For the first time in my life I kept a list of every book I completed this year. I’m not sure why I did it. I was finishing grad school. I probably wanted something to show for it. And, sure, I had phantom visions of putting together a list such as the one that follows.
These are the books I completed. I’ve left off all the false starts and abandonments and in-progresses. Some of these books deserve more than a few sentences, and while I’ve written about a few of them elsewhere, I’ll leave the true criticism to more focused attempts. This is an overview, written with the hopes of sharing my year in reading, and of sharing a few names, and of sharing some thoughts on a few names that require no sharing.
*Read about books 21 through 30 here.
31. Overlay by Barry Malzberg
The horses. How does Malzberg know all about the track? How does he write these characters? Probably something worth knowing behind all of it, but I don’t know it. This book doesn’t have the weight of Beyond Apollo or Galaxies, but it has the perk of being pretty without meta-ness. Not entirely, but it’s less pronounced. Malzberg can do whatever he wants. He gets real sad and apocalyptic in this one. And in that just right kind of way.
32. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
So I was in Prague because my dad moved there. Just recently. His girlfriend is there so he divorced my mom and retired and went to Prague. He loves this book. He’s been talking to me about it for my entire life. Something he loves to say about it: it’s funny. It is funny. He’s not wrong.
33. Airships by Barry Hannah
So I decided to do this interview series where I ask the writers I love to recommend a book and then talk about it with me. Amelia Gray recommended Airships and we talked about it and it will be up at The Lit Pub in January. For now, I’m tired of talking about Airships. You’ve probably read it, right?
34. I am Elijah Thrush by James Purdy
Another book from the interview series, recommended by Rachel Glaser. In this book a man is so in love with a bird that he lets the thing feast on his organs on the reg. No one writes about love like Purdy. Everyone in this book is compellingly in love and suffering in unique and fascinating ways. The book is a parade of wanting. It’s very hard to look away.
35. Promising Young Women by Suzanne Scanlon
Another one of the better books I read this year. I thought a lot about her in relationship to Sebald. How they blur fact and fiction in such a pragmatic and useful way. Scanlon’s publisher, Dorothy, is doing interesting things. This book is one of them.
36. Everyone’s Pretty by Lydia Millet
I read/reread a bunch of Millet this year because I wanted to interview her. We wound up talking about when she worked at Hustler. That interview will be in The Believer sometime in the fall of 2013. Lydia Millet is brilliant and wonderful. This book is outrageous. Millet is one of the most exhilarating and precise writers out there. Everything in this book has a musical flourish. It’s certainly over the top, but nonetheless delicious. Deliciously improbable. Millet is one of those writers who makes writing seem fun, like she’s having a blast, even with all the sadness and pessimism.
37. Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
Roxane Gay loved this book. We talked about it at The Lit Pub, and that interview will be up soon. She spoke about it much better than I can, so you should definitely look out for the interview. I don’t remember much about the book, at this point. Struggling with the past is a major thing, the past in the present—what we remember, what’s happened to us, and how that rattles around in whatever’s happening to us or whatever it is we’re doing. There are peacocks and prostitutes. It’s Las Vegas through and through. Most of these stories never took full flight for me. There’s one called Graceland that I really loved.
38. X’ed Out by Charles Burns
Read this in anticipation of The Hive, which Burns released this fall. There will be one more book after this, and I’m looking forward to it in a major way. Charles Burns can be genuinely frightening. Black Hole is that way, but it’s more true here. These books feel like some story we don’t know and will never know has been cracked open and spilled out and mixed around and mutated and deformed. It’s dreamlike, sure. Lynchian. Funny too. The drawings are beautiful and strange. Everything looks alien and familiar and distorted and charming. There’s a Tin Tin angle to these books that I’m still trying to figure out. I come back to pages in both The Hive and X’ed out from time to time, and I’ll probably keep doing so.
39. First Love & Other Sorrows by Harold Brodkey
Some books I read in bursts while on the bus to work. I read every word of this between where I live in the Mission and where I work in the Haight. Brodkey is telling straightforward bus-ride stories, for the most part. Brothers and sisters, friends traveling together, a few stories set in undergrad, most set in a safe enough seeming kind of suburban neighborhood. It’s a book I might have ignored, if someone told me about it, or told me what it’s about. Instead, my fiancée pulled it out of a box at a street sale and bought it for $.50, said it was good, she thought. So I read it on the bus because I want to know more about what she thinks is good, or because I like what she thinks is good, as far as books go, and I wanted to read something I would like. I did. I loved it. These are crushing stories. They are clean little heartbreaks or they lift you up for just a moment in a charming and genuine way. Anyway, I loved it and my fiancée was right and when I told her so she said, “all this and more,” and I was happy in a maybe forever kind of way that Brodkey could have nailed, if he’d wanted.
40. The Death Ray by Daniel Clowes
I read a lot of Clowes this year. Didn’t know him at all until the interview with Zach Schomburg. Or I didn’t know I knew him. He wrote Ghost World, I guess. So, I knew him. Anyway, this is my second favorite of the books I read by him. It’s so fucking cruel and funny and dark and excellent. Clowes sometimes is a heavy-handed kind of self-referential. Here, less so. He does this great thing with how the gun works. It is a subtle and wonderful and even painful way of getting at the self-referential stuff he’s going for in other books. I know that’s terribly vague. But I don’t want to give anything away. Cigarettes give a kid super powers, and a gun makes people disappear. I’ll give that much away.