This is the time of year for lists. Best this best that. Best in Show. Best of times worst of times. Best not be gettin’ fresh with me. Besties taking selfies (admit it, you read that as Beatles taking selfies). Best act now before airfares go up. Best served cold. Best before March, 2019. So on so forth.
I won’t make a list. Won’t check it not even once. And if it was on paper I’d probably rip it up and discard it after I’d written it anyway. I hate lists. Even those I make to buy groceries. Making lists induces paranoia. Have I left this out. That. Will I look as cool as so and so if I don’t include this film or that book on my Best Of list. DID I FORGET THE COFFEE??
So I’ll just briefly jot down a few words about the two most influential books I’ve read this year; books that have haunted me throughout my days and nights and shaped my ideas of writing and The Novel in general. They’ve sort of…bookended my 2014 (insert canned laughter here) of reading. If, for some reason, you’re interested in all the books I’ve read over the last 12 months, you can find, GASP, a list here.
Bolaño‘s 2666 kicked off ’14 (well, sort of…I read it from March-May, but you get the point) with mind-blowing force and momentum. I began reading this masterpiece on my flight out to Napoli, Italy with the (correct) idea that I would have initially a good chunk of uninterrupted reading time (8 hours) to concentrate and be engulfed by the book’s savage, brilliant, heartbreaking, beautifully awful world. When I emerged out of it in early May something inside my writer’s heart had transformed. For good. For ever. And hopefully for my and indirectly your own benefit.
Ending 2014, you’ll find me riding on the downside of the flight parabola of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. (Think of Slim Pickens waving his cowboy hat on the missile in “Dr. Strangelove.”) Pynchon is currently hothothot; he’s probably a pretty expensive commodity now that Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Inherent Vice” (adapted from Pynchon’s novel) is out and making waves, as all of PTA’s films do. And as they deservedly should. Never mind it’s not playing anywhere in my area, that’s a digression for another post.
But in spite of everyone’s recommendation to start with “something more Pynchon lite,” I cannonballed right into Gravity’s Rainbow. The hell with it. I welcome difficult reading. And I’ve always dug the post-modernists. So GR was my intro to Pynchon this past October. Although a quick aside here: anything “Pynchon lite” is pretty much everyone “heavy.” So take that as a warning. A beautiful beautiful warning. And never ever be afraid of books. Their length. Or their “difficulty.” Being scared or intimidated by books is silly. Unless you’re threatened to be hit in the face with one. Then, of course, size matters. I’ll take being slapped with a Makine over Murakami’s IQ84 thank you much.
It feels appropriate to finish out 2014 with the amazing, disintegrating explosion from a falling V-2 rocket out of GR. I won’t get into what makes this book so important to me (you can read about it here, if you’re interested). Just know that for the first time ever in my reading life, I actually had to re-arrange parts of my day, in order that I come home from work (or wake up earlier than early), settle into my chair, and continue to be immersed in the wonderfully wacky world of Tyrone Slothrop, Pig Bodine, Roger Mexico, Pirate Prentice, and the rest of the over 400 characters that are sprung out of Pynchon’s labyrinthine, genial mind.
My reading list for ’15 is fuzzy right now. I do want to re-read 2666 and take on Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. I am also dead set on James Jones’s The Thin Red Line (after having re-screened Malick’s film and falling in love with it). The rest of the year remains open. Maybe some Cormac McCarthy, maybe some Herta Müller, maybe Distant Star by Bolaño (the only one of his books I haven’t yet read).
Oh yea, I almost forgot…there’s also the matter of starting to write my next novel, tentatively called Posthumous. How could I have? I should really make a list of all the things I need to do…