Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

My mom will probably give me her credit card like she did last year, so I may well be getting all of these.

10. Dracula, A Longman Cultural Edition by Bram Stoker (eds. Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal)

Dracula is one of the few horror books to be honored by inclusion in the Norton Critical Edition series. . . This 100th-anniversary edition includes not only the complete authoritative text of the novel with illuminating footnotes, but also four contextual essays, five reviews from the time of publication, five articles on dramatic and film variations, and seven selections from literary and academic criticism. . . Especially fascinating are excerpts from materials that Bram Stoker consulted in his research for the book, and his working papers over the several years he was composing it. The selection of criticism includes essays on how Dracula deals with female sexuality, gender inversion, homoerotic elements, and Victorian fears of "reverse colonization" by politically turbulent Transylvania.

9. The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras (trans. Barbara Bray)

Disaffected, bored with his career at the French Colonial Ministry (where he has copied out birth and death certificates for eight years), and disgusted by a mistress whose vapid optimism arouses his most violent misogyny, the narrator of The Sailor from Gibraltar finds himself at the point of complete breakdown while vacationing in Florence. After leaving his mistress and the Ministry behind forever, he joins the crew of The Gibraltar, a yacht captained by Anna, a beautiful American in perpetual search of her sometime lover, a young man known only as the "Sailor from Gibraltar."

(I read this awhile back and loved it. But I still don't own it!)

8. Paradiso by Dante (trans. Robert M. Durling)

Robert Durling's spirited new prose translation of the Paradiso completes his masterful rendering of the Divine Comedy. Durling's earlier translations of the Inferno and the Purgatorio garnered high praise, and with this superb version of the Paradiso readers can now traverse the entirety of Dante's epic poem of spiritual ascent with the guidance of one of the greatest living Italian-to-English translators.

(I already have the first two Durling translations of The Divine Comedy.)

7. 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles (graphic novel)

In a sleepy, secluded Alaska town called Barrow, the sun sets and doesn't rise for over thirty consecutive days and nights. From the darkness, across the frozen wasteland, an evil will come that will bring the residents of Barrow to their knees. The only hope for the town is the Sheriff and Deputy, husband and wife who are torn between their own survival and saving the town they love.

6. The City & The City by China Miéville

The city is Beszel, a rundown metropolis on the eastern edge of Europe. The other city is Ul Qoma, a modern Eastern European boomtown, despite being a bit of an international pariah. What the two cities share, and what they don't, is the deliciously evocative conundrum at the heart of China Mieville's The City & The City. Mieville is well known as a modern fantasist (and urbanist), but from book to book he's tried on different genres, and here he's fully hard-boiled, stripping down to a seen-it-all detective's voice that's wonderfully appropriate for this story of seen and unseen. His detective is Inspector Tyador Borlu, a cop in Beszel whose investigation of the murder of a young foreign woman takes him back and forth across the highly policed border to Ul Qoma to uncover a crime that threatens the delicate balance between the cities and, perhaps more so, Borlu's own dissolving sense of identity. In his tale of two cities, Mieville creates a world both fantastic and unsettlingly familiar, whose mysteries don't end with the solution of a murder.

(This sounds exactly like a Czech novel I read and loved called The Other City.)

5. Anonymous Celebrity by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao (trans. Nelson Vieira)

What if a man were so shallow that he couldn't believe his life had meaning unless he was loved and desired by millions of people? What if everything he learned from his television, from the movies, from what he heard on the radio, was treated as an absolute and incontrovertible truth? And what, then, if this man was amoral, cunning, and willing to lie, seduce, and kill to save himself from anonymity?

With an army of consultants, a library of "howto" manuals, and an endless variety of product placements at his behest, the hero of Anonymous Celebrity sets out to become king of his own little world—which unfortunately turns out to be the same one the rest of us live in. Equal parts Nabokov, All About Eve, and Big Brother, this is a bawdy, irreverent indictment of our self-absorbed culture of celebrity, where to be anything less than famous means being something less than human . . .

