Books We Love and a Few Books We Don't


Stacy Bush

1. Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman
2. Another World by Pat Barker
3. Freedom Song: Three Novels by Amit Chaudhuri
4. The Intuitionist: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
5. More Matter: Essays and Criticism by John Updike
6. The Walking Tour by Kathryn Davis
7. Headlong: A Novel by Michael Frayn
8. Conversations With Wilder by Cameron Crowe
9. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee

1. Selected Stories by Alice Munro
2. Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore
3. The Family Markowitz by Allegra Goodman
4. Rapture: Poems by Susan Mitchell
5. Memory at These Speeds: New and Collected Poems by Jane Miller
6. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
7. The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant
8. The Angstrom Chronicles by John Updike
9. Collected Poems 1920-1954 by Eugenio Montale, translated by Jonathan Galassi

Desert Island
1. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
2. The Collected Works of Shakespeare
3. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
4. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (translation yet to be decided)
5. The Essays of Virginia Woolf
6. Persuasion by Jane Austen
7. The Dream Songs by John Berryman
8. The Collected Stories of John Cheever
9. The Collected Stories of Anton Chekov
10. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (I want to make sure nobody else gets ahold of it.)

One remarkable thing about 1999 -- there was a tremendous amount of really good literary fiction. I don't know, maybe millennium fever brings out the best in some writers. Many books managed to take the computer zeitgeist of this age and turn it into an intelligent motif. Check out Kathryn Davis' The Walking Tour and Sylvia Brownrigg's The Metaphysical Touch for a couple of good examples of this trend. Historical backgrounds served plenty of novels very well. Brooks Hansen's Perlman's Ordeal and Ferdinand Mount's Jem (and Sam) were nice examples of this trend.

On the down side, I have two candidates to jettison to a desert island. First, let's start with Wendy Shalit's monument to self-involvement and shoddy research, A Return to Modesty. She seemed to have a curiously visceral anger at the agencies that "force" AIDS and sexual awareness on nice, white virgins like herself. This kind of thinking is at best self-indulgent. Put it on a mass cultural level and it's tatamount to condenming an entire population to death. Also, I will know the true meaning of gratitude if I never have to read a novel by A.M. Homes (Music for Torching) again. Mainstream critical gush spewed for this silly retread of Cheever, Updike, & Co. Homes suffers the worst sin of the pornographer -- she has no desire to let her shocks please and she is a barely closeted petty moralist. I will volunteer the bungee cord to lash these turkeys to a doomed mast. Just don't send them anywhere near my island.

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