Bloomers At Large / Features

A Year in Reading: Bloomers Edition

by Vicraj Gill

Since 2005, the folks at The Millions have asked notable writers at year’s end to share their “Year in Reading” (YiR). The lists that result are always provocative and diverse. A fair number of Bloomers are present in this year’s feature, as both contributors and favorites.

Both Adelle Waldman and Gary Shteyngart have good things to say about George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874). Kathryn Davis shared her love for Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales, identifying “The Monkey” as her particular favorite of the stories. Davis, herself a Bloomer, is also featured on Kelly Link’s list for her latest novel, 2013’s Duplex.

Several other writers we’ve spotlighted here at Bloom have contributed to 2013’s “Year in Reading.” One is Paul Harding, who raved about Chinelo Okparanta’s Happiness, Like Water (2013). Another entry comes from Norman Rush, whose own novel Subtle Bodies (2013) also made it onto Garth Risk Hallberg’s list. (Be sure to check out Joseph M. Schuster’s feature on and twopart conversation with Harding, as well as Jennifer Acker Shah’s piece on Rush’s novels of ideas.) Other Bloomers who have contributed to the YiR include Caleb Crain and Khaled Hosseini.

Some previously featured Bloomers made it on to YiR contributors’ lists as well. Novelist David Gilbert asked his children to weigh in on his Year in Reading list, and his daughter named R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Sangeeta Mehta wrote about the book for us back in November, and Palacio kindly participated in a Q&A).

Gilbert himself had some warm words for Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, describing the book’s opening, in particular, as “a fever dream of delight.” (Kushner’s been writing for magazines for many years, but her first novel, 2008’s Telex from Cuba, didn’t come out until she was 40.) The Flamethrowers also made it on to Garth Risk Hallberg’s list for its “brilliant first third,” though he doesn’t seem as impressed with the rest of it. But Elliott Holt, who also mentions The Flamethrowers in her list, identifies it as a great book, and Adam Wilson writes that it “lives up to the hype.”

For his part, Hallberg is a bit more enthusiastic about William H. Gass, who he claims “hasn’t … lost a step at age 88; he’s gained a register.” He calls Middle C (2013) Gass’s second most accessible book after his debut, Omensetter’s Luck (published in 1966, when Gass was 42).

Emily St. John Mandel gave a nod to Eric Barnes’s Something Pretty, Something Beautiful (2013), calling its portrayal of its characters’ coming-of-age as “absolutely haunting.” Dani Shapiro includes Ruth Ozeki’s Man Booker Prize-nominated A Tale for the Time Being on her list. Stephen Dodson shares some love for Bloomer Tessa Hadley, with particular praise for her novel The London Train (2011). In her post, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives a shout-out to Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings (1958). Pym published her first novel at 37, but her books languished in obscurity until 1977, when Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil identified her as “the most underrated writer of the 20th century.” She was 64 at the time.

Bloomer Sergio de la Pava, a lawyer by profession whose second novel, Personae, came out this past October, shares his appreciation of Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator who became the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, at 43. Alexander’s book is a fascinating examination of the disproportionate number of African American males in US prisons and was featured on several other lists, like Teddy Wayne’s and Rachel Kushner’s.

Kevin Barry, who debuted with the short story collection There Are Little Kingdoms (2007) at 38 and followed it up with his first novel, the acclaimed City of Bohane, four years later, makes it on to a few contributors’ lists for 2013’s Dark Lies the Island, including those of The Millions staff writer Bill Morris and author Sam Lipsyte.

While not technically a Bloomer, having published her first novel at 29, Marguerite Duras did publish the work for which she’s best recognized later in her life—1984’s L’Amant, or The Lover, at the age of 70. Bloom founding editor and Millions staff writer Sonya Chung examines The Square, an earlier short novel of Duras’s, as well as its author’s legacy.

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Homepage photo “Pile of Books” by George F. via Flickr

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