Best Books of 2012 – Part Two
Now that we've all had sufficient intake of Thanksgiving turkey and decided that for Christmas there is nothing Uncle Ned would enjoy more than a nice new book – well that and a bath in Aqua Velva – let us move on and consider the second half of the Best Books of 2012. We have seven left leading up to my pick for Book of the Year.
Morris Ekstein's Solar Dance intrigued on several levels, hence its inclusion here. The story of fraudulent 'Van Gogh' paintings throughout Europe in the years between the World Wars will someday make for one heck of a great movie. Art forgery essentially began with Van Gogh's sudden fame after his death. There had always been reproductions of great works, but trying to pass them off as originals was a whole new field of crime. Throw in one of the most deliciously corrupt men I have ever run across, the wonderfully named Otto Wacker; Berlin decadence, Nazi justice, and art experts clashing like mountain goats in the rut and you have a book that proves art history can actually be fun.
There is a small publishing house in New York called Roaring Forties Press that puts out books I uniformly love. Their ArtPlace Series – essentially travel guides to the haunts of famous writers and musicians – are indispensable for literate, curious travelers. I reviewed three of them this year, on Elvis Presley's Memphis, Ireland's Literary Revival and my personal favourite, Kevin C. Fitzpatrick's A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York. Oh I grant you it's the subject as much as the material that attracted me to the book. I've been a Dorothy Parker mark for as long as I can remember. However, Fitzpatrick is likely the most renowned expert on Mrs. Parker and he delivers an elegant, concise biography of her amidst the photographs of such famous sites as The New Yorker building and the Algonquin Hotel.
Much more serious than the books above is Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt the latest warning to the world from the great journalist Chris Hedges with bold graphic content by Joe Sacco. While I have admired all of Hedges' books and agree with his argument that corporate interests are destroying the planet and democratic society, I think this is the most approachable yet disturbing of his works. Traveling across the USA and focusing on specific places such as Camden, New Jersey with its destroyed economy, Hedges and Sacco make the political and the polemic personal. You will never watch the news or hear a political statement quite the same way again.
C.S. Richardson's The Emperor of Paris was the finest literary novel I read this year. Set in the early decades of the twentieth century, Richardson has constructed a story of romance, disability and an utterly joyful appreciation of art and storytelling. With whimsy, deft manipulation of the time structure and a sincere love for all the characters in his book, Richardson has assumed a place of honour among Canadian novelists. Give this book to anyone who loves to love.
Douglas Brinkley's massive Cronkite meets the test for a supreme biography. When you are done reading it, you will feel that the story of Walter Cronkite has been told completely and truthfully, with your curiosity completely satisfied. The sad realization also emerges that television news used to be a place of honour and courage, with its withering into the present-day pap covered with Cronkite looking on in horror.
Martin Amis is a writing camera. His art is giving a complete snapshot of a time and place, while delivering it in snarlingly sarcastic prose. No one delivers a line, paragraph, chapter or novel quite like Amis and he wouldn't have it any other way. His badge is originality – No cliches! - and Lionel Asbo meets that standard. A lager lout who wins a fortune in a lottery, Asbo is a portrait of cloddish street intelligence. This is the novel Tom Wolfe has always wanted to write, but never has.
So how better to end a list of books to love than with a book by a man who loved books? The late publisher and editor Richard Seaver's posthumous memoir The Tender Hour of Twilight is my book of the year. It's a pity Seaver did not write more when he was alive, for clearly he would have been a distinguished novelist or biographer. Still, I suppose he was needed where he was for without him it is quite likely we would never have heard of an Irish immigrant to Paris named Samuel Beckett. Add in brilliant anecdotes about Brendan Behan, Jean Genet and the battles to publish Lady Chatterley's Lover, and The Story of O make this a true treasure.
Be seeing you.