Last year was a good one for book lovers. KCRW’s Bookworm, Michael Silverblatt joined Madeleine Brand on Press Play to talk through some of his favorites from 2014. “I don’t consider them the best,” said Silverblatt, “I consider them my favorites. I would have to read everything to know what’s the best.”
These five books include moving tales of death, revelation, growing up, terror and what it feels like to be alive, something, Silverblatt says, more novelists should explore.
The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
This is the first time that all of Italo Calvino’s stories are in one collection. “Someone had to do it and finally it’s done. This book is one of my favorites of all times,” said Michael Silverblatt. “Finally ‘The Complete Cosmicomics,’ it’s so exciting. Imagine this: there’s a molecule that speaks in this book. He was there when the world began. He was there when dinosaurs walked the earth. It’s smart and it’s drawn from actual science.”
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
“This is a story of a woman who was a drifter,” says Silverblatt. “This is a world before the world turned indifferent and it’s magical to read how she comes to Gilead. It’s a novel about how people come to trust one another and form a life. It’s terrifically moving and brilliantly done.”
Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti (TOON Books)
Earlier this year, Michael Silverblatt had the opportunity to interview Neil Gaiman on Bookworm. He asked Gaiman if books can ever be too scary.
“For me I’ve always pointed to Hansel and Gretel whenever I’ve been asked in the past about scary stories because I remember being four years old, maybe five, and sitting in the garden at my grandmother’s house listening on the radio to a retelling of Hansel and Gretel with occasional songs from the Humperdinck Opera in the background and it was the first time I’d ever heard the story. And I just remember the shock of learning that people could get hungry enough that on the one hand they would abandon their children and on the other hand that the children, thinking that they were rescued by a sweet old lady, actually had come upon somebody who was planning to eat them. It had never occurred to me before that I could be food and I saw everything very differently after that.
“I looked at grownups with a new eye. I realized that they were not all entirely to be trusted and that stayed in my head like a sort of like a depth charge. So, as an adult now, crafting tales for children. I am very happy to craft you know reassuring tales from happy to craft all sorts of stories, but there is something about actually being willing to say, kids understand darkness.”
My Struggle (Book 3): Boyhood by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Archipelago)
When Silverblatt talked to Karl Ove Knausgaard, they explored the elements of childhood. Here’s what Knausgaard said:
“I remember when I was in my childhood, I wanted to be an adult. I was kind of really longing for the day I could be on my own. But there, what interests me in kind of the pattern of this particular child is, you know, the kind of dynamic between inside-house terror where you are watched and very unfree and kind of guarded and the important thing, which I discovered when I wrote it, the extreme freedom that’s outside.
“I mean where where all the kids just went out to play in the woods and went swimming and all kinds of things. When writing about it brings back that kind of ecstasy of experience in the world, you know, the ecstasy of diving in salt water and all those kinds of things.”
Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lydia Davis’ short story collection “Can’t and Won’t” is a book you can read the way you eat candy, says Silverblatt, very fast.
“Well there’s always more to see and more to find looking up I still look out at the cows and I still see things that I haven’t yet written down. So it goes on and on and I don’t, you know, it’s as if I’m trying to capture something that I’ll probably never quite capture.”