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Friday, January 7, 2011

Joseph Skibell's favorite books of 2010

Joseph Skibell
We asked our favorite Atlanta writers to tell us about their favorite books of 2010. All week long, we'll be running their comments. Joseph Skibell is the author of three novels, including A Curable Romantic and A Blessing on the Moon.

The sad and sorry truth is: I don’t read a lot of fiction. When you’re a novelist, reading fiction is a bit of a busman’s holiday. Still, speaking of busmen’s holidays, I was on a long book tour this fall, and I couldn’t help picking up a few books by authors who ended up being my co-panelists.

Here are a few I’d recommend:

The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet, by Myrlin A. Hermes. An alternative pan-sexual version of Hamlet, narrated by Horatio, this novel, filled with mistaken identities, disguises and historical anachronisms worthy of Shakespeare, is written in gorgeous and muscular prose.

Jessica Francis Kane’s The Report — published, like Ms. Hermes’ novel, as an original paperback — is the fictionalized story of a forgotten civilian disaster — during the bombing of London, nearly 200 people died while sheltering underground in a Tube Station — and the investigation that followed. A moving and commanding work.

The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern is an absurdist delight, a two-pronged narrative, following the fate of a 19th-Century Hasidic rebbe who, while meditating during a freak storm, becomes embedded in a block of ice, and the unhappy adolescence of a fat Jewish kid in 20th-Century Memphis. Their worlds collide when, thanks to a power outage, the Rebbe, tucked away as a family relic in the kid’s deep-freeze, thaws out. Stern’s novel owes less to the Hasidic wonder-tale than it does to the comedies of Shakespeare. As in Ms. Hermes’ book, disguises and mistaken identities abound, and there seems to be no narrative convention so hoary that Stern can’t invigorate it: kidnappings, mad inventions, star-crossed lovers.

Howard Norman’s What is Left the Daughter is also on my book table, though I haven’t read it yet. Norman, along with Gunter Grass and J.M. Coetzee, is one of the few writers whose work I make a point of reading consistently. If you haven’t yet read his novels, The Museum Guard or The Haunting of L., you’re in for a treat. The work never fails to inspire me.

Also on my list: Gish Jen’s World and Town, Susan Straight’s Take One Candle Light A Room, Jennifer Gilmore’s Something Red, and Elizabeth Rosner’s Blue Nude. I was on literary panels this fall with these four writers, as well as with Ms. Kane and Ms. Hermes, and I couldn’t have been more impressed by the work and also by the grace and intelligence of these authors.

I can’t vouch for the health of the American reader, but the American novel seems in excellent shape.

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