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The Donoghue Interregnum: 1995!

By (December 6, 2015) No Comment

the donoghue interregnum logo

We’re now at 1995, the year that the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, the year that terrorists released nerve gas in a Tokyo subway, the year Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and the year the great Jeremy Brett died. These were the year’s best books:

Best Fiction:

rule of bone10 – Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks – This novel about a feral, damaged teenager gasping toward achieving sentience is unlike anything else in Banks’s body of work; it reads with a hybrid energy that makes it instantly memorable.a fine balance

9 – A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – When I first read this big book about four regular people trying to survive the social and political upheavals of 1970s India, I thought it was solidly mediocre and moved on to other things. But huge chunks of the book’s marvelous descriptions stuck with me, and two of the four main characters stuck with me, and eventually, years later, I re-read the novel and saw so much I’d missed the first time, enough to convince me this is one of the finest novels of modern India ever written.

songs in ordinary time8 – Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGregor Morris – Even after all this time to think about it, what an odd novel this is! On one level, it’s the story of an unconventional family – a strong-willed, eccentric mother and three young teenage children who’re each screwed up in a different way – that falls prey to an opportunistic grifter. But every time I’ve looked back on it, I’ve seen something else going on as well, most especially involving the subtle meditations on time that the author works in.

7 – The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie –the moor's last sigh For me, this sprawling, antic story of the main character’s inane Indian family felt like a major shift in tone and even depth for Rushdie. All his customary word-play and linguistic firecrackers are here, but this was the first time I felt they were firmly under his control from start to finish, instead of only in isolated chunks – and the first time they were subjugated to the needs of the story he’s telling, rather than leading or dictating that story. It was this book that made me a Rushdie fan.

astro city6 – Astro City Volume 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek – At first, I thought this Busiek project (with art that sneaks up on you by Brent Anderson) was more or less pure indulgent pastiche-nostalgia, creating stand-ins for all of comicdom’s iconic heroes and putting them through adventures they never had. But it didn’t take much more than one or two issues to convince me that Astro City is wicked ukplaying a deeper – and utterly delightful – game.

5 – Wicked by Gregory Maguire – Likewise this book – a re-imagining of Frank Baum’s Oz books from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch – originally struck me as a fairly simple gimmick, but the more of it I read, the more absorbed I became by Maguire’s sheer conviction. A huge amount of success has followed – more books, a wretchedly unlistenable galatea 2.2Broadway musical, a shall we say devoted fan base, etc. – but this book on its own is magical.

4 – Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers – When I first read this Powers novel about a computer program that gradually achieves snarky, hungry sentience, I couldn’t possibly have imagined how prescient some of it would end up being, and although I think the tech-wonkiness Powers summons this time around sometimes threatens to swamp the book’s human mysterious skindrama, that human drama is still stunningly strong.

3 – Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim – I was impressed immediately by the scorching intensity Heim brings to this story of lost time and sexual abuse, this fictional portrait of a young man not too terribly dissimilar to Banks’s Bone. The language throughout is uncomfortable and fascinating – an american tabloidimpressive performance, despite a few annoying little slip-ups.

2 – American Tabloid by James Ellroy – It’s hard to describe the weird, incantatory gimmickry that is the prose of James Ellroy to somebody who’s never experienced it, but if you picture the book as a gun barrel and the sentences as bullets, you won’t be far off. This novel’s surreal story stars a trio of dangerous men – including the book’s star, thuggish Pete Bondurant, who solves all problems with his fists – a trio caught up in a thousand muddy currents swirling around the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the impending JFK assassination, and the jagged, ultra-violent climax of the story catches even Bondurant off-guard. An unforgettable book,morality play though completely bonkers.

1 – Morality Play by Barry Unsworth – The best novel of the year is this slim, powerful story of a fourteenth-century troupe of actors making the risky decision to depart from their standard repertoire of passion plays and instead wield their stagecraft as the abstract and brief chronicles of the time – with startling results Unworth follows relentlessly to some very moving conclusions. The tensions between reality and representation seem to energize him.

