A Year in Reading: Florian Duijsens
Looking at the reading I did in 2011, my delights came from very different literary corners, even though all but one were originally written in English. I fell into Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey detective series, a consistently wry and dry pleasure, after ravishing John Le Carré’s George Smiley cycle of Cold War spy novels - a suitably dank and grey match for the Berlin I live in.
The most ruthless and political series of books I encountered this year, however, was the deservedly popular Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I encountered more of this type of dystopian thrills in Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, Jon Armstrong’s Grey, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and Ted Chiang’s novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects; all of which hit me as terrifyingly insightful about our current mediated existence, or at least more so than most non-YA or non-speculative fiction.
The funniest essayistic writing I read was Mike Albo’s dark Kindle single The Junket (about a freelance writer’s worst fears come true), and more profound thrills were found in Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation, Annie Dillard’s For The Time Being, and the online essays of Alexander Chee (also of the sad but awesome novel Edinburgh).
Perhaps the best lines I read this year appeared in Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station and his poetry collection The Lichtenberg Figures, in James McCourt’s Kaye Wayfaring in ‘Avenged’ (“the pale has been positively gone beyond”, was but one instamce of genius here, if I remember correctly), and in Irmgard Keun’s Das Kunstseidene Mädchen (from 1932, now available in a brand-new Kathie von Ankum translation as The Artificial Silk Girl), which provides a funny and insightful look at early Nazi Berlin through the eyes of a deceptively airheaded girl.
2012 will have to start with much more Sylvia Townsend Warner, whose touching correspondence with William Maxwell was published as The Element of Lavishness. Oh, and those looking for a fantastic/romantic college love triangle novel that’s better than Eugenides’ admittedly highly readable The Marriage Plot, I recommend they hunt down a copy of Maxwell’s The Folded Leaf.
Florian Duijsens (FD) is Asymptote’s managing editor.