Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 9

I'm watching the World Series and the Fox Sports coverage and commentators have me thinking about the pros and cons of sports broadcasting-related suicidal fantasies, so I'm distracting myself by
updating le blog. Hey look, we're almost a third of the way through our 100 title tribute for Knopf's 100th Anniversary.

29. Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, originally published in 2006. First, I think Julian Barnes is one of the best living novelists out there. The snooty literary people love him because he's a wordsmith and plays with form. Everyone can read him too, though, as he doesn't get so lost in the craft of writing to neglect things like plot. For example: Arthur & George. Barnes's historical fiction takes Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and a gentleman obsessed with 19th Century mysticism (seances and the like), is the Arthur of the title. George is an immigrant outsider with poor people skills who's been an outsider his whole life, so when some animals turn up mutilated, instead of blaming space aliens like we do in these modern times, the villagers blamed George. Arthur hears about George's plight and decides that he can play Sherlock Holmes and solve the case himself. The characters are addictive and flawed.

30. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, originally published in 2011. If you're one of the dozen fans of this blog, you know that Gianna and I LOOOOOOOVE Karen Russell. Remember when we interviewed her? Let's all revisit that post, as it's arguably the pinnacle achievement of our bloggish efforts (slightly above a recent keyword search of "how to text flirt with a girl" that somehow led to this literary hub of intellectual geniuses). Swamplandia! was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and one of my favorite books. It's a quirky novel about a family running a tourist theme park attraction in swampy Florida, but the park has fallen on hard times since the mother and alligator wrestler died. Ava, the youngest of three kids, is the focal point of the novel as her family unravels and the weirdness of the swamp closes in. I think of this novel as the collapse of the American Dream and it's one of the few books I've reread.

31. Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, originally published in 1996. I...still don't know how I feel about this book and it's been two decades. To characterize it as controversial would be accurate, but Knopf hasn't shied away from controversy. Goldhagen's book is about how ordinary Germans were able to aid the Nazi agenda of Jewish extermination. He argued that medieval religious prejudices became secular and cultural prejudices that he termed "eliminationist antisemitism." Basically, the whole country had an ingrained antisemitism that Hitler and the Nazis were able to tap into to push their political ambitions and led to the Holocaust. The book became a bestseller when it was published and is one of those works that historians have argued with ever since.

32. I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell, originally published in 2015. Since I mentioned Karen Russell, we should also mention her brother and his essay collection that is one of the more delightful books I've read this year. These Russells are such excellent oddities. Kent Russell's book is a series of essays exploring manhood and how to define "manhood" when he isn't following in his father's and grandfather's military service. Kent chronicles a series of tough guy-esque encounters, from a Juggalo convention, to visiting the guy who lives on the island where Captain Bligh was abandoned after the mutiny on The Bounty, to spending a weekend with a guy who in inoculating himself to snake venom has decided to be bitten by five poisonous snakes in one weekend. It's freaky. Kent Russell is a talented writer and I'm eager to read what he writes next...as long as it doesn't involve snakes. I don't like the snakes. I had nightmares.

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