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.

Thomas Pynchon beats J.G. Ballard to win the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers

2020-03-31_183554

Thomas Pynchon beat out J.G. Ballard, earning 61% of 337 votes of my totally-scientific and not-at-all arbitrary twitter poll to become the Champion of the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers. Mr. Pynchon’s trophy is at Biblioklept World Headquarters here in Florida. After this whole quarantine business is over I’m sure he’ll arrange to pick it up.

My gut feeling is that the people who follow me on twitter are skewed toward Pynchon more than Ballard. Either of the pair could have taken the prize and I’d have been happy.

FG2744-3-14a

J.G. Ballard described the late twentieth century as good as anyone, and anticipated almost every aspect of our zeitgeist. The dude not only understood the intersection of commerce and politics and sex and art, but he could convey it in wild (and wildly-entertaining, forgive the cliche) stories and novels of the blackest and bleakest humor. There are any number of great starting places for Ballard, but if you haven’t read him yet, I’d recommend High-Rise or Concrete Island before jumping into the more challenging Crash. Then: The Atrocity Exhibition, the earlier novels (1962’s The Drowned World is particularly prescient) and the early stories of Vermilion Sands. Actually, if you can get a hold of The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard, go for it. (I riffed on reading all the stories back in 2014.) I don’t recommend starting with the later novels—Ballard’s descriptions are so prescient that there’s this weird drop off in quality when reality catches up to him. In the meantime, why not read “The Secret Autobiography of  J G B”? (It was composed in 1981 but published in 2009; it took autofiction a few decades to catch up with the Notorious JGB.) Ballard is great.

Thomas Pynchon’s novels are famously byzantine, shaggy, esoteric, and paranoid. He captures both the zaniness and the menace of our zeitgeist. His protagonists are often straight figures who go crooked, insiders pushed to the outside through maladventure and adventure alike. Pynchon places a premium on the underdog who resists the Them—the technocracy, the war machine, the military-industrial-entertainment complex. His most famous (and probably best) novel Gravity’s Rainbow is an indictment of war and capitalism; although it’s set in WW2, it also addresses itself, ultimately, to that war’s hangover and the Nixonian evil contemporary with its publication. Pynchon’s loose California trilogy—The Crying of Lot 49Vineland, and Inherent Vice—document, describe, and deconstruct the myth of the American cultural revolution of the 1960s. Pynchon’s “historical novels,” Mason & Dixon and Against the Day are probably my favorites. Both analyze American history as a series of strange mistakes, big blunders, and minor foibles. His longest (and strangely, most accessible) novel Against the Day is also his clearest attack on the nebulous Them who oppose freedom, progress, and, ultimately, love. The humor and intelligence of Pynchon’s writing often softens the core anger of his work, an anger directed at the invisible forces that cry out, to steal from the Dead Kennedys, “Give me convenience or give me death!” He is a national treasure and I hope he lives forever—which he will, through his works.

Finally: I hope that everyone who participated in this thing had (at least the tiniest of sliver of) fun. I don’t think pitting writers against each other has anything to do with literature. I missed college basketball in March, so this is what I did. It also helped me drift off into other places for a while. Ballard is gone but I would love to read his quarantine novel. And I’ll read anything else we get from Pynchon.

Peace to all.

 

 

Final Round: The 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers)

zeitgeisty

 

What’s there to say?

We’ve hit the final round of the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers.

Top-seeded Aldous Huxley fell to number five seed J.G. Ballad in a match that was never close for a second.

The stranger and more divisive match, at least for my metaphorical money, was between Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy.

Pynchon’s comic zaniness beat out McCarthy’s wryer apocalypticism (or maybe just more people on Twitter dig Pynchon).

I hope everyone had dumb stupid distracting fun with all of this.

 

The Armageddon Eight (Round Four match-ups and Round Three results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers)

The results of the Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen of the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers are in.

Round Three had some really tight match-ups. Dark horse José Saramago, whom I seeded 59 of the initial 64 writers, was neck-and-neck with recent Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, but surged near the end of the poll to win.

Ursula K. LeGuin also ran a tight race against Kurt Vonnegut before edging him out:

Philip K. Dick was competitive against Don DeLillo, but never got out ahead. My gut feeling is that PKD might’ve advanced if he’d ended up against someone else, but I guess the same is true of most of these brackets.

