grammies, etc.

Happy New Year! // Some books I’ll try to read/re-read in 2021

Happy New Year!

Time for the cliched “Stuff I May or May Not Read This Year” post!

Bottom to top–

A Frolic of His Own is the only Gaddis I haven’t read. I read the first fifty or so pages a few years ago, but got distracted with something else.

I haven’t re-read Moby-Dick in a few years, but I found myself sifting through it a bit at the end of 2020. Time for a re-read, sooner than later.

I’ll continue the Walker Percy reading with The Last Gentleman.

I actually finished Chester Himes’s The Real Cool Killers about 45 minutes ago—it’s a wonderful mix of breezy brutality and brutal humor. This one had an unexpectedly sweet ending. More Himes in 2021.

I’ve been reading through Anakana Schofield’s novel in “warnings,” Bina, and I really dig it so far—very different stuff. It reminds me a bit of Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond or Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai or David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, but also unlike those things.

I read a bunch of Muriel Spark in 2020 and I aim to read more in 2021. The ones I have (unread) by her are Robinson and A Far Cry from Kensington.

I also look forward to Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s short novel Fra Keeler as well.

I hope this year is better for all of us than the last one. Peace and love &c.

Annotations on a list of books I read in full in 2020

2d27b454-7e45-4ffc-8faf-1c2ba9bda56a


Flight to Canada, Ishmael Reed

A frenetic, zany achronological satire of the American Civil War. I wrote about it here.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

Jackson gives us a quasi-idyllic-but-also-dystopian world delivered through narrator Merricat, an insane witch whom I adored. Merricat hates with beautiful intensity. The novel’s premise, prose, and mood are more important than its plot, which is littered with trapdoors, smoke and mirrors, and gestures toward some kind of greater gothic paranoia. It’s a slim novel that feels like 300 pages of exposition have been cut away, leaving only mystery, aporia, ghostly traces of maybe-answers.

Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake

The first of Mervyn Peake’s strange castle (and then not-castle trilogy (not really a trilogy, really)), Titus Groan is weird wonderful grotesque fun. Inspirited by the Machiavellian antagonist Steerpike, Titus Groan can be read as a critique of the empty rituals that underwrite modern life. It can also be read for pleasure alone.

926 Years, Tristan Foster and Kyle Coma-Thompson

The blurb on the back of 926 Years describes the book as “twenty-two linked stories,” but it read it not so much as a collection of connected tales, but rather as a kind of successful experimental novel, a novel that subtly and reflexively signals back to its own collaborative origin. My review is here.

Anasazi, Mike McCubbins and Matt Bryan

One of the best books I read (and reread) all year. The joy of Anasazi is sinking into its rich, alien world, sussing out meaning from image, color, and glyphs. This graphic novel has its own grammar. Bryan and McCubbins conjure a world reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels, Charles Burns’ Last Look trilogy, Kipling’s Mowgli stories, as well as the fantasies of Jean Giraud.

Machines in the Head, Anna Kavan

I have a longish review here.

Machines in the Head was the first book I was able to write about after the onset of the Great Quarantine of 2020.

Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake

Probably the best novel in Peake’s trilogy, Gormenghast is notable for its psychological realism, surreal claustrophobia, and bursts of fantastical imagery. We finally get to know Titus, who is a mute infant in the first novel, and track his insolent war against tradition and Steerpike. The novel’s apocalyptic diluvian climax is amazing.

Gringos, Charles Portis

Gringos was the last of Portis’s five novels. I read the other four greedily last year, and pulled them all out when he passed away in February. I started in on Gringos, casually, then just kept reading. Sweet and cynical, spiked with strange heroism, strange grace, and very, very funny, Gringos might just be my favorite Portis novel. But I’d have to read them all again to figure that out.

Titus Alone, Mervyn Peake

A beautiful mess, an episodic, picaresque adventure that breaks all the apparent rules of the first two books. The rulebreaking is fitting though, given that Our Boy Titus (alone!) navigates the world outside of Gormenghast—a world that doesn’t seem to even understand that a Gormenghast exists (!)—Titus Alone is a scattershot epic. Shot-through with a heavy streak of Dickens, Titus Alone never slows down enough for readers to get their bearings. Or to get bored. There’s a melancholy undercurrent to the novel. Does Titus want to get back to his normal—to tradition and the meaningless lore and order that underwrote his castle existence? Or does he want to break quarantine? 

