You might think literature is a dying art, but there are more books now than ever. This year the stacks on stacks piled up around me. Here's a list, in chronological order, of what I read.
The first book I read in any given year serves as a sort of header for my attitude and way of being over the next 12 months. This year, I welcomed in 2014 with a biography on Charles Manson. If any year deserved such an influence, it was this one, with so much relative strangeness passing in human life that sometimes it seems difficult to remember how to even read.
I'm finding it harder to tell if the way I am reading is changing or if the world is, or both, or neither. Regardless, there are more books now than ever, and as a result, I believe reading is more sacred now than ever. The more it feels like an arcane science, buried among the machines, the more I have to remember to do it. It's like exercise, or going to a museum—it brings on a feeling of time that seems to belong to nothing but itself. And god knows we need more of that.
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn
Brief by Alexandra Chasin
A Hundred Thousand Hours by Gro Dahle
The Errant Astrologers by Felipe Benitez Reyes
Tarnac by Jean-Marie Gleize
Say, Cut, Map by Ken Baumann
Hans Ulrich Obrist & Matthew Barney: The Conversation Series Vol. 27 by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
Cartilage and Skin by Michael James Rizza
EarthBound by Ken Baumann
Goings by Gordon Lish
Expectation by Jeffrey Deshell
Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus
Rain of the Future by Valerie Meyer
Wet Land by Lucas de Lima
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon
Only Jesus Could Icefish in Summer by Abraham Smith
Scarecrone by Melissa Broder
Awakening to the Great Sleep War by Gert Jonke
Left Hand by Paul Curran
Gerald's Party by Robert Coover
Once I start reading something I typically like to stay with it and only it until I reach the end. For some reason with this particular Coover, I found myself drifting in and out of the narrative every five or six pages. I think it was partially a function of the the plot, which pretends to be basic—a noir-ish dinner party in which people end up getting killed in strange circumstances—but is in fact anything but. Coover's most known for his satire and deconstruction of the major campy genres, but this one in particular takes on an epic, acid-bath-like quality, more like a petri dish of absurd send ups of human behavior and destroyed takes on social custom than any kind of linear exhibit or who-dun-it? The amount of linguistic mechanics Coover packs into every page here feels like a Ulysses-sized redux of the board game Clue. It provides an orgry-like handbook of styles so dense it took me most of the year to swallow it all, and though I honestly didn't love it along the way, I've maybe thought more about the book in full than most any other I read this year. It's a nice reminder that you don't have to love something in order to be affected by it.
Complete Minimal Poems by Aram Saroyan
The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu
Every Day Is For The Thief by Teju Cole
If I Don't Breathe, How Do I Sleep by Joe Wenderoth
The Constitution by Brian Foley
Century Swept Brutal by Zach Savich
Theoretical Animals by Gary J. Shipley
Guantanamo by Frank Smith
The Garden by Ed Steck
A Sentimental Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet
List by Matthew Roberson
Labor by Jill Magi
The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead
With My Dog Eyes by Hilda Hilst
Letters from a Seducer by Hilda Hilst
Does Not Love by James Tad Adcox
Young God by Katherine Faw Morris
The Luminol Reels by Laura Ellen Joyce
Spooky Plan by Drew Kalbach
The Last Time Will Be The First by Jeff Alessandrelli
You Can Make Anything Sad by Spencer Madsen
OK by Victor Vasquez
Blacken Me Blacken Me Growled by Cassandra Troyan
The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr
The Illiterate by Agota Kristof
My Struggle, Vol. 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (1/5 th)
I don't usually stop reading a book once I start it, but my struggle with My Struggle was that I don't give a shit about reading a 40-year-old's Livejournal. You were young once and wanted to fuck chicks but now you have a wife and a kid and life is hard? Cool story, bro. This book embodies everything I hate about contemporary literature: worship of the self, merciless documentation of the self, idolization of the penis, reality fetish of quasi-celebs. If this kind of thing is all that's left for the future, take me out back and shoot me.
Works by Edouard Levé
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood
Newcomer by Nathaniel Farrell
I Live In A Hut by S.E. Smith
Place Names by Jean Ricardou
What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going by Damion Searls
Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard
The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft
Around August, I hit a wall and stopped reading for a long while. I don't know whether it was a function of time or place or context, but for some reason I couldn't keep my brain stuck for very long on any page, and began to believe I could understand to some extent how reading has been dying: There is so much you almost can't remember where to look, and when you do figure out where to look, it's hard to keep your brain there. Which is maybe the perfect state to be in when you stumble upon a collection of H.P. Lovecraft for the first time since you were 15. Rediscovering his influence was like breathing in exquisite gas: bizarre, transcendental horror tropes and paranoid ruminations; fragments of cryptic knowledge unlocking worlds hidden without our world; promise of blood but in a cosmic death-sense more than headline news murder; above all, ornate language and complex diction out the eyes—it was like this was the stuff I'd been looking for my whole life, which happened to be right where I started. God, how I wish more literature showed a Lovecraft influence over, say, Chekhov or Hemingway or whoever.
