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Syntax of Things presents: Underrated Writers of 2006. Some interesting inclusions:

  • Jeff Noon, whose works I read widely in the mid-90s. I would argue that his work is slightly dated to be added to this list, and I would disagree with the statement that Falling Out Of Cars is his best work, but I do think he deserves more attention.

  • Scarlett Thomas, whose book is still haunting me with an unscratchable itch-like feeling.

  • Elizabeth Bowen. I recently acquired a collection of her short stories, and I have a beautiful old hardcover of The Heat of the Day I keep on intending to read past the first chapter.

  • Benjamin Kunkel. I love n+1, but Indecision still remains on my list of half-finished (audio) books, if only because on a long drive through Pennsylvania, my brother fell asleep in the middle of it, and when he woke up, he wanted to listen to something else. I still haven't felt the urgent need to return to it, though.

  • Halldór Laxness, who has been on my shelf for years. Perhaps it's time to bend the spine.
I hope to look into some other authors on the list (I've been eyeing Richard Powers and Iain Banks for a while now, and, more recently, Brian Evenson and Dana Spiotta).

My own additions:

  • Shirley Jackson. Spooky and evil and delicious. All of her books should still be in print. ALL of them.

  • Louis Bromfield. I thought I was simply enchanted by his connection to my own history, but now that I've enjoyed one of his works of fiction, I find it sad that this Pulitzer Prize-winning author has fallen largely (but not wholly) out of print.

  • Victor Pelevin, whose short stories are fantastical and meaningful, and who brings a new species of Russian literature with him, though he is starting to feel overrated with works like Homo Zapiens, which was a bit too Robert Anton Wilson for my tastes.

  • Henning Mankell, who is worshiped in the crime genre world, but largely ignored in the literary world, and of whose work I haven't read nearly enough.

  • Rupert Thomson, who was on last year's list, and who I think should be listed again and again until he has as much recognition as many of his British contemporaries.

  • Andra Neiburga, Nora Ikstena, Gundega Repše, Pauls Bankovskis, and Inga Ābele, all Latvian authors whose works, unfortunately, remain largely untranslated.



Years ago, I was a person who would see a book through to the end. Then one day, I counted how many books I had left to read in my life (based on how many I am capable of reading in a year, subtracting a sizeable chunk for the distractions of having children and/or going blind). The number shocked me so greatly that I vowed not to waste it reading books that weren't enjoyable to read. And so I became a quitter. I started quitting left and right. The books in our apartment with bookmarks a quarter or even half of the way through are many: Donna Tartt's Little Friend. Nick Laird's Utterly Monkey. Yuri Rythkeu's A Dream in Polar Fog. Tom Bissell's Chasing the Sea. George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night has a bookmark in it, somewhere just after one of the hotel room freak out scenes.

It's not always easy to pinpoint why these books have let me down. There are aspects of each that I love, but they failed to call to me to pick them up at every spare second. Perhaps it was down to an off-season pick: Rythkeu's book, set in an Arctic region of Siberia, was something I had started in June. I am sure I thought it would wisk me away to some unimaginable climate, but the pulsating New York sun surely distracted me from imagining the pain of frostbite. Perhaps it was the temptation of some other book I would rather be reading, as was the case with the Fitzgerald, which was what I had in my bag when Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler arrived in the mail, and who could resist that?

The most recent addition to the list of abandoned books is A.L. Kennedy's Everything You Need. As much as I loved the Uncles and Mary Lamb, as much as my curiosity was piqued by Nathan Staples' self-torture, I couldn't keep my eyes on the page. Perhaps it's down to distractions in my own life, but the timing of what I was reading in front of me seemed all off, and I felt compelled, on my way in to work today, to remove the book from my bag and replace it with something familiar and comforting, even though that something originally came all the way from Sacramento via London via Ballarat, Australia: my autographed, half-read 1969 Andre Deutsch copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

This is one of the lucky few I actually return to. (The only other I can immediately think of is Orhan Pamuk's Snow, which got a second chance a year after I had set it aside in the first place.) Didion's first book of essays was one I had begun to read earlier this year, but had deemed far to precious to waste in one sitting, and so I left a few of the essays unread, a lonely bookmark sitting somewhere between chapters, quivering with anticipation. Now is the time to find it again.

And so I have replaced a "can't read" with a rarely tackled "re-upped read." Peter Carey's Theft or possibly PD James will be hitching a ride in with me tomorrow as backup. And Ms. Kennedy will have to sit on the shelf, Three Lives & Co. bookmarking her somewhere near page 100. Just in case.

I cannot feel guilty. After all, there are only 1489 books left to read, if I make it to 80, eyesight intact...

(Everything You Need was one of the books in my From the Stacks Reading Challenge, and by quitting the book, I'm afraid I've had to quit the challenge as well. Apologies to the organizers; you inspired, but my insatiability won over.)


Sunday Zen


The things that make me laugh

"It's Magic Johnson!"
"Hi, Pee Wee!"
"What are you doing in the Magic Screen?"
"The Magic Screen and I are cousins!"

(Yes. I also laugh at people falling down.)


Ups and downs

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been informed by our captain that our flight time today will be approximately 14 minutes. I hope you enjoy your short flight with us."

Fourteen minutes: Just enough time for the girl behind me to loudly devour an entire bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. This, after she walked on board with an open bottle of Corona.

Is it wrong of me to wish flying were still as classy as it used to be? (Okay, so maybe not the smoking and furs part...)