Tag Archives: Huffington Post

My Personal Picks For The Top Reads of 2010

So Arielle Ford posted her Top 7 Great Reads of the Year on Huffington Post.  The problem, however, was that none of my own personal top 7 books of the year were listed, a circumstance that prompted me to create a list (an arguably superior one) of my own. Hers were in no particular order; ditto for mine, except for my #1 (spoiler free!):

1)      The Instructions by Adam Levin: I’m not done with this book yet. Sue me. I’m not even half done but this book is so ridiculously good that I don’t care. Not only is it making the list, it’s Number 1, unapologetically.  Levin’s voice crackles off  the page. It’s sharp, brilliant, moving and hilarious. You not only laugh at the characters, you laugh with them. Early, praising comparisons to my favorite novel of all time, Infinite Jest, may have seemed premature, but I can assure you, it’s well-warranted. When you factor in that this is a debut novel, you realize you are engaged with something really special.

2)      The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody: if it wasn’t for Levin’s magnum opus, this would have been my top choice for 2010. Moody has never been an author to rest on his laurels and TFFoD is no exception. If only the book were generational, it’d be an epic, but at 732 pages, it’s certainly epic in its own right. Moody nails about 20 different genres here from social novel to sci-fi to thriller and weaves them together expertly. I’m sorry (not really), but the astronauts’ space travel to Mars and the subsequent happenings are utterly brilliant and engrossing. There’s so much I want to say but I don’t want to give even a shred away. Highly recommend!

3)      Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: I’m sure you can see a trend appearing. As a fan of both Shteyngart’s previous efforts and satire, this book was a no-brainer.  Shteyngart’s ability to point out the absurdity in which we all live in such a digitally connected world and his almost prophetic vision of what can happen if this system is left unchecked is both frightening and captivating. This is all not even to mention the fact that the narrative is ostensibly constructed from journal entries and email correspondences, the fresh approach to writing a novel feels just that, fresh — perhaps a nod to the call to arms David Shields issued in his anti-novel, Reality Hunger, entreating authors to make literature different and throw convention to the wind.

4)      Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: You knew it was coming didn’t you? Here’s a simple declaration, however: the book is really friggin’ good! If you can separate your predetermined disposition for the book arrived at from the whole Jenn Weiner / Jodi Picoult / Oprah Book Club drama, you will truly be in for a treat. Franzen is at his most confident and razor sharp here, more sure of himself than he was even in The CorrectionsFreedom is less flashy, stylistically, than its predecessor, but the story, in all honesty, benefits from it.  The narrative is solid, the characters are believable and, most importantly, Franzen is addressing issues that are actually important to a lot of people.

5)      Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross: here’s another debut novel I highly recommend.  Ross sets up a psychological-thriller-cum-traditional-whodoneit?-meets-noir in his first attempt and he really swings for the fences.  The narrative is really two interweaving narratives which challenge the notion of what is reality, really? Ross has an encyclopedic mind and the influence of the well-established postmodernists and meta-fictionists such as Pynchon, Barth, Delillo and company is clearly evident. You get the feeling Ross is just starting to gain momentum and his best stuff is yet to come.

6)      The Ask by Sam Lipsyte: fans of Gary Shteyngart who haven’t checked out Sam Lipsyte yet owe it to themselves to do so.  I was blown away by Lipsyte’s earlier novel, The Subject Steve, so I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of The Ask.  The Ask shares a few things in common with The Instructions — aside from being written by Jewish authors — mainly in that the language of the novel teaches you the vernacular as you go.  You begin each book as an outsider and slowly begin to feel part of the cool kids’ group as you learn how the characters talk. Stylistic fireworks aside, the novel is just really good.  Lipsyte does the likeable-but-down-on-his-luck-oaf-type characters better than just about anyone, and his portrayal of fired-then-rehired-third-tier-university-development-officer at a Milo Burke is no exception.

