Category Archives: tqc favorites 2013

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Colin Marshall

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Colin Marshall, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is an essay on the films of Korean filmmaker Sangsoo Hong.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

Mario Bellatin (trans. David Shook), Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction.

Despite the excitement he reliably gins up among his readers, Mario Bellatin, the Peruvian-Mexican author of numerous short, unconventional books, has as yet barely entered the English language. Thanks to the young Mexico City-raised, Los Angeles-based poet and translator David Shook, however, the Anglophone world at least has one more of his categorization-resistant works to enjoy. But first, these Anglophone readers must to accept its title character, a 20th-century Japanese author driven by the trauma of his freakishly outsized nose to write esoteric works up to and including a book in a deliberately untranslatable invented language, as neither real nor fictitious. To their credit, both Bellatin, in the Spanish original, and Shook, in the English translation, somehow make the punishingly passive, borderline academic prose that lays out Nagaoka’s chronology entertaining, perhaps as a result of the contrast between the tone of the language and the utterly ridiculous life story it tells. (You can listen to my interview with Shook, conducted this year, here.)

Peter Hessler, Strange Stones.

As commercially viable forms go, the writing of place – or, if you prefer, the less accurate but more saleable label of “travel writing” – strikes me as the most versatile disguise for pure essayism. Peter Hessler, currently residing in Cairo but best known for River Town, Oracle Bones, and Country Driving, a trio of books written out of his years spent in China, here collects pieces composed not just in the Middle Kingdom but urban Japan and rural Colorado as well. Most of these, all driven by the vividly described personalities of his local subjects, originally ran in the New Yorker, which clearly hasn’t discarded its penchant for the long-form essay, nor for commissioning observations of parts lesser-known. How heartening it feels to see a fellow compulsive world citizen given an expansive space to practice his craft. (Incidentally, I also interviewed Hessler, and you can read it here.)

Christopher Rand, Los Angeles: The Ultimate City.

I rarely hear the name of Christopher Rand, another New Yorker contributor – their “far-flung correspondent” who in the 1950s and 60s wrote prolifically from and sought doggedly to understand such exotic locales as Greece, Hong Kong, and Salisbury, Connecticut – brought up these days. Yet every enthusiast of writers of place, so I’ve come to believe after reading his Los Angeles: The Ultimate City, should take the (alas, often considerable) time to read the whole of his wholly out-of-print work. As clear-eyed and observant a city profile as I’ve read, this book captures Los Angeles as the neither captivated nor jaundiced Rand saw it in the mid-60s. Its first sentence finds the Southern Californian metropolis striking him as possibly “the ultimate city of our age,” and everything that follows has provided me with inspiration to write about Los Angeles as I myself see it in the 2010s.

J.M. Servin, D.F. Confidencial.

Though he remains untranslated, J.M. Servin sits in my personal top tier of writers on the vast, improvisationally functional, often bizarre capital of American’s southern neighbor. Of the recent English-language books on Mexico City available in English, I would recommend David Lida’s First Stop in the New World, Daniel Hernandez’s Down and Delirious in Mexico City, and John Ross’ El Monstruo, though they all have different aims, and certainly take different forms, than Servin’s. D.F. Confidencial hybridizes, in a manner that may startle readers used to more straight-ahead English-language nonfiction, a study of the literature produced by life as distinctively lived in el Distrito Federal (especially the lurid, sensationalistic crime journalism known as nota roja) and first-hand, seedily immediate accounts of forays into the underside – the pulque bars, the last remaining porno theaters – of a metropolis many outsiders already regard as thoroughly sinister.

Donald Richie, The Japan Journals.

