Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The best books I read in 2010

This is me at work. My leisure time looks nothing like this. I usually read sitting down.

It is difficult to do justice to one of my favorite books I read this year, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. This book invaded my consciousness and, at least for the time I was reading it, colored the world around me anew. Poetry can do that, and so it's not surprising that the sole novel by Rainer Maria Rilke, writer of some of the most beautiful and arresting poetry in (any) language, is like the effect of a beautiful poem experienced tenfold, like a dream that feels impossibly long. Written as a notebook of the stream-of-consciousness musings of a young man living, wandering and writing in Paris, this semi-autobiographical novel examines subjects such as writing, death, memory, childhood, identity, and "God" via a typically modernist fragmented narrative that nonetheless moves seamlessly through time and space. This is a novel that simply cannot leave you unmoved.

My other favorite book read in 2010 is Short Talks by Anne Carson. Here I feel I should admit, cliche though it may be, that I would read Anne Carson's version of the phone book (come to think of it, I would actually really, really like to read Anne Carson's version of the phone book.) Anyway. Being very brief meditations on a wide range of subjects (including but not limited to: A Short Talk on Walking Backwards, A Short Talk on Gertrude Stein, A Short Talk on Waterproofing, A Short Talk on Hedonism, A Short Talk on the Sensation of Aeroplane Take-off), all of these micro-essays are short, some of them are profoundly substantive, some are light and lovely, and they took me a surprisingly long time to read because nearly every one of them stopped me cold, made me want to linger with it a moment. It's a perfect book to keep bedside, travel-side, or just by your side for a little while. Now, because I can't resist and I can't say it better, I'll just share my favorite one, and let you decide if you want another:

Short Talk on Orchids

We live by tunneling for we are people buried alive. To me, the tunnels you make will seem strangely aimless, uprooted orchids. But the fragrance is undying. A Little Boy has run away from Amherst a few days ago, wrote Emily Dickinson in a letter of 1883, and when asked where he was going replied, Vermont or Asia.

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