Tag Archives: Shards

The Best of 2011

AFTER A LONG YEARFiction Advocate and Trade Paperbacks asked readers and writers what they loved reading in 2011. Here’s what they said:

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Ismet Prcic, author of “Shards”

“Widow” by Michelle Latiolais — Brutal and honest and well-fucking-written.

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Matthew Gallaway, author of “The Metropolis Case”

“Pilcrow” by Adam Mars-Jones — I’ve loved many books in 2011, the most recent being “Pilcrow” by Adam Mars-Jones. Set in 1950s England, the story is narrated by a young boy who grows up with a joint disease that keeps him bed-ridden until he’s nine or ten, after which he attends a series of boarding schools for the disabled. Far from being depressing, however, the narrator views the world with an infectious sense of wonder, detail, and mischief, which along with the fact that he’s gay (not that he uses the term) makes for a completely illuminating read. In my experience, far too many books assume that children are asexual or heterosexual until proven otherwise, so it was amazing for me to read something that captures a sense of knowing that you’re different and presenting this difference with a sensual awareness/optimism that captures the excitement of what it means to be young and alive and filled with dreams.

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Michelle Lipinski, book editor

“The Metropolis Case” by Matthew Gallaway — Matthew Gallaway’s novel stands out because it does something few novels do: it welcomes novices as well as old hands with the simple hook of an extremely well-executed and dramatic tale. One doesn’t have to know about New York, Paris, opera, or punk rock to see that the language is stunning, the prose is lyrical, and nothing is out of place. There is a distinct reality in Gallaway’s sometimes surreal story, a reality that contains a “painfully stretched-out sense of longing” (as Scott Timberg says in the New York Times) which rolls in and out of the intertwined stories like fog, touches upon some truth, then quickly burns off in the sun.

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Jane Lui, musician

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up” by Robert Sabuda and “Cinderella: A Pop-Up Fairy Tale” by Matthew Reinhart — Honestly, if kids got their hands on these, the books would get ripped apart. To me, these are meant to be appreciated in detail by adults: engineers, hipsters, retired physicists, middle-aged Disneyland nerds, and your mom. Not only do the images pop, but they’ve made the pop-ups move with the motion of the turning pages. On the first page of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, the pop-up hurricane turns in a circular motion as you open it. It’s fascinating and beautiful. Just please don’t give it to a child.

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Karl Wirsing, contributor to Trade Paperbacks and Communications Director at Rails to Trails Conservancy

“The Wave” by Susan Casey — In this participant/author exploration, Casey follows extreme surfer Laird Hamilton in his quest for the giants of the sea (waves 50 feet and taller, with the kind of power to skin a tree), alternating the narrative between his story and the greater threats of rogue waves–often related to climate change–in the ocean. It’s the kind of book where you think Casey has peaked with her stories and extremes by the first few chapters, yet she somehow manages to extend and accelerate the tension. She sometimes loses herself in the prose, tying herself in sensational knots as she attempts to capture the crushing force of these waves. But through it all the message is clear and riveting: Fear the waves, dude. They’re out there. They’re getting bigger. And they will mess you up.

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Laura West, blogger and PhD Candidate in the Georgetown University Department of Linguistics

“A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin — The average sentence I read in 2011 went something like this: “One might think that interactants’ insistence on the assertion of relative epistemic rights is an ugly contaminant of courses of action which otherwise are the essence of consensus building.” That’s why George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones” was my best book of 2011; the fantasy is the perfect balance to the academic articles that threaten to strangle a student’s love of reading. That’s not to say “A Game of Thrones” lacks complexity. Martin can overwhelm with multiple characters and plots (and disappoint those who expect good to always triumph — he kills off more than a hero or two). Still, it’s impossible not to get sucked into each new storyline and twist in the saga. One caution to those who prefer PG-rated material: the books are full of rape, torture, blood and guts, though Queen Cersie does give fair warning in the first book: when you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.

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Robert Repino, writer and book editor

“God and Sex” by Michael Coogan — This is an entertaining and informative rebuttal to both backward-looking fundamentalists and wishy-washy liberals.

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Jessa Lingel, librarian

“Doc and Fluff” by Pat Califia — It’s not every day you find a lesbian dystopian novel to keep you entertained with gore and biker gangs and the occasional lesbian sex scene.

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J. Boyett, author of “Brothel”

“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier — The best book I read may have been “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” but that was for the third time. One of the best books I read for the first time in the last few months was Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” which reads as if Agatha Christie and Marcel Proust got into a teleportation machine together and were fused into one author, a la Jeff Goldblum and the fly in “The Fly.”

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Brian Hurley, editor of Fiction Advocate

“How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” by Christopher Boucher — This book is a story and a game. The story is about a single father in rural Massachusetts hitting rock bottom after the death of his own father. The game is making sense of his metaphors, which are so cracked out that you fear for his sanity. He talks about his son and his Volkswagen Beetle as if they’re the same entity. He explains his father’s death by saying a Heart Attack Tree came along while his father was sitting inside an Invisible Pickup Truck and ripped all the stories out of his father’s chest. The metaphors end up making an eerie kind of sense, and you realize that the book is re-wiring the way look at the world.

