Is there a David Bowie of literature?—such an asinine question, as dumb as asking, “Is there a Virginia Woolf of music?”—arguing against it arguably as asinine as answering it at all, even on its own terms, which is to say, which “David Bowie”? which “literature”?; not to mention the problem of even locating a “there” with any kind of certainty, and of establishing what and/or where or whatever “Is” in this case is.
A few days ago, I reached out to writers and other artists across the country to provide me with a list of some of their favorite books, music, films, events, moments, or whatever from 2011, which needn’t necessarily have happened or been made in 2011. So I’m happy to publish this first installment, featuring lists from Gabriel Blackwell, Samuel R. Delany, Giancarlo DiTrapano, Andrew Ervin, Eugene Lim, Brad Listi, Kyle Minor, J. A. Tyler, and Curtis White.
I spent a large part of today playing with my five-year-old daughter in the snow, and I’m thinking that might have been my best moment of the year.
Here are some other bright and shiny things that have caught the eyes, and in some cases the ears, of Andrew Borgstrom, Gabe Durham, Eugene Lim, Kevin Prufer, Cooper Renner, and David Shields. And click here for “Best of 2010, Part 1.”
I finished reading Michael Hulse’s new translation of Rilke’s anguished novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge this past Valentine’s Day. (This is the fourth translation I’ve read of the novel.) Written in seventy-one luminous fragments, the novel coheres into a brilliantly lacquered mosaic. As expected from this meditant of meaning, of memory, the novel is full of menacing imagery, anxiety-wracked explorations of the self, of knowledge, and, most of all, seeing:
I am learning to see. Why, I cannot say, but all things enter more deeply into me; nor do the impressions remain at the level where they used to cease. There is a place within me of which I knew nothing. Now all things tend that way. I do not know what happens there.
I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
My favorite book [besides Norman Lock’s SHADOWPLAY and Joanna Ruocco’s THE MOTHERING COVEN] was probably Jennifer Moxley’s CLAMPDOWN. a surprise to me, Moxley is less a wild innovator than a poet who seems perfectly in tune with our current moment. Not that she’s merely fashionable but just that these poems seemed to capture, seemingly effortlessly, our era of stagnation, broke-affluence and armchair-radicalism. Her gorgeous lyric poems risk meaning while defying the received emotions of staler narratives. Continue reading