Few, inside or outside, regard Tokyo as sinister, but film scholar, cultural writer, and man-about-town Donald Richie made it his mission to plumb its social depths regularly during his nearly six decades in the city. From the time he first came to Japan as a member of the U.S. occupation in 1947 to his death this February, Richie associated not just with the best, brightest, and most respected of his adopted homeland’s society – writers like Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata, filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, and at one point even the royal family – but with the policeman, prostitutes, and sub-proletarians who, by night, roamed Ueno Park near his home. Richie, wrote many astute volumes of fiction and nonfiction on things Japanese, but the 510-page Journals most directly convey the experience of both high and low in a country enduring decades of total transformation by a man not shy about the power of both his intellectual and carnal desires. “Almost unconsciously and over the course of a lifetime,” writes Richard Lloyd Parry in the London Review of Books, “they reveal Richie’s intellectual and erotic compulsions to be a single consistent project” – a revelation so resonant that I read The Japan Journals not just in 2013, but each of the four or five years before as well.

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Morten Høi Jensen

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Morten Høi Jensen, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is an essay on the lectures of Jorge Luis Borges.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

1. The Infatuations by Javier Marias (Knopf)

There are few contemporary novelists who give the impression of engaging with and expanding the long tradition of the novel form, but Marias is one of them. The Infatuations is a haunting excursion into the slippery intrigues of narrative and truth.

2. Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkeegard (Princeton University Press)

Kierkegaard, who turned 200 this year, remains of one the most profound writers and thinkers the world has ever seen, and these two short works are ideal access points to his unnerving, wildly original authorship.

3. Collected Poems by Ian Hamilton (Faber)

The poems of the late Ian Hamilton, most of them written in the sixties and seventies, constitute one of the best-kept secrets of modern poetry. Addressed mostly to the author’s dead father and institutionalized wife, these terse lyrics are by turns tough, tender, pained and private.

4. My Struggle Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgård (Archipelago)

My Struggle is the most exciting literary project of our time. By immersing us so completely in the consciousness of another human being, it is also one of the most important moral achievements in the history of literature.

5. Musings on Mortality by Victor Brombert (University of Chicago Press)

A wonderful, moving collection of essays engaging with the defiance of death in the work of Tolstoy, Woolf, Camus and Primo Levi, among others. Brombert, a World War II veteran and renowned literary scholar, is a wise and insightful reader.

6. Cultural Cohesion by Clive James (Norton)

The ailing Clive James is among the finest and funniest contemporary essayists. His Cultural Amnesia (2007) was the product of a lifetime spent alone in cafés surrounded by books, and Cultural Cohesion is its documentary. A deeply necessary book for anyone interested in poetry, politics, and history.

7. Selected Poems of Miguel Hernandez, edited and translated by Don Share (NYRB Classics)

This selection of the Spanish Civil War poet is probably the best single volume of poetry I read this year. Hernandez’s “Elegy” in particular is a poem of overwhelming beauty and sadness.

8. Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy (Faber & Faber)

The US publication of Duffy’s T. S Eliot Prize-winning Rapture (2005), is one of this year’s most exciting and rewarding events in poetry. The emotional scope of Rapture‘s narrative makes it one of the finest evocations of the highs and lows of a love affair in contemporary verse.

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Ian Dreiblatt

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Ian Dreiblatt, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is an essay cowritten with the novelist Peter Dimock on alternative models of publishing.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

1) Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delany (Wesleyan)

My buddy Adam gave me this book as a present on January 1. It’s amazing & splendid, an assay into poststructuralism set against wonderfully imagined spacescapes. A posthuman contemplation of sex, race, power, and servitude, it’s also an adventure that infiltrated my dreams & a love story that broke my fucking heart in two. Also, it was published the same year as Neuromancer and, like that book, it completely predicts the emergence of the internet.

2) Cyrus by Anna Gurton-Wachter (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs)

“One day Miley Cyrus woke up with no mouth.” More like Gogol than Kafka, this long poem in prose proceeds from there, as Miley fills her mouth-hole with the lost eyeballs of the hapless, hangs out with her boyfriend Basquiat, and is courted by filmmaker Maya Deren. In Miley’s world, logos has become unfixed between speech and a new invention called writing, and so she decides to “humiliate the sun by living underground”—to exist outside the Cartesian two-step of masculinized “logic” & work instead to assimilate the “one colossal image” of reality as encountered. Also there’s a decent amount of pants-shitting, blind flying, and generally pleasurable mayhem. Read this.

