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In recent years I have reread a number of his early novels chronologically, and it occurs to me that perhaps the best way for a new reader to experience John Barth’s writing would be to start at the beginning. (One side biographical note that I think is instructive: early in his career Michael Chabon spent five long years working on a novel that grew and grew, even as his faith in it faded.Worse, he sent a draft to his editor, who didn’t like it either! Fields said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”) is centered around a struggling quarter of Oakland, California, on the ragged edge of Berkeley, called Brokeland.Johnson said, “No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” However, he spent nine years working on the first great dictionary of the English language, and he didn’t do for money. ) My list of the past year’s literary favorites now numbers twenty-one titles, nearly all of them novels.

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Hornby (born 1957) is in some ways Douglas Coupland’s British counterpart.

Both have portrayed disaffected, alienated youth through the generational filter of pop culture (members of a club that also includes Michael Chabon and Dave Eggers, I guess), yet both have gone on to cast wider nets over life and lives.

The man, called “Rank” by his friends, is convinced that an unflattering character in his friend’s novel is based on him, and fires off a succession of angry emails, “setting the record straight.” The reality is that no one in the world cares the tiniest bit about what is “true” to him — not the novelist friend, who ignores Rank’s increasingly irate tirades, and not the reader either.

Despite his obvious self-serving bias, though, Rank’s unfolding delusions are entertaining, and expressed with admirable skill.

Yet he had accepted an advance for the novel — half of which had already gone to his ex-wife — plus invested all of that irreplaceable time on it, five years of his (1995), which became a huge critical and commercial success as both novel and film. (Just caught the rhyme myself — nice.) Its heart is symbolized by Brokeland Records, a used vinyl store operated by a pair of True Believers.