The Wig, Charles Wright

Hilarious stuff. I read most of it on a houseboat in Jekyll Island, right before lockdown.

Nog, Rudolph Wurlitzer

 Rudolph Wurlitzer’s 1969 cult novel Nog is druggy, abject, gross, and shot-through with surreal despair, a Beat ride across the USA. Wurlitzter’s debut novel is told in a first-person that constantly deconstructs itself, then reconstructs itself, then wanders out into a situation that atomizes that self again.

I should’ve loved it, but I didn’t.

I reviewed it here.

Herman Melville, Elizabeth Hardwick

Typee, Herman Melville

Like a lot of people I was going out of my mind in April of 2020. Elizabeth Hardwick’s lit-crit bio of Melville isn’t necessarily great, but she does work in big fat slices of his texts, making it a kind of comfort read. It also led me to read Typee for the first time, a horny and good novel.

Fade Out, Rudolph Wurlitzer

I liked it more than Nog and wrote about it here.

Welcome Home, Lucia Berlin

A slight and unfinished collection of memoir-slices that will appeal to those already familiar with Berlin’s autofiction.

Reckless Eyeballing, Ishmael Reed

Reed’s 1986 novel skewers Reaganism, but there’s a marked shift from the surreal elastic slapstick anger of Reed’s earlier novels (like 1972’s Mumbo Jumbo). That elastick anger starts to harden into something far more bitter, harder to chew on.

Lake of Urine, Guillermo Stitch

A very weird book. I felt awful that I could never muster a proper review of it. Weird book, indie press, all that. I felt less bad when Dwight Garner praised it in The New York Times. What is Lake of Urine? That was my trouble in reviewing it. The plot is, uh, wild, to say the least. Zany, elastic, slapstick, and often surreal, Stitch’s novel is all over the place. He seems to do whatever he wants on each page with a zealous energy that’s difficult to describe. Great stuff.

Mr. Pye, Mervyn Peake

I recall enjoying it but thinking, Oh, this isn’t Gormenghast stuff.

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon

I wrote about it here. What may end up being the last Pynchon novel was also the last one I read. It turned out to be much, much better than I thought it would be. It also made me very, very sad. It reminded me of our huge ideological failure after 9/11, an ideological failure we are watching somehow fail even more today.

São Bernando,Graciliano Ramos; translation by Padma Viswanathan

I enjoyed São Bernardo  mostly for the narrator’s voice (which reminded me very much of Al Swearengen of Deadwood). Through somewhat nefarious means, Paulo Honorio takes over the run-down estate he used to toil on, restores it to a fruitful enterprise, screws over his neighbors, and exploits everyone around him. He decries at one point that “this rough life…gave me a rough soul,” which he uses as part confession and part excuse for his failure to evolve to the level his younger, sweeter wife would like him to. São Bernardo is often funny, but has a mordant, even tragic streak near its end. Ultimately, it’s Honorio’s voice and viewpoint that engages the reader. He paints a clear and damning portrait of himself and shows it to the reader—but also shows the reader that he cannot see himself.

The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled is over 500 pages but somehow does not read like a massive novel, partly, I suppose, because the novel quickly teaches you how to read the novel. The key for me came about 100 pages in, when the narrator goes to a showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey starring Clint Eastwood and Yul Brynner. There’s an earlier reference to a “bleeper” that stuck out too, but it’s at the precise moment of this alternate 2001 that The Unconsoled’s just-slightly-different universe clicked for me. Following in the tradition of Kafka’s The CastleThe Unconsoled reads like a dream-fever set of looping deferrals. Our narrator, Ryder, is (apparently) a famous pianist who arrives at an unnamed town, where he is to…do…something?…to help restore the town’s artistic and aesthetic pride. (One way we know that The Unconsoled takes place in an alternate reality is that people care deeply about art, music, and literature.) However, Ryder keeps getting sidetracked, entangled in promises and misunderstanding, some dark, some comic, all just a bit frustrating. There’s a great video game someone could make out of The Unconsoled—a video game consisting of only side quests perhaps. Once the reader gives in to The Unconsoled’s looping rhythms, there’s an almost hypnotic pleasure to the book. Its themes of family disappointment, artistic struggle, and futility layer like musical motifs, ultimately suggesting that the events of the novel could take place entirely in Ryder’s consciousness, where he orchestrates all the parts himself. Under the whole thing though is a very conventional plot though—think a Kafka fanfic version of Waiting for Guffman.