After initially trailing for a few hours in the poll, Aldous Huxley surged past Angela Carter, who never caught up again.

Yvegny Zamyatin kept it close with Margaret Atwood, but never took the lead on her.

Three of the match-ups were decisive victories. J.G. Ballard beat William Gibson by a healthy margin, Tommy Pynchon bested DFW, and Cormac McCarthy came out strong over George Orwell.

Here are the results of the Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen, as well as the match-ups for Round Four, the Elite Armageddon Eight:

Screenshot 2020-03-28 at 2.02.28 PMScreenshot 2020-03-28 at 2.02.41 PMScreenshot 2020-03-28 at 2.03.11 PMScreenshot 2020-03-28 at 2.03.34 PM

For me, the most interesting match-up is going to be Pyncon vs. DeLillo.

As always, this is only meant to be dumb distracting fun.

Full twitter poll results:

Continue reading “The Armageddon Eight (Round Four match-ups and Round Three results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers)”

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:

Screenshot 2020-03-26 at 8.10.51 PMScreenshot 2020-03-26 at 8.11.15 PMScreenshot 2020-03-26 at 8.11.29 PMScreenshot 2020-03-26 at 8.11.43 PMScreenshot 2020-03-26 at 8.12.07 PM

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:

Screenshot 2020-03-25 at 9.49.34 AMScreenshot 2020-03-25 at 9.49.51 AMScreenshot 2020-03-25 at 9.50.16 AMScreenshot 2020-03-25 at 9.50.29 AM

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”

“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.

Screenshot 2020-02-12 at 7.55.04 PM

Annotations on a probably incomplete list of books I read or reread in full in 2019

img_4664

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, Angela Carter

Deeply horny and deeply deprave. Hoffman sprints along with an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire energy. It’s a picaresque adventure with narrator Desiderio taking on titular mad scientist Hoffman and his war against reality. Wild shit happens and each chapter feels like it could stand on its own as a short story. I loved it. Someone could make a fantastic video game out of The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.

 Letters, Dreams & Other Writings, Remedios Varo (translation by Margaret Carson)

Interviewing Margaret Carson was an early highlight of 2019 for me. We talked about Varo’s letters and other writings (dreams!), and she brought up Roberto Bolaño and Thomas Pynchon, which is like, golden for me.

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin (translation by Clarence Brown)

I absolutely loved Clarence Brown’s 1993 translation of Zamyatin’s We. From my review:

Set millennia in the future, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 dystopian novel We tells the story of a man whose sense of self shatters when he realizes he can no longer conform to the ideology of his totalitarian government. Zamyatin’s novel is a zany, prescient, poetic tale about resisting the forces of tyranny, conformity, and brute, unimaginative groupthink.Set millennia in the future, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 dystopian novel We tells the story of a man whose sense of self shatters when he realizes he can no longer conform to the ideology of his totalitarian government. Zamyatin’s novel is a zany, prescient, poetic tale about resisting the forces of tyranny, conformity, and brute, unimaginative groupthink.

Origin of the Brunists, Robert Coover

Probably the best opening chapters I’ve ever read in a novel that fails deliver after the first 100 or so pages. Coover turns it up to 11—the second chapter of Origin, describing a mine’s implosion, is some of the best stuff I’ve ever read, but the next 400 pages of the disaster’s fallout is a rhetorical trudge.

The Spirit of Science Fiction, Roberto  Bolaño (translation by Natasha Wimmer)

For completists only. A dress rehearsal for The Savage Detectives. I wrote about it here.

Evening in Paradise, Lucia Berlin

Fucking loved it, didn’t I.

Taking Care, Joy Williams

Williams’ early collection contains at least three perfect short stories.

No!, Leslie Fiedler

Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel is extremely important to how I think about American literature. No! is not nearly as good.

A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, Anne Boyer

How serendipitous that Boyer’s collection of essays begins with a wonderful essay called “No.” Good stuff.

