Imagine: You’re in New York City at a large gathering of authors and book industry people. Someone wants you to give away books, twelve of them, to each person there. You get to choose any books you want, knowing that you will be judged on the mercurial and mercenary standards of Book People.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re probably Jennifer Egan, author of “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” and chosen “book bag” curator for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. She wrote about her picks in detail on The Daily Beast Book Beast Page, but here’s the quick run down:
- Emma by Jane Austen
- The Image by Daniel J. Boorstin
- Don Juan by Lord Byron
- Underworld by Don DeLillo
- Middlemarch by George Elliot
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
- The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
- Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
- Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
- The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
- Germinal by Émile Zola
If this scenario sounds awesome to you, tell us in the comments which books you would choose and why. Or just feel free to lay judgements on Egan’s and other people’s lists.
UPDATE: Don’t feel pressure to name twelve books. It’s your bag. Put in as many or as few books as you like.
– Michael Moats
Slate’s Audio Book Club has posted an interesting discussion on Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” In addition to pointing out that Egan was inspired by The Sopranos and Marcel Proust, the reviewers wonder if “Goon Squad” is somehow structured like a Facebook page.
If you want to find out for yourself, the book is still available at Trade Paperbacks.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Jackie is a punk. Judy is runt. They both got disillusioned by the Information Ay-age.
Status: Hey ho, let’s go.
JENNIFER EGAN’S “GOON SQUAD” TRIED TO SOUR ME with opening chapters about a young New York neurotic and an aging record producer whose primary function seemed to be to reminisce about, i.e. name drop, old punk bands. I’m glad I persevered, though, because “Goon Squad” is an exceptional book about aging, identity and remembering. In subtext, the story is about much of what Proust wrote about (Egan quotes him at the opening of the book). In actual text, “Goon Squad” is loosely about music, which is so effective as a vehicle because 1) it is so readily nostalgic for so many people and 2) because it is the form of media that has gone through the most revolutionary and resisted changes as a result of digital technology, a struggle repeated by many of the people in the novel. Egan weaves together the colliding chronologies of a constellation of characters (can you tell the rum is working?) in different chapters, each written in their own distinct style. This is, at times, as obnoxious as it sounds; but for the most part it’s riveting and expertly crafted. Egan even managed to overcome my strong reluctance to predicted technologies of the near future. In a few of the chapters that spin her narrative forward into years that haven’t happened yet, she draws some not so unreasonable logical conclusions from today’s cutting edge gadgets, and doesn’t push the envelope too far in most of her imaginings. A Nine-Inch-Nails song from some uncertain year ahead is called “Ga Ga” in order to appeal to toddlers and infants who can now download songs with the push of button; this feels a little extreme. Yet, a chapter from the perspective of an adolescent girl in the 2020s is written in some variation of power point slides. Her mother, who we have met before, complains about this kind of writing, and that seems just about right.
Do you want to trade paperbacks?