Monday, January 10, 2011

Favorite Books of 2010

My top 5 books published (in any format) in 2010 are on the Powell's Books website, with my short review of Werner Herzog's Conquest of the Useless:

"Much like the man himself, Werner Herzog's journal from the filming of Fitzcarraldo is hallucinatory and horrific, lovely and poetic all at once. This is a book about madness and obsession, about depth and illusion, about a place where nothing is as it seems. Filled with darkness and light, it's the story of a vision so contradictory and shifting it becomes life itself. I've stayed in Iquitos on the Amazon, and this is by far the most honest, accurate description of the place I've ever read. In fact, I've never read so honest a description of any place."

The review doubles as a shelf-talker and is designed to draw sales, though the book deserves a lot more attention. It is moody and atmospheric, remarkable for how it says what it says as much as what it says. Herzog's perspectives and focus constantly shift and there is a sense that whatever fragmented narrative there could have been has been positively and willfully exploded into anecdote and allegory. But somehow it works, and even if Conquest of the Useless isn't easy reading and is often maddeningly self-centered, it's maddeningly entertaining.

2010 somehow seemed to miss out on really good new books, in terms of my own reading interests (an admittedly small sample size). And one annoying trend continued: new works by my favorite authors just didn't quite live up to their potential. Still, I read a ton of books this year, discovered quite a few new authors I like, and I enjoyed the new books by David Abram, Paul Auster, Craig Childs, and Per Petterson. There are still thousands of books out there, and many, many authors still to discover. Whether you’re cracking open a book or hitting the trail, the journey never ends.

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