Rather than a ridiculous year-end summary as I did for 2010, I'm going to try and do one every couple months. On to the books!
Accelerando by Charles Stross
I described this to someone as a pretty boingboingy book, and I stand by that description. There's lots of gee-whiz stuff about uploading and replicating your consciousness and it gets a bit eye-rolling in its technophilia at times. The book rolls along because Stross knows how to plot, but the characters didn't feel very human.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
I took a break from this book half-way through for a few months, but eventually came back and finished it. It's a bit hard to describe the plot, as I'm not sure the plot was a strong consideration for Lethem - it doesn't have the genre structure holding it up as in his earlier books, so the focus is really on Lethem's obsessions, the top one being New York city itself. The writing needs to carry this book, and it does - the characters are very well drawn, and the sci-fi elements (I refuse to use the term magical realism) are rendered in an almost deadpan way that fits the tone of the book.
Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr
A boy is born knowing that the world wil end in exactly 36 years, 168 days, 14 hours, and 23 seconds. The novel tells the story of how he copes with this knowledge, his damaged family, and love.
I really loved this book. It has great imagination and energy, and the writing is wonderful.
Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino
A savage and raunchy novel about the literary world of New York in the 50s and 60s. I was surprised that this was from 1971, as its style was very current-feeling, with many flourishes that had a post-modern feel to them: the author addresses the reader, acknowledging that these are characters he has created, there are argumentative footnotes disputing points in the text by a Zuzu Jefferson, and you are generally never left to forget that this is a literary creation. This sounds like something that would come across as perhaps precious, but Sorrentino's acuity and passion for artistic truth keeps it grounded and real.
Plus, every once in while he pops out a line like 'they looked like the Bronte sisters arguing over a dildo,' and you keep reading to see what he'll do next.
Pastoralia by George Saunders
Saunders can pretty much do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, and this short story collection certainly didn't change my opinion. Saunders' usual set of concerns are here: corporate culture, authority, consumerism etc, and the usual imaginative settings for exploration of those concerns. The stories never feel planned, though, in that whatever ideas are being explored seem to organically reveal themselves from the characters and settings Saunders creates. If you haven't read Saunders, I mean c'mon. Read his latest in The New Yorker , and get with the program.
Star Island by Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen's Florida crime novels are pretty dependable: wacky characters, despair over environmental destruction, etc. Nobody is raped to death by a dolphin in this one, though.
Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender
Book of short stories by the author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which was one of my favorites from last year. While a lot of people seem to prefer her short stories over her novels, I liked Lemon Cake a bit more than this collection - the short stories can feel almost brutally schematic in their approach, such that the characters don't come alive as much as in the novel setting. That said, I still enjoyed the stories - there is something about Bender's use of mundane surreality that reminds me of George Saunders.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt
I'm a big fan of Oswalt's standup, so I was really looking forward to this book, which I can best describe as an episodic memoir. That one of the best segments in the book is, oddly but somehow not unexpectedly, takes place where I grew up is a special bonus - I have zero problems believing that the nadir of his professional career would take place in Surrey (specifically Whalley, for those that are familiar). My only complaint would be that I wished the book was longer - it's a pretty quick read.
Some other long pieces of writing that I've enjoyed in the past couple months:
- How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed
- A developing picture: The story of Vivian Maier
- The Apostate - Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology
- The Last Temptation of Ted
- The Dependent's four part series on how the drug trade works in Vancouver's East Side: Part one | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
- New! Improved! Shape Up Your Life!