Saturday, December 30, 2006

Yearender: Books

Obviously, with the coming end of the year, I can't pass up selecting my Best Book Read for 2006 Award.

Hands down (and despite the fact that I'm a bit late in getting around to reading this), I have to pick Jeffrey Ford's first short-story collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, as my top book for the year.

Ironically, I have very mixed feelings about Ford's writing: I looove his short stories but I'm a bit wary of his longer works. Specifically, I thought his first work, The Physiognomy, didn't really grab me despite the acclaim that went into it. Blame it on too-much high expectation, I suppose. After that, I haven't gotten into any of his novels (which litter my to-be read pile).

However, I've been finding Ford's short stories here and there and two that really blew me away was "At Reparata" and "The Weight of Words".* The first one is a fairy-tale story of a ruler of what seemed to be a mad kingdom; the other story is about a man who discovers the secret science of words. Both stories were a genuine showcase of Ford's excellent prose and concepts.

Because of this, Ford now ranks high on my list together with Kelly Link, my all-time top favorite short-story writer.

What is it about Ford that makes him great for me? Several reasons actually: one is that Ford is what I consider a writer's writer. Like Link, Ford knows to use the right word at the right time. Moreover, Ford has such a strong authorial/narrative voice that the reader can't help but be sucked in the rhythm and cadence of the story-telling, like his slightly-creepy-yet-sentimental "A Night At The Tropics."

Another is the funny, off-kilter "On the Road to New Egypt." Only Ford can make a story where the protagonist meets a chain-smoking Jesus Christ and the Devil is represented like that crazy friend who gets everyone in trouble as one that's quite believable. The one other writer I know who does the voice well is Stephen King-- whether his short stories or his writing pieces-- and that's high praise indeed.

On the other hand, the range of Ford's stories is astounding, from magical realism to fantastical to horrific to weird SF to even semi-autobiographical. Where else can you find an elaborate story about a writer searching for a curious oddity of a Kafka story that's reputedly cursed and meets a 'pompous' writer named Jeffrey Ford oddly compelling?

Unfortunately, this collection is only available in small press but this should only make any admirer of good writing to order it as soon as possible.

As jay tomio once said in a post, Jeffrey Ford is "the only contender to Kelly Link’s crown of everyone’s favorite short fiction writer on the net." I would agree but would rephrase that to say that Ford is the only contender to Kelly Link's crown of everyone's favorite short fiction writer, period.

'Nuff said.


guile said...

here's hoping the new year will be better than the last :)..

Anonymous said...

Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners is all over the place now...can't seem to get past the first story, though. is The Faery Handbag representative of the lot? i just can't seem to dig it, writing *or* content-wise.

The Specialist's Hat from Feeling Very Strange, on the other hand, i find much more interesting, both prose- and content-wise.

so which story, would you say, is more representative of Link's writing? or is she a totally mixed-bag type writer-person?

also can't seem to get into Ford...The Physiognomy is (imho, imho) a crappier attempt at what Veniss Underground did (create a 'mythically minimalist' fantasy story); it had some great ideas but overall sucked for me; The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque was more intriguing, but i haven't been able to get past the first few chaps (that's probably a mood thing, i'll admit). the only short i've read by him is that story with the little guy on the beach...which totally didn't work for me, except for the bitterest-sweetest bits, which only worked because i can be such a sap sometimes (which i admittedly was when i read it), and anyway the time-compression seemed pretty pointless since it was a long time from the little guy's perspective anyway.

sorry, i seem to be keyed up on something. possibly having to do with having to go to the City Hall tomorrow dammit. and having other paperwork-type things (which i hate) to deal with.


banzai cat said...

guile: Hear! Hear! :-)

sbd: Still haven't sorted out the commenting thing yet?

Hmmm... I do admit that sometimes Kelly Link is a hard read for those unused to her style of storytelling. Personally, I like her language more than anything else (including her stories). I agree though: Link's stories are really a mixed bag of stories.

On the other hand, one can get a better handle of Ford's writing. Like you, I didn't like Physiogonomy and haven't started Charbuque. Ditto with the beach fairy. However, I would suggest you try out his other short fiction, most especially the Tropics story. (Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it online so maybe you'll have better luck in finding it in one of the year's best collections.)

Oh yeah, good luck on the license thing!

Anonymous said...

haha, 'beach fairy'...i just realized how that sounds...

with Link, i really don't feel her stories are a hard read (well, yeah, i've only read two: The Faery Handbag and The Specialist's Hat, so what do i know?); in fact, i personally like a hearty challenge when it comes to styles and such, so i don't think it's *that* keeping me from getting into her stuff.

again, however, i *did* like The Specialist's Hat; The Faery Handbag felt pretty straightforward to me stylistically speaking (i'm speaking as a reader and a writer who utterly digs M. John Harrison's fragmented prose and Mervyn Peake's uber-verbose lyricism, after all) but Hat displayed a certain grace to the writing i utterly loved; so if she really *is* a mixed bag as you say, and not more of one than the other, then i'll probably like more of her stuff and dislike more of her stuff but should ultimately just shut up now give 'em all a try.

friggin' mmda...hasn't turned my license in yet despite being over 24 hours after the fact...

did you know they sell pirated dvds right outside the 'hall of justice', right *on* city hall grounds? and yet i hear the government occasionally 'raids' makati cinema's uncanny how this world works...

oh, and i just find using anonym posting much more convenient. of course, i can't delete anything stupid i might regrettably put on here, so...


banzai cat said...

Sheesh, yeah, now that you've mentioned it, I would think you'd be a perfect candidate to be a Link fan. Go fire.

As for MMDA and your license, I think this is the country's parting gift to you before you go. Either that or it reaaaally wants you to stay (the hard way).

On the other hand, Singapore has some great bookshops, including Kinokinoya. *dies of envy*