The Counterfeiters, Hugh Kenner

I wanted to like it a lot more than I did.

Animalia, Jean-Baptiste Del Amo; translation by Frank Wynne

Animalia begins in rural southwest France at the end of the nineteenth century, and ends at the end of the twentieth century, chronicling the hardships of a family farm. The preceding sentence makes the novel sound possibly hokey: No, Animalia is a visceral, naturalistic, and very precise rendering of humans as animals. I had to read Animalia in stages, essentially splitting its four long chapters into novellas. Animalia made me physically ill at times. It’s an excellent novel.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Loved it! Can’t believe I hadn’t read Spark until 2020. Went on a binge.

The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark

I liked it even more than PrimeSlender Means unself-consciously employs postmodern techniques to paint a vibrant picture of what the End of the War might feel like. The climax coincides with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the title takes on a whole new meaning, and the whole thing unexpectedly ends in a negative religious epiphany.

Loitering with Intent, Muriel Spark

My favorite of the four I read by Spark this year: funny, mean, angry postmodern perfection.

Memento Mori, Muriel Spark

A novel that about aging, memory, loss, and coming to terms with death. I was surprised to learn that this was Spark’s third novel, and that she would’ve been around 41—my age—when it was published. Most of the characters are over seventy, and Spark inhabits their consciousnesses with a level of acuity that surprised me. The weakest of the four I read, but still good.

Cherry, Nico Walker

I initially liked Walker’s war-drug-crime-romance-autoficition Cherry–the sentences are zappers and the wry, deadpan delivery approximates an imitation of Denis Johnson. Halfway through the charm starts to wear off; its native ugliness fails to compel, even Walker keeps pushing for the sublime in each chapter, only to puncture it in some way. I probably would’ve liked it at 20.

Skin Folk, Nalo Hopkinson

A mixed bag of fantasy and sci-fi stories based on Caribbean myth, some more successful than others. “A Habit of Waste” and “Slow Cold Chick” are standouts.

Zeroville, Steve Erickson

An excellent novel about film. Does in fiction what Peter Biskind’s history of New Hollywood, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls could not. Zeroville’s unexpectedly-poignant ending transcends the novel’s parodic parameters. It makes you want to go to the movies.

Citizen, Claudine Rankine

A discursive prose-poem-memoir-essay on racism, erasure, bodies, and more. I read it in two afternoons. Highly recommended.

The Divers’ Game, Jesse Ball

I kept waiting for the chapters of Ball’s “novel” to explicitly tangle together, but they never did. One of the very few cases where I feel there should be more pages in a book.

Nova, Samuel R. Delany

I couldn’t make it through Delany’s cult favorite Dhalgren a few years back, but Nova was easier sledding. The book is a riff on Moby-Dick, tarot, monoculture, and the grail quest. It’s jammed with ideas and characters, and if it never quite coheres into something transcendent, it’s a fun quick read (even if the ending, right from the postmodern metatextual playbook is too clever by half).

Zac’s Drug Binge, Dennis Cooper

I don’t know if Dennis Cooper’s gif novels are really novels or something else. I’m not sure if putting this gif novel on a list of books I read is any different than adding, say, a list of paintings by Mu Pan that I viewed over the year. The inclusion of ZDB also helps highlight the artificiality of a numbered list of books read in a year. (I know this list isn’t numbered, but it’s countable. I think it’s fifty-seven or fifty-eight.) It took me maybe 10 or 15 minutes to “read” ZBD while novels by Ishiguro, Pynchon, and Brunner are like 500 pages. The Ishiguro is actually pretty “easy” to read though, in a way that Zac’s Drug Binge is not. The Brunner is much “easier” than the many, many stories I read this year in The Complete Gary Lutz. The Lutz is 500 pages, and I read more of those pages than I did of some of the shorter works listed here like Rankine’s Citizen or Ball’s The Divers’ Game—but I didn’t “finish” the Lutz (and I don’t want to ever “finish” the Lutz), so its not on the list. Ditto Brian Dillon’s essay collection Suppose a Sentence, another collection that I’ve used to cleanse my palate between books. I could probably do a whole post on books like that (John Domini’s The Sea-God’s Herb, the Charles Portis MiscellanyThe Minus Times Collected, etc. etc.)