Valis by Philip K. Dick
Of: Vol. 1 by Ossian Foley
The Static Herd by Beth Steidle
In the Deep by Pierre Guyotat
Rome by Dorothea Lasky
Kill Manual (Kept In Lacerated Light) by Cassandra Troyan
The second of a pair of slim, mutative texts released by Troyan this year, Kill Manual maximizes the internet-influenced confession-mania archetype that kind of became a thing this year, and bends it over and fills it full of blood and cum. Shifting styles between instant message, Craigslist ad, psychoanalysis reports, all caps diatribes, stolen quotes, fragmentary death threats, and a whole other slew of stabby concrete poetry, Kill Manual takes the Sade-ian end of the oversharing shtick, turning one's own private human pain into a diorama reflecting the environments and brains that birthed it. Unlike Knausgaard, Troyan infects the struggle of the self into a living, breathing language-system, spitting and shrieking and cackling rather than just whining and worshipping, using reality's death threat against itself.
With the Animals by Noelle Revaz (reread)
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
John the Posthumous by Jason Schwartz
Half Out Where by Joseph Aguilar
Lake of Earth by William Vandenberg
Kingdom Come by J.G. Ballard
My God Is This A Man by Laura Sims
House of Deer by Sasha Steensen
Forest of Fortune by Jim Ruland
Colony Collapse Metaphor by Philip Jenks
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor
Diana's Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik
Bribery by Steven Zultanski
Not far astray from the field of Troyan, Zultanski's Bribery extends the cram-the-terror-of-reality-into-an-epic-poem genre with his own take on arranging language that's full of wild sex, violence, and psychosis into a time-shattering diatribe that seems not far from if Manson had written his biography himself. Wielding lyrics that feel like a collage of all the worst shit that happened this year crammed into a single id-like brain, Zultanski totally shreds through his own American perspective by both apologizing for being a piece of shit and reveling in it, the voice of the mind of human crime in an age where you can stab someone to death and then go eat at Chili's.
No Other by Mark Gluth
The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing by Nicholas Rombes
I could tell from the description of this book that it would be way up my alley: A journalist tracks down a mysterious and highly regarded rare-film librarian, who, in the 90s, inexplicably burned his collection of never-before-seen films by famous directors like Welles, Lynch, and Jodorowsky. In conversation, as the journalist tries to piece together his motivation, we are made witness to a series of close descriptions of lost films, all of which somehow seem to mutate together, and in some ways share relation to a series of disappeared children among the local community. Rombes's knowledge and caretaking of film history, as well as the strange feeling that comes from imagining lost artworks by some of our greatest directors, makes this debut novel addictive reading.
House of Coates by Brad Zellar
Discomfort by Evelyn Hampton
You Da One by Jennifer Tamayo
Binary Star by Sarah Gerard
Invisible Reveille by Carina Finn
Cats and Dogs by Andrew James Weatherhead
Apart From by M Kitchell
Tex by Beau Rice
Songs of S. by Robert Seydel
A Picture Is Always A Book by Robert Seydel
These two books were released in conjunction following the author's abrupt death at age 50 in 2011, and together document two distinct examples of his tendency to write in various adopted personas. Each book contains fragments compiled from different notebooks the author kept— Songs of S. working in the mode of a man named S., and A Picture Is Always a Book working as a woman named Ruth. The latter is particularly compelling, in that the pages of the notebook are presented in full color image, allowing the Joseph Cornell-like feel of each page's exhibit to appear as it would if you were holding the doodle-laced manuscript yourself. Descriptions of dreams here seem more like reality and the reality more like dreams, and together the effect is like an enchanted closet, an eye into a set of worlds somewhat akin to the innate privacy and incubating perspectives of Henry Darger and Emily Dickinson. It serves as a refreshing way to close a year, remembering how much pure weight can come from a single well-aimed fragment in a catalog of hell.
The Infernal by Mark Doten
Watch out for this one early next year: It feels like Doten pulled the Steeply and Marathe sections out of Infinite Jest and expanded their feel into a military database of privileged information, culling the War on Terror and Facebook's death march into a high-level rolodex of worlds within our world. A great and hopeful mark for the direction of 2015, where anything can happen.
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