I read less books for joy this year. Chalk it up to work and a thesis. What I actually read a lot of was short fiction and graphic novels, which is why I am going to do separate entries for them. Right now, however, I'm about half way through Vladimir Nabakov's Pale Fire, and I reckon if I did this list two or three days from now, that book would be right there. It's pure joy.
At any rate, I've decided to go with four books. I just like the number four tonight, I guess.
Beginning in no particular order is Ross Gibson's Seven Versions of an Australian Badland. The book details how an area of land can become saturated in narratives of murder and, in this case, turn a stretch of road between Mackay and Rockhampton, into a lonely dark scar filled with murder and massacre and pain and suffering and etch that into a person's mind so that they, before they even enter the area, view it as a badland. It's a mix of fiction and memoir and historical research (fictocriticism? perhaps) and it's an utter joy to read. I read it as part of my thesis as it sent me searching for Gibson's work. Just fantastic.
Equally as fantastic is Jorge Luis Borges' A Universal History of Iniquity which, despite my enjoyment of other Borges work, was something I had missed until the very beginning of the year. It's in Collected Fictions and is probably much too short to be listed as a novel, but this post is all about contradictions. At any rate, Borges' slim book traces fiction biographies of seven almost historical people, contains one short story, and a little bit more... and it's just superb. The detail he can place in a line. The visceral nature of his writing. The hardboiled noir voice in the short story. There's nothing about it I didn't love. Consider what he wrote about Billy the Kid: "The almost-child who died at the age of twenty-one owing a debt to human justice for the deaths of twenty-one men--"not counting Mexicans."
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson. Perhaps it was because I didn't expect much. I've never been a fan of Gibson's work. Indeed, I loathe Neuromancer with such a passion that I could kick children. But something about the book wore me down, and I ended up with a copy, and that was it. Could not put it down. It's not a perfect book. The plot is slim, and the end is deus ex machina, but Gibson's eye for detail for in Britain, Japan, and Russia is just superb, and his prose is just beautifully elegant. But more than that, it was the first book to speak about the 21st Century in terms that spoke back to me. Consumerism, obsession, culture hunting, the global community, the web--it was a dialogue worked through his protagonist, Cayce, and I was lost for two days in it. The world stopped.
This last one is a reread, but it was reissued this year, and I just fucking love it. Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire. Set in Northhampton, it traces the birth of the area, beginning with an unfortunate cave boy who, with his limited speech, sets up the reaccuring images for the book. Moore brings eleven narrators to the book, each uniquely different in voice and character to the one before: romans, knights, witches, salesmen, and even Moore himself, at the very end, to tie the book together. It's an intelligent, brilliant, amazing novel, and I just adore it. It was republished this year in a beautiful hardcover and I reckon is what everyone should have for Xmas.
Anyhow, there you go. Tomorrow, short stories, followed by graphic novels, albums, and movies... or maybe not. I might simply decide, in my fickle way, not to bother.