I woke up this morning (12/12/04) and was out of the house early, checking my mail quickly before heading out for Shenzhen and Guangzhou. My surprise was great to find this citation from the San Francisco Chronicle, which cited A Continent for the Taking as one of the year’s best books.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had also done as much a few weeks earlier.
One doesn’t expect or await these kinds of things, but when they come, boy are they appreciated! The text follows in the link below.
Addendum: 12-19-2004, The Chicago Tribune today also named
“Continent” one of their best books of the year. http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/booksmags/
www.sfgate.com Return to regular view
The year’s finest
In a year of conflict, the sublime rises to the surface
– Oscar Villalon, Chronicle Book Editor
Sunday, December 12, 2004
It was all so grubby.
Looking back on the books of 2004, it couldn’t be clearer that we were in a presidential election year, one in which the descriptions “high stakes” and “fever pitch” would serve as understatements. Name your partisan stance, and there were at least a couple of dozen books out there that told you what you wanted to hear.
That’s not to say that much wasn’t at risk this year, nor that these books were slight and hollow (though many were). It’s just that as 2004 comes to a close, the dirty cloud kicked up by all the head-butting and eye-gouging — the thumping bar brawl that crashed into the shelves of bookstores — has left a film of ash on the tongue.
But as our Best Books of 2004 list shows, there was so much more out there, works of restrained passion and eloquent intelligence that got lost behind the giant dustup. Engrossing entertainments you could use a dose of, what with all the general ugliness of the times. More exciting work by local authors — Marc Bojanowski’s The Dog Fighter, Andrew Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s The Daydreaming Boy, to name only a few of many; further proof that the Bay Area rivals New York City as the country’s true literary center.
There were books that breathed sweetness into life. Think of the short stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Collections, that the Library of America put out in three volumes. Think of Gary Snyder’s bracing new collection of poetry, Danger on Peaks. And a batch of exquisite novels such as Snow and The Swallows of Kabul — works rooted in the grim quotidian, yet elevating our predicaments beyond the gum-spattered, sole-scuffed floor of politics and into the realm of something finer and true.
And, yes, there are books here that could be called political (even Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America could, if you really wanted to), but they’re far from clumsy and self-righteous. (One worthy book that immediately comes to mind happens to be on a topic far from most Americans’ minds, but of sobering importance just the same: Howard French’s A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa.)
What we present in this issue is a list that will perhaps remind you of all the stuff that ignites the mind and flutters the heart. Titles that offer respite — such as the prose found in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty and Julian Barnes’ The Lemon Table — and may help you slough off the grime of the past year.
E-mail Oscar Villalon at email@example.com.
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