Category Archives: favorite reads 2016

Favorite Reads of 2016: Misc

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I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve missed a few days of this, so to catch up:

Anagrams by Lorrie Moore

I’ve know of Lorrie Moore for forever, but never read her till this year. It was a great read. If you want to know why, read my take here.

Henry Green

NYRB Classics is reissuing all of Henry Green, so I decided to finally get into him. Glad I did. He’s so major. Here’s a bit of Daniel Medin and Edwin Frank talking about what makes Green so special.

DM: So the selection in this volume contains newly commissioned translations [by Kingsbury] before and after a story translated by Chang. . . . Another author I want to turn to is British novelist Henry Green. There are three titles newly out, and with them New York Review is going to inaugurate a year or so of nine books.

EF: All of the novels will be brought out in new editions. What a publisher can do is to try and gain a public for an author. Green is an extraordinary writer, one I came to as a middle-aged convert. I first read him in college and found it terribly affected, I didn’t get it. So it took me quite a while to get to the book that made me a convert, Back. The core of Green’s work is really the war, without being in any way conventional war novels. Nothing he ever did was conventional. He works with words the way a painter might use colors, and he does so with an incredible ear for spoken language. He catches people saying really awkward things that are really beautiful. The variety of effects he pulls out of spoken language is really astonishing. He makes conversation a kind of color. Back is this really moving book about this guy who comes back from being shattered as a POW in the Second World War, and he comes back to an English that is still at war. He’d been in love with a married woman who died, and he becomes completely convinced that this other woman is that woman. He pursues her. It’s a picture of a shattered mind, and a really forgiving book.

DM: The beauty is there’s no condescension in Green’s irony, and he’s able to walk between the classes and do extraordinary dialogue that feels so alive and vital.

EF: He was a huge influence on Nathalie Sarraute. And Green loved Céline, he was very, very taken with that kind of idiomatic voice. And they may have shared that mania for the ballet, Céline always wanted to be known as a choreographer. And Green’s novel, Back, he thought of it first as a dance. It should also be said that Green was a tremendous alcoholic, and he has like Joseph Roth, he had a particular ability to fall asleep at the beginning of the sentence and wake up at a very interesting place at the end.

All Souls by Christine Schutt

Schutt’s novel of a women’s high school left me feeling aesthetically blessed in that “Virginia Woolf” way. I gave it some tribute here.

Poetics of Cinema by Raul Ruiz

Raul Ruiz was an essential filmmaker (The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting is required viewing), and he was also quite a profound film theorist. This book is incredibly provocative and thoughtful.

Szilard Borbely

This year saw the emergence (in English) of a major Hungarian talent. His novel The Dispossessed and his poems changed my reading year in a Krasznahorkai kind of way. And he’s blessed with one of the best translators, Ottilie Mulzet.

Favorite Reads of 2016: Kafka: The Years of Insight

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I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

For a couple of years now I’ve been hearing a lot about Reiner Stach’s enormous, three-volume bio of Franz Kafka (great congrats to Shelly Frisch for the major translation job), and this was the year that I finally decided to jump in. I started with volume 3, Kafka: The Years of Insight.

This is a landmark work in terms of cluing us non-German-reading, non-academic Kafka people into tons of things that have not been widely known outside of Europe about this essential author. In addition to providing enormous insight into Kafka’s methods of writing, his means of survival, his day-to-day life, his friends, and how he established the small but crucial reputation that Max Brod was able to grow in the years following his death, Kafka: The Years of Insight also makes for fascinating reading on the era in which he lived. Just for the sections on early 20th-century publishing in the German language world, to say nothing of what it was like to live in Prague during World War I, and then Germany during the hyperinflation (both of which Kafka did) this book is fantastic. If you like Kafka at all, I greatly recommend this. And probably also fantastic for people who want to know more about literature, the life of writers, modernist literature, and the Germanic lands in the early 20th century.

