26 Books 2008: Round-up

I'm pleased with what I read this year. I'm 200 pages from the end of what would have been book 43 but I ran out of time. It'll be a rollover. January The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr Ratking by Michael Dibdin Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

February Net, Blogs and Rock 'n' Roll by David Jennings No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

March The Damned Season by Carlo Lucarelli The Man Who Went Up In Smoke by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

April The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

May Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand by Fred Vargas How Fiction Works by James Wood Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

June The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

July Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, edited by Dave Eggers Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

August Night Work by Thomas Glavinic War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

September The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

October The Broken World by Tim Etchells Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

November Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace March Violets by Philip Kerr The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

December The Abominable Man by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

A few stats:

  • Four of the books were written by women, though seven were co-written by a woman
  • Four of the books were non-fiction
  • Eighteen of the books were translations
  • Eight of the books were published before 1944, including two that before 1900
  • Five of the books were published in 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

The death of David Foster Wallace, who killed himself on Friday, is terribly sad news. Sad, of course, for his wife, his family and his friends. Sad too, for us, that he will never write any more of his breathtaking prose. He was 46 years old. I can’t pretend to be a DFW expert. I read The Broom of the System more than ten years ago and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men a year or so later. I loved them both but was too intimidated to try Infinite Jest, DFW’s mammoth, frustrating and hilarious masterpiece.

I finally started reading it this year. I’m halfway through and I’ve been reading it on-and-off for months. It’s utterly extraordinary and I find that I’m reading it slowly, not because it’s difficult, but because there is so much to digest. I can’t quite believe that, with 400 pages to go, the genius who created this work has gone. The book is still here, obviously, yet DFW is not. I don’t know why that is such a strange thought.

It’s not clear why DFW killed himself and perhaps it never will be. However, it’s clear from reading Infinite Jest that this is a man who knows something about mental illness, more than the average person.

"And then but no matter what I do it gets worse and worse, it’s there more and more, this filter drops down and the feeling makes the fear of the feeling way worse, and after a couple of weeks it’s there all the time, the feeling, and I’m totally inside it, I’m in it and everything has to pass through it to get in, and I don’t want to smoke any Bob, and I don’t want to work, or go out, or read, or watch TP, or go out, or stay in, or either do anything or not do anything, I don’t want anything except for the feeling to go away. But it doesn’t. Part of the feeling is being like willing to do anything to make it go away. Understand that. Anything. Do you understand? It’s not wanting to hurt myself it’s wanting to not hurt."

Discussing DFW’s death with my friend James Higgs this morning, James said that it somehow seems wrong for someone so talented to come to the end of their ability to endure life. Even though it’s understandable that they might do so, it seems wrong, more so in the case of a novelist because you feel like you’ve somehow been inside their head. James is right.

My world was better for having had David Foster Wallace in it. I have lots more of his words still to read but I’m sad that there won’t be another novel. He leaves behind a wonderful, illuminating and joyful body of work. Whatever happened to him, I hope he knew that.