The Story of Forgetting: A Novel

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A Year in Reading: David Ebershoff

David Ebershoff's most recent novel is The 19th Wife (www.19thwife.com). He is an editor at large at Random House.It's not easy to boil down my reading life of 2008 to a few favorite books, so I'll do what I tell my writing students to do: find a narrative structure to accommodate your story. In this case, I'll name one new novel, one new non-fiction book, one favorite classic, and then hook several big fat asterisks to the whole thing.****Favorite New Novel of 2008That's easy: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. Not only is it an engrossing narrative, not only does the novel show remarkably deft plotting, not only does Sittenfeld write with uncommon wisdom and compassion, not only does she create a voice for a figure - Laura Bush - who has been, in many ways, voiceless to the American public - these aren't the only reasons I love love love American Wife. On top of all this, I endlessly admire this novel because it asserts an important role for fiction in the national dialogue. While many people have wasted time groaning over the novel's impotence in 21st century culture, Sittenfeld has slyly insisted that the novel can have a vital, in fact unparalleled, place in public debate. This wonderful novel does something rare: it matters.Favorite New Non-Fiction Book of 2008This is harder, because I read non-fiction pretty whorishly. But the book that has stayed with me the longest is White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Through the lens of this unusual literary friendship, Brenda Wineapple, who is a friend of mine, reveals Dickinson in an aptly artful and original way. Wineapple brilliantly glosses dozens of Dickinson's poems, opening them up to me, one by one, in ways I've never known. By the end of the book, Wineapple has taken us to the core of Dickinson's creative process - right into the glow of her famous white heat.Favorite Classic of 2008I started the New Year with James Cain's triple crown of Depression-era noir and cruelty, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce. If you've ever said to yourself, I haven't read a good book in a long time, well, here you go. It's pretty much impossible to start one of these books and not finish it. The first two are crime novels, with writing as strong and clear as Hemingway's. Mildred Pierce isn't really a crime novel, although it's often thought of one because the film adaptation (Joan Crawford took home her only Oscar playing MP) was recast as a crime story. Cain's Mildred Pierce is the story of woman who bets everything on chickens and pies in order to save her crumbling family. His portrait of economic depression is vivid, moving, and regrettably relevant to our day. If you're in a book group, put it on your list right now.****Now for the asterisksBecause I spend a good deal of my time working as an editor-at-large at Random House, it's hard for me to talk about the books of 2008 without talking about the books I edited, so you need to understand my endorsements below in that context, yet I try to edit books I love and these books all sit tightly in my reader's heart. I'd feel weird naming any one of these as my favorite, but each is a favorite in its own way.The Story of Forgetting: A Novel by Stefan Merrill BlockBeautiful Children: A Novel by Charles BockThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer in a new unabridged translation by Burton RaffelBallistics: Poems by Billy CollinsThe Christian World: A Global History by Martin MartyFair Shares for All: A Memoir of Family and Food by John HaneyMore from A Year in Reading 2008

Title Your Novel in Three Easy Steps! or, The Abstraction of Abstraction

We've written about how difficult it can be to find a proper title for a work-in-progress. Lately, however, we've started to notice a certain trend that may make things easier on the budding novelist. Consider the following novels, all published within the last couple years: The Inheritance of Loss; The History of Love; The Story of Forgetting; The God of Small Things; and The Secret of Lost Things.Certainly there's some precedent for titling a work with the prepositional construction "The Blank of Blank." (The Wings of the Dove, The Heart of the Matter, and The Nightmares' forgotten R&B classic "The Horrors of the Black Museum..." come to mind, and and that's just off the top of our heads.) Indeed, pairing a wispy abstraction with something surprisingly concrete can be a recipe for piquancy: Think of The Possibility of an Island or The House of Mirth.The innovation represented by the recent spate of prepositional titles is the pairing of two abstractions. A writer willing to settle for the tried-and-true might consider recombining some of the nouns above to create a title for her manuscript, such as The Secret of God, The Lost Things of Small Things, or The Inheritance of History. But for the truly ambitious, may we suggest the following approach: roll some virtual dice, take the corresponding abstract nouns from Column A and Column B, insert a "the" (or two) and an "of," and you're off to the races!Column A:1. Earnestness2. Persistence3. Irritability4. Malodorousness5. Malice6. WhimsyColumn B:1. Splendor2. Etiquette3. Particle Physics4. Numismatism5. Large Things6. Medium Things
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