Of course the day our favorite books of the year list gets published we get started on three that would make the list in any year.
How do we choose what book to read next? We read reviews authors we read. The process is like chismis: “Sabi ni kwan ano daw.”
First Geoff Dyer pronounced Alan Hollinghurst the best novelist Britain has to offer, although he added that “for verbal pyrotechnics no one is likely to surpass the Martin Amis of Money.”
So we have to read Money.
Then Martin Amis published a review extolling Don DeLillo’s first collection of stories, The Angel Esmeralda.
So we have to read The Angel Esmeralda.
Meanwhile we saw J.C. Chandor’s riveting first movie Margin Call, which takes place in 24 intense hours at a Lehman Brothers-like firm at the start of the global financial meltdown of 2008.
Charles Ferguson’s excellent documentary Inside Job had explained how the meltdown happened; after seeing it we thought America’s financial managers should be lined up against a wall (Occupying their neighborhood is too gentle and passive). In Margin Call the crisis is told from the POV of the one percent (Chandor’s father is a retired investment banker), and it’s an achievement: we actually understand the people we want to line up against the wall. Greed is universal.
Margin Call is a quiet, realistic, low-budget movie about a real life catastrophe, and its cast is spectacular. Kevin Spacey turns in one of his finest performances in years, and Stanley Tucci—there is no bad performance by Stanley Tucci. We think Jeremy Irons was playing Rodrigo Borgia, and we snigger when Demi Moore says the math is correct, but we buy Zachary Quinto as the literal rocket scientist turned financial analyst (If he can play Spock, he can play a physicist). In recent years we’ve seen Paul Bettany as the archangel Michael battling the hordes of heaven, and as a priest battling hordes of vampires—we always believe him, but it’s great to see him play a human being.
Margin Call is one of the most thrilling movies we’ve seen this year, and the best Wall Street movie ever. It put us in the mood for a book about the economic collapse. Many year-end best lists cite Other People’s Money by Justin Cartwright, a novel about a banking family.
So we have to read Other People’s Money.
After the attack on the World Trade Center there was a slew of 9/11 novels: DeLillo’s Falling Man, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, among others. We’re expecting a raft of global financial meltdown novels, and they’ll have to compete with OPM.
* * * * *
The other day we had to go to QC, which under present conditions is a cross-country crawl. We planned the trip like an invasion and brought provisions: The Angel Esmeralda and our shiny new tablet which goes by the name Tyrion Lannister (small and clever). While standing in line we read DeLillo’s short story “Baader-Meinhof” and all our hair stood on end, it is so creepy and sinister.
On the ride back to Makati we read “The Starveling” and were actually disappointed that the traffic wasn’t heavier so we could finish the story without interruptions.