Blog about “Authors’ Authors,” a 1976 round up of various authors’ favorite books that year

The New York Times published “Authors’ Authors” on 5 Dec. 1976. The piece “asked a number of authors, ranging from Vladimir Nabokov to John Dean, to tell us the three books they most enjoyed this year and to say, in a sentence or two, why.”

There’s of course something silly and even gossipy about such articles, which fall far from literary criticism, of course. But, simultaneously, these kinds not-really-lists are fun. I came across the article looking for something else, and ended up reading it all. There are plenty of my favorite authors as well as notable authors who contributed to the piece: Ishmael Reed, William H. Gass, Eudora Welty, Maurice Sendak, Henry Miller, Joan Didion, and loads more. What’s most interesting to me are the “new” books many books include—I mean books published in (or around) 1976. Some I’ve never heard of, others are classics (of one fashion or another) and many are long long forgotten.

John Cheever’s answer opens the list with an appropriate warning:

I’ve always thought the response to these questionnaires cranky and pretentious and associated them with the darkest hours of Sunday. I mention this only to make it clear that you are free to throw my reply away.

He selects the only book by John Updike I’ve retained, Picked-Up Pieces, cites Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate as an airplane read, and reflects on Daniel Deronda:

It may be a reflection on George Eliot’s refinement or my grossness but my most vivid recollection of this estimable classic is a scene where Deronda enthusiastically seizes the oar of a wherry. It seemed the only robust gesture in the book.

(I had to look up the word wherry.)

Cheever’s pick Updike is on the list, providing a bit of satire on the whole business:

I also found some of Nabokov’s response amusing, although I don’t think it was his intention. He gives us “the three books I read during the three summer months of 1976 while hospitalized in Lausanne”: Dante’s Inferno (“in Singleton’s splendid translation”, The Butterflies of North America by William H. Howe (natch), and his own book, The Original of Laura. Nabokov describes it as

The not quite finished manuscript of a novel which I had begun writing and reworking before my illness and which was completed in my mind: I must have gone through it some 50 times and in my diurnal delirium kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden. My audience consisted of peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible. Perhaps because of my stumblings and fits of coughing the story of my poor Laura had less success with my listeners than it will have, I hope, with intelligent reviewers when properly published.

Nabokov never finished The Original of Laura. A version of it was published in 2009.

Conservative commentator William F. Buckley picked books by John McPhee, Hugh Kenner,  and Malcolm Muggeridge. Joyce Carol Oates liked Ted Hughes’s Season Songs. Despite having “has no taste for contemporary fiction,” Maurice Sendak recommends Leonard Michaels’ collection I Would Have Saved Them If I Could. Maxine Hong Kingston breaks the rule of three, adding Nabokov’s Ada to her trio. Philip Roth includes Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, which was part of a series of translations Roth “edited.” Robert Coles liked Walker Percy’s The Message in the Bottle. Lois Gould lists Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, possibly one of the most enduringly popular books of 1976. Saul Bellow enjoyed Richard Yates’s The Easter Parade. Richard Yates enjoyed Larry McMurty’s Terms of Endearment. Nora Ephron loved Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer. Joan Didion loved Renata Adler’s Speedboat. Cynthia Ozick gives only one title, Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James.

Henry Miller kept it short and sweet:

James Dickey loved something called Dreamthorp by Alexander Smith:

A book of gentle meditations on death in the remote English village: the quietest book of essays I know. To read it is like sinking under the leaves and views and grass of a gentle and caring cemetery and being profoundly glad to be there.

Eudora Welty sticks mostly to Virginia Woolf, recommending the second volume of Woolf’s letters (“Nothing in this book to get between the reader and the writer: Virginia Woolf in her own words, her own mind, speaking for herself”) as well as Mrs Dalloway’s Party. Welty also references Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I now must track down.

William H. Gass cites two bona fide postmodern classics and an oddity I’ve never heard of:

J R by William Gaddis. Perhaps the supreme masterpiece of acoustical collage. A real contribution to the art of fiction.

The Geek by Craig Nova. A hard, brilliantly visual novel which is equal in quality to early Hawkes. Few American writers have such a sensuous yet masterfully controlled style.

The Franchiser by Stanley Elkin. Elkin is a genius. I am happy he is also a friend. There are paragraphs in this book in which the language leaps from the page and flies away. The critics owe Elkin much bowing and scraping.

Ishmael Reed describes a book called Dangerous Music by by Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn, a writer I’d never heard of until now:

While the boys were drawing graffiti what were the girls doing? They were writing “Ditty Bop” books, black and white speckled composition books usually, full of gossip, desire, fashion, recipes, proverbs and boyfriends. Written in fire-engine red lipstick “Ditty Bop” books spell “cause” c-u‐z. Nikki Giovanni (“Gemini”) and Alison Mills (“Francisco”) have written classics of the genre. Now Jessica Hagedorn, who makes the S.F. rounds with her West Coast Gangster Choir, has penned the Latino‐Filipino version of the “Ditty Bop.” Reviewers describe “Ditty Bop” books as “sultry”; this one is that. It is a joyous, mean, mambo book blessed by the patron Saint of Latino‐Filipino Ditty Bops, Carmen Miranda.

He also recommends Shouting by by Joyce Carol Thomas, who, thankfully, is not Joyce Carol Oates.

Two authors picked up John Updike’s Picked-Up Pieces (Joyce Carol Oates and John Cheever).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is cited three times on the list: twice for Autumn of the Patriarch (Lewis Thomas and Bernard Malamud) and once for One Hundred Years of Solitude (John Dean).

John Dean’s Blind Ambition shows up three times (Ishmael Reed, Bob Woodward, and Nikki Giovanni).

Somehow, Nikki Giovanni is the only writer to include Alex Haley’s Roots in a list.

The Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen (Round Three match-ups and Round Two results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers)

Hey! Today in Distracting Dumb Ephemeral Fun, we hit the Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen of the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers. Round Two saw some fascinating match-ups between thirty-two writers. Perhaps the most interesting was the Cormac McCarthy-William Gaddis showdown:

This bracket garnered more votes than any match-up to date in the tournament, and split more than a few folks (including me—I’ll declare how I voted after this whole thing shakes out).

Other matches were also very close: Ray Bradbury—William Gibson, and William S. Burroughs—Kazuo Ishiguro.

Ishiguro is perhaps a bit of a dark horse at this point, as is José Saramago, whom I seeded at 59 of 64. Saramago handily beat out the under-read Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky to face off with Ishiguro in the Terrible Awful Sweet Sixteen of Apocalyptica.

I find all of the match-ups interesting at this point, but David Foster Wallace vs. Thomas Pynchon has a wonderfully oedipal vibe.

And again, this is all just meant to be stupid distracting fun.

Brackets below, followed by tweet results:

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Tweet polls:

Continue reading “The Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen (Round Three match-ups and Round Two results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers)”

Round Two match-ups and Round One results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers

On Sunday, I came up with a list of 64 writers that have written novels or stories that either anticipate, reflect, or otherwise describe our zeitgeist. The first dozen or so seeds (as well as the bottom dozen or so) came rather intuitively to me, but the writers in the middle were seeded somewhat randomly. I used Twitter’s poll feature to determine the winners of Round One. In most of my polls, I included a third option, where voters could choose just to see the poll results instead of actually voting; I won’t be doing that going forward, because the data looks, if not exactly skewed, well, just a little off-putting, as in Round 1, Bracket 8 below:

My intuition is that Disch (Camp Concentration) and Walter Miller (A Canticle for Leibowitz) were either too obscure for many folks, or at least not writers very many people are passionate about.

