At the beginning of this quickly dwindling year, I proudly set myself some lofty literary goals: read at least 50 books and read all of Salman Rushdie. I will hold my head high and admit that I accomplished neither. Shame (also the name of a Rushdie novel I failed to read this year). With only three days left of 2011, my personal tally stands at 40 titles consumed – six of them belonging to Mr. Rushdie’s repertoire. Despite the plummeted pledge, over the last twelve months I have greedily enjoyed some fantastic words, my friends – delicious like a sweet syrup (or Nutella, which is also very magical) – and suffered under the crushing burden of some never-ending and undeniably painful collections of word vomit. Either way, reading is a dear pleasure that I will forever espouse for our sound-byte laden society. Even those terrors of typography are better for your brain than Jersey Shore (except Twilight). With the New Year shimmering in all its untapped glory around the corner, make this the year you choose to spend just a touch less time wired in and tuned out and resolve to hold a love affair with the book.
Kick start your 2012 with these 5 choice titles from my own personal list of reads from 2011.
V by Thomas Pynchon
There is a masochist that lay dormant in all of us somewhere, breathing like a fiend and only surfacing for brief and unexpected moments of our life. V is a cramp. A cramp somewhere deep in the belly that aches like an ailing organ. An example of Hysterical Realism (a cousin to Magical Realism, which we will visit soon), you are a masochist if you finish this book. Follow the winding, weird and oh-so-confusing path of Benny Profane in his search for the mysterious lady, V. It’s long, it’s irksome and when it is over you will breathe an incredibly deep and satisfying sigh of relief – more like a scratching gulp of air after being nearly drowned. That being said, it is a pain that becomes familiar and comfortable, a tummy-ache that rather hurts so good and is oddly missed when it is finally cured. While you may not ultimately like it, V will shadow you like a quiet shade long after the last page.
The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
One of my Rushdies, and a fine example of why I love him. Although not nearly pumped with the same swelling, exhausting and – dare I say? – orgasmic energy of its earlier counterpart, Midnight’s Children, Rushdie is a master character writer and can twist the coming-of-age tale to its limits like no other madman. An example of Magical Realism (my favorite genre, although I’m sure you already know this by now), the book hinges slightly – nay ridiculously – on the absurd towards the end, but does not fail to impart a buttery, fever-inducing story with a creamy rich filling – as well as some damn good prose. It is rather large, and you will need to coax it out of the gate just a bit, but see it through to the end. It will feel good and warm in your stomach like a nice, whimsical pastry.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Why haven’t you read this yet? I will admit, it took me more years than I am proud claiming to finally pick up and seethe with the savage sexuality that is Burgess’ dystopian A Clockwork Orange. While short, the book is a forceful and visceral account of young ruffians on a wild rollick of sex and violence set in a near-future England. It brings into question the concept of violence in society and forces the reader into an uncomfortable kinship with the anti-hero, Alex, as he undergoes a government “rehabilitation.” Written in an experimental language of fictional slang, allow yourself to follow the mood of the story to understand the words. The satisfaction of coming to terms with Burgess’ “Nadsat” culture will be far more intoxicating if you meet it in the raw.
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
The French do everything better, and it is no exception in the case of philosopher Sartre’s fictional account of a man realizing with great disgust the encroachment of the inanimate upon his being. Written in 1938, this existential novel was Sartre’s first and most well-loved. As wondrously written – dripping with an eerie and oddly romantic prose – as it is fearless, this slim little tale will leave you brimming over with the frothiness of Sartre’s revelation of existence.
The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written. ‘Ere since first we met in 2007, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has become my lifelong lover; I grow fat and happy on the rich milk that flows from his pen. Weaving a haunting, raw and ultimately sad tale of a great dictator’s descent into a swirling world of madness and childlike power rushes, Marquez stretches to the very tippy toes of his grand skill in a lush cavalcade of prose. Make no mistake, the master of Magical Realism will never fail to paint a portrait of life both salty and strangely, unmistakably entrancing. This is now my favorite book. Ever. This book is a challenge, though, and not for the faint of heart; if you, dear reader, are not prepared to plunge into a dizzying account of lunacy in the form of roughly 15 run-on sentences over some 300 pages, save it for later. Start with One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera as an aperitif into Marquez before diving into Patriarch. Either way, you will never want with Marquez.
Don’t let your shelves grow fusty, my friends. Make it your resolution to read, read more, and read more than just the marshmallow fluff and cotton ball bunny tails that fill so many pages on those deceptive “bestseller lists”. Venture into a labyrinth for your mind and let your Netflix queue idle for a change.
Long live the book and Happy New Year!
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