The big news in LA literary circles this month has been the phenomenal success of Reza Aslan's Zealot, which outpaced all other books, even, for a while, those by Rowling, Meyers, and Brown. A biography of the historical Jesus, it has caused an uproar from many camps, and raves from many readers. (Full disclosure: Reza is my colleague at UC Riverside and a contributing editor at the LA Review of Books; nonetheless, this is the story of Jesus told with the tension and power of a great thriller.) (Listen to Aslan discuss Zealot with Warren Olney on To the Point.)
Aimee Bender works a very special kind of magic. She has a very distinct narrative method, evident in all of her work, from her early stories through the novels, and into this latest collection, The Color Master. None of our available genre tags quite get at what she is doing, but it is neither realism nor anti-realism, and it is always grounded in real emotion and an unmistakable, idiosyncratic, and for my money, quite wise view of the human condition.
I read Javier Marías' The Infatuations because it seemed people wouldn't stop talking about how great it was. A grand old man (even if only in his early sixties) of Spanish letters, Marías uses a novel technique in this book, in which a woman remembers, we might say, what she didn't know from moment to moment -- for instance, she sees people in a restaurant in her neighborhood and thinks about them, but knows nothing about them; she comes to know quite a lot, but at each point, as she remembers her own befuddlement, the mystery grows, surprisingly, as each new piece of the puzzle falls in place.
I read Niccolò Ammaniti's Let the Games Begin for a similar reason -- I opened the mailer for the book and saw praise on the back cover from not just all the Italian papers, but the Guardian, Le Monde, and El Mundo. How is it that all these people knew about this writer, and loved him, and loved his other work, and I had never heard of him? I started reading. It kept me turning pages. Think two parts early Carl Hiassen, one part Mark Haskell Smith, a bit of La Dolce Vita, and add a heavy metal-loving Satanist cult full of losers.