Friday, February 13, 2009

A belated best of 2008

In December, my newspaper solicited staff members to choose the best of what they'd read, watched or listened to over the course of the year. The editor, accusing me of being "an expert on the international crime novel," put me on his list. Here were my choices for some of the best international crime fiction published in 2008:

Canada: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, by John McFetridge
England: Second Violin, by John Lawton
Iceland: The Draining Lake, by Arnaldur Indriðason
Ireland: The Big O, by Declan Burke; Yours Confidentially, by Garbhan Downey
Italy: Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, by Amara Lakhous, a great little novel that made book critic Carlin Romano wonder: "Do we have an Italian Camus on our hands?"
Switzerland: The Chinaman, by Friedrich Glauser.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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12 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

I've read a couple of the books on this list, EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE and THE BIG O. They both earned their spots. Great reads.

February 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You should read all of them. Investigation and crime take second place in Second Violin, but the book is nonetheless a notable look at an inglorious time in English history.

February 13, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

It's a good list. I've only read The Big O and the Lahour (both thumbs up), but I have read McFetridge, though not this one, and the others are already in my sites.

February 13, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You've heard all the dire pronouncements about the state of newspapers and the shrinking space for book reviews, and they're wrong. The situation is worse than you think. So it was nice to be able to get a mention of these books into the paper. The editor who put the article together also included a link to my blog in addition to the compliment he threw my way.

His name is John Timpane, and -- hmm -- I think he's from Northern California, come to think of it.

February 13, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea of the situation, actually, since I have both the bookseller's perspective and the brief and now defunct reviewer's perspective. What I don't quite understand is what is replacing this function of our society. Maybe it's just visual media that publicizes everything now. Maybe there is no real gap when daily papers stop dealing in books. But somehow, I see it as a bad sign.

February 14, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

I should add that that doesn't detract from Timpane's positive feelings about your work. It's the larger cultural issue I'm fixating on, but there are these little pockets of good news.

February 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I used to grow frustrated and angry over Inquirer book editors' lack of response to my offers and suggestions for stories. Now I'm just frustrated. Those guys are trapped by our shrinking book coverage and probably would give me more work if they could. A compliment like Timpane's is evidence of that, I think.

February 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I am part of what's replacing that function in our society, and publicists, publishers and authors know this. I am deluged with more books than I know what to deal with.

Newspapers' abandonment of book reviewing is part of their decline into irrelevance. I am happy to fill part of their former function, but there's just one thing missing: money.

February 14, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Yes, I think the money aspect is an important part of the equation. (Well, when is it ever not?) I am supposedly going to have a meeting with a friend who runs a section of our local newspaper within the next couple of weeks, in order to see what we can do to get more book news back into this paper of record. I might be able to work out covering some local author events, I think, but the problem is that I would basically be doing it for peanuts, which is a great opportunity for someone young and ambitious--the problem is that I am neither of these things anymore. If I'm going to do things for free, I kind of feel like they need to be things I want to be doing anyway--otherwise, life's too short. I already do enough low paying work in support of the arts as it is. And I've never really cared about all that much, but now it begins to dawn on me that if you do that long enough, far from anyone acknowledging it, they just assume you'll keep on doing it. It's not like they suddenly think, oh, this laudable behavior must be rewarded. They think, so what else can we get out of her (or him).

As for the rest, well, there are absolutely stunning blogs on every aspect of literature for those who know how to find them. But the real driver in the market is visual media, like Oprah, but not her alone. I saw the poet Nikki Giovanni on the Bill Moyers show last night, and sure enough, there were at least five people who came into our store alone today, looking for her latest work, Bicycles, because she was so engaging. And because it was a good interview. And because, despite the fact that it was 'only' PBS, it was still a national news show.

I love Bill Moyers. I love that he is able to generate interest in all kinds of books and websites. But even he is generating a response that's built on a cult of personality. It is not about just encountering text, like books or book reviews, and feeling drawn or even put off by it. There is this intermediary step, where you have to actually respond to the presence of the author him or herself, and frankly, not all or maybe not even most authors are the best readers and decoders of their own work.

I saw Nikki Giovanni too. And I liked her, liked her story. But personally, I found her reading of her own work an intrusion. I would have liked to hear the voice inside my head as I read them, as I could tell that that reading would have been a little different.

February 15, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for that sobering note -- sobering because of its reminder of the power of Oprah and Bill Moyers. And, yep, do things you want to be doing anyway, the way I do this little blog of mine.

I used to get my literary and theater cues from The New Republic thoughtful essays on books and plays. I'm not sure how strong their back of the book is these days. It may be time to take another look.

February 16, 2009  
Blogger Johnny Ostentatious said...

Damn, I wish I read something Australian published in '08 to recommend.

February 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An Australian crime novel that I may start in the next couple of days might have been published in 2008. If so, who knows? There's no limit to how long I can go on making additions to this list.

March 01, 2009  

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