Kingdom, Jon McNaught

I reviewed it at The Comics Journal, writing,

Not much happens in Jon McNaught’s latest graphic novel Kingdom. A mother takes her son and daughter to Kingdom Fields Holiday Park, a vacation lodge on the British coast. There, they watch television, go to a run-down museum, play on the beach, walk the hills, and visit an old aunt. Then they go home. There is no climactic event, no terrible trial to endure. There is no crisis, no trauma. And yet it’s clear that the holiday in Kingdom Fields will remain forever with the children, embedded into their consciousness as a series of strange aesthetic impressions. Not much happens in Kingdom, but what does happen feels vital and real.

,before going on to riff on John Berryman’s fourteenth Dream Song  a bit.

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

I mean like I guess I didn’t really think it was that good?

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James

Well I fucking loved it didn’t I?

Marlon James’s novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a postmodern fantasy that takes place in medieval sub-Saharan Africa. Set against the backdrop of two warring states, the North Kingdom and the South Kingdom, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the story—or stories, really—of Tracker, a man “with a nose” who can track down pretty much anyone (as long as he’s got the scent).

The central quest of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is for Tracker to find and recover a missing child of great importance. An explanation of exactly how and why the child is so important is deferred repeatedly; indeed, James’s novel is as much a detective story as it is a fantasy. In his detective-quest, Tracker partners with a number of strange allies: a talkative giant (who tells us repeatedly that he is not a giant), an anti-witch who places charms on Tracker, a duplicitous Moon Witch, a skin-shedding warrior-spy, a sandy-colored soldier from an alien land, a surly archer, a very smart buffalo, and more, more, more.

Berg, Ann Quin

Maybe the best novel I read this year.

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

Did these on audiobook and loved them. The first in this tetraology, The Shadow of the Torturer was probably my favorite, but the best scene in the whole deal is in the third book, The Sword of the Lictor, when the protagonist Severian fights this were-bear thing called the Alzabo—a slow, protracted battle scene based more on strategy and tactics than on brute force.

Vineland, Thomas Pynchon

I love Thomas Pynchon but Vineland is not his best book, or his second- or third- or fourth-best book (etc.). Has a perfect paragraph nevertheless.

Don Quixote, Kathy Acker

I dig that wild gross stuff what can I say.

Slave Old Man, Patrick Chamoiseau (translation by Linda Coverdale)

Superb.

The Love Bunglers, Jaime Hernandez

–and–

Is This How You See Me?, Jaime Hernandez

I reread The Love Bunglers to review Is This How You See Me? at The Comics Journal. From my review:

Can you ever really go home again?

This is the central question of Jaime Hernandez’s Is This How You See Me? Collecting serialized comics from the past five years into a cohesive graphic novel, Is This How You See Me? is a moving tale of friendship, aging, and how the past shapes how we see the present.

Border Districts, Gerald Murnane

Great stuff.

Letters of William Gaddis, ed. Steven Moore

“Lonely cows on the highway appeared as splendid Baracuda, and the dismally soaked Spanish moss luxuriant submarine vetch,” Gaddis writes his mother, in 1947, describing leaving rainy New Orleans. All the best letters are to his sweet mama, even the many many ones asking for money. God rest Mama Gaddis’s soul.

Optic Nerve, Maria Gainza (translation by Thomas Bunstead)

Maybe it was the time of year, maybe it was because I had to rush before returning the book to the library. I thought Optic Nerve was nice post-Sebald thing, but it never zapped me.

The Unmapped Country, Ann Quin

Good stuff, good experiments, not Berg.

Ice, Anna Kavan

This book is imperfectly perfect. I wish I’d read it years ago but I’m glad I read it this year. More here. (I fucking loved Ice.)

Geometry in the Dust, Pierre Senges (translation by Jacob Siefring)

More Senges please.

Milkman, Anna Burns

Is good

Milkman is a maybe-horror, but also a maybe-comedy (it even ends in a maybe-laugh), and like many strong works that showcase the intense relationship between horror and comedy (Kafka, BrazilThe King of Comedy, “Young Goodman Brown,” Twin Peaks, Goya, Bolaño, Get OutCandideCurb Your EnthusiasmFunny Games, etc.)—like many strong works that showcase the intense relationship between horror and comedy, Milkman exists in a weird maybe-space, a queasy wonderful freaky upsetting maybe-space that, in its finest moments, makes us look at something we thought we might have understood in a wholly new way.  Highly recommended.

