My Best Reads in 2011 –
You can use the encomium “Eclectic with a Vengeance” if you must.
Love in a Dark Time: and Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature by Colm Tóibin (Scribner, 2002). A provocative, penetrating collection of essays on the literature, art and films of gay and lesbian artists including Oscar Wilde, Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Bishop and James Baldwin by an author more widely noted for his fiction.
A Perfect Waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer, translated from the German by John Brownjohn (Bloomsbury, 2008). A thirty year obsession with what Erneste, the perfect waiter of the title, considered the love of his life is upended by upon receiving a letter from that lost love and forces a revisit to a painful past: a literary novel of the highest caliber, with nary an extraneous word.
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings (Random House, 2010). The definitive biography of the celebrated novelist, short story writer and playwright who dominated world literature for decades with his worldly (and often morbid) tales of passion gone wrong, and how his personal life was haunted by . . . passion gone wrong.
Nobody’s Perfect by Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce with Daniel Paisner (Atlantic Monthly Press). A thrilling, emotionally complex revisit to the legendary almost-perfect baseball game of June 2, 2010, complete with the satisfying back story of the careers (and psychologies) of the pitcher and the umpire who shared a first-base call that made history.
The Fatal Touch by Conor Fitgerald (Bloomsbury). An intricate, satisfying crime novel set in Rome, with a quirky engaging detective training a new assistant in the ways of homicide investigation while all around them corrupt forces want to stifle (and maybe hurt) them.
Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A satisfyingly atmospheric novel about Dublin, its famous Abbey Theater, John Millington Synge and the actress Molly Allgood, who served as the muse for the mature-and-dying Synge when she was only a lass and could (and did) have her heart broken for a lifetime.
Paper Conspiracies by Susan Daitch (City Lights Publishers). A mesmerizing novel about the construction of stories, some true and incredible, others false yet widely believed to be true, and the damage that can be done by the promotion of the latter.
The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America’s Culinary Revolution by Patric Kuh (Viking, 2001). The crème of restaurants in the United States from 1941 onward carried French names with menus derived from classic French cooking. Following the trail from that age based on the haut modèle to the era of locavoracious small-plate boites that emerged after Berekely’s Chez Panisse put California (and fusion) cuisine on the map is delicious (and not at all fattening).
An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray (Random House, 2004). A riotously comic novel that is equal parts P.G. Wodehouse and J.P. Donleavy, focusing on a loony Irish family, their Bosnian immigrant servants, lowlifes of Dublin slums and, of course, a greyhound that is running, running, running away from what society demands it to do (just like the family).
Open by Andre Agassi (Knopf, 2009). A blisteringly candid autobiography of the tennis athlete who rose to the top of his sport despite hating the game he mastered: inspiring, insightful and loving.
E-Audio Books of Note (Walkin’ the Dawg!)
Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Dressed for Death by Donna Leon
American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch
Favorite Films Seen in 2011 – More Noir, More Laughs, More Jason Statham
The Red and the White (early 20th century war story, with Hungarians doing dirty work for Russians: powerful)
Notorious (classic Hitchcock, always fresh)
Bright Star (a true masterpiece from Jane Campion about John Keats and his love)
Steam (an Istanbul inheritance becomes complex)
Bedrooms and Hallways (hilarious lunacy and Tom Hollander)
The Count of Monte Cristo (7 hr French tv version)
Transporter (meeting Jason Statham for the first time: OMG!)
The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk (don’t miss it!)
Flame and Citron (flawless)
Snatch (how funny can Brad Pitt be? yes!)
Gone, Baby, Gone (superb and gritty)
Rocknrolla (so you want to make fun of Guy Ritchie? not based on this one, you won’t!)
Heartbreaker (the French outdo us in this romantic comedy that is zany hilarious and sweet)
Howl (sui generis, bless their hearts)
El Amor Brujo (Carlos Saura at his finest, and that’s saying something)
Miami Vice (worth seeing every six months. Gong Li!)
Romeo Is Bleeding (old but not forgotten)
There’s Something about Mary (new classic)
Trouble in Paradise (old classic)