7)      Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis: I personally don’t think Ellis has been this sharp since Less Than Zero and The Informers, though admittedly, I haven’t read Glamorama yet to compare Imperial Bedrooms to. Lunar Park was fun but got kind of hokey at times.  The Rules of Attraction felt a little hollow and American Psycho was just disturbing (keep in mind I really like all of the books Ellis has written). Imperial Bedrooms is a return for Ellis to what he knows: vapid, rich kids living as if the rules don’t apply to them, only this time, they are all grown up.  Very few writers can get as gritty as Ellis, and like Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms left me with the same “hollowed-out” feeling I had after watching Requiem for a Dream.

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OK, The Recap [part 1 of 2] of the rest of the AWP Conference (finally!)

I figure I can only entertain my 6 or 7 readers (which are most likely comprised of family members and possibly 2 friends) with excerpts of my novel for so long before they want actual writerly info–which is what I assume a lot of web-surfing writerly types search other writer’s sites/blogs for anyway.

So, OK–here goes: I wish that I could regurgitate more information from the David Shields et al panel on Blurring the Lines Between Fiction/ Nonfiction/Memoir/Etc., but the fact it, it was absolutely freezing in the auditorium and I was severely underdressed.  One interesting quote Shields had where James Frey was concerned was: “Frey should be a better liar.”  Essentially, Shields is in favor of not just blurring the lines and boundaries between the genres of wrting, but completely obliterating them.  See herehere and here.

The next panel was called From MFA Thesis to First Novel, which I thought was pretty good. Number one: Be a writer [even if it takes 4 – 5 years (or more)].  How long it takes [to “make it”] will always vary. Write the book you want to write and don’t worry about what other people are doing.  These are ostensibly direct quotes.  Another great tip was stop rewriting the same scenes and write the book to the end; finish it!  Don’t get daunted by “experts” and forays into fact-checking—Learn, revise, move on. Disheartening things happen.  Be prepared to revise, revise, let it go and revise it again.

Keep in mind that query letters are your first introduction to agents and editors–make it pop! Let your voice really come through. Calm down and enjoy being a writer.  The business is slow; it’ll wait for you.  “Making it” (whatever “it” is) will not happen when you want it to OR how you expect it to.  Oh, and these are good tips too: A) Meet an agent before you sign B) Novels are easier to sell, C) Research agents a lot!

If you are in an MFA program, take full advantage!  Cross-pollinate genres; don’t pigeonhole yourself.  Apply for contests, grants, awards, scholarships, fellowships—everything out to which you can get your name.  Finish your novel first; don’t send it to publishers before it’s ready.  And it’s a good idea to have an expiration date on your query letters; don’t let them have it forever.

The final panel for this update was Insider Strategies for Getting Your Book Published.  Agent, Jeff Herman, began the panel by reminding everyone that, “Just because your writing is good doesn’t mean that it’s going to get published,” which I think is really sage advice for the unpublished writer.  “No one is entitled to be published—regardless of talent.”

So, then: how do you do it?  Just because your dog likes your book isn’t good enough.  Sometimes, deals do get made by someone discovering (read: stumbling upon) your manuscript in the publisher’s gigantic slush pile (which, if you are unpublished, without an agent, your manuscript will wind up)—which is more like a slush warehouse or largishly-sized room—but it’s extraordinarily rare.  There are, unfortunately, invisible walls within the publishing world.

Determination can help you overcome these walls, however.  Walls are made by humans—keep hustling!  You have to help create the demand for your book; don’t let yourself get weeded out.  Make connections. Get an agent.  The rest, I’ve already pretty much written about.  Keep in mind that agents get you access to the right people.  Just don’t be arrogant about the marketing.  Be discerning and pitch multiple agents simultaneously.  “Don’t tell [agents] what you don’t have; tell [them] what you do have.”

The rest of the conference panel recaps I’ll post tomorrow—I promisefor realz this time.  Later!

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