Best of 2010, Part 5

This post features lists by four excellent writers: Chris Heavener, Lance Olsen, Bradley Sands, and William Walsh. And when you get a chance, check out part one, part two, part three, and part 4. of “Best of 2010.”

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Chris Heavener

Being introduced to the music of Fela Kuti: A friend of mine came and visited me over the summer. She hadn’t been to New York in ten years so she’d planned every waking moment of her trip with some NY activity for us to do. On the top of her list was to go see the off-broadway musical FELA! based on the life and music of Nigerian Afro-pop innovator and political dissident, Fela Kuti. I’m glad I said yes to going. To me, the show is everything art is supposed to be: political, entertaining, challenging, thought-provoking, wildly imaginative, and gripping from start to finish. I became mildly obsessed with Fela and his music. I created a grooveshark playlist of his songs and listened to it nonstop for about five weeks. I watched all the videos I could find about him on the internet. I researched his son, Femi, and the history of the Shrine auditorium, the venue Kuti built and performed in nightly. Being turned on to Kuti’s music is one of those things where you ask yourself how it’s possible that you’ve lived as long as you have and have never known about someone like this.

Reading Freedom: Changed the way I thought about contemporary literature, changed the way I thought about serious fiction, changed the way I saw the world, changed the way I see people, the way I see the continuum of Western Civilization in the late 20th century/early 21st century. It was the best book I read in a long time. Maybe one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Reading predominantly small press publications this year: My reading list this year was focused on familiarizing myself with the work of all my small press cronies. I did this to 1. Gain friends who were doing what I was doing and 2. Bring attention to books that don’t get a lot of attention. I like to think I accomplished this. Who knows though?

Living with someone I’m in love with: Fucking wild. But good. And fun. And nuts. Feels like living. Recommended.

Watching Amelia Gray read live, twice: She’s a personality on stage. Few writers know how to perform and engage at readings. She settles for nothing less than giving the audience an experience. Which is the way it should be. Always.

Going to events at McNally Jackson Bookstore: Whoever does the programming there deserves a medal.

Throwing a magazine event in Eatonville, FL: I grew up in a white, affluent community of Central Florida. Only when I went away to college did I realize I grew up a few short miles from Eatonville, FL, the adopted home town of Zora Neale Hurston. This year we paid tribute to her in an issue of Annalemma. And to complete the circle we threw the event in Eatonville. It was cool. A bunch of white folks from the white side of town hanging out and having a good time with some black folks on the black side of town. Eating empanadas, drinking wine, and donating money to The Hurston Museum in Eatonville.

Writing a lot and publishing in some great places: I wrote a shit ton this year. Maybe more than I’ve ever written. I didn’t publish a lot of places, but the places I did publish, I really like. I don’t know if that’s really a goal anymore. Just more of a fun thing to do, really.

I cried more than I ever have this year. I loved harder than I ever have this year. I laughed a shit ton. I pushed the limits of my own perceptions and possibilities. I changed as much as I could, mostly for the better. I challenged myself as much as I could, but I didn’t always rise to those challenges, and I’m learning to cope with the limits of my abilities.

Chris Heavener is the editor of Annalemma.

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Lance Olsen

A Dirty Dozen Experienced/Re-Experienced in 2010 (in Alphabetical Order)

  • Thomas Alfredson, dir.  Let the Right One In. The original Swedish adaptation of Lindqvist’s novel Låt den rätte komma in completely trounces current vampire film tripe by turning the trope into a study of resonant characterization and a complicated metaphor about the politics of gender and immigration.
  • Arcade Fire.  The Suburbs. Embarrassingly predictable, I’m afraid, but there you have it. “Businessmen drink my blood / Like the kids in art school said they would . . . All the kids have always known / That the emperor wears no clothes / But they bow down to him anyway / It’s better than being alone.”  David Bowie was right.
  • Samuel Beckett.  The Unnamable. The novel I most enjoy teaching in my graduate seminar on Narrative Theory & Practice because of the breathtaking ways it undoes the “novel” via “sentences” that remind us the first-person pronoun is always-already a grammatical mistake.

  • David Clark. 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein: To Be Played with the Left Hand. One of the most interesting, dazzling, and satisfying new-media projects to appear within the last half decade.  About the philosopher, his musical brother, Hitler, Charlie Chaplin, and the idea of language.  (http://88constellations.net/)
  • J. M. Coetzee. Summertime. Brilliant “novel” masquerading as series of interviews about a failed writer and human being named John Coetzee.  Should be subtitled: Death Knell to Memoir.
  • Josh Fox, dir.  Gasland.   In case you need another reason to be frightened, very frightened, of oil and gas companies, this documentary is sort of like Nightmare on Elm Street, only featuring people who want to set your tap water on fire.
  • John Haskell. I Am Not Jackson Pollock. Each story in this faintly uneven collection is a collage composed of narraticules about those (from the eponymous painter and Glenn Gould to Topsy, the elephant Edison electrocuted on Coney Island in 1903 to prove alternating current was a good thing) out of step with their times and on dates with death.  Misbehaving sentences deployed in the service of blurring outmoded distinctions between fiction and nonfiction.
  • Gary Hustwit, dir. Helvetica. Documentary about the provocative sans-serif modernist font invented in 1957 that embodies neutrality and cleanness, and the sorts of people who care about such wonderful things.
  • Father Morris, the Catholic Priest on Fox News. 19 December 2010.  Who reminded everybody: “It’s not healthy to have an imaginary friend.”  Irony lost on immediate company.
  • Stephanie Soechtig & Jason Lindsey, dirs.  Tapped. Documentary.  You’ll never drink bottled water again.
  • Laurence Sterne.  Tristram Shandy.  Because if we haven’t read it, we can’t really call ourselves innovative writers, since in that case we will always be doomed to reinvent the narratological anti-wheel Sterne set spinning between 1759 and 1767.
  • Jessica Yu, dir.  In the Realms of the Unreal. Beautiful and sad and strange documentary of the reclusive custodian and outsider artist Henry Darger, who, despite the world, wrote a 15,000-page novel, collected balls of twine, meticulously compared the weather outside to the forecasts he heard on the news, and created hundreds of watercolors, collages, and drawings featuring the hermaphroditic Vivian Girls.

