Forthcoming Books

Over the weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a summer reading preview in which it asked many of its contributors about books that they were looking for. Darby Dixon III has written recently about the dangers of anticipating new books. And the issue of having too many interesting books to read has caused grumblings even from the most robust readers. It’s not that we don’t want to read these books. We just don’t know when we’ll read them. Speaking for myself, William T. Vollmann’s Imperial sits in the pile, and it looks like it might devour some of the smaller books as snacks. (To give you some sense of the problem, Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist and Richard Powers’s Generosity are 50 cent bags of Doritos by comparison. Is this really fair?)

But you can’t just stick with the tried and true. There are books from emerging authors and small presses that must not be overlooked! There are good books that are being ignored. There are books that don’t stand a chance if everybody’s looking forward to the new Lethem.

This begs the question of whether we should be asking some of these these authors to stop writing for six months so that some of us may catch up on our reading and be fair to all the books. Or perhaps we should ask the federal government to bail out readers so that literary culture can thrive. Then again, it’s possible that we may approach a six month window in which there is nothing particularly worthwhile to read. And then America can be humiliated yet again with another public denouncement from Horace Engdahl that only people like Harold Augenbraum will actually care about. The rest of us will catch up with the backlog.

There’s a new David Mitchell novel and a new Scarlett Thomas novel set for publication in 2010. It just doesn’t stop, does it?

There has to be a solution to all this. And the Chicago Sun-Times is to be commended for its salubrious idea. But I’d like to take the experiment further. Instead of just listening to the experts, what about readers as a whole? If you’ve never left a comment on this website, your time to get conversational has come. What books are you looking forward to this year? Who are the authors that jazz you up? Please know that the answers aren’t limited to literary titles. This is not a snobbish query, but a curious one. Which books are you looking forward to in 2009?


This is probably my last post for 2008. While I cannot personally identify the last 365 days as a triumph or a disappointment, I can say this: It was the year of promise; it was the year of squandered possibilities. It was the age when we finally realized that Bush would finally be gone; it was the age when we hoped that Obama would work his magic. It was the epoch of bailouts; it was the epoch of Madoff’s avarice. It was the season of sixty degree December days in Manhattan; it was the season of government deficits we can’t possibly pay back anytime soon. It was not so much the spring of hope, nor was it entirely the winter of despair. But many good people were laid off. And it is hard to view any of these terrible developments with beatific ecstasy. We do indeed have everything before us, but we likewise have nothing before us. Particularly when so many of us are determined to give up. And if we go to hell, then we’ll certainly fly business class. Assuming that the airlines don’t bump our flights.

Come to think of it, Dickens was a bit of a self-righteous twit when it came to establishing these dutiful dichotomies in that famous opening chapter. And I say this as someone who loves Dickens. I’ve chatted a number of people with over the past few weeks and they’ve attempted to explain to me why they didn’t fully “blossom” in 2008, concocting strange theories in the process. A redoubting Thomas looks to the year’s last integer and says, “Well, 2008 was an even year. I never accomplish much during an even year.” One’s life, however, cannot be boiled down to a ridiculous numerological maxim. You can’t apply the “every even Star Trek movie is good; every odd Star Trek movie is bad” approach to life. Life is, after all, what you make of it.

Yet if life is what we make of it, why aren’t we doing more?

One is tempted to panic, to freeze up, to defer decisions and actions to others who seem to know what’s going on in an age of social and economic crisis. But if 2009 represents an opportunity to reclaim our stunned inactions over the past twelve months (and, some might argue, the past eight years), then why not start asking questions right now or whipping up a few answers? Why not figure out some place — even a small one — where you can do something rather helpful or interesting?

I have a number of fiery opinions about current events that I won’t bore you with. But I’ll say this much. If we take any disgraceful developments lying down, then we more or less deserve what’s coming. If we continue to grant license to those who would deceive us again and again, then we’re well past the “fool me twice, shame on me” stage and comfortably nestled in the “swallow the Kool-Aid without question” phase.

The time has come to take back America. To challenge everything and to throw around interesting ideas that stick. To restore the environment we had before 9/11. To demand accountability. To refuse to accept any and all malarkey and live up to a grand American credo.

We are a nation of innovators. A nation that can produce such astonishing individuals as John Brown, Amelia Earhart, and Larry Walters, to name only a few. Where are today’s misfits and cultural revolutionaries? Where are those who would try something different? While some life choices may be limited by silent responsibilities, this does not necessarily mean that the grand range of louder choices has evaporated.

It is my hope that 2009 will be the year in which America wakes up. And by “waking up,” I am not talking about some progressive fantasy. I am talking about reviving and spicing up the national dialogue. I am talking about a nation that welcomes as many perspectives as possible. Because we’re now at a place where we need them. I am talking about a country in which the number of crazy things that happen from time to time becomes better memorialized. I am talking about mischief. I am talking about tomfoolery.

Paralysis of spirit simply will not do as we face a whole host of problems. I am speaking of a particular type of success, and the words date back to Emerson:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.