 

 

Best Nonfiction:

albert speer10 – Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth by Gita Sereny – There were so many ways this book could have gone wrong. In it, Sereny sits down for a series of interviews with Nazi architect and war criminal Albert Speer, and instead of succumbing to the revisionist charisma he was still very much capable of exerting, and instead of flailing angrily against it, Sereny lets it flow into a Nazi biography unlike any other ever written, a bit, thoroughly researched and thoroughly disturbing look at the tenacity of evil.

9 – God: A Biography by Jack Miles – Miles has god milesthe happy (divine?) inspiration to read the Bible as though it were written by one person and purported to tell the life story of its main character, God. He shrewdly, wittily, and, oddly enough, compassionately follows his Character through the stages of what amounts to a long-term love affair illumination in the flatwoodswith His own creation, and the resulting barrage of insights is an exegetical feast of the first order.

8 – Illumination in the Flatwoods by Joe Hutto – There’s no way to avoid the profoundly unsettling implications that arise from reading Hutto’s beautifully-written account of his parenting of a rafter of turkeys from birth to adulthood. Hutto is a passionate writer but in no way a partisan one; his direct observations lead the reader inescapably to the conclusion that turkeys are thinking, feeling, even fairly complex creatures capable of play, curiosity, and humor. By the end of Illumination in the Flatwoods, it’s virtually longitudeimpossible to think of them as ‘simply’ birds – let alone as food.

7 – Longitude by Dava Sobel – When I first started this nimble, absorbing little book (a surprise sales hit for the year), I thought: there’s no way this story – the discovery of a reliable means for determining longitude at sea – could possibly be interesting, regardless of how obviously important it is. But Sobel let it bleedproved me wrong, filling in the history with plenty of character.

6 – Let It Bleed by Gary Indiana – This collection of acidic essays immediately announces itself as necessary reading, and there’s not a weak or flabby word in the book. This is Indiana at his typical angry, hilarious pitch, writing about a wide range of topics-of-the-day with copious scatological digressions. It’s not often readers get this much intelligence combined with this much biting humor.landscape and memory

5 – Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama – This immense book is a study of the million ways in which humanity has channeled the whole of the natural world into all forms of artwork – and through there into all forms of religion. Schama has an amazing talent for taking gaseous-broad subject-ideas like this and transforming them into fascinating investigations, and this book is one of the purest examples of this.

the making of the atomic bomb4 – The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes – Rhodes here takes on the story of the long history of nuclear power’s discovery, threading through the end of the 19th century and right through to the Manhattan Project. Hugely eccentric personalities are everywhere in these pages, all working on unspeakable things in the name of science, and Rhodes narrates the whole horrifying story with a moral equanimity that’s frustrating in the moment but ultimately makes thisthe domestic dog an epic account.

3 – The Domestic Dog, James Serpell editor – This jam-packed volume gathers the latest science on canis familiaris that was available back in the dark paleolithic days of 1995 and presents much of it with a narrative vigor that science-writing doesn’t require and all too often doesn’t attempt. The end product is one of those rare reference works that’s also enjoyable to read and re-read (and the subject doesn’t hurt the long fusethings either)

2 – The Long Fuse by Don Cook – The story of the slow-simmering forces that combined to produce the American Revolution has been told countless times, and Don Cook is well aware of that fact. What distinguishes his account is its sharply creatively use of all the old familiar primary sources – and its broader, intercontinental outlook, as hinted at in the book’s subtitle is “How England Lost the American Colonies.” Hundreds of books on this same subject have flowed off the presses in the decade since this book appeared, but none have excelled it.the demon-haunted world

1 – The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan – This author is much more famous for other books – The Dragons of Eden, say, or the big companion volume to his TV series Cosmos – but this one, a quiet, heartfelt plea for humanism and intelligence in the face of hucksters, con artists, science-deniers, and the violently deluded, is at once his most timely and his most timeless. It should be required reading everywhere in the world – not just in schools, but in every workplace, household, church, and mosque. It’s the purest distillation of its author’s gentle, educating wisdom.

Home » stevereads

The Donoghue Interregnum: 1995!

By (December 6, 2015) No Comment

the donoghue interregnum logo

We’re now at 1995, the year that the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, the year that terrorists released nerve gas in a Tokyo subway, the year Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and the year the great Jeremy Brett died. These were the year’s best books:

Best Fiction:

rule of bone10 – Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks – This novel about a feral, damaged teenager gasping toward achieving sentience is unlike anything else in Banks’s body of work; it reads with a hybrid energy that makes it instantly memorable.a fine balance

9 – A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – When I first read this big book about four regular people trying to survive the social and political upheavals of 1970s India, I thought it was solidly mediocre and moved on to other things. But huge chunks of the book’s marvelous descriptions stuck with me, and two of the four main characters stuck with me, and eventually, years later, I re-read the novel and saw so much I’d missed the first time, enough to convince me this is one of the finest novels of modern India ever written.

songs in ordinary time8 – Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGregor Morris – Even after all this time to think about it, what an odd novel this is! On one level, it’s the story of an unconventional family – a strong-willed, eccentric mother and three young teenage children who’re each screwed up in a different way – that falls prey to an opportunistic grifter. But every time I’ve looked back on it, I’ve seen something else going on as well, most especially involving the subtle meditations on time that the author works in.

7 – The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie –the moor's last sigh For me, this sprawling, antic story of the main character’s inane Indian family felt like a major shift in tone and even depth for Rushdie. All his customary word-play and linguistic firecrackers are here, but this was the first time I felt they were firmly under his control from start to finish, instead of only in isolated chunks – and the first time they were subjugated to the needs of the story he’s telling, rather than leading or dictating that story. It was this book that made me a Rushdie fan.

astro city6 – Astro City Volume 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek – At first, I thought this Busiek project (with art that sneaks up on you by Brent Anderson) was more or less pure indulgent pastiche-nostalgia, creating stand-ins for all of comicdom’s iconic heroes and putting them through adventures they never had. But it didn’t take much more than one or two issues to convince me that Astro City is wicked ukplaying a deeper – and utterly delightful – game.

5 – Wicked by Gregory Maguire – Likewise this book – a re-imagining of Frank Baum’s Oz books from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch – originally struck me as a fairly simple gimmick, but the more of it I read, the more absorbed I became by Maguire’s sheer conviction. A huge amount of success has followed – more books, a wretchedly unlistenable galatea 2.2Broadway musical, a shall we say devoted fan base, etc. – but this book on its own is magical.

4 – Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers – When I first read this Powers novel about a computer program that gradually achieves snarky, hungry sentience, I couldn’t possibly have imagined how prescient some of it would end up being, and although I think the tech-wonkiness Powers summons this time around sometimes threatens to swamp the book’s human mysterious skindrama, that human drama is still stunningly strong.

3 – Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim – I was impressed immediately by the scorching intensity Heim brings to this story of lost time and sexual abuse, this fictional portrait of a young man not too terribly dissimilar to Banks’s Bone. The language throughout is uncomfortable and fascinating – an american tabloidimpressive performance, despite a few annoying little slip-ups.

2 – American Tabloid by James Ellroy – It’s hard to describe the weird, incantatory gimmickry that is the prose of James Ellroy to somebody who’s never experienced it, but if you picture the book as a gun barrel and the sentences as bullets, you won’t be far off. This novel’s surreal story stars a trio of dangerous men – including the book’s star, thuggish Pete Bondurant, who solves all problems with his fists – a trio caught up in a thousand muddy currents swirling around the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the impending JFK assassination, and the jagged, ultra-violent climax of the story catches even Bondurant off-guard. An unforgettable book,morality play though completely bonkers.

1 – Morality Play by Barry Unsworth – The best novel of the year is this slim, powerful story of a fourteenth-century troupe of actors making the risky decision to depart from their standard repertoire of passion plays and instead wield their stagecraft as the abstract and brief chronicles of the time – with startling results Unworth follows relentlessly to some very moving conclusions. The tensions between reality and representation seem to energize him.

