David Bezmozgis was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1973. His first book, Natasha and Other Stories, won a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was a 2004 New York Times Notable Book. His second book, The Free World, was published by FSG in March 2011. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library. In 2010, he was named one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40.” You can follow him on Twitter @dbezmozgis.
I’ve written elsewhere about my admiration for Hervé Le Tellier’s Enough About Love and Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. Both were among my favorite books of 2011. But I’d forgotten to mention two wonderful essay collections. One is by FSG’s own John Jeremiah Sullivan. I’ve been a fan of his since his Blood Horses came out in 2004. I remember getting an advance copy of it and reading it on a transatlantic flight from Rome to Los Angeles and not only admiring it tremendously but also being moved to tears by some of the writing. Since then, I’ve tried to keep up with some of Sullivan’s output in GQ and The Paris Review. It’s great to see so many of those pieces collected in Pulphead and to see the book get the attention it deserves. But there was another terrific essay collection in 2011 by another of my favorite American essayists, Arthur Krystal. The collection, Except When I Write, gathers many of the reviews and essays Krystal has published over the last several years, mostly from The New Yorker and Harper’s. These essays are different from Sullivan’s because Krystal’s are more strictly reviews of other books—though to say that doesn’t give the essays their due. Krystal manages to do what the best literary critics do, which is both to engage with the texts and to say something larger about the culture and, implicitly, about the critic. There are few people who do this with the intelligence, erudition, and wit of Krystal.
The other book I liked a great deal this year was Joshua Rubenstein’s smart and concise biography Leon Trotsky. Trotsky remains a compelling and romantic figure. Rubenstein does a fantastic job of exploring the contradictions that accounted for the swiftness of the man’s rise and fall.