Favorite Reads of 2016: Hitchcock by Truffaut

I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

Possibly the greatest film book ever (a Sight & Sound poll of 51 critics had it tied for 2nd place) Hitchcock by Truffaut is definitely the greatest single book on Hitchcock.

For Truffaut’s generation of filmmakers, Hitchcock was the ultimate master, so the young director proposed a series of interviews covering ever film Hitchcock had ever made. The result is an absolutely engrossing journey into Hitchcock’s mind (he’s quite candid and pans a lot of his own films) and a distillation of his art.

If you’re at all into film, this is an absolute must-read. And even if not, this is just a purely entertaining, fascinating book.

Favorite Reads of 2016: My Struggle Volume 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

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I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

I admit, Knausgaard was losing me. Volumes 3 and 4 of My Struggle have things to recommend them, but on the whole they just didn’t have the megawattage that made Vols 1 and 2 such a revelation. Fearing the worst, I picked up My Struggle Volume 5 with a dutiful heart (once you’re 2,000 pages in, that’s no time to cut your losses), and it turned out to be really, really good. You can read my full explanation of why this book works here.

I’m actually really, really looking forward to Volume 6, which, apparently (god does Don Bartlett deserve a rest) isn’t going to hit in 2017 but rather 2018!

Favorite Reads of 2016: Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto

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I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

Zama has been a long time coming, and it’s definitely worth it. This novel is just about perfect, and it’s become a source of almost unanimous admiration among Latin American authors. To see the kind of enthusiasm and major star power behind this book, have a look over here.

The precision of the writing in this book is just remarkable (and congrats to Esther Allen on a beautiful translation); it’s philosophically deep; it’s witty; it’s existential and futile, but not in a cheap, cynical, or otherwise shallow way. If you dig Beckett, Kafka, etc, etc, do yourself a favor.

Favorite Reads of 2016: Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin

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I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

Yes, Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed is a 600-page book of interviews with Werner Herzog. Yes, 600 pages worth of hardcover text is a hell of a lot of time to spend with anybody.

But you’ve got to admit, Herzog is one hell of an intriguing dude. He’s got a lot of ridiculous stories. Like the time he overstayed his visa in the U.S., broke his leg, and ended up staying with an rural U.S. family that he just happened to meet for months. Or the time he ate his shoe at the premiere of Errol Morris’s first documentary. Or, you know, that time he dragged an enormous ship over a mountain in the middle of the Peruvian jungle to make a movie.

More than just Uncle Werner spinning yarns (some of which I’ve got to guess aren’t exactly true), this is just an amazing film book. It covers all of Herzog’s films, which in itself is a major accomplishment, and you’ve probably missed a few (there are well over 50, including many, many obscure ones), so it is a wonderful way to catch up. And Herzog does prove himself something of a film theorist (despite his protestations that he’s just a regular guy who despises all those eggheads), and he’s got some fascinating ideas about the point of film.

Most of all, this is just a fun read. If you’ve got the time, you can easily knock out a hundred pages of this book in a day. It’s fun!

Favorite Reads of 2016: Trouble in Paradise by Slavoj Žižek

I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

I sometimes think of Žižek’s books as a series of cultural readings in search of a thesis. It’s not that Žižek doesn’t have a thesis for each book, it’s more that he prefers to let it well up through the texture of his prose. The read attraction of his readings of the ever-evolving products of global capitalism. You come for the readings and the riffs, and somehow you end up getting a thesis by the end.

Which is to say, in my reading Žižek either succeeds or fails by the quality, freshness, and contemporaneity of his riffs, and by that standard Trouble in Paradise is a big hit. In the brief introduction alone we get compelling readings of Ernest Lubitsch’s classic films, the latest Batman reboot, South Korean culture vis a vis global capitalism, “Gangnam Style” (not to be missed), the hermaphroditism of North Korean dictators, and (of course) an old Jewish tale. That’s 20 pages.