You can read Zac’s Drug Binge here (and, uh, careful who you’re around if you click this link!).

Oreo, Fran Ross

Loved loved loved Oreo. The novel is thoroughly overlooked as a metafictional masterpiece. In my review, I wrote:

“Fran Ross’s 1974 novel Oreo is an overlooked masterpiece of postmodern literature, a delicious satire of the contemporary world that riffs on race, identity, patriarchy, and so much more. Oreo is a pollyglossic picaresque, a metatextual maze of language games, raps and skits, dinner menus and vaudeville routines. Oreo’s rush of language is exuberant, a joyful metatextual howl that made me laugh out loud. Its 212 pages galloped by, leaving me wanting more, more, more.”

A Different Drummer, William Melvin Kelley

I read it after OreoOreo is neon zany polyglossic hijinks, crackling, zipping, and zapping. Kelley’s first novel, despite its rotating set of viewpoints (and conceit of an invented Southern state), was much more down to earth—modernist, not postmodernist—rendered in rusty oranges, dusty browns, muted greens. I enjoyed Kelley’s later novels dem and Dunfords Travels Everywheres more, but A Different Drummer could be his best book. I wrote about it here.

A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes

Gonna read more Himes in 2021. Any tips? I loved loved loved it.

dem, William Melvin Kelley

From my review:

“As its subheading attests, dem is, like Drummer, a take on white people viewing black people, and over a half-century after its publication, many of the tropes Kelley employs here still ring painfully true. His “hero,” Mitchell Pierce is a lazy advertising executive, bored with his wife, a misogynist who occasionally longs to return to the “wars in Asia.” He’s also deeply, profoundly racist; structurally racist; the kind of racist who does not think of his racism as racism. At the same time, Kelley seems to extend little parcels of sympathy to Pierce, even as he reveals the dude to be a piece of shit, as if to say, What else could he end up being in this system but a piece of shit?

Sátántangó, László Krasznahorkai; translation by George Szirtes

Years ago I put Sátántangó on a list of books I started the most times without finishing.  This summer I listened to the audiobook version while I painted the interior of my house. The novel’s postmodern ending made me pick up the physical copy I acquired like eight years ago, making Sátántangó the only novel I re-read this year.

Edition 69, Jindřich Štyrský, Vítězslav Nezval, František Halas, and Bohuslav Brouk; translation by Jed Slast

Hey yo you like horny Czech interwar surrealism?

Lancelot, Walker Percy

The first Percy I read, and so far, my favorite–a postmodern Gothic screed against postmodernity. I reviewed it here.

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

Percy’s first novel is probably much better than I credited in my review, but I was disappointed after the claustrophobic zany madness of Lancelot. I think if The Moviegoer were the first Percy I read it would have been the last.

Dunfords Travels Everywheres, William Melvin Kelley

My favorite of the three Kelley novels I read this year.

Edisto, Padgett Powell

 I read most of Padgett Powell’s 1984 debut Edisto in a few sittings, settling down easily into its rich evocation of a strange childhood in the changing Southern Sea Islands. I’d always been ambivalent about Powell, struggling and failing to finish some of his later novels (Mrs. Hollingsworth’s MenThe Interrogative Mood), but Edisto captured me from its opening lines. The story takes two simple tacks–it’s a coming of age tale as well as a stranger-comes-to-town riff. Powell’s sentences are lively and invigorating; they show refinement without the wearing-down of being overworked. The book is fresh, vital.

When I finished Edisto, I thought I’d go for some more early Padgett. I picked up his second novel, A Woman Named Drown, started it that afternoon, and put it down 70 pages later the following afternoon. There wasn’t a single sentence that made me want to read the next sentence. Worse, it was turning into an ugly slog, a kind of attempt to refine Harry Crews’s dirty south into something closer to grimy eloquence. I like gross stuff, but this wasn’t my particular flavor.