Sinclair Lewis (It Can’t Happen Here) tied with China Miéville (Marxism, steampunk, Perdido Street Station, bold baldness) and went to a tie (I managed to misspell China Miéville’s name in both tweets)—

I was also surprised by top-ten seed Octavia Butler (KindredParable of the Sower) losing to José Saramago (Blindness). I suppose I seeded Saramago too low.

Here are the results of Round One and the match-ups for Round Two:

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Bracket 46 is particularly painful for me!

Poll results by tweet:

Continue reading “Round Two match-ups and Round One results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers”

Everything Bartleby says in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby”

Everything Bartleby says in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby”:

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to,” said he.

“What is wanted?”

“I would prefer not to,” he said, and gently disappeared behind the screen.

“I would prefer not to.”

“I prefer not to,” he replied in a flute-like tone.

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“I prefer not.”

“I prefer not to,” he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“At present I prefer to give no answer,” he said, and retired into his hermitage.

“At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable,” was his mildly cadaverous reply.

“I would prefer to be left alone here,” said Bartleby, as if offended at being mobbed in his privacy.

Upon asking him why he did not write, he said that he had decided upon doing no more writing.

“No more.”

“Do you not see the reason for yourself,” he indifferently replied.

“I have given up copying,” he answered, and slid aside.

“I would prefer not,” he replied, with his back still towards me.

“Not yet; I am occupied.”

“I would prefer not to quit you,” he replied, gently emphasizing the not.

“Sitting upon the banister,” he mildly replied.

“No; I would prefer not to make any change.”

“There is too much confinement about that. No, I would not like a clerkship; but I am not particular.”

“I would prefer not to take a clerkship,” he rejoined, as if to settle that little item at once.

“I would not like it at all; though, as I said before, I am not particular.”

“No, I would prefer to be doing something else.”

“Not at all. It does not strike me that there is any thing definite about that. I like to be stationary. But I am not particular.”

“I know you,” he said, without looking round,—”and I want nothing to say to you.”

“I know where I am,” he replied, but would say nothing more, and so I left him.

The 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers

Maybe you’re bored, maybe you’re stuck inside, missing NCAA March Madness, watching the world’s madness through a screen. Maybe this will be a diversion. (I’m hoping it’s a diversion for me.)

I came up with a list of 64 writers that have written novels or stories that either anticipate, reflect, or otherwise describe our zeitgeist. (I realize now that I’ve forgotten a bunch, but, hey.) After a certain point, there wasn’t much thought put into seeding the tournament.

I’ll be doing running polls on Twitter for the next few days, starting today, with brackets 1-4 launching today.

Here are the brackets for Round 1:

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“My Days Are Numbered” — Rick Moranis

“My Days Are Numbered”

by

Rick Moranis

Published in The New York Times, 22 Nov. 2006


The average American home now has more television sets than people … according to Nielsen Media Research. There are 2.73 TV sets in the typical home and 2.55 people, the researchers said.

— The Associated Press, Sept. 21.

I have two kids. Both are away at college.

I have five television sets. (I like to think of them as a set of five televisions.) I have two DVR boxes, three DVD players, two VHS machines and four stereos.

I have nineteen remote controls, mostly in one drawer.

I have three computers, four printers and two non-working faxes.

I have three phone lines, three cell phones and two answering machines.

I have no messages.

I have forty-six cookbooks.

I have sixty-eight takeout menus from four restaurants.

I have one hundred and sixteen soy sauce packets.

I have three hundred and eighty-two dishes, bowls, cups, saucers, mugs and glasses.

I eat over the sink.

I have five sinks, two with a view.

I try to keep a positive view.

I have two refrigerators.

It’s very hard to count ice cubes.

I have thirty-nine pairs of golf, tennis, squash, running, walking, hiking, casual and formal shoes, ice skates and rollerblades.

I’m wearing slippers.

I have forty-one 37-cent stamps.

I have no 2-cent stamps.

I read three dailies, four weeklies, five monthlies and no annual reports.

I have five hundred and six CD, cassette, vinyl and eight-track recordings.

I listen to the same radio station all day.

I have twenty-six sets of linen for four regular, three foldout and two inflatable beds.

I don’t like having houseguests.

I have one hundred and eighty-four thousand frequent flier miles on six airlines, three of which no longer exist.

I have 101 Dalmatians on tape.

I have fourteen digital clocks flashing relatively similar times.

I have twenty-two minutes to listen to the news.

I have nine armchairs from which I can be critical.

I have a laundry list of things that need cleaning.

I have lost more than one thousand golf balls.

I am missing thirty-seven umbrellas.

I have over four hundred yards of dental floss.

I have a lot of time on my hands.

I have two kids coming home for Thanksgiving.

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List with no name #63

  1. The Tree of Life
  2. Holy Motors
  3. The Master
  4. Upstream Color
  5. Hard to Be a God
  6. Boyhood
  7. Inherent Vice
  8. Inside Llewelyn Davis
  9. The Beach Bum
  10. Blade Runner 2049
  11. Moonrise Kingdom
  12. mother!
  13. Carol
  14. Mad Max: Fury Road
  15. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
  16. Meek’s Cutoff
  17. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
  18. Blue Caprice
  19. Green Room
  20. Frances Ha
  21. Under the Skin
  22. Samsara
  23. Martha Marcy May Marlene
  24. The Handmaiden
  25. The Hateful Eight
  26. Love & Friendship
  27. The Lobster
  28. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  29. Under the Silver Lake
  30. Only Lovers Left Alive
  31. Suspiria 
  32. Zama
  33. Phantom Thread
  34. The Last Jedi
  35. The Favourite
  36. I Heard You Paint Houses
  37. Roma
  38. Edge of Tomorrow
  39. The Turin Horse
  40. Only God Forgives
  41. Lady Bird
  42. Get Out
  43. The Lost City of Z
  44. Your Highness
  45. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  46. Arrival
  47. The Wind Rises
  48. Tale of Tales
  49. Drive
  50. It Follows

 