3) George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time by Peter Dimock (Dalkey Archive)

Anyone else feel kind of empty on the way home from 12 Years A Slave? This stunning novel (tho I think of it more as a long poem) knows why—because we Americans “lack a language adequate to the history we are living.” It is this language that George Anderson’s main character, a military apologist turned angel of history named Theo Fales, seeks to create, and he does it with a frantic, soldierly discipline that may be madness. Inspired by a uniquely American constellation of forces that includes the music of John Coltrane, an actual slave narrative, and the Bush administration’s legal “justification” of torture, George Anderson searches for a new national language in the fractured music of our late imperial discourse.

4) Adorno’s Noise by Carla Harryman (Essay)

Wildly aflower with cognitive polyphonies, Adorno’s Noise stages a series of insurgent doublings of other texts, tickling monolithic critical voices into heteroglossia and ultimately unveiling the discomfiting power relations that often shape theoretical discourse. Documents like a policy paper advising pro-Israel orators of potential talking points, a speech being given at a funeral, reminiscences of childhood perceptions of nationalism and family, and the work of other writers (especially Anaïs Nin and Kenzaburo Oe) are irradiated by subjectivities foreign to them, brought into surprising new relationships, and forced into aesthetic and political confrontation with the corpses they are often engineered to ignore. It is, as the Honorable Chester Cadaver once said, a little like having bees live in your head. In a great way.

5) Fog and Car by Eugene Lim (Ellipsis)

A lot of steam is wasted in literary criticism on parsing the opposition of “experimental” writing to “realism.” Fog And Car is profoundly both, and each in its best sense. It’s experimental in how the book, willful as water and superbly attentive, creates its own unfamiliar shape in response to the minute exigencies of language. At the same time, it produces a deep realism in its faithfulness to the feeling of being a person. He has the tempo, breath, & tonal sense of a great musician. I’m dying to read his second, The Strangers, just out from Black Square Editions.

6) Rouge by Kimberly Lyons (Instance)

Kim Lyons is one of America’s great poets, a fact that would be more widely known if not for the sky-sized modesty & generosity that mark both her language and her crucial human presence in the world of poetry. Built on a kinetic ethics of the actual, her poems investigate the psychic resonances that emerge between objects and people: “My eyes rolling in their twin ball bearings scan the part of the sky / That yields what is framed here in this room / That is spliced between the bulk of architecture / Halved by the fire escape’s iron stairs / That lead, hilariously, to an upper violet nothingness / With a darkened metallurgist’s grace and doodads to decorate the passage.” Nothingness here is also an example of the increasing role in her work of absences, canceled momentums, leafless vines, empty sleeves. I’m still in the process of re- and re-reading it, but I think Rouge, planted firmly in the “salted ground that is today,” may be her best book yet.

7) Paradise Was Typeset by Brian Teare (DoubleCross)

When I met up with DoubleCross editor and master bookmaker MC Hyland to get my copy of this, I eagerly asked her how much I owed her for it. It was the wrong question; the essay begins with a considered untangling of price from worth, and from there opens into a beautiful testament of micropublishing as deep listening, equally somatic and social, animated by “total faith in the possibility of embodying ethical and aesthetic ideals, even if they are, like paradise, only fleetingly material and frustratingly elusive.” It’s important to wonder what publishing is, & Paradise Was Typeset does. (Like Nathan Hauke & Kirsten Jorgenson’s Country Music, the other title I know of in DoubleCross’s lovely “Poetics of the Handmade” series, it’s priced at “$5 or trade.”)

