Sunday, December 18, 2011

A random list, 2011 ed. (mostly books)

'Tis the time of year to make annual lists -- best of, top ten, etc. -- and you'll find mine below. But first, a disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of these lists, or to put it more accurately, I'm not a big fan of creating them. I enjoy other people’s lists (like these, for instance), but when I try to make my own I find that I don’t relish the linear thought process required. I'm not the kind of person who wants or needs her ducks in a row, as even a brief look around my house will confirm. Also, I don’t like the exclusionary nature of lists: This always implies not that, and I hate to reject things that are essentially worthy. (That’s why I possess several hundred perfumes, even though I only wear about 20.) But if I cast aside all thoughts of organization and ranking, list-making does offer me the simple pleasure of revisiting good things, especially the ones that have taught me something or otherwise rocked my world. And, more importantly, a list is a handy way to share those things with people who might not otherwise know about them. Seen in that light, an annual list is a sort of gift to myself and to you. So, with a little ambivalence and a sincere hope that you'll find something that gives you pleasure, here's a random list of  ten things I loved in 2011:

1. Frederick Busch’s Domestic Particulars: A Family Chronicle
This is a quiet, sad, beautifully constructed novel about parents and children, among other things. I wrote a brief review of it at Goodreads. I would never have read it if a friend had not urged it on me. Let me pay a favor forward and encourage you to get your hands on a copy. You'll be rewarded for the trouble.

2. Rodney Crowell’s memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks
This is absolutely not a book I would ever have picked up on my own, but I enjoyed every page. My review is here.

3. Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life
One of the most interesting and entertaining books I’ve read in a long time, Mrs. Nixon transcends genre. It's an artful blend of fiction, literary criticism, history and memoir, and reading it is a little like being happily lost in a house of mirrors. The book is not really concerned with Pat Nixon, but with “Mrs. Nixon,” a fictional person who is as much the creation of Pat Nixon as of Ann Beattie. The brilliance of Mrs. Nixon was completely lost on David Greenberg, who wrote a simple-minded, lukewarm review for The New York Times, and on Michiko Kakutani, who delivered a review that is so willfully dumb and mean-spirited I won’t even link to it. At least the book is getting some appreciation from smart readers like this one.

4. The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, trans. by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin
 Mandelstam’s poems push me to a place I could never get to on my own, and I can never find my way back without their help.

5. Before the Great Troubling by Corey Mesler
 I featured the title poem on the blog a while back, but the whole collection is wise, playful, and very smart. Go here to see some links to other recent poems by Mesler.

6. Some other good books I read or reread this year, in no particular order and excluding lots of worthy titles that I would list if I wasn’t afraid of trying your patience:

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

A Hole in the Earth by Robert Bausch

Brill Among the Ruins by Vance Bourjaily

The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

Appalachee Red by Raymond Andrews

Rebel Powers by Richard Bausch

7. Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Apart from the way 3D glasses kept falling down my face, watching this film was a magical experience. Herzog, once again, has inspired me to do plenty of wondering about the primal sources of art and about our complex relationship to animals. I won't bore you with my musings, but the film strengthened my long held opinion that our sentimental attachment to our pets is a degraded expression of our deepest, most spiritual selves.

8. Brian Pera's Woman's Picture
Like many of my fellow perfume fanatics, I've been following the production of this film, and I was thrilled to finally see it at the Indie Memphis festival earlier this fall. A beautiful movie in every way, I hope it will be available on DVD soon so that more people can have the chance to see it. And I can't wait to see where Brian Pera takes his considerable talent in the years to come.

9. Susan Bryant's alternative process photography, exhibited this fall at Nashville's Cumberland Gallery
That's one of her images at the top of this post, and you can see more here and here. Wonderful, evocative stuff. Go look.

10. Glasgow in spring
I spent a couple of weeks in Glasgow this year and pretty much fell in love with a city I already liked quite a lot. I have thoughts of making it home someday. To see a few pictures from my visit, go here.

F.A.R., Copyright ©2011 by Susan Bryant. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


liz garrigan said...

You accomplished what you meant to with this, Maria. Thanks for the recommendations.

Susan Cushman said...

oh wow... I love discovering other folks' treasures. Put "Mrs. Nixon" on my to-read list:-)