 

 

Best Nonfiction:

albert speer10 – Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth by Gita Sereny – There were so many ways this book could have gone wrong. In it, Sereny sits down for a series of interviews with Nazi architect and war criminal Albert Speer, and instead of succumbing to the revisionist charisma he was still very much capable of exerting, and instead of flailing angrily against it, Sereny lets it flow into a Nazi biography unlike any other ever written, a bit, thoroughly researched and thoroughly disturbing look at the tenacity of evil.

9 – God: A Biography by Jack Miles – Miles has god milesthe happy (divine?) inspiration to read the Bible as though it were written by one person and purported to tell the life story of its main character, God. He shrewdly, wittily, and, oddly enough, compassionately follows his Character through the stages of what amounts to a long-term love affair illumination in the flatwoodswith His own creation, and the resulting barrage of insights is an exegetical feast of the first order.

8 – Illumination in the Flatwoods by Joe Hutto – There’s no way to avoid the profoundly unsettling implications that arise from reading Hutto’s beautifully-written account of his parenting of a rafter of turkeys from birth to adulthood. Hutto is a passionate writer but in no way a partisan one; his direct observations lead the reader inescapably to the conclusion that turkeys are thinking, feeling, even fairly complex creatures capable of play, curiosity, and humor. By the end of Illumination in the Flatwoods, it’s virtually longitudeimpossible to think of them as ‘simply’ birds – let alone as food.

7 – Longitude by Dava Sobel – When I first started this nimble, absorbing little book (a surprise sales hit for the year), I thought: there’s no way this story – the discovery of a reliable means for determining longitude at sea – could possibly be interesting, regardless of how obviously important it is. But Sobel let it bleedproved me wrong, filling in the history with plenty of character.

6 – Let It Bleed by Gary Indiana – This collection of acidic essays immediately announces itself as necessary reading, and there’s not a weak or flabby word in the book. This is Indiana at his typical angry, hilarious pitch, writing about a wide range of topics-of-the-day with copious scatological digressions. It’s not often readers get this much intelligence combined with this much biting humor.landscape and memory

5 – Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama – This immense book is a study of the million ways in which humanity has channeled the whole of the natural world into all forms of artwork – and through there into all forms of religion. Schama has an amazing talent for taking gaseous-broad subject-ideas like this and transforming them into fascinating investigations, and this book is one of the purest examples of this.

the making of the atomic bomb4 – The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes – Rhodes here takes on the story of the long history of nuclear power’s discovery, threading through the end of the 19th century and right through to the Manhattan Project. Hugely eccentric personalities are everywhere in these pages, all working on unspeakable things in the name of science, and Rhodes narrates the whole horrifying story with a moral equanimity that’s frustrating in the moment but ultimately makes thisthe domestic dog an epic account.

3 – The Domestic Dog, James Serpell editor – This jam-packed volume gathers the latest science on canis familiaris that was available back in the dark paleolithic days of 1995 and presents much of it with a narrative vigor that science-writing doesn’t require and all too often doesn’t attempt. The end product is one of those rare reference works that’s also enjoyable to read and re-read (and the subject doesn’t hurt the long fusethings either)

2 – The Long Fuse by Don Cook – The story of the slow-simmering forces that combined to produce the American Revolution has been told countless times, and Don Cook is well aware of that fact. What distinguishes his account is its sharply creatively use of all the old familiar primary sources – and its broader, intercontinental outlook, as hinted at in the book’s subtitle is “How England Lost the American Colonies.” Hundreds of books on this same subject have flowed off the presses in the decade since this book appeared, but none have excelled it.the demon-haunted world

1 – The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan – This author is much more famous for other books – The Dragons of Eden, say, or the big companion volume to his TV series Cosmos – but this one, a quiet, heartfelt plea for humanism and intelligence in the face of hucksters, con artists, science-deniers, and the violently deluded, is at once his most timely and his most timeless. It should be required reading everywhere in the world – not just in schools, but in every workplace, household, church, and mosque. It’s the purest distillation of its author’s gentle, educating wisdom.