Life & Times of Michael K
By J.M. Coetzee, 1983
I read this a second time recently, and while I've never written about Coetzee or really spoken about his work with anyone (excepting a bookseller, but those people are essentially priests to my mind, what is said to them doesn't "count" in the way what one complains about to one's spouse is so incredibly personal that it takes on an otherworldly, inhuman quality after a long enough period of time), I don't believe I'll start carrying on about Coetzee now. It's absurd to think of him as mine, to hold him as personal, and yet--I still kind of do, he seems like a private secret, even if he is the author I see most often brought up when people are trying to provide an example of terse, deterministic prose. He's so consistently excellent, and this is my favorite of his many excellent books. It's the first book I'd read since I read a collection of real life Siberian gulag stories that features hardcore malnutrition and starvation, and I mention that because I hadn't realized how intense that gulag book had affected me--I actually abandoned it about a third of the way through, it was far, far more difficult to experience than I anticipated, and I just reached a point where I could no longer continue--because while I acutely remember how painful it was to read Coetzee's description of Michael's ongoing nutritional decay, it had little effect on me this time around. I'm happy about that, as the freedom from that uncomfortability allowed me the opportunity to revel in Coetzee's sentences, to get drunk on the dry heat with Michael.
How Proust Can Change Your Life (Not A Novel)
By Alain de Botton, 1997
I don't think you could convincingly say that this book invented the internet anymore than you could honestly say that Manny Farber invented blogging, but I will admit that I have thought both of those things and I have thought both of them more than once: but to be clear, I am completely wrong. However, I sincerely doubt that de Botton would have been able to win a book deal and all a book deal's tidings for this particular volume without providing a website to prove that he had already written most of it already, for free. It's not that HPCCYL--don't worry, no one calls it that--reads like something that a ridiculous boy would write after someone explained that Julie & Julia website to him. See, it's Proust! And his life can be used as a self-help model, and when it fails to fit, you can use his crazy long ass book in its place!
By Justin Cronin, 2012
While it's as un-put-downable predecessor may have the edge on The Twelve in terms of shocks and startles, there's an emotional urgency this time around the old post-apocalyptic vampire business. Like the first book, there's a few too many Stand comparisons--a mentally handicapped male saving the day, a do-it-in-public ending, even a lady traitor pops in--but I'd rather read a guy steal from The Stand than read...Green Mile, or that one about the plant that was sent around in emails. I should probably admit that I can still remember the ending of The Passage and how excited it made me for The Twelve, and yet as I write this now, at least nine months since I finished the book, I can barely remember anything about The Twelve. It did have an extraordinarily well written car chase, and I use the word "extraordinarily" due to the fact that "ordinarily", nobody writes car chases (they obviously belong to movies), and not only does Cronin deliver one, the one he delivers is note perfect. There's also something that happens in a field. Most of what occurs in this book only made sense because I know from experience that books need lots of sentences, and sometimes, those sentences are rather mundane.
The Baby Owner's Manual
By Louis Borgenicht, Joe Borgenicht and Headcase Design, 2003/2012
This is a book by a doctor and a doctor's kid full of a bunch of information about babies, but delivered in a format familiar to anyone who is ever gone to an Apple store or watched the end credits of The Other Guys. It is helpful if you criticize something somebody said and they ask "who the fuck told you THAT" because it is easy to find stuff in it, because the whole thing is set up to be an illustrated index. It's okay.
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
By P.G. Wodehouse, 1962
This one is about Wooster going to hang out at Totleigh Towers to irritate Sir Watkyn Bassett, a former magistrate that despises him. Wooster is there because he's terrified that Bassett's daughter is going to split up with her fiance (and she is) and force Wooster into marraige, even though there's a gigantic freak who is in love with the daughter already, a feeling which she happens to share. The girl is in the process of forcing her fiance to go full vegetarian, which is causing him to spend a lot of time with the cook, who happens to be a young woman Wooster describes as having the face of a dog, a feeling the meat-hungry fiance does not share. The fact that these books are obvious and all sort of the same has so little bearing on the amount of pleasure one derives from reading them that I bet that's how you tell somebody has never read one, by listening to them dismiss them for their predictability. Brilliantly funny writing, some of the best in the language. Every time I read one of these, I quietly condem myself for it having waited so long.
-Tucker Stone, 2013