4. The Complete Fiction of Nella Larson

Nella Larsen's subject is the struggle of sensitive, spirited heroines to find a place for themselves in a hostile world. Passing is the story of a light-skinned beauty who, after spending years passing for white, finds herself dangerously drawn to an old friend's Harlem neighborhood. In Quicksand, a restless young mulatto tries desperately to find a comfortable place in a world in which she sees herself as a perpetual outsider. Race and marriage offer few securities here or in the other stories in a collection that is compellingly readable, rich in psychological complexity, and imbued with a sense of place that brings Harlem vibrantly to life.

(Click here for Emily's review.)

3. Our Lady of the Assassins by Fernando Vallejo (trans. Paul Hammond)

This slim, cynical novel by a well-regarded Colombian writer is an unsparing exploration of Medell¡n, Colombia's second largest city and the infamous stronghold and resting place of drug lord Pablo Escobar. The narrator is a "grammarian," who has recently returned to his hometown after many years abroad and discovers it has become a living nightmare, where music blares constantly, funerals are less important than soccer matches and a wayward glance is likely to get you killed. In a virtually unbroken dramatic monologue, the narrator recounts a love affair he once had with Alexis, a teenage hitman who carries out revenge killings for rival drug gangs. Post Escobar, the hitmen are disorganized and undisciplined, and they wreak havoc on the city, killing indiscriminately. Inevitably, Alexis too must die. But before he succumbs, he slays dozens of random people who cross his path including police officers, young children, pregnant women, taxi drivers. Vallejo is a vivid writer, and one with a talent for social commentary. He is keen to portray the hypocrisy of religion in a country where killers wear crucifixes, bless their bullets and pray not to miss, but his litany of atrocities, at first hypnotic, quickly becomes monotonous. Everyone in the story is so obviously doomed that by the time the grammarian takes up with Alexis's killer, it is impossible to work up much interest in their foreordained fates. Which may be Vallejo's point after all.

(Click here for Richard's review.)

2. Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño (trans. Chris Andrews)

"The melancholy folklore of exile" pervades this novel, which describes the divergent paths of three young Chilean poets around the time of Pinochet's coup. At university, the unnamed narrator and his friend are fascinated by a mysterious new member of their poetry workshop. Alberto Ruiz-Tagle is "serious, well mannered, a clear thinker," but his poems seem false, as if his true work were yet to be revealed. It becomes apparent that this is literally the case when Allende's government falls: as an Air Force officer for the new regime, he becomes famous for writing nationalist slogans in the sky. (The left-wing narrator, now in jail, reads them from his prison yard.) Bolano's spare prose lends his narrator's account a chilly precision—as if the detachment of his former classmate had become his country's, and his own.

(Alberto was originally a character in Nazi Literature in the Americas.)

1. The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño (trans. Chris Andrews)

Set in the seaside town of Z, on the Costa Brava, north of Barcelona, The Skating Rink oscillates between two poles: a camp ground and a ruined mansion, the Palacio Benvingut. The story, told by three male narrators, revolves around a beautiful figure skating champion, Nuria Martí. When she is suddenly dropped from the Olympic team, a pompous but besotted civil servant secretly builds a skating rink in the ruined Palacio Benvingut, using public funds. But Nuria has affairs, provokes jealousy, and the skating rink becomes a crime scene. A mysterious pair of women, an ex-opera singer and a taciturn girl often armed with a knife, turn up as well.

No, I haven't read enough Bolaño yet!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because we are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list complete with one of our bloggers' answers. Everyone is welcome to join. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Don't worry if you can't come up with ten every time . . . just post what you can!


Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

Distant Star is really good! I read it while I was in Spain.

Emily said...

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on Nella Larsen...and see if you agree with me that Passing is leagues better than everything else in that volume!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to read The City and The City too. And I still need to find Purgatory.. Can't seem to get my hands on the edition that fits with the other books I have.

AngelicNytmare said...

I havent read or heard of any of these books. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
Have a happy holiday.

Frances said...

Hope that Santa brought you all especially The Skating Rink which was simply elegant for an early prose outing for Bolano.

E. L. Fay said...

It is now December 26. I received a $25 B&N giftcard only to discover that our local store did not carry ANYTHING I wanted! I ended up with the first Stieg Larsson book. I feel like the only book blogger who hasn't read it yet and I've been wanting to, so I am still quite satisfied.

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