The 100 best books of the 21st century

  1. The Bible, GOD (Always Relevant)
  2. My Disaster, Poke Randy Son (2010)
  3. Piss Baby Millionaires, Carlton Von Strokesbridge (2010)
  4. M(ob)y Dick, Karlov Noseguård (2001-2023)
  5. Femdom, Johnny Frentzfranzen (2012)
  6. The Big Fraud, Malcom Gladwell (2006)
  7. Books Are Hardly a Stable Form, Itold Uso (2019)
  8. Mindy McMark Murks a Middlemarch Maggot, Paul McCartney (2020, posthumous)
  9. Three Salads After Our Apocalypse, Pink Stumblebum (2033)
  10. My Suicide: Part I (Part II), William T. Vollmann (2028)
  11. Bitter Kisses Remiss to Losses, Alyssa Krisper (2010)
  12. The Cement-Churner’s Dilemma, Khyle Chlomedia (2005)
  13. Angst-Fucker, Bea E. Ellis (2019)
  14. Purifying Water: A Basic Introduction, Anonymous (2045)
  15. Chocolate Rain, Tay Zonday (2007)
  16. And Novels Are Not the Same as “Books,” N. Süüffräble Prick
  17. Billy Bagscruppin, Passel Von Questfrond (2010)
  18. Just What I Kneaded: A Baker’s Odyssey, Corazon Whig (2019)
  19. (The) Desire To Desire, James O. Incandenza (2003)
  20. The Ass Cheeks, Jonathan Franzen (2009)
  21. Oh Man, Bob Dylan Wrote a Book?, No, No, Not Tarantula, Robert Zimmerman (2004)
  22. Ecce Homo No Homo, Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. (2008)
  23. The Atheist’s Dong: Laying the Incel Groundwork, Dicker Dongking (2006)
  24. Encounter with the Infanta, Bogdan Tarassiev (under the pseudonym Jean Balbaian)  (2021)
  25. The Adventures of Gummybear De Witt, Ainslie Castleberry (2001)
  26. Corpse Business, Ostrich Orlando (2008)
  27. Iodine Tablets, Radiation Exposure, and You!, Anonymous (2066)
  28. Captain Insolence, Andrew Howard-End (2002)
  29. Stuffing the Bird: A Sixty-Part Riddle Toward the Thanksgiving Conundrum: 500 Recipes [Book Converts into a Hook to Deep Fry Your Turkey Upon], Fred Dustyoffsky (2006)
  30. Shooting Your Pet for Food: A Guide For the Latter Millennium (2027)
  31. Pistol Pete Amongst the Heathens (An Erotic Journey), Sara Tonin (2018)
  32. Oh Shit!? Your Mom Got You an InstantPot? Rad! Why Not Try This Bullshit?, New York Times editorial staff (2018)
  33. Ulysses 2, Germs Choice (2023)
  34. In It for the Clicks: Clickbait, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love What We Talk About When We Talk About Stupid Fucking Listicles, Caspar Cowilligers (2029)
  35. 2666, Roberto Bolaño (2004)
  36. The Actual “Books” That Will Help Determine the Shape of This Century Will Likely Be Manuals on How to Grow Food in a Burned World, Anonymous PDF file printed and shared and then hopefully remembered (2033)
  37. Lexus Manual & Warranty Document, Toyota (2021)
  38. Listen to This Sauce: A Novel, Brixon Mortar (2008)
  39. The “Molotov Cocktail” and 25 Other Drinks to Toast the End of Civil Society, the WSJ editorial board (2023)
  40. Paragraph on a Sunday, Carmel Cavalcaudrei (2016)
  41. Pigwhistle Paradise, Jackie LaKhan (2011)
  42. Of Grammatology, Jackie Derrida (2079)
  43. Your Father Probably Loved You (Novelization of the Movie), Jet Sweep (2023)
  44. Roger Mexico and the Legend of Puma Pomegranate, R. Pacious (2045)
  45. Dillsburg, Evan Dara, (2025)
  46. The Idea of Writing Like Fifty More of These Is Causing Me to Crack Another Beer, Edwin Turner (2019)
  47. Kring Krong, Basil Esk Monsterbush (2099)
  48. How to Mourn the 20th Century, Connie Vords (2033)
  49. God, I Can’t Believe the Water Is All Poisoned!, Billy Chadwick (2040)
  50. The Parent Trap, Antoine Volodine (2021)
  51. My Suicide: Part I, William T. Vollmann (2028)
  52. Oblivion, David Foster Wallace (2004)
  53. Beetlejuice: The Novelization, Ben Lerner (2021)
  54. We Should Probably Catalog Seeds, Anonymous (2022)
  55. My Suicide: Part IV, William T. Vollmann (2035)
  56. I’m Still Here: Jonathan Lethem: A Serial Biography by David Eggers, Eggers/Lethem (2027)
  57. Y’all Know That We Will Never Really Know the Canon of Our Own Century, Right?, Dick Dickledong (2019)
  58. Pig Bodine’s Erotic Phantasia, Thomas Pynchon (2022)
  59. My Suicide: Part IX, William T. Vollmann (2041)
  60. Porkwhillinger’s Complaint, Caspie Golasspie (2002)
  61. The Asparagus Dilemma: What Paperclips and Pet Toys Can Teach Us About Late Capitalism, Porky Bonboysjeans (2056)
  62. Makin’ Mogwai: Gremlins 3: A Pornographic Cornucopia, Alex Hornibrooke (2029)
  63. Just Imagine Publishing Houses Like a Few Decades from NowWhat Are They Even Doing, A. White (2066)
  64. Blackface in the Age of Streakers, Stephen Morrissey (2023)
  65. So Your Neighbors Have Decided To Exterminate You: A Simple Guide to Civil War, Anonymous (2049)
  66. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzdick (2002)
  67. How to Fuck a Manatee (A Novel), Jimmy Buffett (2019)
  68. Elevator at the End of Time, Kris Kristhaffington (2043)
  69. Busted Coverage: My Life as a Stupid Goddamn Anglophile, Cory St. Crestenworth (2002)
  70. Hahahahaha A Poetry Collection on This List?!, G.E.T. Real (2004)
  71. My Suicide: Part VII, William T. Vollmann (2039)
  72. That Time We Got Pasta: A Memoir, Daisy D’Ellamonte (2011)
  73. Fingering the Matchbook, Costa del Mellon (2001)
  74. Pork Magic, Carson Brooks McSturgeon (2021)
  75. Honolulu Hahahha: Hawaiian Harikari: A Milkman Murder Mystery, Anna Burns (2024)
  76. Recycling Your Own Piss: The Gormac Method, Tony Gormac (2072)
  77. How to Hate Your Parents, Sally Draper (2029)
  78. Penguins, Sloths, Parrots: All Our Extinct Friends (A Children’s Book), Parry St. Croix (2031)
  79. Home Brew: Getting Drunk After the Apocalypse, Baron Crawsdale III (2045)
  80. Me and My Sodas (Buried in the Backyard), Piggy Donovan (2049)
  81. How Would You Do the Burrata on This Homemade Pizza? Like Pop It In at the End? A Post-Mortem for the 21st Century, Gladdy McRonsen (2033)
  82. My Dream, David Lynch (2021)
  83. After the Flavor, After the Hiccup, Morkwilde McSwindlegunt (2044)
  84. A Little Bit Disgusted by an Ephemeral List of the 100 Best Books of This Still Young Century, I Type This List, a Stupid Fucking Joke, Edwin Turner (2019)
  85. A Safety Made the Tackle, Dumberk Weddington (2021)
  86. Waiting for the Grown-Ups, Sallister McDumbass (2016)
  87. Cricket Balls: Five Thousand Poems, Sweet Baby Brushbermans (2066)
  88. Butchering Our Betters: A Class Guide to Cannibal Cuts, Dame Carlsbad of the New New Mexico (2080)
  89. Salem Thots: A Horny Witch Chronicle, Paula McCartney (2032)
  90. Flesh Toilet, Pink Saracen (2044)
  91. Lonely Fathers of the Trash Sage, Henry “Hank” Hill (2000)
  92. French Kissing Cormac McCarthy, Tao Lin (2044)
  93. Sweet Emotion, Charlize Ruckus (2007)
  94. Harvesting Your Own Eggs for Fun andProfit, Anonymous (2029)
  95. Dracula 2099, Woody Harrelson (2021)
  96. One Million Spider Dicks!!, Jonathan Franzen (2023)
  97. We’re Probably Done Now, Glum Ford (2019)
  98. Will There Even Be a Canon For This Century?, Baxter Millionhaires (2099)
  99. Oh My God, Am I Almost Done?, Another Fakename (2019)
  100. I’m Done, We’re Done (A Comma Splice), Edwin Turner (2019)

