Los libros del año para Granta
La revista Granta ha dejado a una serie de escritores la posibilidad de escoger cuál ha sido el libro o su lectura favorita del año. Dejo aquí las respuestas de los autores más relevantes para nosotros (todos traducidos al castellano). Eso sí, no esperen encontrar entre los recomendados algún libro traducido. Todas son rarezas o novedades.
Actualización 15/12.- Rodrigo Fresán tiene un serio competidor a la hora de estar actualizado en literatura británica o norteamericana: Diego Salazar, quien me hace una magnífica acotación al post: "Veo en tu post sobre los libros del año para Granta que dices que entre los títulos elegidos por los autores no hay ninguno traducido al castellano. No es cierto, el libro de Grossman del que habla Richard Ford se encuentra en edición de Crítica bajo el título de Un escritor en guerra (2006). El libro de Kate Summerscale que menciona Doris Lessing, y que yo he leído y disfrutado muchísimo, se encuentra traducido: El asesinato de Road Hill (Lumen, 2008). Es un magnífico reportaje en que la autora reconstruye el primer caso mediático de asesinato de la historia y se centra en la figura del detective de Scotland Yard Jonathan Whicher, toda una celebridad de la época victoriana y que fue el modelo real que tanto Dickens, Poe y Wilkie Collins usaron para configurar la figura del detective en sus ficciones. También el libro del que habla Shteyngart se haya traducido al castellano, Y entonces llegamos al final de Joshua Ferris (RBA, 2008). No conozco la traducción, así que no puedo decirte qué tal es, pero leí el original en inglés y es una muy buena novela, con aires de Coupland y Delillo y que me recordó, por el tema "oficinas", al Recursos Humanos de Antonio Ortuño.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The book I most enjoyed reading this year is José Eduardo Agualusa’s The Book of Chameleons. The narrator is a dreamy, funny, brilliant gecko but there is nothing gimmicky in this beautiful, poetic novel about an Angolan albino who invents fake pasts for his clients. It is a grown-up story about a country getting to know itself again, and told in such exquisite language that I wished I could read it in the original Portuguese.
T. C. Boyle
My reading this year has mostly had to do with ecology and biology – research for the novel I am now writing. Among many others, I re-read one of the great works on the subject of island biogeography, David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo. If you don’t know this book, you should. It is fluidly and wittily written, very wide-ranging and informative. At present, I am reading an advanced review copy of Blake Bailey’s forthcoming biography of John Cheever, under whom I studied one semester at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. This is a very fine biography indeed, assessing and illuminating a complex life, and written with all the power and persuasion of a novel. I have been taking my time with it, savouring it chapter by chapter as I might linger over a box of chocolates. Or no: I don’t particularly like chocolates. Let’s say a pot of lobsters.
The book that most disturbed, moved and stayed with me this last year was Taichi Yamada’s I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying for a While. Yamada is one of my favourite Japanese writers and this is his masterwork. My God what a love story, my God what a ghost story! And Yamada shows us how little difference there is between these two types of tales. I wish I could read this book again for a first time; that’s how fine it is.
One publication I heartily recommend is Vasily Grossman’s book of cablegrams reporting on the Nazi push toward Moscow and Stalingrad. It’s called A Writer at War: Vassily Grossman and the Red Army, 1941–1945. The writing is (even in translation) extremely memorable as writing – not just for its reportorial virtues – and for the actually haunting pictures it puts into one’s mind. Grossman was a Jew, reporting on Nazis, at the same time as Stalin was exterminating Jews in various precincts of the Soviet Union. His precarious hold on his life, the truth, his profession, his sense of collegiality, his family, his own writing is a subtle but forceful torque in the writing itself.
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale has already attracted a lot of attention. The crime – a small child killed – excited Dickens and Wilkie Collins and other novelists of the time. I can’t think of another book which takes you so fast into the smells, tastes and atmosphere of that time. The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen is a book that has you making up your own theories about how grunts became speech and songs. Finally, I missed two books in 2003 – The Seven Daughters of Eve and Adam’s Curse: A Future Without Men by Bryan Sykes, a geneticist at Oxford. Both are truly revolutionary and wonderful.
Here are a couple of contemporary books I have read and enjoyed greatly in the last year: Like You’d Understand, Anyway, a collection of short stories by Jim Shepard, and Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, by Nicholson Baker.
The Shepard collection, the very best such thing in recent American letters, is historically obsessed, containing accounts of cosmonauts, Australian exploration, the invention of the guillotine and so on. It’s incredibly funny in spots, but also deeply sad. Shepard is known well for his novels and for his love of the movies, but in this book he seems to have set aside all limitations on his ambition. He swings for the fences and, if you’ll pardon a baseball metaphor, connects repeatedly for extra bases. No short-fiction collection, in recent years, has delighted me as much.
The Nicholson Baker effort is non-fiction and it is unapologetically polemical. Using only primary sources Baker purports, in very abbreviated morsels of (largely) quotation, to wonder whether the Second World War had to take place in the way it did. There are no heroes in this account – not even among the anti-war pacifists with whom Baker clearly feels some common cause – and Churchill, Roosevelt and Hitler all seem like, at best, liars and dissemblers, and, at worst, bloodthirsty megalomaniacs. The closest analogue to the methodology here is Walter Benjamin, who once made the case for a literature composed entirely of quotation. Yes, Human Smoke is a very strange book, and not one that is designed to delight your historian friends, but it is deeply felt and, in its shape, completely original. Lately, Baker has been fearless in terms of what he’s willing to say in public and I find his work exhilarating.
Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End is a stunning paean to the declining American workplace. Stylistically brilliant, Ferris gets away with using an omniscient ‘We’ to narrate his tale of a failing Chicago ad agency. As he pokes at the ribs of his corporate crew with a sharp index finger, he still manages to fill the novel with generosity and compassion. As the American economy collapses, we’re going to need helpings of both.