Sunday, January 25, 2009

More recommendations

The National Book Critics’ Circle has announced its five finalists for the best work of fiction published last year. They are:

• Roberto Bolaño, 2666
• Marilynne Robinson, Home
• Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project
• M. Glenn Taylor, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart
• Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kittredge

If Bolaño does not win the award, I will never make another literary-award prediction. In the mean time, here are a few more recommendations from around the web.

Jane Urquhart, whose own novel The Underpainter would qualify, opens a new series in the Globe and Mail dedicated to “books that have been unjustly overlooked, under-praised or just ignored.” Her choice is Penelope Fitzgerald’s Blue Flower. A “sensual feast,” she calls it, set in the “physical and intellectual world of 18th-century Germany.”

Peter Stothard, who is owed a hat tip for the above, offers his own suggestions, starting with David Storey’s Flight into Camden. Stothard calls it “magnificent,” although he is not sure he wants to reread it.

Critic and Brooklyn College professor Jonathan Baumbach says that if he had to choose a single book to recommend by Robert Coover it would be “the playful, mock-pornographic” Spanking the Maid.

After admitting that he was underwhelmed with the “self-consuming scrutiny” of John Haskell’s Out of My Skin, Mark Sarvas is offering a giveaway copy of The Siege, an early book by the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare.

Patrick Kurp is taken with Chekhov: Scenes from a Life, in which Rosamund Bartlett “looks at the writer through the lens of geography.” Reading about Chekhov’s childhood on the steppes, Kurp is reminded of “Willa Cather’s Nebraska novels [O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and A Lost Lady], Conrad Richter’s The Sea of Grass and of Melville’s little-known “John Marr”—thereby offering five more recommendations.

John Foley, a teacher at Ridgefield High School in Washington, wants Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird dropped from the English curriculum. Don’t misunderstand him. He loves the novels; they are “American classics.” But in the age of Obama, “novels that use the ‘N-word’ repeatedly need to go.” Foley nominates David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars, Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove as replacements. Now I am beginning to understand my students’ woeful lack of literary preparation for college-level work.