My entry in The Comics Journal’s “Best Comics of 2018” article

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The editors of The Comics Journal have put together an extended feature called “The Best Comics of 2018.”  The full feature is pretty cool (and pretty enormous), and is a great place for anyone looking for a diverse concentration of new comix to read. Here’s my entry:

  1. Slum Wolf by Tadao Tsuge (English translation by Ryan Holmberg, NYRC) This collection of “alternative manga” (from The New York Review of Books’ NYRC imprint) showcases nine rough and seedy stories focused on the kimin, the “abandoned people” who live on the margins of Japanese society. Under Tsuge’s mean humor is a diamond-sharp kernel of pathos for all humanity, rendered in spare, even rushed art. Tsuge draws as if his ink and paper might be snatched away at any moment by some civilizing agent who would keep his slum wolves away from respectable eyes. His world isn’t pretty but it is somehow beautiful.
  1. Hieronymus & Bosch by Paul Kirchner. (Tanibus) Paul Kirchner continues his late career renaissance with Hieronymus & Bosch, a collection of over eighty comic strips set in Hell. The plot of most of these one-pagers is pretty straightforward: Hieronymus and his wooden toy duck Bosch try to escape—either Hell itself, or the boredom of Hell—and fail. Kirchner’s Hell is a slapstick paradise, and if Hieronymus is eternally doomed, at least he finds some solace in his own creative prowess.
  1. Samplerman, January 2018-December 2018 by Yvan Guillo. (Self-published) In a profile a few years back, the artist Yvan Guillo (who works under the name Samplerman) declared: “I am half the artist and half in the audience, exploring all these pages, picking the things I want to use, making a template and watching the composition being made nearly by itself.” Guillo perfectly describes his techniques of collage, amalgamation, and transformation—and also describes the pure joy that teems through his work. The Samplerman strips synthesize the history of cartooning into something transcendent and energetic, a reining-in of visual entropy into a strange new order.
  1. The Labyrinth by Saul Steinberg. (NYRB) First published in 1960 and back in print again from the NRYB this year, Saul Steinberg’s The Labyrinth condenses the modern and the mythic. “Steinberg was a lyricist of the metal nib—a twirler of nonverbal non sequiturs,” notes novelist Nicholson Baker in his introduction to the new volume. Steinberg’s lyrical non sequiturs evince in squiggles and dots, tangles and loops which turn into well-dressed men and staid women, cityscapes and night scenes, cocktail parties and art shows. Steinberg turns Abraham Lincoln into Don Quixote, with Santa as his Sancho Panza. He takes us out of urbane New York and into midcentury America, land of motor courts and baseball parks, a knotty chaotic chorus of life. Steinberg could seemingly do anything with ink, as the range of styles in The Labyrinth shows, but what he ultimately did was utterly-Steinbergian. The Labyrinth echoes Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which sought a century earlier, to find a new language to describe a new country. Steinberg looked at America through new eyes, and, like Whitman before him, found a new language of expression—the language of labyrinthine lines on paper.
  1. Nancy by Olivia Jaimes. (GoComics/United Feature Syndicate) I ♥ Nancy.

A year in reading | Annotations on a probably incomplete list of books I read or reread in full in 2018

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Boring preamble you’ll likely skim if not outright skip:

I was never going to get a full year end list thing together. Yesterday I put together a list of books I read in full this year, or at least books I remember reading in full. In full and books are terms that should be placed under suspicion. For example, it took me far longer to get eighty pages into William H. Gass’s The Tunnel—a novel I soon after abandoned—than it did to read Robert Coover’s micronovella The Enchanted Prince or Dave Cooper’s graphic novel Mudbite. Etc. As usual I abandoned more novels than I finished, and read more short stories than I could or should bother listing.


Annotations on a probably incomplete list of books I read or reread in full in 2018:

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston (2018)

A sad and important book, too long unpublished. I reviewed it here.

Conversations with Gordon Lish edited by David Winters and Jason Lucarelli (2018)

One of the best things I read in 2018. Lish performing Lish throughout the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. As good, if not better, than his short fiction.

Dreamverse by Jindřich Štyrský (2018 English translation by Jed Slast; original Czech-language publication in 1970)

Abject horny surrealist art and poetry. I wrote about it here.

The Enchanted Prince by Robert Coover (2018)

Going for a Beer: Selected Short Fictions by Robert Coover (2018)

The Enchanted Prince is a quick read, and wouldn’t be out of place in an extended edition of Going for a Beer. I failed to write about Going for a Beer, after mucking around with several drafts. I had a big thing on “The Babysitter” that I was working on—it being a perfect nexus of horror and comedy, a writhing, icky pop opera of channel changing. I kept thinking of “The Babysitter” during the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, and managed to write absolutely nothing in my disgust. Going for a Beer is a perfect starting place for Coover, although some of the moves in it grow tiresome. The metamagician takes us aside a bit too often to show us how he did the trick, only to tell us that his showing us how he did the trick was actually the trick itself.

Hieronymus & Bosch by Paul Kirchner (2018)

The Labyrinth by Saul Steinberg (2018; originally published in 1960)

Both wonderful “graphic novels,” or not really “novels,” but something else. I should have reviews of these posted at The Comics Journal in early 2019.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (2018)

A perfect farewell to Johnson. I read it twice, and wrote about the title story,  second story, “The Starlight on Idaho,” and the third,“Strangler Bob.”

Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father by Tristan Foster (2018)

Great stuff. I finished a bigass novel yesterday so now I can reread Foster’s strange fictions and write a proper review.

Moderan by David R. Bunch (2018; originally published in incomplete form in 1971)

I’ll admit I’d never heard of Bunch’s dystopian cult Moderan stories until NYRB reprinted them in a complete volume this year. Moderan works as a post-nuke dystopian satire on toxic masculinity. The tropes here might seem familiar—cyborgs and dome homes, caste systems and ultraviolence, a world of made and not born ruled by manunkind (to steal from E.E. Cummings)—it’s the way that Bunch conveys this world that is so astounding. Moderan is told in its own idiom; the voice of our narrator Stronghold-10 booms with a bravado that’s ultimately undercut by the authorial irony that lurks under its surface. The book seems equal to the task of satirizing the trajectory of our zeitgeist in a way that some contemporary satirists have failed to.

Mudbite by Dave Cooper (2018)

Lurid, abject, horny, gross. I dug it. I reviewed it at The Comics Journal.

Narcotics by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (2018 English translation by Soren Gauger)

Another oddball from the good folks at Twisted Spoon Press. I reviewed it here.

On Doing Nothing by Roman Muradov (2018)

Muradov’s riffs on literature, art, and philosophy to add to the American tradition of leaning and loafing at one’s ease, observing a summer spear of etc.

