Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Maud Newton

By posted at 3:00 pm on December 12, 2010 4

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covercovercoverI read some exceptional new books this year, including Brian Dillon’s The Hypochondriacs, Adam Levin’s The Instructions, Deborah Eisenberg’s Collected Stories, Amitava Kumar’s A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, and especially the latest iteration of Mark Twain’s autobiography, and I discovered the amazing John Jeremiah Sullivan thanks to Lorin Stein’s debut issue of The Paris Review. I’ve discussed most of these books at more length, at my website, NPR, Salon, and elsewhere. Mostly, though, I’ve been focused on (for real this time) finishing up my own novel.

When I’m writing, really writing, I read selfishly. Not only do I want to be awestruck, I want to be driven to write better — as well as I possibly can — and I want to feel that the book I’m reading, however superior to my own work, shows me how I might do that. I want it to lead by example.

coverBy now I have no idea how many times I’ve read and re-read Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori, a wry, sly, and piercingly insightful book about a group of elderly friends who start receiving anonymous crank calls telling them to “remember you must die.” I’m reluctant to describe the plot that way, though it is in fact in some loose sense the plot, because it makes the novel sound gimmicky and dully experimental, when in fact it is neither of those things. The characters are fleshy, fully alive on the page; the dialogue is true and deadly, and very, very funny; and the story is sexy and propulsive: past and present dalliances and double-crossings are always threatening to be revealed. 

“The fact that Spark is so unbelievably and witchily entertaining,” her editor Barbara Epler recently argued, “has kept her from her full share of glory as the greatest British writer of the 20th century. Humor has never been the long suit of most critics.”

More from a Year in Reading 2010

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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4 Responses to “A Year in Reading: Maud Newton”

  1. The Clandestine Samurai
    at 3:26 pm on December 12, 2010

    This site always has such awesome suggestions, and I love Maud Newton’s blog. Will look into “Memento Mori”.

  2. John Williams
    at 4:36 pm on December 12, 2010

    I went on a Spark kick a couple of years ago, but didn’t get to this one. I will.

    Very glad you discovered Sullivan, who’s a terrific writer.

  3. Odd Words « Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans
    at 7:03 am on December 16, 2010

    [...] and others listing the best new books they have read this year, including a list from [sigh] Maud Newton. I’ve bought an awful lot of books myself this year, a mix of books by featured readers at [...]

  4. Well-Read in 2010: Books (non-2010 edition) | Vol. 1 Brooklyn
    at 11:43 am on December 16, 2010

    [...] non-2011 reads of 2011″ list. In the case of Ms. Spark, I would also highly recommend Maud Newton’s take on her Memento Mori over at The Millions’ essential A Year in [...]

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