The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich

I remember buying this book very clearly. The yellow spine called to me; the fact it was a Two Dollar Radio title; the title itself; and then, the blurb from Steve Erickson. From my review:

“Krilanovich’s novel is coated in brown-grey paste, an accumulation of scum and cum and blood, a vampiric solution zapped by orange bolts of sex, pain, drugs, and rocknroll. It’s a riot grrrl novel, a psychobilly novel, a crustgoth novel. It’s a fragmented, ugly, revolting mess and I loved it. The Orange Eats Creeps is ‘A vortex of a novel,’ as Steve Erickson puts it in his introduction, that will alternately suck in or repel readers.”

The Silence, Don DeLillo

In my unkind review, I wrote:

“The Silence is a slim disappointment, a scant morality play whose thinly-sketched characters speak at (and not to) each other liked stoned undergrads. At least it’s short.”

Motorman, David Ohle

David Ohle’s lean mean mutant Motorman is a dystopia carved from strange stuff. Ohle’s cult novel leaves plenty of room for the reader to wonder and wander around in. Abject, spare, funny, and depressing, Motorman sputters and jerks on its own nightmare logic. Its hapless hero Moldenke anti-quests through an artificial world, tumbling occasionally into strange moments of agency, but mostly lost and unillusioned in a broken universe. I loved it.

Two Stories, Osvaldo Lamborghini; translation by Jessica Sequeira

Not sure if I found a book so baffling all year.

Stand on Zanzibar, David Brunner

John Brunner’s big fat dystopian novel Stand on Zanzibar frankly overwhelmed me and then sorta underwhelmed me there at the end. This sci-fi classic is a big weird shaggy dog that managed to predict the future in all kinds of ways, and it’s mean and funny, but it’s also bloated and booming, the kind of novel that sucks all the air out of the room. It’s several dozen essays dressed up as sci-fi adventure—not a bad deal in and of itself—but there’s very little space left for the reader

Fat City, Leonard Gardner

Fat City is about an “old” boxer (he’s not thirty) on the way out of his career and a young boxer on the rise. (Rise here is a really suspect term.) I really can’t believe I was 41 when I read this. I should’ve read it at 20. I wouldn’t have understood it the same way, of course, and the biggest sincerest compliment I can pin on the novel is that I would’ve loved it at 20 but I know that I would’ve appreciated it more 20 years later. There are plenty of novels that I read and think, Hmm, would’ve loved this years ago, but now, nah, but Fat City is wonderful. It’s a boxing story, sure, but it’s really a book about bodies breaking down, aging, getting stuck in dreams and fantasies. Gardner’s only novel (!) is simultaneously mock-tragic and real tragic, pathetic and moving, and very very moving. Great stuff.

Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone

I read Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers on the late David Berman’s recommendation) and loved it. Set at the end of the Vietnam War, Dog Soldiers is about a heroin deal going sideways. The CIA is involved, some twisted Hollywood folks, and a fallen cult leader. Everyone’s a bit grimy. I guess it comes from the Hemingway tree, or really, maybe, the Stephen Crane tree—Denis Johnson’s tree, Leonard Gardner’s tree, Raymond Carver’s tree, etc. It reminded me a lot of Johnson’s Angels (and, to some extent, Tree of Smoke), but also Russell Banks’s 1985 novel Continental Drift—and Gardner’s Fat City.

Dog Soldiers gets better and better and ends with an ecstatic punchline—a big Fuck you to God in the whirlwind. Great stuff.

Nothing but the Music, Thulani Davis

In my review, I wrote:

Nothing but the Music cooks raw joy and raw pain into something sublime. I like poems best when they tell stories, and Davis is a storyteller. The poems here capture place and time, but most of all sound, sound, rhythm, and sound. Lovely stuff.”

Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy

Loved this one—more in line with the madness of Lancelot than the ennui of The MoviegoerLove in the Ruins posits a USA falling apart to reveal there never was a center.

The Hearing Trumpet, Leonora Carrington

From my review:

“Leonora Carrington’s novel The Hearing Trumpet begins with its nonagenarian narrator forced into a retirement home and ends in an ecstatic post-apocalyptic utopia “peopled with cats, werewolves, bees and goats.” In between all sorts of wild stuff happens. There’s a scheming New Age cult, a failed assassination attempt, a hunger strike, bee glade rituals, a witches sabbath, an angelic birth, a quest for the Holy Grail, and more, more, more.”

The Oyster, Dejan Lukic and Nik Kosieradzki

I still need to write a proper review of this one. It’s something between an essay and a prose-poem and an aesthetic object.