Provisional Biography of Mose Eakins by Evan Dara (2018)

An overlooked work by an overlooked writer, Provisional Biography isn’t quite as persuasive as its predecessor, Flee, but it’s nevertheless a strong argument for communication in/against the age of late capitalism. I reviewed it here.

Slum Wolf by Tadao Tsuge (2018 English translation by Ryan Holmberg)

This collection of “alternative manga” (from The New York Review of Books’ NYRC imprint) showcases nine rough and seedy stories focused on the kimin, the “abandoned people” who live on the margins of Japanese society. Under Tsuge’s mean humor is a diamond-sharp kernel of pathos for all humanity, rendered in spare, even rushed art. Tsuge draws as if his ink and paper might be snatched away at any moment by some civilizing agent who would keep his slum wolves away from respectable eyes. His world isn’t pretty but it is somehow beautiful.

The Snail on the Slope by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (2018 English translation by Olena Bormashenko; original Russian-language translation, 1972)

An impossibly strange book, an utter revelation, just so astoundingly weird. I wrote about it here.

Stream System by Gerald Murnane (2018)

Murnane made a dent into an American mainstream audience this year with Stream System (complete with a fascinating feature in The New York Times). The early stories are particularly affecting. I wrote about one here.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett (2015)

Pond was one of the best things I read this year. I wrote about it here.

The Truce by Mario Benedetti (2015 English translation by Harry Morales; original Spanish-language publication, 1960)

Benedetti’s The Truce is good old fashioned mannered modernism. I couldn’t really get into it, although the novel’s voice is authentic. It reminded me of Williams’ Stoner a bit.

Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven by Antoine Volodine (2015 English translation by J. T. Mahany; original French-language publication, 1998)

Definitely Maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (2014 English translation by Antonina Bouis; original Russian-language translation, 1974)

Writers by Antoine Volodine (2014 English translation by Katrina Rogers; original French-language publication, 2010)

Minor Angels by Antoine Volodine (2008 English translation by Jordan Stump; original French-language publication, 2004)

I’ve arranged this list by year, and the Volodines are almost grouped together, with the Strugatskys interposing. Definitely Maybe is okay but not excellent—it’s a fun and ultimately tense read, evocative of hot drunken times and philosophical murders.

Antoine Volodine wrote some of the best stuff I read this year. Post-Exoticism or Writers would make excellent starting places for anyone interested in his grim, stark (and often unexpectedly funny) world. I wrote about Writers here and here.

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (2000)

I didn’t really like Lightning Rods and I wished I hadn’t paid twenty bucks for Some Trick in hardback, but enough people I respect have been telling me (directly and indirectly) to read DeWitt’s cult novel debut that I didn’t hesitate to pick up a copy when I found it used in my favorite bookshop. I read The Last Samurai faster than any book I can remember. For a book often described as “experimental” or “formally challenging” it’s extraordinarily accessible and very “readable.” DeWitt’s rhetoric teaches the reader how to read the book; she creates a formula, essentially (Lighting Rods did the same, come to think of it). The Last Samurai has moments that are as transcendent as any of the other great books I read this year, but I’m not sure that it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. I enjoyed the reading experience though.

Carpenter’s Gothic by William Gaddis (1985)

I had never read Carpenter’s Gothic until this year (I still need to read A Frolic of His Own). I reread The Recognitions, and while its certainly a richer, denser, and frankly more overwhelming work, it isn’t as formally neat as Carpenter’s Gothic, which I think is ultimately the better book. I wrote about it here, here, and here.

The Names by Don DeLillo (1982)

Only a few fragments stick with me now—the end in particular—but also, the general impression that Don DeLillo wrote the first post-9/11 novel way back in 1982. I wrote about it here.

The Plains by Gerald Murnane (1982)

The first fifty or so pages of The Plains was as good as anything I read this year. I felt like I was hungry for more at the end though, but good authors sometimes leave us unsatisfied.

77 Dream Songs by John Berryman (1964)

I needed these.

The Bell by Iris Murdoch (1958)

This book has some excellent sentences, and Dora Greenfield is one of the more memorable characters I read this year. The Bell also prompted me to reread Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, and I’m thankful to it for that. My first Murdoch. I’ll read more of hers in 2019. I wrote about The Bell here.

The Recognitions by William Gaddis (1955)

Reread the thing in tandem with an audiobook recording; the audiobook is pretty good, but mostly useful in the sense that it allows you to reread (or first read) as you go through. I think The Recognitions can’t be read—it can only be reread. I wrote about it here and here and here and here and here.

Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871)

A reading highlight of 2018. Dorothea Brooke is the most memorable character of my 2018 reading. I wrote about Middlemarch here and here.

Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861)

I liked this one a lot. I reviewed it here.

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville (1857)

Benito Cereno by Herman Melville (1855)

The Confidence-Man remains a novel that I think I won’t ever fully “get.” Rereading it this year it seemed as puzzling as ever. We’ll see what happens when I read it again. Benito Cereno might have been my favorite reread of 2018; I wrote a long thing on it here. 2019 seems like a good year to go through Moby-Dick again.

The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1852)

Another really enjoyable reread, with correspondences to Middlemarch and The Bell. I wrote a lot about Blithedale, including this post.


 

A probably incomplete list of books I read or reread in full in 2018

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston (2018)

Conversations with Gordon Lish edited by David Winters and Jason Lucarelli (2018)

Dreamverse by Jindřich Štyrský (2018 English translation by Jed Slast; original Czech-language publication in 1970)

The Enchanted Prince by Robert Coover (2018)

Going for a Beer: Selected Short Fictions by Robert Coover (2018)

Hieronymus & Bosch by Paul Kirchner (2018)

The Labyrinth by Saul Steinberg (2018; originally published in 1960)

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (2018)

Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father by Tristan Foster (2018)

Moderan by David R. Bunch (2018; originally published in incomplete form in 1971)

Mudbite by Dave Cooper (2018)

Narcotics by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (2018 English translation by Soren Gauger)

On Doing Nothing by Roman Muradov (2018)

Provisional Biography of Mose Eakins by Evan Dara (2018)

Slum Wolf by Tadao Tsuge (2018 English translation by Ryan Holmberg)

The Snail on the Slope by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (2018 English translation by Olena Bormashenko; original Russian-language translation, 1972)

Stream System by Gerald Murnane (2018)

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett (2015)

The Truce by Mario Benedetti (2015 English translation by Harry Morales; original Spanish-language publication, 1960)

Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven by Antoine Volodine (2015 English translation by J. T. Mahany; original French-language publication, 1998)

Definitely Maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (2014 English translation by Antonina Bouis; original Russian-language translation, 1974)

Writers by Antoine Volodine (2014 English translation by Katrina Rogers; original French-language publication, 2010)

Minor Angels by Antoine Volodine (2008 English translation by Jordan Stump; original French-language publication, 2004)

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (2000)

Carpenter’s Gothic by William Gaddis (1985)

The Names by Don DeLillo (1982)

The Plains by Gerald Murnane (1982)

77 Dream Songs by John Berryman (1964)

The Bell by Iris Murdoch (1958)

The Recognitions by William Gaddis (1955)

Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871)

Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861)

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville (1857)

Benito Cereno by Herman Melville (1855)

The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1852)

 

40 still frames from Nicolas Roeg’s film Walkabout

Walkabout-002Walkabout-036Walkabout-041Walkabout-042Walkabout-050Walkabout-051Walkabout-058Walkabout-069Walkabout-078Walkabout-088Walkabout-089Walkabout-095Walkabout-111Walkabout-114Walkabout-134Walkabout-138Walkabout-141Walkabout-164Walkabout-181Walkabout-188Walkabout-190Walkabout-195Walkabout-217Walkabout-222Walkabout-227Walkabout-231Walkabout-237Walkabout-243Walkabout-247Walkabout-268Walkabout-272Walkabout-315Walkabout-328Walkabout-332Walkabout-335Walkabout-351Walkabout-365Walkabout-376Walkabout-387Walkabout-406

From Walkabout, 1971. Directed and shot by Nicolas Roeg. Via Screenmusings.

