The 2011 Reading List

And on we go to the second decade of this century.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje **** Some of his sentences literally hurt my heart. Some of his images linger in my dreams. Sometimes you must read aloud to know grace.

Open City by Teju Cole *** 1/2  When a person wanders, and when the mind wanders, there are often bursts of illumination that then disappear. An odd novel, or rather, a meditation which feels like the author’s way of emptying his mind.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht *** An Eastern European folktale shrouded in a European nightmare. It feels like you are listening around an old hearth fire in the dead of winter. There’s so much in her writing that seems better suited for short stories than a novel.  The devastating scene of the dinner on the balcony of the restaurant before the war arrives is one of the most beautiful I’ve read.

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald **** Funny how one novel can cause you to re-trace your steps. Austerlitz is clearly a precursor to Teju Cole’s Open City, in style and form. Descriptions of London, particularly Liverpool Street Station, take me back two vividly I can see the bhais cleaning up the McDonald’s and can smell the cheap Welsh pasties. The fairly predictable final third of the novel saps the work of some of its true strength, namely Sebald’s ability to explain despair and horror.

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje *** 

Old School by Tobias Wolff **** A book that made me recall my education reading literature, and also jealous of the experiences not lived. Ah, the glorious inner turbulences of academy life, growing up, and writing. Story like this, which can approximate memoir at times, reminds that a life in pursuit of expression may be the highest calling of all.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson ****1/2  “Rediscovered” and pushed out to the public this year, and appealing to those of us who are suckers for the American West and independent, damaged protagonists. The novella reads like a dream, and it’s easy to feel as if you’re lying alone, in the shell of a roofless cabin, trapped by a drape of stars.

Me, You (aka Sea of Memory) by Erri de Luca ***

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