Heroes and Villains, Angela Carter

One of Carter’s earlier novels, Heroes and Villains takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where caste lines divide the Professors, the Barbarians, and the mutant Out People. After her Professor stronghold is raided, Marianne is…willingly abducted?…by the barbarian Jewel. Marianne goes to live with the Barbarians, and ends up in a weird toxic relationship with Jewel, marked by rape and violence. Heroes and Villains throws a lot in its pot—what is consent? what is civilization? what is language?—but it’s a muddled, psychedelic mess in the end.

Just Us, Claudia Rankine

A short, sometimes painful read, Just Us is a mix of essaying and poetry that documents the horrors of the past few years against the backdrop of the horrors of all American history, all in a personal, moving way.

Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner

Starts subtle and ends sharp. A mix of satire and earnestness, purely modern, wonderful stuff. Our hero surmises at the end that Satan might actually be quite stupid. I love her.


[Ed. note–some of the language of these annotations has been recycled from previous posts.]

A list of twenty novels I loved in 2020, presented without comment and in no particular order

Flight to Canada, Ishmael Reed

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake

Anasazi, Mike McCubbins and Matt Bryan

Gringos, Charles Portis

The Wig, Charles Wright

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon

Animalia, Jean-Baptiste Del Amo; translation by Frank Wynne

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark

Loitering with Intent, Muriel Spark

Zeroville, Steve Erickson

Citizen, Claudine Rankine

Oreo, Fran Ross

A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes

Satantango, László Krasznahorkai; translation by George Szirtes

Lancelot, Walker Percy

Dunfords Travels Everywheres, William Melvin Kelley

Motorman, David Ohle

Fat City, Leonard Gardner

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 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)”

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)

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)

 

100 phrases culled from The New York Times list of “100 Notable Books of 2018”

The following phrases appear in The New York Times list of “100 Notable Books of 2018.” There is one phrase culled from each blurb on the list.


slow burn

latest novel

bizarre story

tour de force

stunning debut

homage of sorts

explores this idea

tactile immediacy

fragmented novel

fascinating paean

grapples seriously

searching account

harrowing account

harrowing memoir

fascinating portrait

expansive narrative

novel that ricochets

fast-paced account

stunning new novel

bristling intelligence

impassioned account

incisive new collection

magisterial new novel

bighearted family saga

breezy, appealing style

impressive debut novel

bewitching debut novel

remarkable debut novel

private and public twists

stylish and inspired collection

deeply and lovingly personal

describes the years of research

reveals surprising connections

world of scams and seductions

our history and our current age

dire consequences for democracy

darkly comic and profound novel

memoir of an unstable childhood

powerful and realistic page turner

mammoth autobiographical novel

devastatingly beautiful debut novel

blazingly moral and devastatingly sidelong

capturing the themes of identity and reinvention

written by the actress herself and not a ghostwriter

seemingly quiet but ultimately volcanic collection

recounted here with great lyricism and emotion

sometimes fanciful, always gossipy portrait

navigate the political and the personal

tense, moment-by-moment account

illuminates her narrator’s inner life

public and private responsibilities

searing autobiographical novel

the personal and the political

more political than economic

vivid, slightly surreal history

writes about new research

sweeping, sobering account

deep dive into the question

unnerving cautionary tale

searingly passionate book

deeply reported account

monumental biography

heralds America’s future

much more complicated

posthumous collection

law professor recounts

marvelous debut novel

nervy, obsessive novel

shattering work of art

important biography

recounts her struggle

first major biography

semi-surreal sendup

landmark translation

thinly veiled memoir

satisfying slow burn

unbelievable debut

forgotten histories

reads like a thriller

fast-paced thriller

mine the question

capture the chaos

infinitely capable

rousing defense

widens the lens

singular portrait

sparkling novel

eloquent novel

riveting exposé

gritty depiction

noted historian

searing memoir

writerly passion

road-trip novel

think differently

page after page

Pulitzer finalist

tells his story

timely novel

wry catalog

Seven Books I’ll Never Read

  1. A General History of Labyrinths by Silas Haslam
  2. Things That Can Happen In European Politics by Ernest Pudding
  3. The Leather Mask by Benno von Archimboldi
  4. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abendsen
  5. Old Custer by Eli Cash
  6. Outside the Town of Malbork by Tazio Bazakbal
  7. Encounter with the Infanta by Bogdan Tarassiev

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.