A Little Lumpen Novelita, Roberto Bolaño (translation by Natasha Wimmer)

A Little Long Short Story by dipped out of the bottom of the Bolaño barrel.

Tears of the Trufflepig, Fernando A. Flores

This review piqued my interest in Flores’s alternate timeline border novel. The novel’s premise was good, but the prose seemed uninspired.

Norwood, Charles Portis

The Dog of the South, Charles Portis

Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis

True Grit, Charles Portis

I read Norwood this summer and then promptly picked up everything I could by Portis. Can’t believe I haven’t read him until now. I wrote about his novels in a post here. I’m saving Gringos for later.

The Corner That Held Them, Sylvia Warner Townsend

I never would’ve thought an epic story about a backwater nunnery could be so good. More Townsend in 2020.

Rusty Brown, Chris Ware

One of the best novels I read this year. From my review at The Comics Journal

Rusty Brown, Ware’s latest novel (or, more precisely, novel-in-progress) strengthens the argument that Ware is a Serious American Novelist, one who deserves a large crossover audience. Like Jimmy Corrigan and Building StoriesRusty Brown has a central primary setting, a small private school in Nebraska. And like those novels, Rusty Brown comprises material (lightly reworked) from Ware’s Acme Novelty Library series (issues 16, 17, 19, and 20, specifically). The cast here is much larger and the themes are arguably more ambitious though.

Rusty Brown is a sprawling story about memory and perception, about minor triumphs and chronic failures, about how our inner monologues might not match up to the reality around us. In Ware’s world, life can be blurry, spotty, fragmented. His characters are so bound up in their own consciousnesses that they cannot see the bigger picture that frames them.

In the Time of the Blue Ball, Manuela Draeger (translation by Brian Evenson and Valerie Evenson)

I read In the Time of the Blue Ball in two quick sittings. Draeger is one of French author Antoine Valodine’s pseudonyms, but I had forgotten that when I picked it up. It was a Dorothy Project title, and it looked neat, so I got it. Draeger is also one of Volodine’s recurring characters, a concentration camp librarian who invents tales for the camp’s children. The three stories in Blue Ball are whimsical with a dark edge, an edge perhaps provided if one know more of Volodine’s project (encapsulated neatly in Writers). The Draeger stories focus on a detective named Bobby Potemkine and his dog Djinn, and they are lovely.

Rat Time, Keiler Roberts

I loved Rat Time! In my review, I wrote,

Rat Time, like any good autobiography, is crammed with life, brimming with vivid moments that feel authentic and real. Often funny and sometimes painful, Roberts’ book is sweet without sentimentality, sour without caustic meanness, and generous to both its subjects and its readers. Highly recommended.

Negrophobia, Darius James

I had never heard of Negrophobia. I found it in a used bookstore next to something else. The title intrigued me (not to mention the NYRB imprint), and blurbs from Kathy Acker, Paul Beatty, and Kara Walker sold me on it. Negrophobia, first published in 1992, is ugly, hilarious, abject, and gritty, a deep comic dive into American racism and the ways that massculture and urban living propagate and feed off of racism. NYRB’s blurb rightfully compares the novel to the work of William S. Burroughs and Ishmael Reed, but, in its hallucinatory film script form (an apocalyptic angles), it also recalls Aldous Huxley’s overlooked novel Ape in Essence.

Actual Air, David Berman

I wish David Berman were still alive.

The Doomed City, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky  (translation by Andrew Bromfield)

A baggy, abject, Kafkaesque riff on a utopian project’s dystopian turn, The Doomed City was not my favorite Strugatsky jam, but it was pretty good.

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

I made a huge mistake by not reading Shirley Jackson earlier. I think I just associated her with that story we all have to read in like eighth grade, and never went back. Anyway. Hill House has a perfect opening (I riffed on the opening here):

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Döblin (translation by Michael Hofmann)

“Unbe-fucking-lievable”

A Mistake, Carl Shuker

I enjoyed Carl Shuker’s slim novel A Mistake. Set in Wellington, New Zealand, A Mistake is the story of Elizabeth Taylor, the only female surgeon at her hospital. Shuker’s novel reads in some ways as a critique of neoliberalism’s attempt to quantify every aspect of medical care. The novel is set against “the minister’s mistake,” a plan to publicize each surgeon’s results. And at the beginning of the novel, well, there’s a mistake, one which Elizabeth is involved with. Although the blurb describes A Mistake as a “procedural thriller,” I found it closer to a character study of an outsider who finds herself increasingly alienated by her peers and friends alike. Shuker conveys his hero edging into paranoia and depression in sharp, precise prose which occasionally recalls Don DeLillo.

The Undying, Anne Boyer

An aphoristic memoir-essay, The Undying is a discursive dive into Boyer’s diagnosis of, treatment of, and recovery from breast cancer. It’s an angry, smart book, with little bursts of mean humor, and it rips apart the ways that neoliberal late capitalism have made health care inhuman and inhumane.

Sports Is Hell, Ben Passmore

Sports Is Hell is a send-up of American massculture that simultaneously stings and enlivens its reader. The novel takes place during the aftermath of a Super Bowl featuring a Kaepernickesque (Kaepernesque?) star player. The Big Game devolves into a Big Riot, with its heroes fighting their way through the madness—think Walter Hill’s film The Warriors by way of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat.

The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Why did I wait so long to read The Sellout?

Falstaff: An Apotheosis, Pierre Senges (translation by Jacob Siefring)

This chapbook is wonderful riff on Henry IV Part I, V.iv—the part where Falstaff flops on the battlefield, faking his death in an act of cowardly heroism.

Juice!, Ishmael Reed

I wrote about Juice! here.

Flight to Canada, Ishmael Reed

I bought myself a signed first-edition hardback copy of Flight to Canada on the internet. It was like 12 bucks. I’m actually not quite finished with it, to be honest–but I’m drafting this post from the past (it’s 14:08 on 31 Dec. 2019 as I type)–but I’ve only got like fifty more pages, so I think I can get it done.

Happy 2020 to all of you!

Three Books (that were my favorite books published by indie presses in 2019)

2019-12-30_150344_1

Berg by Ann Quin. 2019 trade paperback (advanced reader proof) from And Other Stories. No designer credited on the advanced reader proof, but the cover photograph (of Ann Quin) is by Oswald Jones. The designer credited with the final version of the cover is Edward Bettison.

Berg might have been my favorite reading experience of 2019. Who can resist an opening sentence like this one?

A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father…

Every other sentence in the book is great as well. I read Berg in a grimy haze, the last little bit of our brief Florida spring burning off into an early muggy summer. I will likely always think of Berg as part of a strange trilogy I read in 2019, the first book in a series that led (how?) to Anna Kavan’s Ice and concluded (how?) with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

From my review of Berg:

Read the book. There’s nothing I can do in this review that approaches the feeling of reading Ann Quin’s Berg. I can make lame comparisons, saying that it reminds me of James Joyce’s Ulysses (in its evocations of loose consciousness), or David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (in its oedipal voyeuristic griminess), or Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (for its surreal humor and dense claustrophobia). Or I can point out how ahead of her time Quin was, how Berg bridges modernism to postmodernism while simply not giving a fuck about silly terms like modernism and postmodernism.

2019-12-30_150344

Lord by João Gilberto Noll in English translation by Edgar Garbelotto. 2019 trade paperback from Two Lines Press. Cover design by Gabriele Wilson using a photograph by Jeff Cottenden.

Reading Lord is a bit like dreaming through a fever, a fever that you’ve tried to subdue with a mix of over-the-counter night-time syrup and strong black coffee: get them down the gullet and let them fight it out in your nervously nervous system. From my review of Lord:

João Gilberto Noll’s short novel Lord is an abject and surreal tale of madness. Madness is perhaps not the correct term, although it does point towards Lord’s gothic and abject modes. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that in Lord, Noll gives us a consciousness dissolving and reconstituting itself, a first-person voice shifting from one reality to the next with absurdly picaresque energy.

2019-12-30_150344_2

Geometry in the Dust by Pierre Senges with accompanying illustrations by Killoffer. English translation by Jacob Siefring. 2019 trade paperback from Inside the Castle. Cover design by Jon Trefry, adapting the original 2004 French edition from Verticales. The cover art may or may not be by Killoffer.

