Thursday, December 20, 2012

Top 16 Best New Books on Books 2012

This year's Best Books on Books are:

(1) Books To Die For edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke.  Hands down the book I've most often gone back to this year.  Crime writers recommending their favorite crime novels.  I reviewed it earlier in the year, but here's the Michael Dirda Washington Post review at this link. 

(2) The Man Within My Head by Pico Iyer.  Wonderful autobiographical essays on Iyer's personal relationship with his father and Graham Greene's life and works.  I liked it so well I had to then reread some of the other Graham Greene crit-lit we've accumulated, starting with John Baxter's essay on collecting Greene's books in A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict.

(3) One for the Books by Joe Queenan.  A delight, crank that he is.  He couldn't finish Moby Dick and he hates Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, both of which we love, but the man is fun to read and right about many things.  Atlas Shrugged is his worst book ever.  Listen to this, from the interview at this link:

"The book is elegiac. Books, I think, are dead. You cannot fight the zeitgeist and you cannot fight corporations. The genius of corporations is that they force you to make decisions about how you will live your life and then beguile you into thinking that it was all your choice. Compact discs are not superior to vinyl. E-readers are not superior to books. Lite beer is not the great leap forward. A society that replaces seven-tier wedding cakes with lo-fat cupcakes is a society that deserves to be put to the sword. But you can’t fight City Hall. I also believe that everything that happens to you as you grow older makes it easier to die, because the world you once lived in, and presumably loved, is gone."

(4)  My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop by Ronald Rice.  Nostalgia in a couple of decades hence, perhaps, but a very nice book.           

(5) Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet.  A bit thin, but it has some good things to say.  I especially enjoyed this quote from James Salter's introduction:
 "A tide is coming in and the kingdom of books, with their white pages and endpapers, their promise of solitude and discovery, is in danger, after an existence of five hundred years, of being washed away."

"The physical possession of a book may become of little significance. Access to it will be what matters, and when the book is closed, so to speak, it will disappear into the cyber. It will be like the genie--summonable but unreal."

(6)  Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto.  A lite humorous typing of individuals by what they read.  In paperback.

(7Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece by Michael Gorra.  A substantial work, which should be read in tandem with David Lodge's excellent The Year of Henry James:  The Story of a Novel, and perhaps also with Colm Toibin's The Master: A Novel.

(8)  New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families by Colm Toibin.  Henry James is here as well, along with Sam Beckett, James Joyce, and the usual suspects.  Horrible grandma-got-run-over-by-a-reindeer title, but the book is pretty good.

(9) Monsieur Proust's Library by Anka Muhlstein.

(10)  Farther Away: Essays - Jonathan Franzen.  One of Franzen's essays in here prompted me to read and review The Laughing Policeman (see this link)  For which I am forever in his debt.

(11)  To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene.  It's all firewater to me, but I enjoy reading about it.

(12)  Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores by Hans Weyandt.  Hey, booksellers can be booklovers too.  Usually hype is merely hype, but sometimes it can be the honest expression of a personal if eccentric literary opinion.

(13)  How To Do Things With Books In Victorian Britain by Harvard professor Leah Price.  There is some nice stuff in here, but the book I really want to recommend is Price's Unpacking My Library: Writers And Their Books.

(14)  My Ideal Bookshelf   by Thessaly La Force.  Coffee Table Bookish Book of the Year.  "A bookish book," in case you didn't already know, is a book on books.


(15)  Book Was There: Reading In Electronic Times by Andrew Piper.  More on the state of the book and reading, but you should see all of Piper's other works on books too.

(16) And one more:  YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE WHAT WATCHES, edited by Rick Wallach.  This volume contains the most insightful crit-lit on Cormac McCarthy's semi-autobiographical and brilliantly imagined masterpiece, Suttree.  I reviewed it at this link.

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