I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:
This has been a curiously disappointing reading year for me. Over the last twelve months I read only a handful of novels that I still find myself recommending to other people. Most of my best experiences have been with old books by favorite authors that I'd never gotten around to before now. Novels like The Music of Chance by Paul Auster and The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle. This isn't an indictment of new books, only the result of bad luck and poor decisions on my part.Read the results of the Page 69 Test for: Kevin's Cast of Shadows; Sakey's The Blade Itself; Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood.
I have two good reasons for believing that things are looking better as the New Year turns, however:
1. The Tournament of Books is approaching. The ToB is an idea I had a few years ago, admittedly after a few glasses of Malbec. In that moderately altered state I mentioned to a couple of my friends (who happened to be editors of The Morning News) that it would be fun to pick 16 of the most celebrated books of the year, seed them into an NCAA-basketball-tournament-like bracket, and pit them against one another in a "Battle Royale of literary excellence." The concept was amusing enough for me but the guys at TMN actually made it happen and this March we will open our third tournament with the best books of 2006. In a ritual bid to make it the "best ever," this year's judges include a popular New Yorker critic and the lead singer of a huge, breakout indie band. As tournament commissioner (and play-by-play announcer) I am sworn to secrecy regarding this year's entrants, but I'll be reading as many of them as I can between now and March. By the way, for excellent (and sometimes not obvious) reading selections from 2005 I direct everyone to the highly entertaining 2006 tourney.
2. Before I was a novelist I didn't know many published writers. I knew a lot of writers, but like me, most of them were still waiting for their break. Over the last few years I've met a lot of people who make their living writing fiction and I have great admiration for many of them, but there is no greater pleasure than seeing your friends publish their first novel and this month I have rich, tingly feelings all over.
First up was Kevin Shay, whom I've known for seven years, back when he was the webmaster at McSweeney's and I was just some knob writing goofy humor pieces that hardly anyone read. I tore through his terrifically funny debut, The End As I Know It, back when it was only a manuscript and he was still looking for an agent, and now that it's out I can't wait to see the ways it's evolved in the editing process.
And this week I had the joy of seeing not one but two good friends publish their first novels on the same day. Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself and Sean Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood are crime novels set in Chicago and they were both released last week to great acclaim, including a joint rave in this Sunday's Chicago Tribune. I've been waiting until the books were officially out to read them and let me tell you it's a huge thrill to crack the spine of a friend's first book.
I think this is going to be a very good year.
Visit Kevin Guilfoile's website.
© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.