2012: The Mid-Year Report

on Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Time, I have come to learn, is inversely proportional to productivity and, in that respect, Einstein's ghost has taken a massive dump on my head this year. July? Already? How did that happen? Guess I ought to look back at my New Year's Aspirations and see how I've fared. *gulp*

New Year Revisited

1. Write More Than I Read: Well it certainly has been a slow reading year. In fact, had it not been for two long haul flights and one crazy reading weekend, I'd have been lucky to crack the half ton. Six months saw me get through a measly 56 books; well below my yearly average. That said, I'm glad to report that I have spent a fair amount of my non-reading time writing, though you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you could see what's left of my manuscript. Having cut 60,000 words some time in April, I'm currently at a net loss but, hopefully, it's all for the better. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

2. Stop Being Such a Lit-Wanker: I set out to read less high brow literature this year and while there were a few brief moments of mass market enjoyment they were very much in the minority. Oh well. I'd hate for you to think I had stopped being a total knob.

3. Smell the Roses: Read slower? Me? No chance. I'm just reading less in the same furious bursts.

4. The Tangible Aspirations: Well this one is easy. War and Peace? Nope. Road To Freedom? Nope. Lev Grossman? Nope. American Gods? Nope.

5. Lose 95 Kilos and Exist in a Vacuum: Again, nope. Still here. And heavier than ever!

So far, not so good. *cough cough*

Moving right along...

Top 5 of 2012 (So far)
Hopefully this is just a function of my not having read enough this year, but I can't even scrape together five books that I would be willing to hold out as raveworthy. So, without further ado, here's my top 4:

1. Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Another completely impenetrable work of intellectual gymnastics by the master. A downtrodden village somewhere in Hungary is turned upside down by the arrival of the devil. Petty rivalries flare, ruin looms. Satantango is horribly bleak but, as a work of literature, totally invigorating.
2. Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander. Woody Allen type moves to rural America to escape his Jewish neuroses only to discover Anne Frank hiding out out in his new attic. It is as hilarious as it sounds, and Auslander manages to sustain the dark comedy throughout. Elderly, mean-spiritied Frank - desperately trying to write a sequel to her first book - is a brilliantly realised creation.
3. This Is Life by Dan Rhodes. Another charming, quirky book from England's most underrated writer. Not unlike The Family Fang, it lampoons the idiocy of the art world, but in a way so gentle and warm-hearted that even the most strident defender of "art" will be willing to come along for the ride.
4. Melisande! What Are Dreams? by Hillel Halkin. A lifetime of translating the works of great Yiddish and Hebrew writers has clearly taught Halkin how fiction works. His debut is a measured, beautifully crafted and often poetic look at the failure of a marriage. In many ways it reminded me of the greatest love letter ever written, Andre Gorz's Letter to D. Indeed, after that book, it has the second best declaration of love I have ever read: "If I had a thousand lives to live, I'd want them all to be with you." Awwwwwww.

Top 5 Of Every Year But 2012
Now this I can do with a little more confidence.

The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollack. Stark, brutal and sure-footed debut by another possible heir to the Cormac McCarthy throne.
Purgatory by Tomas Eloy Martinez: To my mind the best book on the Central American disappearances. A woman enters a cafe and is shocked to see the husband she thought killed thirty years earlier. Thus begins Martinez's final novel, a painful exploration of the schisms that still tear at his country's heart.
The Family Carnovsky by I. J. Singer. I was slightly disappointed with Yoshe Kalb, so was overjoyed to see Singer in top form on this one. Another intergenerational saga, it never quite reaches the lofty heights of The Brothers Ashkenazi but still towers above most novels written today.
My Life In CIA by Harry Matthews: As the only American member of the Oulipo group, Matthews' life was as absurd as his writing. This memoir of a single year in France, where everyone was convinced he was a CIA agent so he decided to play along is a short work of wacky genius. Well worth checking this guy out if you've never heard of him.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: How did I miss this as a kid? With his rampant punning, mathematical hijinks and total capitulation to the ridiculous, Juster is the modern incarnation of Lewis Carroll (except he didn't write to mack on a twelve year old girl. But I digress...). If your parents also denied you this wonderful pleasure, drop everything now and go buy a copy. Then hide it from your kids. Balance will return to the universe.

Half A Crystal Ball
So what's left for 2012? Plenty of promising books are on the horizon, so hopefully there will be enough to fill out a top ten come December 31st. I'm still going to be writing more than I read - Goddammit I need to finish this frigging book - but I will crack the ton, and I still have a firm belief that I will find one book to add to my favourites of all time. So who will it be? Ian McEwan? Philippe Claudel? Michael Chabon? Or someone I've never even heard of? Pressure's on, folks!


Brooks said...

FWIW, I like that you're a lit-wanker!

I've had my eye on Satantango for a while, so seeing it as your #1 (so far) might be the push I need to go and get it.

The Bookworm said...

Haha thanks. As for Satantango, if you liked his earlier work and are prepared to wade through the thick word soup that is his prose then it is well worth it.

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