All the Books I Read in 2013

By Blake Butler

The author's bookshelf

The literature world was weird this year. I almost don’t remember it. It was rapid, and overflowing with so many new presses and faces and legs that it was hard to know where to look and who or what didn’t suck. I started the year off vowing that I would not read anything by American authors for the entirety of 2013. I made it through like two months before caving, but a good long breath like that far from our lard shores was nonetheless refreshing, like a blanket over the face.

Two of my best experiences were devouring all of the Kobo Abe and Thomas Bernhard novels that I hadn’t yet read, back to back, in short periods, which kind of cooked something about each of those minds into me that hadn’t been there before. I’m going to find a couple of bodies of work worth doing this with every year from now on.

Some of my worst experiences this year—and every year—came from trying to read the books everyone is raving about at any given moment. I always feel like either I’m missing something or they’re missing something. The end of the year Best Of lists always seem to reinforce that theory, as I always wonder how so many people got so much out of a novel that to me read like a knockoff of the books that were on the same lists last year. But so it goes.

In celebration of my annual distaste for adding onto the pile of what seemed biggest in the last twelve months, here’s the list of everything I read this year, regardless of when it was written or how good it was, with some particular standout highlights.

***

A Day in the Strait by Emmanuel Hocquard

The Obscene Madame D by Hilda Hilst

A close friend of one of my favorites, Clarice Lispector, Hilst isn’t a far cry from the fragmentary, mutative mindset of that relation. This brief 57-page meta-monologue is stuffed to the gills with ideas of madness from a mind you actually want to see run rampant. It gushes in a somehow more intimate and raving Beckett-ian mode. I wish there were a shitload of little shattering novellas like this everywhere, available in gas stations, as a drug. 

The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe

Prostitution by Pierre Guyotat

The Use of Speech by Nathalie Sarraute

The Box Man by Kobo Abe

Reflections by Mark Insingel

The Moon’s Jaw by Rauan Klassnik

Tenth of December by George Saunders

Red Doc > by Anne Carson

Three by Ann Quin

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Castle to Castle by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Taipei by Tao Lin

No disappointment after the hype for this new novel from someone whom I’ve always looked to as an icon just ahead of the curve. Taipei takes everything Tao Lin was always astounding at—intricately bizarre observations of social contexts and the moment-to-moment shades of one’s emotions—to a newly effective depth. The book holds nothing back, fusing Wallace-sized sentence structures with Tao’s masterful minimalism, while somehow managing to infuse the mutative energy of the internet in what may end up being the most open look at the inner workings of a young person in whatever social era we’re currently trapped in.  

The Face of Another by Kobo Abe

The Map & The Territory by Michel Houellebecq

Never having been a big Houellebecq enthusiast, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The Map & The Territory seemed much more expansive than the French bitchboy’s usual sex-obsessed contraptions. Essentially cataloguing the life and career of a high-end photographer who builds a reputation out of a few rare conceptual projects, he soon ends up running into a character in the form of Houellebecq himself. A brutal incident and some strange complications end up turning the book into something mysterious and charged with an energy most hyper-realistic conceptual novels never manage.

Kangaroo Notebook by Kobo Abe

Burial by Claire Donato

Hotel Crystal by Olivier Rolin

On its face a catalog of meticulous architectural descriptions of different hotel rooms across the world, Rolin does something pretty sublime in building a suspenseful narrative, not to mention a great deal of oblique character development with the voice that emerges underneath. Basically a hyper-speed Robbe-Grillet-like concept pulled off with haunting flourish. I don’t think I’ll forget the way this book felt.

A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava 

The Ark Sakura by Kobo Abe

Dark Matter by Aase Berg

Billie the Bull by xTx

Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan

Walking Across A Field We Are Focused On At The Time by Sara Wintz

Times Squares Red Times Square Blue by Samuel Delany

Extinction by Thomas Bernhard

The Last Scrapbook by Evan Dara

Solip by Ken Baumann

Young Tambling by Kate Greenstreet

Crush by Richard Siken

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts by Jorie Graham

Science by Emily Toder

The Lime Works by Thomas Bernhard

USO: I’ll Be Seeing You by Kim Rosenfield

Troublers by Rob Walsh

Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard

Can It! by Edmund Berrigan

Grace Period: Notebooks, 1998-2007 by Aaron Kunin

Throne of Blood by Cassandra Troyan

The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather by Sampson Starkweather

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Haute Surveillance by Johannes Göransson

