My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: August 27, 2009

I am a fan of the absurdist/existentialist author Camus. This week, while perusing the backlists of several book bloggers, I came across several fascinating reviews and discussions of his book The Stranger or, alternatively, The Outsider. The reviews are at Sarah’s Books and The Mookse and The Gripes (whose review sparked a very long and informative discussion).

Is it true that the five best American books of the decade are: (1) Empire Falls by Richard Russo, (2) Blue Angel by Francine Prose, (3) Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick, (4) Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and (5) The Believers by Zoe Heller? A Commonplace Blog says so. Commenters have countered with several other choices. You can find a rival list here. Limiting the take to American books takes the fun out of it. That cannot be the reason nobody has mentioned Junot Diaz, can it?

Infinite Summer – Week 9

The 2009 Giller Prize Shadow Jury

The Art of the Novella Giveaway

And the disappointment that is the Not-The-Booker Shortlist. I’ll stick with the real thing.

8 Responses to My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: August 27, 2009

  1. Sarah says:

    Thanks for mentioning my blog, Kerry. I will be sure to check out the review of The Stranger at The Mookse and The Gripes when I get back from my holiday.

    How can a top 5 USA authors list not mention Cormac McCarthy?!

  2. I’ve not read one of that five, how remiss of me. Ah well.

    The Stranger is impressive stuff isn’t it? I must write it up myself some time, arguably one of the earliest noir novels, which is to say it’s not noir at all of course but was to prove a big influence on the development of that genre, both in France (obviously) and in the US. Thanks for reminding me of those reviews.

  3. Kerry says:


    I really enjoyed our discussion and your blog is very worthy. I think you will enjoy the other review and the discussion.

    I have not read all the books on the “five books of the decade” list. In fact, I’ve only read Gilead. Any list would be subject debate, but McCarthy certainly has to be given serious consideration.

  4. Kerry says:


    As I mentioned above, I have read one of the five. Remiss of me too, I suppose.

    I would love to read what you have to say about Camus. I hope you do write a post. Because of your interest in noir, I have no doubt you will have something interesting and unique to say.

  5. I almost never agree with a Commonplace Blog but do, at least partially, on this list — I’ve read Russo, Ozick and Heller and like them all. Although I do think of Heller as English since she was born there and is presumably still a citizen, even though she lived in New York she was still writing for English papers. Having said all that, American fiction sprawls over so many genres and attitudes a list of five is pointless. Roth? Chandler? Updike? Morrison? Steinbeck? Bellow? And I have hardly started.

    If you do The Stranger, Max, I think you should be the first blogger to include all three works that Camus saw as related in that stage of his work (he felt each stage should have a novel, essay and play). The Myth of Sisyphus was the essay and I’ll need to do some searching to find the play (which I haven’t read recently). The three rarely get read in concert, although that was what Camus intended.

  6. Top fives, tens and so on aren’t really things that work for me. Far too personal, and as you note Kevin, such breadth that to reduce it seems futile.

    That aside, I think you’re thinking of his play Caligula, which I saw perfomed at the Donmar Warehouse in London with Michael Sheen on spectacular form, shortly before he suddenly got a lot more (and quite deservedly) famous. Michael Grandage produced, it was a new translation by David Grieg. Tremendous.

    The Myth of Sisyphus I’ve not read, I must have a look for that.

  7. Kerry says:

    I actually do enjoy lists, for no rational reason, but you guys are right that a list of five is too short to say much about either the decade or the listmaker. I like them anyway.

    I love Kevin’s suggestion that Max read the Camus works in concert. I think it would be very rewarding for Max and the rest of us. I would have to refresh my memory of The Myth of Sisyphus and would have to find a copy of the play, but if Max will blog it, I will read the other works to contribute to a discussion.

  8. Caligula was the play, Max, and you are very lucky to have seen a production — even luckier, I think, to have seen a good one. I certainly found The Myth of Sisyphus helpful in enhancing my appreciation of The Stranger on my last reading of both. It is not a taxing read by any means, although it does provoke a lot of thought.

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