This is the season when almost everyone is making a list of their favorite books of the year, in most cases a list of the ten best. The list on the Salon online magazine was a little different. They asked 50 reasonably well-known writers to name their favorite book of the past year. Their selections included two that were mentioned more than once—Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (three times) and Volt by Alan Heathcock (twice).
However, in a glaring and unforgivable omission, Salon did not ask me for my selection. In putting the question to myself, I came up with a list of the following 18 books that I that I consider my top 18 of the year. What is my favorite of the group? That is a tough one.
Paul Auster Sunset Park
Joshua Ferris The Unnamed
Natalia Ginzburg Little Virtues
Tom Rachman The Imperfectionists
Jonathan Dee The Privileges
David Vann Caribou Island
Teju Cole Open City
Patrick Leigh Fermor A Time to Keep Silence
Mary Gordon The Love of My Youth
James Salter Light Years
Alastair Reid Whereabouts: Notes on Being a Foreigner
Iris Origo War in Val d’Orcia
Andre Aciman Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere
Allegra Goodman The Cookbook Collector
Ann Patchett State of Wonder
Lily Tuck I Married You for Happiness
Michael Ondaatje The Cat’s Table
Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot
As I think back on the experience I had reading each one, there are three that brought me the greatest pleasure and insight: Open City, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere and I Married You for Happiness. Of these three, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere garnered by far the most entries in my commonplace book, always a good measure of a book’s literary value to me, but by no means the only one.
However, I found Aciman’s writing utterly compelling, as it always is, those long, wandering, here and there, back and forth, ambivalent, questioning sentences.
…the life we think of each day and the life not lived, and the life half lived, and the life we wish we’d learn to live, while we still have time, and the life we want to rewrite if only we could, and the life we know remains unwritten and may never be written at all, and the life we hope others may live far better than we have…
But I spoke these words without conviction, and would have thought I hadn’t meant them had I not grown used to the notion that speaking without conviction is how I speak the truth.
And his frequent reflections on the concept of Place, of neighborhood, of city and the memories they evoke, also ambivalent, is much like my own. So I’ll cast my vote for Andre Aciman’s Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere and look forward to hearing from Salon next year.
Marks In The Margin will be on a holiday break for the next few weeks. See you next year. Meanwhile: