reads & non-reads 2013
Most disappointing book of the year: Bleeding Edge took three weeks to read, partly because the steady warble of the prose displayed all the signals of irony but none of the thing itself, replacing it with New York sentimentality, self-congratulation and smartassery. I don’t know enough about coders or coding to know if that part of the book was authentic, but from the tone I had my doubts; and by the end I had given up trying to tell members of the vast supporting cast apart.
Donna Tartt was a quicker read, with some nice turnovers midway and some splendid Vegas anti-sublime (“The sky was a rich, mindless, never-ending blue, like a promise of some ridiculous glory that wasn’t really there”). But The Goldfinch rationalises itself too completely, too competently and too evidently. “There wasn’t a single meaning. There were many meanings. It was a riddle expanding out and out and out.” This is what we’re told but it’s not what we’re shown. What we’re shown is the usual fiction contraption, in which meaning equals a fully-closed structure, and in which the idea of “many meanings” itself becomes the one meaning, the solution, a closing down rather than an opening up. Lawrence Durrell was miles ahead of this 60 years ago.
Given what I’ve heard about Dave Eggers’ The Circle, nothing would persuade me to read it in its year of publication–often better with Eggers, as with Franzen, to wait for the ambient rage and hysteria to die down, so that you’re reading the book rather than everyone else’s reading of it.
If I have a book of the year in the accepted sense (ie, that it should be a book published in 2013) it’s Marcel Theroux’s splendid rubber-tube Gothic, Strange Bodies, which compounds John Gray, Samuel Johnson scholarship, Russian weird science and post-structuralism; a lively sarcastic tour of modern ideas of consciousness, personality and the soul. But I’ve noticed that in a couple of the Year’s Best so far, respondents have picked novels from previous years. What an implied admission. What a relief. In July, in an experimental frame of mind, I bought a Kindle and began stuffing it with favourite authors, discovering almost immediately a Denis Johnson I hadn’t read. So Angels (1983) is my out and out book of the year. I only wish I hadn’t read it, so I had it to read again.