Lance Olsen’s latest novels are Calendar of Regrets (FC2, 2010) and Head in Flames (Chiasmus, 2009). He teaches experimental narrative theory and practice at the University of Utah.

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Bradley Sands

Daniel Pinkwater’s Lizard Music – I really regret not getting into this writer when I was a child, although I did read Fat Men from Space back then, which this novel refers to at one point when the protagonist watches a late night movie on TV. I’m getting ready to write a children’s book, so I’ve been reading a lot of those kinds of books during the last six months or so. I think this is supposed to be Pinkwater’s most well known book, but I don’t recall reading it when I was younger. The thing that distinguishes it from every other  children’s book that I have read is that it is the weirdest children’s book that I have ever read. I think it’s a very popular book, and this never would have happened if it were written for adults. Children’s lit is the place where strange books can creep into the mainstream. This book starts out in a reality-based setting and progresses into madness.

Ryan Gattis’ Kung Fu High School – I’ve occasionally taken breaks from children’s lit to read young adult books. Although I found this in the adult fiction section of my library, the “product details” on Amazon says the “reading level” is Young Adult. This is probably the most violent young adult novel that has ever been published. The back cover quotes a review that compares the book to American Psycho, and it’s not too far off. The book’s title makes the plot pretty self-explanatory. It’s about a school where the students need to fight to survive and the violence is very graphic. It’s like a reality-based literary version of the movie, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (watch a scene on youtube to find out what I’m talking about). I liked this book because I normally find violence in prose fiction to be extremely boring. It is something that works better in film. But the violence in this book was enthralling. The last fifty pages or so was like a giant fight scene that you would see in a Kung Fu movie. Less talented writers wouldn’t have been able to make a fifty page fight scene as captivating as Gattis does.

Peter Davis’s Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! – I’ll admit that I have a lot of trouble enjoying contemporary poetry. Usually, I don’t understand it, which is ok as long as it engages me. And if a poem consists of abstractions, I will usually only like it if it is humorous, playful, and consists of surreal imagery. If it is a “serious” abstract poem, then I will be too busy being bored to give it the attention necessary to get anything out of it. Peter Davis’s poetry collection is the polar opposite of the conventions of contemporary poetry that I’m whining about here. Instead of a poet who is unclear about the purpose behind writing his or her poems, Davis breaks down poetry to its most basic form, deciphering the “code” by being extremely self-referential and telling the reader what they should be experiencing while reading each poem. And it is very, very funny.

Daniel Clowes’s Wilson – A character-driven literary fiction novel in the form of a collection of comic strips. Each strip is drawn in a different art style and like ordinary comic strips, consists of the same amount of panels (three, I believe). It is an achievement to create an emotionally resonating novel through these restrictions and Clowes is successful at doing so. I’m also a huge Daniel Clowes fan and he is not very prolific, so it’s always nice when he has new material that comes out.

Jordan Krall’s Fistful of Feet – A novel that belongs in the bizarre genre and the western genre with a strong spaghetti western influence. Krall has a talent for working with genres, which was also exemplified in 2008 with his crime fiction novella collection, Squid Pulp Blues. Both books have a pulpy feel and are a lot of fun to read.

Matthew Revert’s A Million Versions of Right – This is a story collection and I read it on my computer. Ordinarily, I found it difficult to read collections this way (novels are easier because the story never ends to begin anew once it starts getting good). But I didn’t have any trouble with this book because it was really good. It reminded me of classic absurdist fiction, but with a modern day feel, particularly in regards to the content, which is an extreme mixture of the lowbrow and highbrow. It has a gross out, dick joke sort of vibe going on that’s strongly contrasted by its highbrow subject matter. There is also a major focus on the human body. And it’s another bizarro genre book.

Noriko’s Dinner Table (written and directed by Sion Sono) – I have watched a lot of Japanese movies this year and this was one of the best ones. It’s a semi-official sequel to Suicide Club, which was also directed by Sion. While that movie was visceral, this one was more psychological. And its weirdness concerns what is out in the open rather than what remains unexplained. I think I liked this better than its predecessor.

Bradley Sands‘s new book, Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy, is now available

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William Walsh

My favorite reads in 2010 are the following: Sunset Park by Paul Auster; Passes Through by Rob Stephenson; Citrus County by John Brandon; Under the Small Lights by John Cotter; How They Were Found by Matt Bell; Noir by Robert Coover;  The Moon Tonight Feels My Revenge by Matthew Simmons; Point Omega by Don DeLillo; Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet; The French Exit by Elisa Gabbert; Name by Joseph Young; How to Predict the Weather by Aaron Burch; Say Poem by Adam Robinson;  Annalemma #6; Artifice #1 & 2; Conjunctions 55; Our Island of Epidemics by Matthew Salesses; The Black Eye by Brian Foley; Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy; and Cut Through the Bone by Ethel Rohan. I also really enjoyed the time I spent with my two textbooks this past fall: Models for Writers, 10th Edition and An Introduction to Literature, 16th Edition.

William Walsh is the author of Ampersand, Mass., Questionstruck, Pathologies (all from Keyhole Press), and Without Wax (Casperian Books). He is the editor of RE: Telling, an anthology coming soon from Ampersand Books.

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