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2010: The Year’s Best Books

Posted on Dec 17, 2010

(Page 2)

Now we swap coasts to see what The New York Times found worthy in the way of art books:

The New York Times:

But for sheer joy of reading, reach for MICHELANGELO: A LIFE ON PAPER, by Leonard Barkan ($49.50). The writer is a professor of comparative literature at Princeton, and his view of the artist usually regarded as superhuman, a Sistine-style colossus, is through the intimate, sometimes all-too-human medium of his words — private letters, poems, notes to self — as well as drawings. Personable in tone, astute in observation, Mr. Barkan’s book is that rare thing, a historical study as absorbing as a novel.

Art history in the making is the subject of LEAVING ART: WRITINGS ON PERFORMANCE, POLITICS, AND PUBLICS, 1974-2007 by the American contemporary artist Suzanne Lacy, from Duke University Press, $27.95). For nearly 40 years Ms. Lacy’s collaborative, community-based art projects, some involving hundreds of people, have been grappling with matters of race, class and possible social change with a hands-on audacity that few artists can match. This book, with a persuasive introduction by the artist-historian Moira Roth, at last puts Ms. Lacy’s own fluent accounts of her life and work between covers. The result is a moving and feisty document of a committed life, one that students of the art of our time will be grateful for in the years ahead.

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Speaking of New York, here’s what one of The New Yorker’s erudite editors thought of the poetry of 2010 (this list goes to 11!):

The New Yorker:

2. C. D. Wright, “One with Others.” A moving elegy for Wright’s mentor, whom she calls V, a white woman who joined an all-black march through the Arkansas delta in the sixties. A brilliant experiment in mixing documentary fact—interview transcripts, newspaper items—with the ancient lyric conventions of elegy. These are ways of knowing the world usually kept far, far apart, but here they reinforce each other.
3. Don Paterson, “Rain.” The Scottish poet writes rhyming poems in regular forms, siphoning from Robert Frost an extreme nihilism that cancels almost any imaginable positive or affirmative claim. The skepticism is undermined by the gorgeousness of the forms; the forms are often there to show what heartbreakingly small difference beauty can make in the world. This is fascinating work, a poet having a brutal argument with his art in his art.

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NPR, that favorite of the GOP, got all mysterious on us here:


Nazis also infest the world of The Sleepwalkers. Talk about a “world gone wrong.” Weimar Germany, which is where Paul Grossman’s inventive debut novel is set, makes Raymond Chandler’s L.A. of a slightly later period look like a kiddie petting zoo. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe only had to fend off femme fatales and trigger happy tough guys. Willi Kraus, the Berlin police detective who stars in The Sleepwalkers, has to outwit Hitler and his minions — a job made all the more dicey by the fact that Willi is Jewish. ...

Drawing on historical accounts of the period, The Sleepwalkers summons up what must have been the surreal quality of everyday life during the last days of the Weimar Republic. Willi is a decorated “Inspektor-Detektiv” in the police force; a middle-aged widower with two young sons. Everything is settled, even a bit boring, in Willi’s world, as long as he can shut out the shouts of the Brown Shirts gathering on the city streets; the sudden eruptions of anti-Semitism at his sons’ school.  Willi comes to realize that it’s only a matter of days before his police badge will be as effective as a library card in fending off the thugs coming to power that fateful autumn in Germany.  Before he finds himself turned into the pursued, rather than the pursuer, Willi is determined to solve a bizarre crime spree bedeviling Berlin: a number of people have simply vanished, apparently walking away from their lives under hypnotic suggestion.  The corpse of one of the disappeared, a young woman, turns up in the River Spree.  As a horrified Willi observes, her legs beneath the knee have been mutilated — amputated and reattached backwards — “as if someone had taken giant pliers and turned the fibula around.”

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And to wrap up our rundown, we present industry standard Publishers Weekly’s favorite fiction:

Publisher’s Weekly:

“The Pregnant Widow”
Martin Amis (Knopf)
Amis propels a very Martin Amis-like Keith Nearing through a summer of poolside torment-sexual, psychological, literary-in 1968 Italy. This dark drawing-room comedy is a showcase of Amis’s ability to make the English language bend to his whims.

“Parrot & Olivier in America”
Peter Carey (Knopf)
Olivier, a fictionalized and absolutely obnoxious riff on Alexis de Tocqueville, contends with Parrot, a cunning servant dispatched to spy on Olivier by Olivier’s mother, as the two journey across early 19th-century America. In this vast picaresque, Carey finds, via a snobbish Frenchman and an earthy Brit, a truly American story.

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Haven’t had enough? Try these:


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By Zeffer, May 1, 2011 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment
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I totally second “None of Us Were Like This Before” - it’s an
incredibly book.  Gripping.  So much better than I first expected.  It
was easily one of the best books of 2010.

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By MartiniRossi, December 19, 2010 at 3:37 pm Link to this comment
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Was hoping to see the new journalistic book, none of us were like this before
Super title, great book

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By Bob Mosher, December 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment
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I was hoping to see The Tiger, by John Vaillant among your top ten books of the year!  It is a fabulous read, a true “page-turner!”
If you’ve yet discovered The Tiger please check it out for yourself asap!
Bob Mosher/Sonoma, CA

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By Jim, December 17, 2010 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
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Even on the left, apparently, it only matters what is written in the power centres of the world.

Where are the books from the developing parts of the world, the non-English speaking parts of the world?

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