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Book recommendations from poets and rock stars at The Millions

December 13, 2011 |  6:31 am

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The Millions is a book-focused blog that has always been open to many voices -- it's called The Millions, after all. It is currently midway through its annual Year in Reading series, in which authors, bloggers, actors, artists, rock stars and poets share what books really sent them this year. This year, those contributing include U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine and Hamilton Leithauser, lead singer of The Walkmen (both pictured, above).

One of the things that distinguishes the Millions Year in Reading from other year-end lists -- and geez, there are a lot of year-end lists -- is that it isn't trying to be a best of what was published in the last 12 months. Many times the books that are selected are classics, or are items that might have been published in the last few years and someone just got around to reading, or are somewhere in between: old, in the mix, not-yet-required reading.

It's a potpourri of personal recommendations. Some come from people you already knew were bookish: National Book Award-winning novelist Colum McCann ("Let the Great World Spin"), short-story writer Deborah Eisenberg, bestselling debut novelist Chad Harbach ("The Art of Fielding"), and brilliant cultural critic Geoff Dyer. (Full disclosure: I participated too, as I have every year since 2006).

The books they write about are a literary bunch. McCann picks Fernando Pessoa’s "Book of Disquiet," a Portuguese book first published in the 1980s, more than four decades after Pessoa's death; McCann compares "Book of Disquiet" to James Joyce. Eisenberg writes about a New York Review of Books reprint of "The Radiance of the King" by Camara Laye, a West African writer, first published in English in 1956. Harbach selects Hungarian author Dezso Kosztolányi's "Kornél Esti," published in English for the first time by New Directions, "The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India" by Siddhartha Deb and Philip Connors' memoir "Fire Season." Dyer looks at a recent nonfiction book, "All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence" by Fox Butterfield, an "investigative genealogy" that starts with a prison stabbing and goes all the way back to the Civil War.

Then there are the rock stars. What does The Walkmen's lead singer Hamilton Leithauser recommend? Robert Graves' "I, Claudius," the biography "Frank: The Voice" by James Kaplan, D.C. mystery novel "King Suckerman" by George Pelecanos, and Dexter Filkins' chronicle of Iraq and Afghanistan, "The Forever War." Duff McKagen goes for "Lamb" by Christopher Moore, writing "I knew by the fourth sentence in that Moore would now be one of those 'authors that I really like.'" (File "one of those 'authors I really like'" under Things I Never Thought a Member of Guns N' Roses Would Say).

I would suggest that the books people write about on The Millions show that readers like to read interesting books. At this gift-giving time of year, the Year in Reading sparks inspiration that's both off the beaten path and recommended.

The Millions' Year in Reading continues adding new book picks every day until Dec. 31.

[For the record, Dec. 13, 7:36 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said that Nathan Larson, formerly lead singer of Shudder to Think and now a novelist himself, recommends "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell. It was Nathan Englander, a writer, who made that suggestion.]


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Photos: Left, Philip Levine at home in August. Credit: Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/MCT. Right, Hamilton Leithauser, performing with his band The Walkmen in Los Angeles in 2010. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times