May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks

The Global Struggle for Dead Milk by Mark Baumer

Someone Who Did Something by Mark Baumer

A Crack Up At The Race Riots by Harmony Korine (reread)

I Live I See by Vsevolod Nekrasov

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin

Joie de Vivre by Lisa Jarnot

Tina by Peter Davis

The Devotional Poems by Joe Hall

Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau

Salamandrine: 8 Gothics by Joyelle McSweeney

A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims

Rontel by Sam Pink

7 American Deaths and Disasters by Kenneth Goldsmith

Boycott by Vanessa Place

The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley

The Skin Team by Jordaan Mason

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

1986.6 by Matthew Roberson

Night Moves by Stephanie Barber

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond

I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond

Murder by Danielle Collobert

The Fassbinder Diaries by James Pate

On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson

Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson

The Suiciders by Travis Jeppesen

If you want to talk about writing that can go almost anywhere at any time, from word to word, you should be talking about Jeppesen. On its face a novel about a bunch of punk squatters who fuck each other and eat drugs constantly, The Suiciders is really more a mechanism where every line is a weapon in and of itself. Paragraph by paragraph this book just deluges every sort of sense and sentiment in the most hyper-violent language this side of Guyotat or Sade. “TVLand is so much better than the WWW,” it goes. “I need world. I’m fried inside myself tonight. There are so many warblings out there to satiate the hunger that de-defines your spite version. I need a hammer. I will only go into the water if I am holding one.”  Big balls, big syllables, big fuck.

Pop Corpse by Lara Glenum

In the Moremarrow by Oliverio Girondo

Mouth of Hell by Maria Negroni

The Parapornographic Manifesto by Carl-Michel Edenborg

The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal by Tytti Heikkinen

Damnation by Janice Lee

Sexual Boat (Sex Boats) by James Gendron

An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky by Dan Beachy-Quick

Moods by Rachel B. Glaser

Flee by Evan Dara

An Episode In The Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira

Old Friends by Stephen Dixon

Phone Rings by Stephen Dixon

100 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse

The Strangers by Eugene Lim

Gil the Nihilist by Sean Kilpatrick

Sean Kilpatrick remains one of my favorite working writers, and this may be his most fucked yet. Set up as the shooting script for a sitcom revolving around three anarchic, misogynistic, desperately horny and beautiful pieces of shit, Gil the Nihilist lays it on thick from the first page and only gets more and more pigged out and black to the heart as it goes. Most any sentence Kilpatrick piles on is one you could get tattooed on your gums: “I bow to fast food. My smelted teensy ritual. It vacations in your catheter. The animal supplement smacks of copyright. Go on, shine what bucks you. No one takes their vitamins alone.”

Tlooth by Harry Mathews

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

Here Come the Warm Jets by Alli Warren

George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time by Peter Dimock

Berg by Ann Quin

Death Kit by Susan Sontag

20 Lines a Day by Harry Mathews

Personae by Sergio de la Pava

The follow up to his totally fantastic novel A Naked Singularity (one of my favorites published last year), Personae takes on such a different shape it’s hard to believe it’s written by the same author. Where Singularity was gripping in voice and sheer ability to build pace and tension, Personae exhibits a whole other sheath of skills, one much more oblique and collage-like in its trajectory. And yet, de la Pava’s line-to-line brilliance and ambition are unmistakably his, and the manner in which he pilots this wide array of perspectives and tones opens over you in a wholly unexpected way, closer to Calvino now than Wallace. Personae cements de la Pava as one I will look forward to reading in years ahead. 

Cigarettes by Harry Mathews

Creature by Amina Cain

Collected Alex by A.T. Grant

Fun Camp by Gabe Durham

Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

Mine by Peter Sotos

Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Collateral Light by Julia Cohen

You and Me by Padgett Powell

The Desert Places by Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss

The Compleat Purge by Trisha Low

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

I decided to close out 2013 with one of the novels I’ve had on my Must Read Soon list for years and years now. I’m still reading it, but it’s becoming perhaps the brightest spot of the year. Ostensibly a 700-page chronicle of a man’s 20-year decline into a world of mental illness, spurred from simply going to temporarily visit a relative in an asylum and then just sticking around and taking part, the novel is sad in a calm, claustrophobic sense. Among long Moby Dick-like philosophical diatribes and strangely mesmeric scenes centered around food and music and desire, what really begins to eat at you is the sense of time as a destructor, and the mutability of a person surrounded and dying day by day. It’s rare a work can be so calm and enchanting about almost nothing for pages and pages while gradually accumulating a wide understanding of death.

@blakebutler

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