Saturday, November 14, 2009

The List: A Readers Guide, Part II, Cue “One Shining Moment”

I guess there are clubs and groups you can join of people who are also reading the list. I had no idea they existed until recently and it seems a little late to join one now. Hi, my name is Dr. No and I’d liked to join your Pulitzer reading discussion group! I already read them all. Seems like a pretty assholey move. Akin to saying Hi, my name is Dr. No and I’m a cheetoaholic, but I’ve already recovered so don’t mind me and my orange flavor- dust encrusted fingers. So indulge me while I continue my wholly unqualified review of the Pulitzer list. Today we’ll explore the books I loved. I don’t really have all that much to say about these books, they just stuck with me. These were the books that I had to continue digesting long after they were finished, I had to let a little time pass before starting a new book. You know? That kind of good.

Top Pick…
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon): Brilliant. Just fucking brilliant. Had anyone asked me “Hey, would you be into a book where the world of comic books plays a central role?” my answer would have been “No.” Comic books just aren’t on my radar. Oh but this book is good. Brilliant. I should note that this book sparked my whole Pulitzer quest. So we can all blame Michael Chabon for making me read A Fable.

Most Photogenic…
Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides): You just can’t forget it. This book is disturbing. I don’t mean disturbing in a gross or unseemly way. It is disturbing in the way that on rare occasions in life someone you don’t know particularly well shares something so deeply personal with you that you have no idea what to do with it. It’s usually not the content of what they told you that is really so disturbing. And after the fact, you know they probably shared this “secret nugget” with you exactly because you are not particularly close. But in that moment of hearing some completely unexpected words you are disturbed. This book somehow takes that very particular sense of disturbed and captures it. For that, I gotta award high props.

Slow & Steady Wins the Race Award…
Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner): It just quietly unfolds. I wasn’t even aware of how much I enjoyed this book until it was over. The story and writing just accumulate in your brain and when the book ends you just think: Well, that was something, something really lovely happened there.

Individual Medley Gold Champion…
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz): This book has a little bit of everything held together by a unique writing style that is simultaneously funny, insightful, and genuine. Shit, that sounds lame doesn’t it? It’s just weirdly good, one of the most unique books on the list. It’s the crazy jello salad your Aunt Edna makes with everything but the kitchen sink tossed into it but it somehow tastes pretty damn good.

All American Player…
Guard of Honor (James Gould Cozzens): This book requires some effort. I’d say for the first 50 pages I was bored and a little confused. Too many characters, too many military titles being thrown around, too many terms that made perfect sense in 1949 (the year it won) that I needed to see used multiple times before I had any idea what the fuck they meant, too much everything. But then it gets really good. Captivatingly good. These characters have personalities, realistically nuanced personalities. I’d like to have them all over for dinner. Technically the book is about military life and race relations, but as indicated by the title it’s really about honor.


  1. I, too, loved Kavalier and Clay, AND Middlesex: great choices, and I confirmation that not all of Oprah's choices are terrible (she chose Middlesex).

    The other two I haven't read yet (only excerpts from Oscar Wao, which were marvelous), but will do so....someday.

    I know this took you 5 years, Dr. No, but you can still claim it as one of your amazing sabbatical adventures!

  2. [putting typical smartassery aside because of geniune emotion] This list made me glad that I teach literature. Just the reasons you gave for loving each text -- well, I'm ferklempt.

  3. Annie Em & Ink: You two realize you have become my literary advisors right?

  4. It's great to read your input on these. One of them I started but have not finished (since I am a habitual quitter). Another is on my bookshelf. I will put the other two on my list.

  5. A Literary Advisor?! Can I put that on my business card next to the Club Herky logo?

    Using my magic 8 ball (and yes, I still have one) I'm going to make my first suggested read, Dr. No, based on your literary tastes as revealed by the last two posts: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. Forget the hubub he created when he initially turned down Oprah (he quickly retracted his rejection, but was promptly rejected by her in turn) and his obnoxious comments about being too literary for her club (Eugenides didn't make the same mistake). Anyway, add it to your post-Pulitzer list (and the start of your National Book Award winning reading list?).

  6. I loved the Yiddish Policeman's Union: the writing is lovely, and the alternate history so fun to follow.

    For an additional unexpected comic/superhero (the two ideas are melded in my mind), I'd recommend All My Friends are Superheroes - a slim and fun book.

    And I'll dissent on The Corrections - I found it tedious and the characters unlikable.

    I've been suspicious of Middlesex, but will give it a go.

    Do you finish every book you start? I don't. It's very freeing, but then I'd never finish a task such as yours...

  7. Bookmarked. Have heard similar reviews of several of these books and "have been meaning to..." Now that you've laid them out for me, I will refer back in a few days to fill my local bookseller shopping cart.
    All I can say about reading the whole list, having opinions, and remembering faves and least faves is, WOW. You're my hero.
    I liked the Corrections but am not sure you would. *Might* suggest Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware.

  8. Oooh, curious why you think Dr. No wouldn't like The Corrections, Naptime?

    And Dr. No: a post of interest on a "serious" academic-like blog:

  9. I agree, Chabon is genius.

    I'm laughing at the comparison of Oscar Wao to Aunt Edna's crazy jello salad...

  10. Michael Chabon is a genius. Love everything he's written (and second Ink's recommendation for Yiddish Policeman's Union). Even going to forgive him for his forthcoming book, co-written with his wife, a self-congratulatory ode to their parenting. Ugh.

    Angel of Repose is also brilliant. Love that book.

    If I may also make a recommendation?: If you've broken through the "I don't read novels about comic books" barrier, you should try Jonathan Letham's Fortress of Solitude. Gritty, strange, beautiful -- it's amazing.

  11. GEW: You'll have to check in, I'll be curious to know which one you're reading and if you liked it or not.

    AnnieEm: Well, you can certainly add me to your list of advisees (as one of those hapless transfer students that will never graduate). Heading over to that font link now...

    Amy: I'll the read The Corrections if you read Middlesex. Deal? When I decided I'd read the Pulitzer list I also decided that quitting and/or skimming a book, no matter how much I despised it, was not an option.

    Naptime: Thanks for the suggestion. I must admit, there are about 10 books that I barely even remember!

    TKW: Yeah Chabon!

    Bittersweet: Yep, read Yiddish Policemans Union, Wonder Boys, Gentleman of the Road, The Final Solution, and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. (yeah, I went a little Chabon crazy)

  12. Oh, and have you all had enough of my book babblings yet? I haven't even mentioned the short story collections and there's still a few books worth mentioning...but shit, at some point I should really wrap this up.

  13. We want more! We want more!

    (Said clutching pitchfork)

  14. I'm with evenshine (pitchfork raised!)!

  15. If you post more lists, I will give you Cheetos.