For several of these titles, I owe thank-yous to my ceaselessly thoughtful mother (who knows my literary tastes, insane though they may be, better than anyone) and the lady with the out-of -this-world hair (who sometimes spoils my appetite with cotton candy).
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James S.A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War
I'm picky about my science fiction, generally preferring the literary strains. Although big, loud, and prone to explode, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War aren't dumb. I was able to overlook Corey's repetitive use of a few go-to phrasings — characters muttering "something obscene" and smiling in a way that "doesn't reach [their] eyes" — more easily than the atrocious first chapters of Caliban's War, but all was forgiven in light of these books' edge-of-your-seat twists and turns, and their skillful pacing.
Berkeley Breathed, The Bill the Cat Story and Bloom County Episode XI: The Force Awakens
Leo Tolstoy (Lynn Solotaroff, translator), The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Anna Karenina's mannered tedium didn't affect me (precisely why can be read in this reading list post, from last year), but like the fever of a sudden illness, Tolstoy's little novel seizes the reader with life's profoundest, most harrowing drama — the one we've all got to face, eventually and in one form or another: the end.
This passage appears in chapter nine, describing the titular judge's deathbed thoughts:
And in his imagination he called to mind the best moments of his pleasant life. Yet, strangely enough, all the best moments of his pleasant life seemed entirely different than they had in the past — all except the earliest memories of childhood. Way back in his childhood there had been something really pleasant, something he could live with were it ever to recur. But the person who had experienced that happiness no longer existed. It was as though he were recalling the memories of another man.
Ed Tato, True Stories of la Cosa Nostra: Poems
James Wood, How Fiction Works
We have to read musically, testing the precision and rhythm of a sentence, listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words, attending to patterns, repetitions, echoes, deciding why one metaphor is successful and another is not, judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality. We must proceed on the assumption that almost all prose popularly acclaimed as beautiful ("she writes like an angel") is nothing of the sort, that almost every novelist will at some point be baselessly acclaimed for writing "beautifully" as almost all flowers are at some point acclaimed for smelling nice.
Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer
Olivia Liang, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Touché, Jimbo. Although reductive (and missing the point) my curmudgeon pal's quip had the effect of validating my enthusiasm for the book. Yes, I do have more friends and associates now than at most other points in my socially awkward life, but I still exist in a persistent state of what psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan defined as "the exceedingly unpleasant and driving experience connected with inadequate discharge of the need for human intimacy." We all do. To what degree, and in what way it's dealt — these are areas Liang crawls into and peers around.
There are names here of varying recognizability: Billie Holiday, Edward Hopper, Josh Harris, David Wojnarowicz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Klaus Nomi, Greta Garbo…. The Lonely City wends its way through the lives of these lonely souls, a path that reveals the ways in which we — human beings — live without that "discharge" the psychiatrist wrote about, the forms of our connections when we do have it, and the role played by society in perpetuating the exclusion of what Liang terms "unwieldy and strange" people. Her eye is keen, her mind is lucid, and the product of her studies is easily the best work of nonfiction I read all year.