Monday, December 27, 2010

Books of 2010: What not to Read

This week, I'll post some reviews from my booklist for 2010. Want to contribute to the year-end zeitgeist. When I post lists like this, though, it's books I've read this year, rather than books necessarily published this year.

Over the course of the decade, I've herky-jerkily reversed my proportions of fiction versus non-fiction. I don't know why. There has been no campaign at work here; it may just reflect evolving interests.

I may be getting charitable in my old age, but I only read one book this year that I would not recommend to others. And there may be audiences for this book. Misanthropic book clubs, perhaps? Herewith, my review:

If a surfeit of hope and cheer distresses you, read Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk's 2007 set of eventually-linked short stories about suburban English housewives. A bleakness runs through these closely told lives. Cusk is a very good writer and creates a world, which is what we seek in fiction, right? The problem is that in the world she creates, there's not much to hope for. She does capture that period of parenthood when the children are very small and so very dependent that achieving one thing in a day feels like a triumph. I can see why The Atlantic recommended this novel (?); the characters run more in parallel, drawn together by the place they inhabit than really sharing lives and interacting with each other. It may be worth reading, but reader be warned: the book should come with a script for Prozac. It's not that anything awful happens; it's just that the sum total of the place where these people have arrived strikes them as so awful.


K said...

I would recommend passing on _The Owl Service_, a young adult novel that takes place in Wales and didn't seem to have much of a point. I think it was first published many years ago, like 25 or 30 years ago.

Also _The Road_ by Cormac McCarthy. I read it because a) post-apocalyptic and b) recently made into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen. It was very, very well-written and fascinating but so, so terribly sad and I just cried and cried. I expect that anyone who has ever loved a child would have the same reaction.

Finally, _God is not Great_ by Christopher Hitchens. I grabbed this b/c I had read some columns by him and like way he writes; also b/c the opening paragraphs are engaging. His thesis is that all religion is a) false and b) destructive. I'm almost finished--can quite get through the last 10-15 pages--and he has yet to mention *non-fanatical* religion. I guess he figures that whatever religion you might follow, if you don't believe in its holy books completely and literally, you're not *really* a follower of that religion, so you don't count. (?) Maybe. Anyway, it's not as interesting as I thought it would be and the second half has been particularly tedious.

JFo said...


Thanks for adding to the list of what not to read. After reading your reviews, I wish we had more access to people's negative opinions of books. Reviews in the media hardly seem trustworthy, like there's always publisher pay for play at work. Saving each other time by honestly panning a book constitutes true public service.