8) The Antidote by Jackqueline Frost (Compline)

“Provoke me and I will study to deserve this antidote.” Waves of embodied articulation surge backward towards communality against the criminal inertias of language. The Antidote sparks with conversation and perceives a revolutionary horizon, preserving the joyful and painful problematics of the Occupy days. “Something happened to me in the streets of this city. I became intimated into a structure of trust, something like sudden love. A study in trouble’s organ book. Helicopters red against red polluted stars.” But faced with bodily incommensurability, with the rarity of spaces free from “domination’s devices, vaporous,” it becomes increasingly unclear whether the moment is a sunrise, sunset, or an “eclipse, suggesting a momentary but total compromise of the ordinarily irrevocable space of night.”

9) The Origins of Biblical Monotheism by Mark S. Smith (Oxford)

Just what it sounds like. People care so much what God thinks & often form opinions about it that cause them to act like total dicks. And experience is so multiple and disjointed that it seems surprising the idea of a single God would occur to us at all. This book (whose scholarship I’m totally unqualified to judge, but, y’know, seems alright to me) traces the origins of God as a literary character to well before the emergence of monotheism—we see him, in one scene, as proprietor of his own social club in Ugarit, having a threesome with two women, his “[hand] as long as the sea.” That is, of course, a particularly louche moment, but the book considers all sorts of fascinating stuff, like the veneration of Wisdom personified as a female deity to whom surviving Bible verses are addressed, centuries of subtle thought on the relationship between divine and human political power, and the poetics that ancient writers fashioned to instantiate those power relations.

10) murmur in the inventory by erica lewis (Shearsman)

This grew on me the more I read it. The lines are very resistant to closure, and as they accumulate a magnetism wells up between them. Curves are taken fast. An unspecified intensity seems to be powering the whole operation of language from some unspeakable without. “there was light and light / until it burns you” here, in a space ventriloquized by the tension between presence and absence, or “the great hot emptiness ahead” and “what you keep calling memory”. The poems pulse, a pulse that fragments of scene and sense ride into and out of existence: “i was the sea / in the house where the noise started / a thousand miles of it”. With orders collapsing in on themselves in continual reconfiguration (like “a body forever recomposing”) “to speak to where the echo is / we take the shape of the thing that moves us”

11) 154 Forties by Jackson Mac Low (Counterpath)

Oh my god this is just the greatest thing in the history of the world. I love this book so much. I can’t even talk about it.

Also, one last thing is that the year isn’t actually over! There are two more books I’m very excited to read before the year’s out. These are:

12) Supple Science: A Robert Kocik Primer by Robert Kocik (Compline)

13) Forensics of the Chamber by j/j hastain (Argos)

But that’s 13, which is maybe unlucky? So the last thing would be:

14) — a fucking great blog! I really think everyone who isn’t the worst will love it.

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: David Winters

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from David Winters, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is an interview with Christine Schutt.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

Jason Schwartz, John the Posthumous (OR Books)

I’ve been hyping this book quite insistently since the summer, so I’ll stop soon! Suffice to say, I agree with Sam Lipsyte’s assertion that Schwartz has achieved “a unique relation to the language.” I remember reading that Denis Donoghue once proposed three “stages” through which writers should pass. First, self-expression. Second, communication. And third, exploring the form of language itself. But Schwartz’s work does more than merely “explore.” It twists the common tongue into something truly unprecedented: a new species of utterance.

Diane Williams, ed., NOON 2013

Not a “book” as such, but the literary annual NOON reliably ranks among my favorite reads of the year, every year. Robert Tindall’s “A Coveting”, Lydia Davis’s “Not Interested” and Noy Holland’s “Worldline of a Moving Observer” are among the standout stories in this issue. The writing in NOON displays great diversity, but also (perhaps due to Diane Williams’ role as editor) a kind of unifying tonality: call it an aura of miraculous withdrawal. This is fiction defined by its deviations from definition.

