What we read after shoveling snow…
- Pope Benedict XVI is resigning, which a pope hasn’t done in, oh, about 600 years. Undoubtedly, Charles V had something to do with this.
In addition to our Aught-themed Sunday Book Review, which we began last week, NPI is presenting a more general look at fiction of the decade in which we look quickly and some of the most significant works of literature published during this decade. This is Part I of a two-part series.
2666 — Roberto Bolaño
The epic of the Aughts (so long as we’re not counting The Wire), 2666 affords Bolaño the posthumous chance to opine on death in all its forms: from the corporeal to the metaphysical. His characters are deep even when they are fleeting, and his style (in Natasha Wimmer’s translation) ranges from florid to hard-boiled. In contemplating his own legacy, Bolaño pretty much ensured it.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
I’ve already expanded on my high opinion of Michael Chabon’s novel about the Golden Age of Comic Books; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay presents a compelling portrait of what it’s like to create fantasies in an era of global turmoil—a particularly resonant story of the Aughts, even if Chabon’s novel came out in 2000. While he deals with themes like evil and fantasy, however, Chabon is adept at depicting a rich setting of New York City in the 1930s.
– John S
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What we read while Google Earth-ing the rest of the Middle East:
- Our friends over at The Millions got a jump start on decade-in-review countdowns, ranking the best novels of the last 10 years. For those who, like us, enjoyed Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, No. 4 on The Millions’ list, they offer a complete “Bolaño syllabus” for how to read more of the still-being-translated Chilean. And if decade-in-review countdowns are up your alley, get pumped for December, when we exercise our own love of rankings and unleash a massive retrospective on the last 10 years.
- We’ve known about Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder-cum-poet Fernando Perez for over a year now. Perez, a Jersey Guy and Columbia alum, is one of the most articulate athletes to come along in some time, a talent he showcases in an essay on poetry he wrote for the latest issue of Poetry Magazine. Perez has also written glimpses at Major League life for The New York Times‘ Bats blog and at Minor League life for MiLB.com.
- It was more than a week ago that Fire Joe Morgan staged a one-day reunion on Deadspin, but this takedown of Derek Jeter is, to some of us, timeless.
Readers, I made a mistake. In the open to my review of Netherland, I talked of the novel’s declaring its own eulogy “in the grand tradition of Louis XIV.” The facts are right; the wording isn’t. Substitute “epitaph” for “eulogy,” understand that in both cases it was accidental, and perhaps I’ll have a shred of credibility left after this week’s introduction.
It is impossible to read Roberto Bolaño’s massive masterpiece, 2666, and not immediately think of the circumstances surrounding his writing of it. Bolaño penned 2666 during the last five years of his life, suffering from the liver disease that he knew would ultimately kill him, as it did July 15, 2003.
As a result, 2666, an 898-page tome of a novel that Kirkus Reviews called “unquestionably the finest novel of the present century—and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now,” is nothing short of Bolaño’s preemptive and fully conscious attempt to crash his funeral and deliver a eulogy not looking back on his life, but rather looking forward to his legacy.
Bolaño’s preferred subject has always (and here, I mean in his fiction; I am unfamiliar with his poetry) been the writer. His novels and novellas have, hitherto without exception, been told by writers and about writers. Whereas his other major work, The Savage Detectives, explored the lives of writers, 2666 deals in their deaths. The novel is, quite simply, enamored with death and its (non-corporal) consequences.
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