Favorite books, and holiday remainders

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a brief piece for Newsday about some of my favorite books of the year. Today it appears alongside 2004 selections from Laurie Muchnick, Scott McLemee, Peter Terzian, and others.

I mentioned Muriel Spark’s The Finishing School (a hilarious, plot-driven commentary on the creative writing culture and the publishing world’s feverish pursuit of young authors), James Hynes’ Kings of Infinite Space, Miljenko Jergovic’s Sarajevo Marlboro, Stephen Elliott’s Happy Baby, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Lucy Ellmann’s Dot in the Universe, and Andrew Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli. I wanted to include A.L. Kennedy’s Paradise, but it doesn’t appear in the U.S. until the spring (although it’s been out in Britain for months). (And if you’re still looking for holiday gifts, one book I didn’t mention — Jonathan AmesWake Up, Sir! — was a big hit with the P.G. Wodehouse fans on my list.)

Finally, some random items:

  • Quotes from Zadie Smith, J.M. Coetzee, and Jeanette Winterson appear in John Dugdale’s end-of-year round-up of odd literary passages, statements and exchanges.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez agreed to carry messages between Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the U.S. government, “in exchange for some private accounts of the Cuban president’s life, including details of a conversation Castro had with Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s visit to Cuba.” After Garcia Marquez fulfilled his part of the bargain, the Cuban leader waved him off, saying “Oh, I’ll tell you later. In any case, it’s not important the way you think.”
  • Norman Mailer, longtime literary rocket scientist, has got the Iraq crisis all figured out (“Manliness is what is missing from the current conflict. . .”). And having discovered the writings of Men are From Mars author John Gray, he’s backpedalling from his prior stance on relations between the genders (“all women should be locked in cages”) and embracing a new theory: “‘People have been known to say that men and women come from different planets, and were landed here, and that to me is as reasonable a hypothesis as another.'”


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