Paul La Farge is the author of three novels: The Artist of the Missing (FSG, 1999), Haussmann, or the Distinction (FSG, 2001), and Luminous Airplanes (FSG, 2011); and a book of imaginary dreams, The Facts of Winter. His short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Harper’s Magazine, Fence, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. His nonfiction appears in The Believer, Bookforum, Playboy, and Cabinet. He lives in upstate New York.
Summer camp is on my mind for some reason—maybe things have got so bad, finally, that I miss it—and so my list of favorite 2011 books takes the form of an end-of-camp awards ceremony. Please step up to the campfire when I call your name.
For Most Perplexing Novel of 2011, the award goes to Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, especially the last third, when all the main characters are sitting in their rooms, waiting for something to happen. The award for Hardest Novel to Put Down goes to Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn, which, at 575 big pages, is also hard to pick up. The award for Best Sex Scene Involving a Teenager goes to Rebecca Wolff for The Beginners, which has changed the way I think about New England. Now I’m thinking, yikes. The award for Most Thinking in the Fewest Pages goes to Anselm Berrigan for Notes from Irrelevance, which is about everything I know and many things I don’t. And finally, the award for Most Shocking Rhythm Change near the End of a Long Novel goes to Marcel Proust for Le Côté de Guermantes, in which the narrator, having done more or less nothing for many hundreds of pages, finally, in a fit of rage, stomps on the Baron de Charlus’s hat.