Wish List and Back Lists

I haven’t done much serious reading since finishing An Equal Music; I was so absorbed by that novel that I haven’t been able to settle on what to follow it with, so I’m taking a break with a little Joanna Trollope. The problem is not lack of choice, though, but a surfeit of attractive options, including not just the books already ripening on my shelves but my wish list of books I’m eager to read for one reason or another but have yet to get my hands on. Currently leading this wish list:

  1. Ian McEwan, Chesil Beach (is it just me, or between Saturday and his new novel, does McEwan have a bit of a “Dover Beach” thing going on?)
  2. James Wood, Life Against God
  3. Ahdaf Soueif, In the Eye of the Sun
  4. V. S. Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas
  5. Anne Tyler, Digging for American
  6. Claire Messud, The Emperor’s Children
  7. Elizabeth von Arnim, Enchanted April
  8. Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
  9. Laila Lalami, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
  10. Rachel Cusk, Arlington Park

A number of these are fairly recent novels I have been reading a lot about in review sections and lit blogs. Some of them are older novels that I have learned about or become curious about belatedly. In fact, one of the questions that has been on my mind as I explore the world of literary writing online is how to break out of the ‘new releases’ or ‘hot properties’ cycle and find out about books you did not hear about back when they first came out. I have been frustrated sometimes when I’ve been motivated by the hype around a new novel to snatch it up and read it with great expectations only to find it disappointing (this is frequently my reaction to books I buy on the basis of glowing reviews in The Globe and Mail, a caution I now take with me to the bookstore). But there seem to be factors in the book industry, and certainly in the big chain stores, that make it difficult to discern which books are standing the test of time.

I think this problem relates to a question I asked earlier about whether lit blogging must be a form of literary journalism. Are blogs in fact best or most useful if they are opportunistic or occasional, offering timely responses to new material? If book reviews are buying guides, then there’s some reason for them to address primarily new options, and lots of reasons for them not to spend time on out-of-print options, though there are a lot of titles in between these two extremes. Blogs seem to be (or at least can be) less tied to the book market, more driven by literary than by commercial interests. Maybe this is even a particularly valuable thing bloggers can do, keeping “backlist” titles from going stale.

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