BEN EHRENREICH My tastes haven’t changed much since I was about eight years old. Back then my favorite books were all about lonely children who in their wanderings happened across a mysterious portal that allowed them to slip away from the drab everyday and into some brighter, more exhilarating world. I can’t remember titles (that’s why they are ghosts), but I do remember the precise locations of the individual portals, the secret knocks required to open them, the terrifying, fantastical adventures waiting behind each one. I have a map, but it’s hidden and it’s in code and I’m not telling where I keep it. The portals of the moment, though, include a strange and so-far quite gorgeous Czech novel called The Golden Age, by one Michal Ajvaz, and The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) by Macedonio Fernández, who was a mentor to Borges. The first 123 pages of the latter are composed entirely of prologues, more than fifty of them. Endless doorways: what more could anyone ask for?
As for the future, a small brigade of giant and semi-giant books have been staring down at me from a high shelf for too long, posing a serious danger to the integrity of the wall, and to my cranium: Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé, Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. If I can tackle one or two of them this year, I’ll be happy. More realistically, my reading list for 2012 includes Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s memoir, Dreams in a Time of War, Paul LaFarge’s Luminous Airplanes, China Mieville’s The Iron Council, Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm, Teju Cole’s Open City. I’m also very excited about Victor Serge’s memoirs, due out this spring.
¤ STEPHEN ELLIOTT I’m reading The Guardians by Sarah Manguso. I recently finished The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson and it blew my mind. It’s the best novel I’ve read in a long time. I don’t usually give books as gifts ever since I saw that New Yorker cartoon where someone is unwrapping a book on their birthday and looks around at the other partygoers and says, “Oh, homework.”