From my review of Geometry in the Dust:

Senges’ prose in Geometry is syntactically thick. Sentences, like alleys in a strange city, begin in one place and end up somewhere quite different. The interposition of jostling clauses might cause a reader to lose the subject, to drop the thread or diverge from the path (or pick your metaphor). The effect is sometimes profound, with our narrator arriving at some strange philosophical insight after piling clause upon clause that connects the original subject with something utterly outlandish. And sometimes, the effect is bathetic. In one such example, the narrator, instructing his sovereign on the proper modes of religious observance in the city, moves from a description of the ideal confessional to an evocation of Limbourg’s hell to the necessity of being able grasp a peanut between two fingers. The comical effect is not so much punctured as understood anew though when Senges’ narrator returns to the peanut as a central metaphor for the scope of a city (“there are roughly as many men in the city as peanuts in the city’s bowls”), a metaphor that he extends in clause after clause leading to an invocation of “Hop o’ my Thumb’s pebbles,” a reference to Charles Perrault fairy tale about a boy who uses riverstones to find his way home after having been abandoned in the woods by his parents.

What is the path through Geometry in the Dust? The inset notes, as you can see in the image above, also challenge the reader’s eye, as do the twin columns, so rare in contemporary novels.

Three Books (that were my favorite books I read in 2019 that were published in the 2010s (or whatever we’re calling this stupid decade))

As I mentioned in my last “Three Books” post (on the books I enjoyed the most that I read in 2019 that were actually published in 2019), I don’t read too much recent fiction. I find the idea of making a list of the best novels of this decade (by which I mean 2010-2019, knowing full well that many folks argue that this decade is in fact 2011-2020) impossible, both because most of the novels that I read this decade were published in the last century or earlier. (I made some remarks on a premature canon late last year.)

Here are three books published this decade that I read this year and enjoyed very much.

2019-12-27_145844

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane. 2017 hardback from FS&G. Cover design by Sarahmay Wilkinson with art by Gregory Reid.

I read Murnane’s late novel, or “fiction,” over the course of three mornings, and then reread it, or most of it, in two afternoons.  Border Districts is a compelling meditation on seeing and trying to see what can’t be seen. Like much of Murnane’s oeuvre, the autofiction explores the intersections of place, memory, and image, as our hero susses colors and forms, awaiting an epiphany. Border Districts is thematically and rhetorically precise, unspooling as a series of deferrals that lead back to their opening or aesthetic source. A perfect starting place for Murnane.

2019-12-27_145844_2

Milkman by Anna Burns. 2018 hardback from Faber & Faber. Cover design by Luke Bird using an image by Patrick Cullen.

I loved Milkman, despite its winning a major fiction prize. From my review:

Milkman is a maybe-horror, but also a maybe-comedy (it even ends in a maybe-laugh), and like many strong works that showcase the intense relationship between horror and comedy (Kafka, BrazilThe King of Comedy, “Young Goodman Brown,” Twin Peaks, Goya, Bolaño, Get OutCandideCurb Your EnthusiasmFunny Games, etc.)—like many strong works that showcase the intense relationship between horror and comedy, Milkman exists in a weird maybe-space, a queasy wonderful freaky upsetting maybe-space that, in its finest moments, makes us look at something we thought we might have understood in a wholly new way.  Highly recommended.

2019-12-27_145844_1

The Sellout Paul Beatty. 2016 trade paperback from Picador. Cover design by Rodrigo Corral with a cover illustration by Matt Buck.

I loved The Sellout, despite its winning a major fiction prize. Kinetic, ecstatic, angry, and zany, Beatty’s hit novel satirizes the very notion of a postracial America. In the novel’s chapter penultimate—part of a denouement, not a climax—our narrator and his girlfriend attend an open-mic night at a “black L.A.” comedy club. A white couple–the only white folks in the place—show up late to the set, sit “front and center” and laughed and “snickered knowingly like they’d been black all their lives.” The performer–a “traffic-court jester,” in Beatty’s parlance, demands, “What the fuck you honkies laughing at?” before telling them to “Get the fuck out!” Why? “This is our thing!”

