After the look back at the past year (here and here) it is time to look ahead at some of the reading to come in 2014 (theoretically).
Nate Silver's 2012 The Signal and the Noise is a look at the application of statistics to everyday prediction making and how data is converted into knowledge.
Chrystia Freeland, a finance journalist, writes about the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. in the U.S., the consolidation of power into the hands of fewer and fewer persons across the globe, even as we continue to holler the word 'democracy' and try to sell it to the highest bidder.
A companion piece to the above, Mark Mizruchi's book, argues that the influence of America's CEO's has changed since World War II from a consolidated force driven by civic responsibility to a fragmented group uninterested in using their power to tackle the "big issues."
I'm really looking forward to Robert Page's synthesis of the work uncovering the genetic and physiological mechanisms which underlie bees' collective societies and how their social behavior evolved.
British social historian Theodore Zeldin wrote in 1994 about the forces that shape humanity in what is meant to be a ranging, unsentimental, and learned volume.
The thesis of Ian Buruma's latest, Year Zero, is that 1945 was the founding year of our modern era. His narrative has a dual focus on world events and on the biography of his father, who was imprisoned by the Nazis, spending much of World War II in Berlin.
This book was a gift from a friend and colleague in celebration of the completion of my PhD. I love it when a friend is willing to pick a book to give as a gift instead of giving a bookstore gift card. Described as a seductive love story, a satirical epic about the middle class, a comedy about the interior world of a cuckold, like Joyce, Baron Munchhausen, and the Marx Brothers, this work, published in 1968, is now considered a classic. I can't wait!
Alberto Moravia's Contempt was the basis of a Jean-Luc Goddard film. It is rumored to be a "caustic dispatch from one man's self-made hell." While this isn't likely to be a laugh-riot, it is meant to be psychologically astute and an unflinching look at a failing marriage.
I was introduced to the writing of James Purdy when his collected stories came out in 2013. I haven't actually decided which of his novels to read first, but this one about the dual forces of creativity and self-destructiveness in a mother and daughter is drawing me. His prose is astonishingly plain and clear - Jo Ann Beard and Joan Didion both came to mind as I dipped into it, which is promising.
I have really enjoyed some of Kathryn Davis's strange, other-worldly novels, so I am hopeful about Duplex which apears to be part social examination of suburbia, part time-travel. Hmmmm.
The winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, The Luminaries, by New Zealander Eleanor Catton may be up next. I am chomping at the bit to start this 800-page saga - part mystery, part 19th century nautical novel, part adventure, part ghost story.
Ah, so many books, so many plans. I wish you all a 2014 full of curiosity and wonder, fueled by good reading.
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Ali Smith's Artful is art criticism but it's also a dialogue between a woman and her dead lover, and it was originally delivered as a series of lectures, which really means it is a dramatic dialogue. It is a masterpiece of integrity, Smith may be well read, but her take on Dicken's Oliver Twist or a Cezanne painting, or a Charlie Chaplin film, or a Wallace Stevens's poem, is never erudite. She doesn't mean to dazzle us with her greater knowledge of these subjects, she wants her listener to get inside of how art brings us experience. I challenge you to get to the last page of Artful and not dive for a copy of Oliver Twist, or immediately order a copy of Sylvia Plath's poems. Read my full rave here.
Bernard MacLaverty's Cal - 150 pages that are as densely packed with passion and tension as any I've read in Dostoyevsky or Hardy. The 19-year-old title character lives in Northern Ireland. A Roman Catholic, he is hounded and physically attacked by the Protestant Orangemen. His friends have joined the IRA in response to the violence with which they are threatened. Cal finds the violence too much for him. The struggles of nations would not be important if they didn't effect the lives of individual people. This book is about the converging of conflicts political and personal - the political and religious struggles of an oppressed people, a first great passionate love, and the dilemmas of a sensitive and thoughtful teenager as he makes the moral choices that are going to shape his whole life. I felt deeply the greatness of these struggles as I read. Read my full rave here.
This book has everything - love, suspense, moral conflict, social criticism, psychological acuity, and crack writing - but none of it is expected. It is pitch-perfect on the a fast-paced, ostentatious, brutal beauty of Rome. Lambert's writing is rich with observations both interior and exterior that imbue character and place with clarity and instantaneous complexity. This novel, though entertaining to read, is an unambiguous critique of the moral hypocrisy that infects the powerful and the nature of that crime, which combines an abuse of power with the dehumanization of innocent people. Read my full rave here.
Molly Fox is a celebrated actress - a woman who delves deep into what makes up a 'self.' It is her profession to create characters from that knowledge through the medium of her self. Yet, when it comes to letting others truly know her, she does not. 'Can we ever know another?', this novel asks. The Irish novelist Deirdre Madden fashions a deep and beautiful book on this potentially abstract musing that is redolent with the pain of the distance we have from all others - even those we love most - and simultaneously rich with the rewards of the communion we can make through long acquaintance. She is particularly good at using the processes of the actor and writer to reflect on the ways we can inhabit the inherent contradiction of knowing another, but the mechanisms are so integrated with the events of this narrative that it is difficult to reveal them without ruining your own reading of this book. This book is a powerful work of art with an undisturbable sense of wholeness. Read my full rave here.
The struggle to keep the champagne bubbling when it's gone flat is the action filling Evelyn Waugh's 1930 satire Vile Bodies. Stephen Fry's brilliant film adaptation, Bright Young Things released in 2003 captures the feel of one, breathless, manic party. Jim Broadbent, Stockard Channing, Peter O'Toole, Simon Callow, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, James Mcavoy, Imelda Stuanton, and Fenella Woolgar are some of the beautifully cast actors who maintain an understated hysteria, if you can imagine understated hysteria. The love that director and cast have for these characters is what impresses me the most. It would be so easy to show us how vile these people are - how silly, how louche, how fey - but instead they love them to death. Raveworthy. Read my full rave here.
Human beings are messy and that's why Michel Gondry's film The Science of Sleep, with its hyperactive imagination, its beautiful cast and designers, reveals the inner life of its characters with such accuracy and tenderness. Utterly beautiful. Read my post.
Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway . I opened this book last night and didn't stop reading it until I had finished it. The nearest voice I can think to compare Sarah Salway's to is Lorrie Moore's, and coming from me that is a big compliment. In it Molly experiences a few breaches of trust as a young woman that leave her seriously wounded. She closes down and protects herself by eating. When we meet her she has become one of life's castaways, seriously overweight without a job, a home, or any sense of herself. She meets five people - Mr. Roberts who gives her a job, Mrs. Roberts, Tim - a man of mystery, Liz - a librarian who recommends French authors, and Miranda, a hairdresser. With these relationships she begins to reclaim herself. The story is full of perfectly wrought descriptions, complex observations of human pain and fantasy, and cogent storytelling. Read my full rave here.
In-flo-res-cence - from the Latin inflorescere - to begin to blossom. 1. the producing of blossoms; flowering; 2. the arrangement of flowers on a stem or axis; 3. a flower cluster on a common axis; 4. flowers collectively; 5. a solitary flower, regarded as a reduced cluster.