Saturday, December 26, 2009

Books of the Year

In the last two years, I contributed to Ready Steady Book's end-of-year symposium. There wasn't one this year, but since I enjoyed the format, I thought I'd briefly mention my books of the year here instead.

For fiction, the standout is Peter Handke's beautiful Slow Homecoming, recently reissued by NYRB. In a similar mode were "A Wildermuth" and "Everything", the best stories, I think, in Ingeborg Bachmann's The Thirtieth Year. I'd also like to make special mention of Jacques Roubaud's The Great Fire of London. And I was pleased to have read three of Willa Cather's novels, in particular My √Āntonia. I also read three novels by Bernard Malamud; his Dubin's Lives was the last great novel I read in the year.

The Roubaud and the Handke, certainly, were books that I knew I would read eventually, and neither Cather nor Malamud is exactly obscure. But I'd never heard of Evelyn Scott prior to this year; her wonderful memoir Escapade was probably my great literary discovery of the year.

For recent fiction, the only books I feel the need to highlight are Aleksandar Hemon's widely (and justly) praised novel The Lazarus Project and two by Hugo Wilcken, The Execution and Colony. The latter has received some blog-love, by Stephen Mitchelmore and, especially, John Self, but I'd like to draw your attention to The Execution, Wilcken's first novel. A seemingly straightforward thriller of sorts, there is a tension to the writing that elevates it. Both of Wilcken's novels, by the way, have that rarest of literary features: the first-rate ending.

For non-fiction, I'd like to mention five books:
Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism needs no introduction from me. Klein's occasional arguments for a return to Keynesian solutions are not convincing, and she does perhaps focus a little too heavily on the ogre that was Milton Friedman. But it deserves to be read for its devastating record of the effects of 30 years of neoliberal economic policies across the globe.

For my still-to-come reading of Marx's Capital, I plan to lean heavily on David Harvey as one of my many guides. In that light, his huge The Limits to Capital was a key book for me this year. It's just a beginning for me, but Harvey's book, while itself necessarily very complicated, is enormously helpful in teasing out various aspects of Marx's (and Marxists') important analysis of capital.

James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed and Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation are both, to my mind, utterly necessary books. They have both contributed mightily to my recent thinking on the problems of modern life. I hope to be discussing the arguments of both here on the blog, but for now let me just point to them and say: yes.

And, finally, I read several science books this year, all very good-to-excellent. The best of the bunch is Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, about which more to come, I hope. Suffice it to say that, if you're interested in the evolutionary bases for cooperation, you should read it.


ak said...

What? It isn't happening this year? I was looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Roubaud's The Loop is on sale at B&N for $3.68.

Looking forward to reading that Hemon. It's in the mail.