itself; passages that one can't help but love with awestruck passion. As I mentioned in a previous post, Nabokov in draft still, as a prose stylist, towers above most writers who have the benefit of the drafting and editing processes.

For those who have been equivocating, by all means pick up the book. As an insight to one of the greats it is invaluable and it has enough to admire in and of itself to lift it above the level of mere curiosity. And to Dmitri, thank you. I hope you now can step out from your father's shadow. I'd hate to think you lived your entire life in thrall to the dark.

NaCl (or Take With a Grain Thereof)

While I'm on the subject of lists I figure that I ought to put down a few of my favourite books so that we're all on the same page, so to speak. Consider it the sodium particles that make up the grain of salt with which you will take all my musings and/or recommendations. I apologise to my Fakebook friends who might already have seen this list.

My Ever-Morphing Top 20 Books of All Time

1. For the Good of the Cause by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn
2. The Trial by Franz Kafka
3. The Moment of Silence by Jens Bjorneboe
4. The Assault by Harry Mulisch
5. The Maimed by Hermann Ungarr
6. Too Loud a Solitude - Bohumil Hrabal
7. Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee
8. The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow
9. The Postman by Antonio Skarameta
10. A Dry White Season by Andre Brink
11. I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier
12. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
13. War With the Newts by Karel Capek
14. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
15. The Man of Straw by Heinrich Mann
16. Baddenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld
17. Montano's Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas
18. The Ogre by Michel Tournier
19. Contempt by Alberto Moravia
20. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

There are another 30 or 40 books that equally deserve to be here, but the wind is blowing in an easterly direction today and I'm wearing green underpants, so these are the 20 that made it. Yes, lists are that arbitrary!

Here's To The Herd Mentality (The 2009 Wrap Up)

on Sunday, December 13, 2009
There is nothing more artificial than an end-of-year book list. Yet whilst I scoff at the the editors of various litrags upon whose recommendation many of my fellow book-obsessives will either pat themselves on the back or, well, scoff I can't help but weigh in on the topic. So, with the caveat that my reading this year has been both very selective and rather limited (less than 90), here's my top five.

1. Let the Great World Spin by Column McCann. It might have taken eight years and an Irish expat to do it, but finally we have the great New York novel for the post-September 11 era. Reminiscent of the wonderful movie Crash (the one by Paul Haggis, not Cronenberg's woeful Ballard adaptation), it swoops and swirls with poetic grace and brutal realism.

2. Heliopolis by James Scudamore. The dark horse of the Booker longlist, this fantastic novel set in an over-commercialised Brazil of the future was a savage parody on consumer culture and capitalist scheming. Brett Easton Ellis with a sense of humour.

3. Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow. A true modern master brings his gentle touch to the story of New York twins Homer and Langley Collyer. Doctrow plays fast and loose with the truth but the tale he weaves is stunning, tender and pretty darn funny.

4. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist. Comparisons to Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go abound, but Holmqvist takes the people-as-organ-incubator theme to a new level. Brilliantly realised.

5. The Hollow Tree by Jacob Rosenberg. When Rosenberg died recently, Australia lost its last great fabulist. The Hollow Tree is a fitting swan song. Some of the metaphors are a little heavy handed, but overall it is a great allegory for the plight of the artist in a totalitarian world.

Special Mentions

The Solitude of Prime Numbers Paolo Giardano
American Rust by Philipp Meyer
Nobody Move by Denis Johnson
Legend of A Suicide by David Vann

Book I'm Sure Would Have Made the List Had I Gotten Around to Reading It

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem

Biggest Disappointments

Invisible by Paul Auster. I still cling to the belief that Paul Auster is one of the greatest living writers. Unfortunately, my grip on the cliff's edge is growing ever weaker. Pity my fingernails!

Ice Cold by Anna Maria Schenkel. Murder Farm was the best crime fiction debut of the past five years. Ice Cold paled next to it. I'm holding out hope that third time will prove lucky.

The Tale of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave. His lyrics are incredible, his music still haunting. But after the brilliance that was And The Ass Saw The Angel, this stinker was an embarrassment. Someone needed the guts to tell this cultural messiah that even he requires a good editor.

Books That Were Generally Panned but Really Weren't That Bad

The Humbling by Phillip Roth. Cringeworthy sex scenes aside, this short tale of a man suddenly devoid of his artistic powers has the ability to completely devastate the reader. It's no Plot Against America or Indignation, but it isn't too bad an addition to Roth's later canon.

The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov. It was a draft folks. A first draft. Don't expect the world. It had some beautiful passages, and the narrative that was there was, in Nabokov's inimitable style, still rather moving. Extra props to Knopf for the stunning edition. I might have to buy a second copy so that I can punch out and shuffle the index cards.

Books That Were Generally Lauded But Really Weren't That Good

Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam. Sorry Steven, you are not Cormac McCarthy. No matter what the critics said.

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. It was big. It was pretty good. But it was not the 'new War and Peace' as some would have it. Seriously, reviewers need to expand their points of reference. Long should not automatically invite a comparison to Tolstoy.

Lowboy by John Wray. Boy in sewers. Futuristic. Woohoo. Big deal. A minor distraction at best.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon. Suddenly he thinks he is James Ellroy. I read this immediately before Denis Johnson's Nobody Move. I love Pynchon but next to Johnson's attempt at the hard boiled crime schtick, he really came up short.

Bait for Bram

on Saturday, December 12, 2009
Two years ago I made a New Year's Resolution to read as many books as I could in twelve months. It was a challenge I had been working towards for some time - one hundred and five in 2006, one hundred and seven in 2007 - but one that I could never have anticipated taking over my life in the way it ultimately did. By the end of 2008 reading had become a chore rather than a pleasure. It was no longer about the substance of the books I was tearing through - I can't even remember what most of them were about. Come December 31 I had demolished 251 books, starting with Maupin's Tales of the City and finishing with Walker's The Colour Purple. Deprived of sleep, having let my work slide and my relationship suffer I still hailed that year's challenge a great success. New Year's Resolution achieved!

This year I set out to read only epics and classics. Noble as it might seem, it was a purely practical decision. My book collection had taken over the house. I couldn't take two steps without tripping over a pile of books. I decided it was time to work through the massive back catalogue I had amassed over the past twenty years but not read - what Umberto Eco calls "the antilibrary". I started the year with Moby Dick, worked my way through Les Miserables, The Grapes of Wrath and The Man Without Qualities and am now reading Utopia. In terms of modern epics, I read The Kindly Ones, 2666, and Brink's An Act of Terror. Unfortunately for my resolution, 2009 was a good year for new books so my mission was waylaid numerous times. With the year rapidly drawing to a close, I guess I ought just come out now and concede defeat. I never got to War and Peace. I'm still putting off Little Women. And, worst of all, I put down Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle a third of the way through because I was excited to read McCann's Let The Great World Spin (my book of 2009). I never came back to the Russian master.

Now, as 2010 looms, I have resolved to do something I've been meaning to do for years - start a blog. I know most blogs go unread and don't presume that mine will be any different. Nevertheless, a boy can dream! I would love for it to become a community meeting place, where similarly-minded book obsessives, irrespective of taste, converge to discuss all manner of topics relating to literature. I hope it becomes a site of heated debates. I hope I can point readers in the direction of books they might not otherwise have read, and vice versa. And, of course, I hope that I bother to keep writing it after January 2.

So here it is. Bait For Bookworms. Cast away!