Wednesday, 1 September 2010

My Month in Novels (Aug)

This month I read sixteen books aloud to Alec DeBerg. He has no face and provides my broadband services and also likes to dance with me to the aural sensations of Ottawan in the harsh Canadian winters.

1. Nikolai Gogol: Dead Souls – I meant to read this during my Summer of the Russians in 2007. The first book did not disappoint, though the second book is laced with tragedy, as Gogol was a perfectionist and probably insane at the time of composition. Followers of the BBC drama department might recall a Radio 4 adaptation starring Mark Heap.

2. Dave Eggers: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – This wasn’t as much of a pomothon as I had expected. Eggers is simply a writer that floors you. In fact, I was literally underground by page 313. Even Alec was floored and he has no knowledge of such matters.

3. Flann O’Brien: At Swim-Two-Birds + The Dalkey Archive – Catching up with some classic Irish dreaminess. Both books were a delight but the latter captured my imagination more than the former. In which other novel is James Joyce resurrected and then conscripted into the Jesuit Order?

4. Gilbert Sorrentino: Little Casino, The Moon in Its Flight, Lunar Follies – A trio of brilliance from Gilb. The first was the greatest: Gilb officially breaks the fourth wall and brings himself into the narrative. For self-reference geeks like me, this is unbearably exciting. His short story collection was also like rubbing asses milk into my eyes, though which ass I’m unsure. Not Alec. He’s no ass.

5. McSweeney’s Issue 23 – Back on the McSweeney’s trail. There are about ten or so issues in the writers’ room and I’m finding it impossible to keep my hands off them. Same goes for Alec, the beast.

6. Percival Everett: Erasure – I loved this strange and angry look at the flipside of being a black academic novelist. The protag writes an awful parody of a ‘ghetto-lit’ novel and becomes a runaway success (while caring for his dying mother). A scathing but tender sensation.

7. Chris Bachelder: Bear v. Shark + U.S.! – Bachelder is a rollicking satirist and these two novels were a delight. Since I am running out of stamina writing this, I will hand it over to Alec. He says: “Laurence? Are you there? Could someone call Laurence please?”

8. Tom McCarthy: C – I thought this was retrograde pants. I have no time for modern novelists who write long books in an early 20thC vein. Especially people who are ‘steering the novel in new directions.’ What direction is that, precisely, backwards? Alec agrees, and adds: “Crumpets.”

9. B.S. Johnson: Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry – Book of the month. Read this one please. Masterpiece.

10. Ali Smith: Other Stories & Other Stories – Didn’t take kindly to this, but then again I’m the only person alive that thinks Kafka a tedious paranoiac muffin. As Alec says: “He be dump.”

11. Donald Barthleme: Sixty Stories – I loved these mad, witty, clever but not clever-clever, surreal and speculative stories. Barthelme has a style and range utterly unique to him and uses a fragmented, avant-garde approach to tell his cryptic and weirdly moving stories.

12. Marcel Bénabou: Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books – This witty essay was a treat. This “nonbook” is an erudite, solipsistic essay on the torturous process of trying to complete a sentence. Bénabou is the “definitively” provisional secretary of the Oulipo, so it’s no wonder he finds himself so intimidated when it comes to his own work.

Alec says: “Good heavens that was dull. Please draw some more punk penises. That’s what they want.”



  1. Here I am, back for punk penises, and THIS is what I get?!?

    Nah - kidding. I am here to congratulate you. You have once again succesfully managed an entire Month in Novels I Have Never Heard Of. Well, except for Eggers. But I'm pretty sure I hadn't really heard about him before I knew you, so I'm not sure it counts.

    Yay you!

  2. I recommend O'Brien for yourself. His humour is contiguous with your own brand of cheery tittery joyfulness.

  3. Huh. I shall have to make a note of it. It's the key to survival this season.

    (You said "tittery"!)