Jan 1, 2012

Books I Remember Reading in 2011

Didn't keep an official list for 2011, but here is what I recalled from my fragmentary mental database. Also listed is my best and honorable mention in three categories: novels, philosophy, and history and culture. I am thinking I need to read more science related books in 2012!

Novels
The best novel I read in 2011 is Home by Marilynne Robinson. Honorable mention goes to Remainder by Tom McCarthy. 

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  • Apart of the American Gods series, this one retells the story of the spider god Anansi. Expect charming Gaiman prose! B+
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
  • His Master's thesis turned novel, Wallace goes all Wittgenstein and ponders the limits of language in novel form. A-
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
  • Read this book only because I felt like I need a fictional introduction to Brooklyn. While the novel centers on two boys' friendship in and around the Boerum Hill neighborhood, I found the novel to be evocative of the borrough as a whole. Wasn't too much into the invisibility theme, however. B
The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust
  • Volume Three of Proust's Recherche corpus exudes with haute-bourgeoise shenanigans -- will Marcel just get a boyfriend already! The more mature of the volumes, in my opinion -- but equally as funny. A
Home by Marilynne Robinson
  • The most beautiful and tragic novel I read this year. Shame I never read Gilead. I am working backwards. Agreeing with a critic (I forget who), Robinson creates a classic American tragic hero with Jack. A+
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • First saw the BBC version. Loved it. London's Tube never seemed more inviting. And scary. One thing I love about Gaiman is the way he tells a story and his attention to quirky details. C+
Remainder by Tom McCarthy 
  • Reminded me of Synecdoche, New York. Wonderful book nonetheless. Think: what if I could externalize my inner thoughts? This is the book's philosphical premise. A
Something Missing by Matthew Dicks
  • Dicks wanted to write a great American novel but he failed. Or. It's just a nice romp into benign criminality. You decide. C-
Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
  • The Combray section all by itself is justification enough to read this book. Kisses, memory, and a sweet piece of cake ... ahhhhh. A+
Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust
  • If Swann's Way is about Marcel as a child, WBG is about blooming adolescence -- I guess. A-
Philosophy
The best philosophy book I read in 2011 was Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage by Stanley Cavell. Honorable mention goes to Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview by Jacques Derrida.


Essays by Michel de Montaigne
  • Didn't read every one of the essays, but I recommend the Apology for Raymond Sebond. My favorite quote: "How do I know I am not playing with my cat but in fact it is my cat playing with me?" A+
Francis Bacon: the Logic of Sensation by Gilles Deleuze
  • A readable Deleuze. In fact all of his "art" books are more readable than Anti-Oedipus, etc. You have to read this book with Google Images handy (or a monograph of Bacon's paintings) or the book does not make as much sense. B-
Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview by Jacques Derrida
  • Derrida speaks eloquently about legacy and mortality. Nicely done interview. The Last Interview is to Derrida what the Phadeo is to Socrates. A+
Must We Mean What We Say?: A Collection of Essays by Stanley Cavell
  • The best essay is the one on modernity and art. Cavell writes as if every sentence is its own stand alone work. He is said to be our new Emerson. Hmmm? I am thinking of giving him serious consideration for 2012. A
Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage by Stanley Cavell
  • Writing a paper on this book linking it with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Should be fun. This books does serious philosophy with classic American comedies from the 1930s - 1950s.  A+
The Republic by Plato
  • Never actually sat and read this from Socrates's first words to the end in order -- mainly because when I did read it as an undergraduate it was cut up in pieces. Bad beginning made right. Now I done read it. Check out the last book. A+
Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality by Sigfried Kracauer
  • Classic book on film theory. B+ 
The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film by Stanley Cavell
  • Unusual book. I think I need to read it again to fully understand. The section on silence and film is brilliant as well as his meditation on Joan of Arc. A
History and Culture
The best in History and Culture goes to Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan, and Derrida by John Forrester. Honorable Mention goes to Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
    Are You Considering Psychoanalysis? by Karen Horney
    • Usually I avoid book titles that double as questions, but Horney's classic introduction text helped me to conceptualize psychoanalysis from the point of view of an analysand. Perhaps a bit dated, but helpful nonetheless. B+
    Who Was Jacques Derrida?: An Intellectual Biography by Jason E. Powell
    • Not a straight forward bio, but rather serves both as a survey of his work interwoven into a sort of love song about a life. Written from the perspective of a disciple rather than a distanced critic. A-
    The Painter of Modern Life by Charles-Pierre Baudelaire
    • This book is a gem. A must read for anyone seriously interested in aesthetics. Baudelaire does a reflection on painting that I feel corresponds to how we can think about film. A+
    The Rise of the Novel: Studies in DeFoe, Richardson and Fielding by Ian Watt
    • The first chapter is a bit of philosophizing about the novel and its relationship (or lack thereof) with realism, while the rest of the book positions the novel form historically within the context of the mass production of books and the emergence of a reading middle class. B+
    Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan, and Derrida by John Forrester
    • To write a book on psychoanalysis is difficult enough, but Forrester rises to the occasion by linking together seemingly effortlessly Lacan, Derrida, and Freud into a cohesive structure that makes this book a pleasure to read. Forrester's chapter on Freud, Breuer and Anna O. is exceptional criticism. I love how he interweaves the theme of gossip and psychoanalysis throughout the text.  A+
    Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
    • Got hooked on Halpern's twitter feed and anticipated the book. Not as funny as the twitter posts that started the whole thing, mainly because the books attempts a cohesion that loses the ephemeral nature of tweeting. Good effort though! C-
    Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
    • Wow. What can I say? I loved every page of this book. Besides the reason why Jobs is famous -- Apple, Pixar, iPads, and whatnot -- the book reveals a man who is certainly binary, both impassioned and cruel, visionary, but pig-headed. Now when Jobs's wife comes out of mourning, the world will come to know the other half of Steve. A+
    We Boys in Love: Teenagers in Love Before Girl-Craziness by Jefferey P. Dennis
    • Thought this book would be more of a literary criticism, but rather I found Dennis frames the adolescents in the films too rigidly through this idea that homosociality is more real when divorced from sexual desire. The book writes about homosociality in these great films, which by themselves are ripe for cultural criticism, but at the end of the day Dennis says nothing substantial. C

    Shout Out:
    I would like to say thank you to the Brooklyn Pubic Library and the New York Public Library for providing me with access to most of these books, both in print and Kindle editions, when available! Go Public Libraries!

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