List with no name #62

  1. Fargo
  2. No Country for Old Men
  3. A Serious Man
  4. The Big Lebowski
  5. Inside Llewyn Davis
  6. Barton Fink
  7. Burn After Reading
  8. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  9. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  10. Raising Arizona
  11. Blood Simple
  12. The Man Who Wasn’t There
  13. Miller’s Crossing
  14. True Grit
  15. The Ladykillers
  16. The Hudsucker Proxy
  17. Hail, Caesar!
  18. Intolerable Cruelty

Notes on Vulture’s “Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon”

Last year, Vulture put together a list of “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction,” and I wrote about it on my blog. The list was good fun, and there are a handful of novels on it I’m still keeping an eye out for (feel free to send me a copy of David Ohle’s Motorman, people).

Today, Vulture published another list of 100 books, this one ambitiously but cautiously titled, “A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon.” The list begins with a nearly-900 word prefatory essay called “Why Now?” that isn’t bad but is perhaps unnecessary; the sentence, “We thought it might be fun to speculate (very prematurely) on what a canon of the 21st century might look like right now” is fine enough. I mean, look: List-making is fun. Putting together a syllabus or anthology or “canon” is fun. It generates conversation and maybe pisses folks off. And Vulture racked up a range of ringers to make their list—I have a lot of respect for many of the critics and writers who contributed here.

But ultimately, I think we all know that this canon is not a canon; it cannot be a canon because a canon evolves over time, and then evolves (or devolves or implodes or mutates or pick your verb) more. We don’t know what the most important books of the past eighteen years are yet, and most of us won’t be alive to know what they turn out to be. We would be better suited, really, to naming the canonical novels of 1900-1918 I suppose. But again, I think we all know that. Lists are fun. I take Vulture’s list to be a lovely set of reading recommendations from a set of smart folks.

I’ve already prefaced too much. I will go through the list, fairly quickly, in the order that Vulture prepared it, making comments or making none, occasionally recommending an alternative. I will write quickly without much reflection and I will undoubtedly forget a ton of books.

The Last Samurai, by Helen DeWitt (September 20, 2000)

For a few years now, almost every single reader whose taste I greatly admire has recommended DeWitt’s debut novel to me. I’ll admit that I didn’t care for her novel Lightning Rods at all, which seemed like the premise for a Ballard story stretched too thin over 200 or so pages. I am close to giving up on her short story collection Some Trick. I may be entirely misreading her. However, I admire the critic Christian Lorentzen, who helmed Vulture’s essay on The Last Samurai, and the fact that it came in number one on the list means that I’ll almost certainly give it a shot.

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen (September 1, 2001)

I recall chuckling at the part where the one son was drunk and doing some business with the lawn clippers. I suspect there’s some nostalgia at work with this one. Should I recommend a different book so early? Sure: Open City, by Teju Cole  (February 8, 2011) is somehow absent.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (March 3, 2005) 

I can’t quibble. Reminds me that I want to read The Unconsoled

How Should a Person Be?, by Sheila Heti (September 25, 2010) 

Autofiction! Maybe I should read it. In the meantime, may I recommend Writers, by Antoine Volodine (August 5th, 2016)?

The Neapolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante (2011-2015)

Are these autofiction, too? I love these books. I would read a fifth one. And a sixth one. Etc.

The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (May 5, 2015)

I downloaded the audiobook of this this summer but kept stalling, which is weird because it’s pretty short (Nelson reads it herself, too). Give it another shot.

2666, by Roberto Bolaño (November 11, 2008) 

What can I say? There are seven review of 2666 posted on Biblioklept. I would’ve picked this as number one. Ten years after a hype cycle that could’ve withered a lesser book, 2666 seems as prescient as ever—not only in its content, but in its form—or really the welding of content and form, into one big dark dark big labyrinth-poem.

The Sellout, by Paul Beatty (March 3, 2015) 

Another reminder that I don’t read enough contemporary fiction.

The Outline Trilogy (OutlineTransit, and Kudos), by Rachel Cusk (2014–2018) 

Somehow Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon (November 21, 2006) is not on this list, a fact that has nothing whatsoever to do with Cusk’s books, which I have not read.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan (September 2001) 

I found it a slog and an utter bore. Europe Central, by William T. Vollmann (2005) is somehow not on Vulture’s list.

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (September 1, 2005) 

I remember reading it when it came out but I really don’t remember anything other than the premise.  A Mercy, by Toni Morrison (November 11, 2008) is not on Vulture’s list

Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner (August 23, 2011)

I hated 10:04 (Lerner’s follow up to Atocha Station) so much that I doubt I will ever read another book by the man. I loved loved loved Flee, by Evan Dara (2013) though.

The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner (April 2, 2013) 

Luc Sante is recommending The Flamethrowers, so maybe I should finally make time to read it.

Erasure, by Percival Everett (August 1, 2001)

Haven’t read any Everett; is this a good starting place?

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides(September 4, 2002)

A thoroughly passable entertainment that has no business on a list. Did you know that Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware (2000) was published in the last 18 years also?

Platform, by Michel Houellebecq (September 5, 2002) 

Houellebecq writes fascinating stuff, and his follow up The Possibility of an Island (2005) would fit in here too.

Do Everything in the Dark, by Gary Indiana (June 1, 2003)

Lorentzen’s write up of this one made me add it to a little note I keep on my iPhone of books to look out for.

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (August 14, 2003)

Haven’t heard of it.

The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth (September 30, 2004)

I tried with Roth, I really did, and it just didn’t stick, none of it, just not for me. Point Omega, by Don DeLillo (February 2, 2010), is, in my estimation, one of the better novels of the post-9/11 zeitgeist (and really underrated as a DeLillo novel).

The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst (October 1, 2004)

A really fantastic book that’s not on this list is Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli (July 7, 2009).

Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill (October 11, 2005)

I’ve enjoyed some of her short stories a lot.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (September 26, 2006)

It’s good. No Country for Old Men (2005) is probably better, but not as zeitgeisty.

Ooga-Booga, by Frederick Seidel (November 14, 2006)

Ooga-Booga is a fantastic name for a book.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz (September 6, 2007)

I recalled enjoying it fine, but it’s hardly canonical stuff, is it?

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (April 30, 2009)

I loved Bring Up the Bodies (May 8, 2012) very much too.

