Monday, January 3, 2011

Why Emily St. John Mandel Loves Her Commute

Emily St. John Mandel is the author of Last Night in Montreal and The Singer's Gun.

It seems to me in retrospect that I read a lot of truly great books this year. It was the year when I started a new day job, which, while part-time, requires my presence five days a week; said job is in a far corner of New York City (although I suspect, far corners being relative, that the residents of the Upper East Side would probably argue that it's my Brooklyn apartment that's in a far corner of New York City, not them) which means, and I promise I'll end this tortured sentence any second now, a relentlessly long commute.

I'm fairly certain that the only way to endure a combined daily total of nearly two hours on the subway is by means of noise-blocking headphones and a constant supply of quality reading material. I do complain about the commute every so often, but when my new schedule was presented to me, my first thought was that now I'd have more time to read.

I discovered Jennifer Egan's work this year, and was impressed beyond words. I thought A Visit From The Goon Squad was remarkable, and so was a previous novel of hers that I read, Look At Me. Likewise, Roberto Bolano. There was a time some months ago when everyone was talking about 2666; I was frankly intimidated by the sheer size of the thing -- it's a brick of a book, a little over 900 pages -- so I dipped my toes in the water with The Savage Detectives, which turned out to be so brilliant that that I started 2666 immediately. 2666 is a sprawling masterpiece of a novel, one of the greatest I've read. There are very few 900 pages novels that I'd even consider reading twice, but I look forward to reading this one again someday.

A few others: I loved Kira Henehan's mysterious and quirky Orion You Came And You Took All My Marbles. A bookseller told me about Henehan's book on a sweltering summer afternoon in Pennsylvania after a reading, when I was waiting for a wildly delayed train back to New York and he was being a gentleman and waiting with me. I'm glad the train was late. Larry Watson's Montana 1948 stands out for me as well. I loved Marcy Dermansky's Bad Marie, and Elise Blackwell's An Unfinished Score. An Unfinished Score has stayed with me more than most books I've read; months later the lead characters still drift through my thoughts. Charles Yu's How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe is ferociously intelligent and unexpectedly moving. China Mieville's The City & The City is wonderful.

As for next year? A very pleasant side effect of my affiliation with the literary and culture website The Millions is that people sometimes enable my book-acquisition habit and send me books for free, and the other day Hannah Pittard's novel The Fates Will Find Their Way arrived in my mailbox. It's a quietly spectacular novel about the aftermath of a girl's disappearance, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It comes out at the end of January and I hope everyone else reads it too.

I was asked if I might speak a little about my own work, and so I'm very happy to report that my second novel, The Singer's Gun, comes out in paperback in late April. This is the third year in a row that I've had a book (or in this case, a new edition of a book) published, and I'm very much looking forward to the next round of bookstore readings and signings in the spring. I've also been busy revising my third novel these days. In a perfect world it would come out sometime in 2012, but these things are hard to predict.

1 comment:

Diana said...

Enjoyed your post and added some more books to my ever growing TBR list. Curious to know what you liked about Marcy Dermansky's Bad Marie? I thought it was one of the worst books I read in 2010.