The narrator ends the vignette:

When I think about that night, the black comedian chasing the white couple into the night, their tails and assumed histories between their legs, I don’t think about right or wrong. No, when my thoughts go back to that evening, I think about my own silence. Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it’s fear. I guess that’s why I’m so quiet…It’s because I’m always afraid. Afraid of what I might say. What promises and threats I might make and have to keep. That’s what I liked about the man, although I didn’t agree with him when he said, “Get out. This is our thing.” I respected that he didn’t give a fuck. But I wish I hadn’t been so scared, that I had had the nerve to stand in protest. Not to castigate him for what or to stick up for the aggrieved white people. After all, they could’ve stood up for themselves, called in the authorities or their God, and smote everybody in the place, but I wish I’d stood up to the man and asked him a question: “So what exactly is our thing?”

As a white auditor of Beatty’s comic novel, I found this particular moment particularly heavy. I’m not exactly sure how to unpack it, or if it’s even my place to unpack it, but maybe I’ll have more thoughts when I read it again. Highly recommended.

My entry in The Comics Journal’s “Best Comics of 2019” article

krazykat

The Comics Journal’s lengthy write up of “The Best Comics of 2019” is up. Here’s my entry:

I’m reading Ishmael Reed’s 2011 novel Juice! right now. The narrator, a version of Reed, is a cartoonist whose comix on the O.J. Simpson case cost him his career and family. It’s not a comic, but it’s comic, and I love it.

Reed and Reed’s narrator repeatedly evoke George Herriman’s Krazy Kat strips, and I’ve returned to their slapstick surreal ebullience. There’s an ecstatic nihilism to Krazy Kat (or do I mean nihilistic ecstasy?), a radical absurdity that seems to both diagnose and describe Our Big Dumb Zeitgeist of 2019 in the most perfectly oblique way. The strip’s (il)logic runs on a strange Dada engine, crashing into both sensibility and decorum. It’s a wonderful anarchist romp. I have no idea if there was some new Krazy Kat compendium that came out in 2019, but Herriman’s strip is the best critique of 2019 I can think of. (Also: Read more Ishmael Reed.)

Speaking of: Drew Lerman’s collection Snake Creek reverberates with the spirit of Krazy Kat mixed and mushed with the apocalypse ghost swamp of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, along with tinges of Garfield Goes Total Nihilist. (Who am I kidding? Garfield was always a total nihilist.) Lerman’s shaky strips approximate our own shaky days and shaky daze, evoking a Florida fit to sink into its own wild psychosphere.

Chris Ware’s novel Rusty Brown is a fucking masterpiece. 

I loved Rat Time by Keiler Roberts. I missed one of my nephew’s baseball games because I started reading it one Saturday morning and then lied about having to do something work-related—like an emergency—because I wanted to finish up Rat Time instead. It made me feel Warm (& Fuzzy), despite how dry Roberts’ humor is. (Desiccant dry, folks.) Roberts’ autofiction is utterly real.

The collective of folks at The Perry Bible Fellowship continue to make good comics.

I also really admired Ben Passmore’s comic Sports Is Hell, a send-up of American massculture that simultaneously stings and enlivens its reader. The novel takes place during the aftermath of a Super Bowl featuring a Kaepernickesque (Kaepernesque?) star player. The Big Game devolves into a Big Riot, with its heroes fighting their way through the madness—think Walter Hill’s film The Warriors by way of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. I hope Ishmael Reed will read it.

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)

List of smutty-sounding Moby-Dick chapters

The Spouter-Inn.

A Bosom Friend.

Nightgown.

Wheelbarrow.

The Mast-Head.

Moby Dick.

The First Lowering.

The Spirit-Spout.

The Gam.

The Town-Ho’s Story.

Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales.

The Dart.

The Crotch.

Cutting In.

The Battering-Ram.

The Nut.

The Pequod Meets The Virgin.

Pitchpoling.

The Fountain.

The Tail.

Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish.

Heads or Tails.

The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud.

A Squeeze of the Hand.

Leg and Arm.

The Needle.

The Log and Line.

The Cabin.

The Pequod Meets The Delight.

The Chase.

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

tumblr_pkia4f9hzi1u3qyk4o1_1280

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

img_2002

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)