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A Brief Glimpse Back: Memorable Reads of 2012.



Battleborn ~ Claire Vaye Watkins
I've a strong affinity for stories set in deserts.  Most collected here occupy Death Valley and Las Vegas.  Watkins confronts the mythology surrounding her infamous father's past with most likely more mythology, but also autobiography, though they're so enmeshed it's not possible to untangle her crafty confabulations.  Her debut is generally good and sometimes genuinely great, but falls flat a few times too.  More here.

Black Light: A Novel ~ Galway Kinnell
Another story set in the desert, this time half a world away, in Iran.  A man named after Persia's mythological king, Jamshid (of which mythology Kinnell mines in his anti-hero time and again), so fed up with his dissappointing life, lashes out in an impulsive instant -- a horrible mistake -- and flees his crime for the rest of his life, if a nomad existence on the run can still be called "life".  The version I read was altered by Kinnell in 1980, following the Iranian revolution.  Originally publication: 1966.  Kinnell, being a poet, had a distinct advantage over Claire Vaye Watkins, in expressing physical as well as metaphysical realities existing in an arid wilderness.  His book is richer than Watkins' (whom I nevertheless enjoyed) by far.  More here.

Blue Nights ~ Joan Didion
The desert-like desolation of a mother's grief, having lost her only (adopted) child w/in eighteen months after losing her husband.  Devastating.  From the 60s - 90s, Didion made great understated art (Play it as it Lays) or artful understated outrage (Salvador) or understated artful disillusion (take your pick from any of her essay collections; I'd pick The White Album), but now for the last decade she's been making pure art, employing something from each of her singular oeuvres, out of her deeply personal pain.  Not yet reviewed.

The Book of Fantasy ~ Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo, Adolfo Bioy Casares, editors
Fabulous anthology.  Fantastic.  Three good friends, the Argentine luminaries listed above, debated what they thought were the best "fantastic" and ghost stories, and in 1940 the first version of their anthology was released.  They'd revise it a couple more times in later editions over the ensuing thirty-six years, adding something here, removing something there, but through it all its remained a stellar anthology, with its idiosyncratic mix of literary heavyweights mingled prominently with scores of interesting Latin American unknowns.  More here.

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why ~ Laurence Gonzales
Gonzales analyzes psychological and physiological factors in determining what the differences are for those who live and for those who die in extreme wilderness situations.  It's a fascinating, though not solely scientific, study of survival.  Not yet reviewed.

Destination: Void by Frank Herbert
Prose that's probably too dense, science and speculation since proved fantasy, but some of its ideas (1965-66) either beat Kubrick's and Clarke's iconic collaboration (1964-1968) to the punch, or coincided with them.  Herbert here certainly prefigures the images of the first Matrix.  But I'm a biased Herbert fan since childhood, I'll confess.  More here.

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone
Could just as easily been titled The Rise and Fall of the U.S. Empire, though its focus is mostly on its fall.  Brief review here.

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace ~ D.T. Max
Will link my review soon.

Masks of the Illuminati ~ Robert Anton Wilson
Works as a nice introduction to thinly veiled fictionalized versions (RAWs visions) of freemasonry, secret societies and what "illumination" might mean in an esoteric context, mixing psychology, philsophy, literature, religions and mysticism into a whimsical stew of knowledge.  It's basically a mystery or detective story, set on a sometimes-spoofish, sometimes-serious, always-elaborately-constructed gnostic stage.  More here.

Outer Dark ~ Cormac McCarthy
The muted light not quite able to filter down to the floors of an Appalachian forest; it's overrall effect of eerie otherworldliness, reminded me a lot of Chateau 'd Argol.  The uncertainty of the brother's and sisters circumstances -- and that of their child's -- whether they are being pursued or the one who pursues, or both, as much running from themselves as each other, journeying but never arriving, helps maintain that mysterious momentum, that dark air of confusion and intrigue I so enjoyed in Chateau 'd Argol as well.  Not yet reviewed.

Place Last Seen ~ Charlotte McGuinn Freeman
A child w/Down syndrome gets lost in the vast Desolation Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada.  Will search-and-rescue teams locate her in time, before an early October snowstorm moves in?  The novel was originally conceived as Charlotte Freeman's theological thesis.  It's a non-didactic, excruciating study of human suffering, asking how much suffering can a person of faith withstand before their faith erodes?  Is faith in God, next to the reality of evil and human suffering, mutually exclusive one to the other, or can they legitimately coexist? I'm thinking fans of Stewart O'Nan's, Songs for the Missing, would like this novel too.  Not yet reviewed.

Rubicon Beach ~ Steve Erickson
As good a writer as Erickson is, he should be more widely read.  In Rubicon Beach he's a mixture of what's best in the writing of Philip K. Dick and David Foster Wallace.  Posted about it here.

So Far Gone: A Novel ~ Paul Cody
Mental illness and mass murder.  The Death penalty for a perpetrator who was grotesquely victimized by those he murdered.  Is it seriously possibly to ever empathize with a man who killed his grandmother and parents?  Paul Cody accomplishes this impossible feat, and gives a knowing nod to Denis Johnson's first novel, Angels, and to Joan Didion, quoting both to begin his novel.  Paul Cody is not as great a writer as either, but So Far Gone is still unforgettable, if uncomfortable, to contemplate and read.  Not yet reviewed.

Quake ~ Rudolf Wurlitzer
L.A. gets pulverized in the Big One.  What fun!

Comments

I love reading these lists... it's fun always going back in time to review books that have been read.
Séamus Duggan said…
Interesting list, most new to me. There's a few that sound like I should have read them.
Bubba said…
Quake looks like a fun read. Have you read Wurlitzer's other books? Nog has been on my radar for a while, and I hope to get to it sometime soon.
EnriqueFreeque said…
Thanks, Nana & Séamus! I'm a list-lover too, Nana. Séamus, I bet you would like Galway Kinnell's Black Light. Bubba, Nog has been on my radar too. Jo has a 1st edition of it. I've read a 15 page excerpt that I have of it in an anthology on up-and-coming writers of the 1970s, but I've never been able to find it in my book hunting rounds.

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