The Possessed, by Elif Batuman (February 16, 2010)

Always meant to read this and then never followed through.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender (June 1, 2010)

Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi (June 1, 2011)

Lives Other Than My Own, by Emmanuel Carrère (September 13, 2011)

Zone One, by Colson Whitehead (October 6, 2011) 

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (May 24, 2012)

NW, by Zadie Smith (August 27, 2012)

White Girls, by Hilton Als (January 1, 2013)

Mr. Fox looks good—but is it fantastic? I read Zone One but I guess it didn’t make a huge impression on me, because I don’t recall much besides the premise. White Teeth didn’t persuade me to read another of Smith’s books, but many smart people say they are good so.

My Struggle: A Man in Love, by Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 13, 2013)

Where are my Never Knuasgaards?

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (September 23, 2013)

Is this any good?

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill (January 28, 2014)

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews (April 11, 2014)

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine (October 7, 2014)

consent not to be a single being, by Fred Moten (2017–2018)

I’ve been copying and pasting the titles, authors, and dates from Vulture’s sites, and each time I have to remove their Amazon links.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon (September 19, 2000)

I will never understand the acclaim for this one. Never.

Also: Hey: If this Vulture list came out in, say, 2008, how many Jonathan Lethem books would be on it? How many Dave Eggers books?

The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman(October 10, 2000)

Great stuff.

True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey (January 9, 2001)

I’m beginning to get tired of this post and I wished that I hadn’t started and I apologize to you, reader. Gerald Murnane seems like a writer to put on a list.

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos, by Anne Carson (February 6, 2001)

I don’t know this one! Autobiography of Red came out in 1998 so it can’t go on the list, and thus proves lists are only foolish fun.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich (April 3, 2001)

This list is a huge reminder to me that I don’t read enough women. I try, but I think I don’t try hard enough.

Austerlitz, by W.G. Sebald (October 2, 2001)

A challenging book, and not the best starting place for Sebald, but also very rewarding. (Start with The Rings of Saturn (1995)).

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters (February 4, 2002)

The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers (October 3, 2002)

The Book of Salt, by Monique Truong (April 7, 2003)

Mortals, by Norman Rush (May 27, 2003)

Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte (February 16, 2004)

I recall liking Home Land a lot, but canonical it ain’t. I tried with Richard Powers but it did not take.

Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace (June 8, 2004)

I’m tempted to write a whole mini-essay here in the middle of this damn thing about how Wallace’s literary stock seems to have fallen, at least to a broader audience, over the last few years. He seems like a target for handwringers to wring their hands over—and he (and, more importantly, his work) doesn’t even seem like the target—it’s his reputation and his fans that seem like the target. Anyway. I mean:

“Good Old Neon” is in Oblivion, and it belongs on the list.

Honored Guest, by Joy Williams (October 5, 2004)

Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky (October 31, 2004)

The Sluts, by Dennis Cooper (January 13, 2005)

Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich (June 28, 2005)

Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link (July 1, 2005)

The Afterlife, by Donald Antrim (May 30, 2006)

Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell (August 7, 2006)

Wizard of the Crow, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (August 8, 2006)

American Genius, A Comedy, by Lynne Tillman (September 25, 2006)

Eat the Document, by Dana Spiotta (November 28, 2006)

Many casual readers may not know that Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) was both a commercial and a critical flop—it essentially ended his writing career. The book found its audience among the modernist critics, writers, and readers of the 1920s though, and by the 1940s was generally esteemed as a canonical classic.

The Harry Potter novels, by J.K. Rowling (1997–2007) 

Oh.

Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, by August Kleinzahler (April 1, 2008)

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (April 22, 2008)

The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon (May 1, 2008)

Home, by Marilynne Robinson (September 2, 2008)

Fine Just the Way It Is, by Annie Proulx (September 9, 2008)

Scenes From a Provincial Life: Boyhood, Youth, and Summertime, by J.M. Coetzee (1997–2009)

Notes From No Man’s Land, by Eula Biss (February 3, 2009)

Spreadeagle, by Kevin Killian (March 1, 2010)

There are 100 books on this list and somehow The Last Novel, by David Markson (2007) is not one of them.

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart (July 27, 2010)

I genuinely hate this novel.

Seven Years, by Peter Stamm (March 22, 2011)

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes (August 4, 2011)

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (October 25, 2011)

The Gentrification of the Mind, by Sarah Schulman (January 7, 2012)

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (May 1, 2012)

Capital, by John Lanchester (June 11, 2012)

I’ve finally given in and admitted to myself that Haruki Murakami is Not For Me.

The MaddAddam Trilogy (Oryx and CrakeThe Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam), by Margaret Atwood (2003-2013)

MaddAddam wasn’t especially good but Atwood’s first two are pretty good zeitgeisty affairs (and fun quick reads).

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra (May 7, 2013)

Taipei, by Tao Lin (June 4, 2013)

Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward (September 17, 2013)

Family Life, by Akhil Sharma (April 7, 2014)

How to Be Both, by Ali Smith (August 28, 2014)

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James (October 2, 2014)

I’ll admit I’ve stopped reading even the blurbs at this point.

Preparation for the Next Life, by Atticus Lish (November 11, 2014)

A tremendous novel. The sort of thing that if you described the plot to me I’d, like, wave my hand as if to say, “Pass” — but, no, it’s so, so, so very good.

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen (April 7, 2015)

The Light of the World, by Elizabeth Alexander (April 21, 2015)

The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin (2015-2017)

What Belongs to You, by Garth Greenwell (January 19, 2016)

Collected Essays & Memoirs (Library of America edition), by Albert Murray (October 18, 2016)

The Needle’s Eye, by Fanny Howe (November 1, 2016)

Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag (February 7, 2017)

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas (February 28, 2017)

All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg (March 7, 2017)

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir, by Thi Bui (March 7, 2017)

Tell Me How it Ends, by Valeria Luiselli (March 13, 2017)

Priestdaddy, by Patricia Lockwood (May 2, 2017)

Red Clocks, by Leni Zumas (January 16, 2018)

Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday (February 6, 2018)

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson (January 16, 2018)

Johnson’s novel isn’t last on the list—Halliday’s is—(and I don’t think “last” is anything but chronology for the authors near the end of the list)—but I’ve read it and I love it (and it’s another write up from Lorentzen)—but it’s not a canonical work. It’s great, and it somehow manages to match Johnson’s best early stuff, but again—not canonical. Although of course I could be wrong.

What I think is this:

For a while, we’ll see the canon, or The Canon if you prefer—and just as significantly, the idea of a literary canon–increasingly atomized, interrogated, personalized, and deconstructed (and perhaps neglected, at least from an academic standpoint). It doesn’t matter. The work of today’s literary darlings may be the foamy flotsam and jetsam of tomorrow. But of course you’ll be dead—I mean I’ll be dead—what I’m saying is we’ll be dead, so it doesn’t matter. We could pretend to be, like, Stewards of the Canon or something—hope for a cultural continuity (or discontinuity) that preserves (or disrupts) Certain Literary Values (Ours!)—or maybe just accept that reading is a bit of pleasure, a bit of fun, and that we antecede those who will decide, a hundred years from now, what the 21st-century canon really is.

