Saturday, December 31, 2011

One Year, One Hundred Books

Sometime around January 1, 2011, I stumbled upon one of those sites where readers had challenged each other to read a hundred books throughout the year. It seemed ridiculously easy at the time, but in fact I almost didn't make it. This has everything to do with my penchant for picking up fat biographies and even fatter books on American History. Early on, I knew I'd have to set some arbitrary ground rules: graphic novels would be acceptable but cookbooks were a sin. So while I can report it wasn't all heavy tomes whose weight broke my Kindle's back, I have to admit I only finished the last book on December 30 at around four o'clock. You can see the full list here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes. Random House, 150pp.

Even if I hadn't enjoyed this book as much as I did, I still would have been thrilled that Julian Barnes had claimed the 2011 Man Booker Prize. An author with an eclectic body of work, I view the success more as a nod towards his career then any singular work. This isn't to say The Sense of An Ending isn't a good read, merely that Mr. Barnes' ouevre has been so impressive that it's pretty scandalous he hasn't won already. Here, he gives us a  book so subtle that it doesn't immediately scream "award". It's not a sprawling fictional biography of Thomas More (see Wolf Hall) or as structurally ambitious as, say, The Blind Assassin (which won in 2000). Don't come to this book looking for smoke and mirrors. There are few obvious tricks to dazzle you; it is, to quote one reviewer, "a work of art, in a minor key".

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life (Pantheon Books)
Emma Goldman In Exile (Beacon Press)
by Alice Wexler.

Not officially a two volume set, both Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life and Emma Goldman In Exile are well-researched biographies of the two halves of the famed anarchist's life: B.E. (Before Exile) and A.E. (I'll leave you guess what this stands for). Sent packing from the U.S. after years of anti-government rhetoric, Emma Goldman spent the last twenty years of her life yearning for what she did during the first forty. Or at least, this is the inherent implication in Ms. Wexler's books, which cut a definitive line down the middle of Emma Goldman's life. Ms. Wexler is not in love with Emma Goldman, which makes her an ideal author to conduct this study: there are no rose tinted glasses here, and both books are thoroug, sometimes critical examination of Emma, her politics and the world in which she tried to implement them.