Notes on Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list

Did you see Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list? I saw it this morning, and on the whole it ain’t half bad, despite including way too many novels from the past 10 years. Lists are stupid and maybe we already live in a dystopia, but our dystopia could be way way worse and lists are stupid fun…so—my stupid thoughts on this stupid fun list. (They organized it chronologically, by the bye)—-

Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, 1726: Good starting place, although I’m sure you could reach farther back if you wanted—Revelations, Blake, Milton, etc.

The Last Man, Mary Shelley, 1826: Never read it. The listmakers seem to have skipped Voltaire’s Candide (1759).

Erewhon, Samuel Butler, 1872: Hey, did you know that Erewhon is actually Nowhere backwards? Ooooh…far out. I really don’t remember it but I read it in school. I’m sure I would’ve thrown it on the list.

The Time Machine, H.G. Wells, 1895: Great track. Some of the best required reading ever.

“The Machine Stops,” E.M. Forster, 1909: Never read it/never heard of it.

We, Yvegny Zamyatin, 1924: The list reminded me I need to reread this one—I read it twice—in my teens and in my twenties. Good stuff. (Also reminds me that I would’ve added something by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky to the list—like his collection Memories of the Future).

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932: This is the guy. I mean, I think Huxley got it right here, y’know? Not that a dystopian novel needs to predict, but…anyway. I actually had a student come by during office hours just to visit, and she asked for a novel recommendation, and I gave her BNW after she told me 1984 was the last great book she’d read. If I recall correctly, the Vulture list only has one duplicate author (Margaret Atwood), but I’d also add Huxley’s often-overlooked novel Ape and Essence.

It Can’t Happen Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis, 1935: I think this is one of those ones where I know the basic plot, themes, etc., but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it.

Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin, 1937: An entry that I’ll admit I’ve never heard of, the sort of thing that shows the value in stupid silly fun lists. I’ll search it out.

1984, George Orwell, 1949: I guess this one is the big dawg, but I never want to reread it (unlike Huxley’s stuff). Maybe I’m missing the humor in it. Maybe the most important novel of the 20th century, whatever that means. Continue reading “Notes on Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list”

25 21st-century films missing from that New York Times list

Have you seen that New York Times list of “The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century” that Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott put together? I haven’t seen about half of the films on the list, but there are definitely some good ones on there. (But damn, like, Million Dollar Baby? Really? And I’ll never get why people think Munich is a good film).

Anyway, here’s a list I put together in about five minutes of 25 films missing from their list. I did limit myself to one entry by a director for some silly reason–otherwise I’d end up with a bunch of films by three people on here. I’m sure I missed hundreds of other films. But, hey, it’s all in the name of stupid fun.

  1. Mulholland Drive
  2. Ponyo
  3. Hard to Be a God
  4. In the Mood for Love
  5. Upstream Color
  6. WALL-E
  7. The Hateful Eight
  8. Holy Motors
  9. Drive
  10. No Country for Old Men
  11. The Master
  12. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  13. Bright Star
  14. Children of Men
  15. The Tree of Life
  16. Russian Ark
  17. Only Lovers Left Alive
  18. Dredd
  19. Talk to Her
  20. Adaptation
  21. A History of Violence
  22.  Pan’s Labyrinth
  23.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  24. Gomorrah 
  25. Synecdoche, New York

 

List with No Name #58

the-scream-18932

Study for a Portrait 1952 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T12616

Reflections on The Scream 1990 Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997 ARTIST ROOMS   Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection 2015 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AL00371

Screaming Head with a White Veil 1941 Julio Gonz?lez 1876-1942 Presented by Mme Roberta Gonzalez-Richard, the artist's niece 1972 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01631

André Kertész (American (born Hungary), Budapest 1894–1985 New York) Distortion #51, 1933 Gelatin silver print; Image: 9.6 x 6.9 cm (3 3/4 x 2 11/16 in.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1987 (1987.1180) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/265734

medusa-1597-1-jpghalfhd warhol-scream-large the-scream-jpglarge man-screaming-also-known-as-study-for-hell echo-of-a-scream-1937-jpglarge the-scream-19101