By the end of the book, Žižek has wound many of the major political and cultural global developments of the past 5 years into a pretty compelling theory of where capitalism is, and where it is headed. He has even woven in a pretty good defense of Marxism, which Žižek still believes in and still holds out hope for.

Just in terms of sheer density of information, quotables, and educational value, this is a book well worth the time of anyone who cares to think about what are dominant systems governing our world and where they are headed. I completely recommend it.

Favorite Reads 2016: Die a Little by Megan Abbott

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I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

Megan Abbott is definitely a noir writer worthy of anyone’s time. Earlier this year I made my introduction to her work with Die a Little, and I wrote it up. Strong recommend.

One of the reasons I love editing The Quarterly Conversation is that it opens up so many authors I would never find out about otherwise. Having some of the best, most open-minded, engaged readers in our world writing reviews and essays of top notch writers is a little like having my own private research staff cluing me in to great stuff. For a writer who thrives on creative influence as much as I do, this is incredible.

Case in point, last issue Angela Woodward (a very interesting writer herself) intro’d me to Megan Abbott with this essay. After editing it and publishing it, I knew I had to check Abbott out.

The elevator pitch for Abbott is that she does feminist noir. That’s a reductive label, but it’s a powerful way to coordinate what makes Abbott’s fictions feel so interesting to me, so I’m just gonna go with it.

Favorite Reads 2016: Roger Lewinter

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I’m sharing some of my favorite reads of 2016. See them all here.

Roger Lewinter was a discovery for me this year, thanks to New Directions releasing two titles: The Attraction of Things and Story of Love in Solitude.

Probably one of the easiest points of comparison for Lewinter is W.G. Sebald: they have that same fragmentary feel, there’s the eccentricity of following your own obsessions (no matter how small, personal, and obscure), there’s that sense of hidden currents connecting the world of the work, and there’s that first-person narrator who both is and isn’t the author.

Of course, that’s just one point of comparison. Lewinter is an original, so I don’t want to play up the Sebald comparisons too much. What is most immediately striking about these books is the intricacy of the text: not only are Lewinter’s sentences generally long, they are syntactically very complex. They don’t have the sort of baroque order that tends to rein in long-sentences-makers like Proust or Bernhard, and nor are they run-on sentences masquerading as long sentences, as in an book like Mathias Enard’s Zone.

Rather, Lewinter’s sentences are rather chaotic, accelerating in some places and slowing down in others, never reliably moving at a given speed or direction. Lewinter also makes use of all punctuation at his disposal (often in creative ways). These are books that take a little time to get used to, although once you grasp the art of reading Lewinter’s sentences, you will find that they are exceedingly carefully constructed, and the short pieces that make up each of these books are very well-conceived (as are the books as a whole). (Credit to Rachel Careau for amazing translation work.)

If you’re someone who loves language, do yourself a favor and enjoy these remarkable books. And if you’re just someone who loves goo books, do the same.

Favorite Reads 2016: Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich

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Suddenly Russia is very, very on trend! If you want a volume of insight into the post-Soviet mind, there are probably few if any books that would do you better than this.

Were this all that Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich did, that would be much more than enough. But this in fact is only the first important thing this book does. The narratives in this book have such emotional power, such range, such philosophical depth, such insight, such observations. Did I mention they are also simply beautiful and engrossing to read?

In addition to this, Alexievich knows how to engage with Russia’s long history—it’s not for nothing that this book prominently features Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor discussing the riddle of freedom in its opening pages. Although Second-hand Time does not always address Russia’s history with that directness, it is true that this is a concern throughout. Alexievich knows how to channel the big arguments regarding the major historical forces of the region and the 20th century into these stories, but to do it lightly, so as to never compromise the individuals who are sharing their lives with her.

Few books I’ve read this year are both so absolutely necessary and such an incredible reading experience. Read this!

THE SURRENDER

The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


LADY CHATTERLEY'S BROTHER

Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


THE LATIN AMERICAN MIXTAPE

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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