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Michael Moats, author of “The Real Holden Caulfield” and editor/contributor at Trade Paperbacks

“Arguably” by Christopher Hitchens/“Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace — The best book I read in 2011 was “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. I think it’s one of the best books you can read, and I happened to read it this year. More on that here. But the best book I read from 2011 was “Arguably” by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens was known for being disagreeable, and “Arguably” has plenty of contrarianism in its 700-plus pages. But more than his combative side, this last collection before his death demonstrated Hitch’s passionate love of life, and the poetry, wine, history and debate with which he filled his own. More on that here. Finally, the best book I didn’t read from 2011 was either “Pulphead” by John Jeremiah Sullivan or “Parallel Stories” by Peter Nadas. I will have to let you know in 2012.

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Matt Tanner, art director of Fiction Advocate

Boys and Girls Like You and Me” by Aryn Kyle — I came to “A Visit from the Goon Squad” late and somewhat skeptically but was absolutely floored by it. Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams” is as majestic and mysterious as any of his other books. Still, my favorite book of the year was Aryn Kyle’s “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” which I found by accident when I picked it up to see who designed the strange and wonderful cover (Evan Gaffney, it turns out). As a designer, I know full well that books don’t necessarily get the covers they deserve. So when I picked up “Boys and Girls,” I wasn’t expecting to be enticed by the first few line or to walk out of the store with the book. Nor was I expecting to discover a collection of beautiful, exquisitely brutal stories about young people–almost all female. I’m not sure I understand women any better, but I am more afraid of them than ever.

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Andra Belknap, contributor to Trade Paperbacks

The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach — If you haven’t already, you should really read “The Art of Fielding,” the story of college shortstop Henry Skrimshander. Henry idolizes the famed (and fictional) Cardinals shortstop Aparicio Rodriguez and subscribes to his baseball wisdom, written in his book “The Art of Fielding.” “Fielding” is Henry’s baseball Bible. The conflict that drives the story, of course, is how Henry loses his religion alongside his baseball skills, and searches for something to worship in place of Aparico’s words. During his existential crisis, Henry looks to a mental health professional for guidance. I particularly liked this exchange he had with his therapist:

“I found it interesting, said Dr. Rachels, “that you chose to say Laying down a bunt the way a person might say Laying down my life.”… “I didn’t choose to say it that way,” Henry said, “Lay down a bunt. Everybody says that.”

Indeed, everybody says that. Chad Harbach, in his first novel, encourages his readers to ask why.

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What about you? What did you love reading in 2011? Tell us in the comments below… 

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Balkannovelization

Shards by Ismet Prcic
A novel about growing up where things are blowing up
Status: Available

IN 1945, J.D. SALINGER WROTE  that the novels of World War II had  “too much of the strength, maturity, and craftsmanship that critics are looking for and too little of the glorious imperfections which teeter and fall off the best minds.” Six years later he published “The Catcher in the Rye,” whose narrator Holden Caulfield was so buried under trauma and alienated by his pain that the initial impressions of typical, coming-of-age angst gradually unraveled into something closer to the lingering aftershocks of war.

Holden bottled his unhappiness into the word “phony.” The writer Ismet Prcic (PER-sick) – who escaped Bosnia as a teenager during the wars of the early 1990s – gave a better explanation in an interview with BOMB magazine recently, saying, “War shatters everything you think you know and believe and shows you that society, reality, things you hold dear are simply illusions, a common set of agreements by the people who choose to make them or are simply grandfathered into them…it takes war or some other reality-destroying experience to wake us up. Once you’re awakened in this manner, it is sometimes hard to buy into the old agreements once the war is over.”

Prcic adapted his experience into “Shards”, an experimental and exceptional debut novel published this year. “Shards” is a war novel, and possibly a World War II novel, since its story is driven by the fracturing of Yugoslavia, a country that came together in 1945 while Europe was in upheaval. By that standard, it meets Salinger’s requirement, and then some, for “glorious imperfections.” But “Shards” also qualifies as a coming-of age story, though of the unique variety where having an adolescent crush means damning the water rations and finding ways to bathe each day, and where make-out sessions are interrupted by the occasional mortar falling out of the sky. In one scene, the sometime-narrator Ismet (who shares the name of the author) is visiting Scotland with a theater troupe and ducks under a bus when fireworks are shot into the air. While the older members of the troupe laugh at him, he realizes: “They remembered with fully formed adult bodies and minds life before the war. Before chaos, they’d known order, before senselessness, sense. They were really out of Bosnia because leaving chaos to them felt like returning to normalcy. But, if you were forged in the chaos, then there was no return. There was no escape. To you chaos was normalcy.” These are the forces of war and experiences of childhood that were inevitably cast together for a generation of young Bosnians. The resulting mix of loyalty, resentment, homelessness, hope, guilt, fury, freedom and sadness is what binds together the fragmented narrative of “Shards.”

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