Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reflections on a Year of Reading: 2010

I’ve had a spectacular year of literary discovery. It seems only fitting that the setting of the last novel I read in 2010 is the same as that of the first novel I read in 2010:  Lisbon, a city that has haunted me since my first visit there just before the year started. Pascal Mercier’s Train de Nuit Pour Lisbonne opened the year; another French translation, of Antonio Tabucchi’s Requiem, his sole novel written in Portuguese, closed it. Requiem called out to me my last day in Paris via its cover: a detail of a cat I recognized as being from one of the marvelous azulejos adorning the walls of Lisbon’s Palais de La Fronteira. Many of the books I’ve read this year seem to have chosen me rather than the other way around, or have seemed to follow me about, Tabucchi’s work being a case in point. It’s not unusual, I know, for a book about a certain city to mention those same places one has visited oneself. But the experiences of the narrator in Requiem often paralleled aspects of my own visit to Lisbon with unusual particularity: an appreciation for the little garden outside the bar of the museum on Janelas Verdes near Eça de Quieros’ home; a shared fixation on a specific detail in Bosch’s “Temptation of Saint Anthony” of a naked couple flying upon a fish; an eerily similar experience in a modernist restaurant on one of the cais along the Tagus. For this reason I found Tabucchi’s novel infectively disquieting, as though his hallucination intersected my own at times. But I’m beginning to accept and anticipate that strange encounters between reality and fiction will continue to occur - in the city of Fernando Pessoa perhaps more strangely than elsewhere…

Highlights of this past reading year:

The hands-down winner must surely be Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvania trilogy: They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided. Coming to the end of the final volume felt akin to coming up from a lengthy exploration under the surface of some ether-clear sea, a quiet immersion of sustained wonder at the world to be found there. But there were an exceptional number of other tremendous finds: Terry Andrews’ The Story of Harold (about which I hope to write at more length later to contribute what I can to keep this utterly unique, out-of-print American novel from vanishing forever from sight); Javier Marias’ absorbing magnum opus Your Face Tomorrow, finished at last; the quirky, strangely moving nonsense poems of Christian Morgenstern; the peripatetic Romanian writer Panaït Istrati, a collection of whose work almost literally jumped off a library shelf onto my head (and in any case succeeded gloriously in penetrating it, to my enduring gratitude and delight); Patrick Fermor’s sumptuously written adventures through the heart of Europe; Thomas Bernhard’s mesmerizing concatenation of ideas in Correction; an unexpected but much appreciated introduction to the profoundly talented, morbidly funny Beryl Bainbridge in The Bottle Factory Outing; Stephen Benatar’s fabulously deranging camp horror story Wish Her Safe at Home; Eça de Quieros’ rich, deep and deeply satisfying masterpiece, The Maias (Lisbon again); a reluctant finish to the last of Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan detective novels (about which I hope to post something soon); another visit with the dazzling César Aira in his wildly inventive delicacy, La Princesse Printemps; a moving, dream-like complicity with Antonio Tabucchi’s hallucinatory Lisbon Requiem; and my first taste of many other terrific authors previously unfamiliar to me, among them Francis Wyndham, Anna Gavalda, Tom McCarthy, Zoyâ Pirzâd, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Deszö Kosztolányi. 

A bonne année to all, with a coupe of champagne raised to 2011 being at least as rewarding a year as 2010 for discovering great literature.


  1. oh DO write about The Story of Harold. I'm reading it now myself. (and let me know when you do.)

  2. I will - I promise! I'm thrilled that you're reading it. Please let me know what you think when you're done.