The Year of Reading Dangerously is over and, although I didn’t quite make it through my list of ‘dangerous’ writers (I’ve still not read Paul Auster, William Burroughs, Harry Mathews or Arno Schmidt, and I’d also hopped to reacquaint myself with Beckett and Jean-PhilippeToussaint), it was an invigorating experience. Only occasionally did I feel I was reading more out of a sense of duty than enjoyment, and the number of writers I look forward to reading again is far greater than the few I will probably avoid(I wasn’t convinced by the cleverness of Christine Brooke-Rose or William Gass).
The most interesting effect can be seen in my Books of the Year – not a weighty novel in sight. All of them are either short novels (perhaps even novellas) or short story collections. Possibly experimentation works better in short forms…
Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck – like Michel Faber, I think that Erpenbeck is a major writer, and this short novel distilling 100 years of German history into the events around a single house is a masterpiece.
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis – the ideal Kindle read, a seemingly endless supply of imagination to dip into.
A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud – another excellent collection of short stories by a French writer appearing for the first time in English thanks to Small Beer Press.
Europeana by Patrik Ourednik – a history of twentieth century Europe in this difficult to classify work, more an imaginative essay than a novel. Dalkey Archive have since published two more of Ourednik’s novels which I will be adding to my ‘to read’ pile.
How I Became a Nun by Cesar Aira – it’s difficult to define what makes Aira’s short novels so attractive, but the sheer joie de vivre of the telling is one quality. Couldn’t resist – already returned for a dose of The Literary Conference. The good news is that New Directions seem to be publishing him regularly.
Guadalajara by Quim Monzo – I’d previously enjoyed The Enormity of the Tragedy, but this collection of short stories was even better. And published by the wonderful Open Letter.
this is not a novel by David Markson – I found this title hard to resist, but there’s more to Markson than clever title: I found this book quite moving. Available thanks to another small press, CB editions.
Lightning by Jean Echenoz – the concluding part to Echenoz’s trilogy of biographical novels, this time based on the life of Nicola Tesla. A collected edition from a UK publisher would not be amiss.
The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka – deservedly on the short list for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, this was an impressive meditation on illness.
Pricksongs and Descants by Robert Coover – I now find it hard to believe I had never read Coover before. Highlight of the year was hearing him read at The Edinburgh Book Festival – two new stories just as good as this classic collection.