Two things I picked up were on biography – not biographies per se, but biographical criticism, the sort of thing I read with avid interest: Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice and Hermione Lee's Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography. Both of them I read in hungry, greedy gulps – and ultimately unsatisfied gnawings. Sigh. I'm always on the hunt for the holy grail of biographical criticism, the single book that will capture the practical & theoretical joys & problems of the genre, the epistemological conundrums, the place of life-writing within the whole literary system. And while Malcolm & Lee offer lots to think about, they aren't it: indeed, they come nowhere close to Leon Edel's Literary Biography, Richard Holmes's volumes of meta-biographical essays, or even Malcolm's earlier book on Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman.
I guess I'll just have to write my own book.
It's time for year-end lists. I always hate these things when I read 'em from others, mainly because everybody's so hip & with-it, listing books they've read that have been published in the last three weeks, while I'm still laboring thru stuff written back in the benighted '80s. Oh well – with the proviso that I'm constitutionally something of a slow learner, a perennial catch-up-ball player, here's my list of things I read this year that blew me away:
Fiction:To an Idea: A Book of Poems David ShapiroLingos I-IX Ulf Stolterfoht
Things on Which I’ve Stumbled Peter Cole
Ours Cole Swensen
Eschaton Michael Heller
Meteoric Flowers Elizabeth Willis
Emptied of All Ships Stacy Szymaszek
Goan Atom Caroline Bergvall
Fig Caroline Bergvall
Scribe Norman Finkelstein
Broken World Joseph Lease
Raik Ray DiPalma
Terminal Humming K. Lorraine Graham
Memnoir Joan Retallack
Uncle Silas Joseph Sheridan Le FanuNonfiction:
Perdido Street Station China Miéville
Ryder Djuna Barnes
Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan Jean DaiveHeaven knows a lot of stuff has fallen thru the cracks, especially in fiction & nonfiction. (How embarrassing is it to confess you've first read Little Women or David Copperfield in your mid-40s? and how wonderful they were?) But a few things that stick in my mind.
How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation Marc Bousquet
Greater Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory John Dixon Hunt
Marx’s Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism Meghnad Desai
Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay John Dixon Hunt