 

List with No Name #61

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A completely subjective and thoroughly unnecessary ranking of Thomas Pynchon’s novels

To date, Thomas Ruggles Pynchon (American, b. 1937), has published eight novels and one collection of short stories. These books were published between 1963 and 2013. On this day, Thomas Ruggles Pynchon’s 81st birthday, I present my ranking of his novels. My ranking is completely subjective, essentially incomplete (in that I haven’t read two of Pynchon’s novels all the way through), and thoroughly unnecessary. My ranking should be disregarded, but I do not think it should be treated with any malice. You are most welcome to make your own ranking in the comments section of this post, or perhaps elsewhere online, or on a scrap of your own paper, or in personal remarks to a friend or loved one, etc. I have not included the short story collection Slow Learner (1984) in this ranking because it is not a novel.

Here is the list, ranked from not-greatest to greatest:

8. Bleeding Edge (2013)

I have never made it past the first thirty pages of Bleeding Edge, despite two attempts. I don’t even own it. I will probably read it in ten years and see something there that I didn’t see in 2013 or 2015 but for now, I’m not sure.

7. Vineland (1990)

Vineland is the other Pynchon novel I haven’t managed to finish. I’ve tried three times, including a semi-serious shot last year where I stalled after the fourth chapter (around 90 pages in). Vineland seems to have a strange status for Pynchon cultists—its a cult novel in an oeuvre of cult novels, I guess. Perhaps Vineland has a sturdier core to it than I can sense, but even though I dig the goofy humor, I haven’t yet found something to grab onto.

6. Inherent Vice (2009)

I love Inherent Vice. It has a bit of a reputation of being “Pynchon lite,” whatever that means, but I think it’s a much denser book than a first reading might suggest—its shaggy baggy breeziness coheres into something stronger on a second or third read. Inherent Vice is both a diagnosis of the sixties and a prognosis of a future to come.

5. V. (1963)

V. makes a good starting place for anyone new to Pynchon. Even though it’s his first novel, V. already stages Pynchon’s major themes (paranoia, technology, entropy, globalism) in an elastic and discursive narrative style and a zany (and sometimes sinister) tone. These elements continued throughout the next half century in Pynchon’s writing. V. shares a few characters with Gravity’s Rainbow, and in many ways it feels like a dress rehearsal for that bigger, grander, fuller novel—but it reverberates with its own richness. The ninth chapter, the story of of Kurt Mondaugen, is a particularly dark and decadent bit of writing.

4. The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

The Crying of Lot 49 doesn’t so much convert paranoia into hope as it shows that the two are part and parcel of the same impulse of a consciousness that has to know that it cannot know. Pynchon’s dualities here feel new—paranoia/hope is wrapped into zaniness/horror. He sends us to escape into the labyrinth. I wrote new in the previous sentence, but Pynchon’s ambiguities resonate with American literature’s dark romantic traditions—Melville, Hawthorne, O’Connor, et al.

3. Against the Day  (2006)

Against the Day glides into its sprawl, billowing out into genre trajectories that transcend the boundaries of the plot’s dates (1893-1918). Pynchon’s longest novel to date earns its 1,085-page run, pivoting between comic fantasy, high adventure, flânerie escapade, scientific treatise, and a byzantine global mystery—all weighed down by the ballast of rising modernism. Pynchon merges these styles, both “high” and “low,” into something thoroughly Pynchonian. Despite its length, Against the Day is perhaps Pynchon’s clearest indictment of sinister power, neatly figured in the oligarch Scarsdale Vibe. Just writing about it here makes me want to revisit it again and check in on The Chums of Chance and their marvelous airship The Inconvenience. 

2. Mason & Dixon (1997)

Pynchon’s zany/sinister tonal axis, comic bravado, and genre-shifting modes rarely result in what folks narrowly think of as literary realism. His characters can be elastic, cartoonish even—allegorical sometimes (and even grotesque). Mason & Dixon takes two historically real (and historically famous) characters as its subject, and, in a wonderfully hyperbolic 18th-century style, takes the duo on a fantastic journey to measure the world. How does one measure the world though? Pynchon takes on seemingly every subject under the sun in Mason & Dixon, and the novel is very much about the problems and limitations of measuring (and describing, and knowing) itself. But what comes through most strongly in all of Pynchon’s fantasia is the weight of Mason and Dixon’s friendship. It’s the most real thing in a wonderfully unreal novel.

1. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

Gravity’s Rainbow is probably the best American postmodern novel ever produced. In any case, I haven’t read another novel that so acutely dissects postwar America. Pynchon extends Eisenhower’s warning of the “military-industrial complex” by adding another element: entertainment. The intuition here surpasses prescience. The problem with Gravity’s Rainbow is that it cannot be read—it has to be reread. Its themes, motifs, and symbols are easy to miss on a first pass through, when you’re likely bugeyed and bewildered. Rereading Gravity’s Rainbow is like reading it for the first time. You have to let the book teach you how to read it. Let it teach you.

“The 27 Depravities” — Don DeLillo

Every day made her more certain of my various failings. I compiled a mental list, which I often recited aloud to her, asking how accurate it was in reflecting her grievances. This was my chief weapon of the period. She hated the feeling that someone knew her mind.

1.      Self-satisfied.

2.      Uncommitted.

3.      Willing to settle.

4.      Willing to sit and stare, conserving yourself for some end-of-life event, like God’s face or the squaring of the circle.

5.      You like to advertise yourself as refreshingly sane and healthy in a world of driven neurotics. You make a major production of being undriven.

6.      You pretend.

7.      You pretend not to understand other people’s motives.

8.      You pretend to be even-tempered. You feel it gives you a moral and intellectual advantage. You are always looking for an advantage.

9.      You don’t see anything beyond your own modest contentment. We all live on the ocean swell of your well-being. Everything else is trivial and distracting, or monumental and distracting, and only an unsporting wife or child would lodge a protest against your teensy weensy happiness.

10.   You think being a husband and father is a form of Hitlerism and you shrink from it. Authority makes you uneasy, doesn’t it? You draw back from anything that resembles an official capacity.

11.   You don’t allow yourself the full pleasure of things.

12.   You keep studying your son for clues to your own nature.

13.   You admire your wife too much and talk about it too much. Admiration is your public stance, a form of self-protection if I read it correctly.

14.   Gratified by your own feelings of jealousy.

15.   Politically neuter.

16.   Eager to believe the worst.

17.   You will defer to others, you will be acutely sensitive to the feelings of strangers, but you will contrive to misunderstand your family. We make you wonder if you are the outsider in this group.

18.   You have trouble sleeping, an attempt to gain my sympathy.

19.   You sneeze in books.

20.   You have an eye for your friends’ wives. Your wife’s friends. Somewhat speculative, somewhat detached.

21.   You go to extremes to keep your small mean feelings hidden. Only in arguments do they appear. Completing your revenge. Hiding it even from yourself at times. Not willing to be seen taking your small mean everyday revenge on me, which, granted, I have sometimes abundantly earned. Pretending your revenge is a misinterpretation on my part, a misunderstanding, some kind of accident.

22.   You contain your love. You feel it but don’t like to show it. When you do show it, it is the result of some long drawn-out decision making process, isn’t it, you bastard.

23.   Nurser of small hurts.

24.   Whiskey sipper.

25.   Underachiever.

26.   Reluctant adulterer.

27.   American.

We came to refer to these as the 27 Depravities, like some reckoning of hollow-cheeked church theologians. Since then I’ve sometimes had to remind myself it was my list, not hers.

From Don DeLillo’s novel The Names.

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