Franco Moretti, The Bourgeois (Verso)

True, I’m unmoved by some of his more headline-grabbing interventions, but this book represents Moretti at his best: a masterful blend of new methodologies (in this case, a Morettian spin on corpus stylistics) and old sensibilities (beneath its innovations, The Bourgeois sits in a tradition of finely-tuned cultural philology, harking back to Eric Auerbach and Raymond Williams.) Moretti’s suggestive formulation of “style as habitus . . . something that could spill over from grammar and literature into psychic structures and social interactions” should be a lodestar for literary criticism.

D.N Rodowick, Elegy for Theory (Harvard)

Beyond its specific focus on film studies, Rodowick’s book also articulates a broader argument about the history of theory-building across the humanities, with an emphasis on “moments of rupture, reconsideration, and retrojection, where theory takes itself as its own object, reconfigures its genealogy, conceptual structure, and terminology, and posits for itself a new identity and cultural standing.” It’s my opinion that the future of theory will be forged through precisely such meta-theoretical investigations; in this respect, let’s hope that Rodowick’s work motivates some more “moments of rupture.”

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Jeff Bursey

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Jeff Bursey, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is a review of My Struggle: Volume I by Karl Over Knausgaard.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

(1) The Letters of William Gaddis: any year with more Gaddis is a good year for writing. This is a handsomely done book with concise and informative notes by editor Steven Moore. Readers of Gaddis can find out something more about his personal life (in his relationships with wives and children), the genesis of his books, and the business of getting published. Throughout, there’s that unmistakeable voice familiar from the novels.

(2) My Struggle Book Two: A Man in Love: Karl Ove Knausgaard continues to astound, with this second volume concentrating on his marriage and his art. Sometimes it’s marriage versus art, and that friction gives this book a terrific range of emotions. Conversations with his friends provide a good view into the different ways Norwegians and Swedes go about life. Is it fiction? Memoir? No one could remember verbatim the conversations recounted at length here, and that, too, is as fine a balancing act as Knausgaard’s depiction of himself as writer and father/husband.

(3) Chris Eaton, a Biography: when a young novelist and musician named Chris Eaton pretends to write his own biography you know there are going to be tricks. Who here hasn’t searched his or her name on the Internet? This novel (as it’s classed on its cover) is a biography of various Eatons from the far past to the present, both male and female, and is a very funny exploration of identity. We’re treated to nicely done sentences, wild conceits (Eaton is a fan of Pynchon), wordplay and some Oulipian games. Great fun.

(4) Varamo: I went on a César Aira kick in the summer, and this title stands out for its apparent geniality, its playfulness with myth, and a scene involving taxidermy (with a hilarious payoff). Other books of his incline toward the surrealist, the metaphysical, and are as enjoyable, but this one comes first to mind. If you’ve not read Aira, it’s a good introduction.

(5) The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800: as in his first volume, Steven Moore demonstrates his wide reading, his wide vision, and his enthusiasm for the offbeat as well as certain classics from all over the world. This book brings to our consciousness Asian and European titles that might not otherwise be heard about, and Moore gives potted summaries and context that show what he likes and why. He also gives readers enough information for us to decide what we ourselves might like to investigate. An essential resource book written in a very accessible style.

Bonus title: in the small field of political novels, Marek Waldorf’s The Short Fall stands out not just for the topic, but for its mixture of text, diagrams, and use of different fonts, and for a narrative told by a brooding, paranoid and paralyzed former speechwriter for a presidential candidate (who was struck, maybe in error, by an assassin’s bullet) that may be completely untrustworthy. There’s a grim humour here, but also a concentration on what makes a campaign work (sinister figures as well as the familiar hacks). Well worth checking out.

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: K. Thomas Kahn

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from K. Thomas Kahn, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is an essay on Robert Walser centering around the recent books A Little Ramble: In the Spirit of Robert Walser and Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Perhaps an obvious choice given my “proustitute” moniker, and also that 2013 marked the one hundredth year birthday of Swann’s Way, the first volume, and prompting a group re-read for me. An impressive 1,500 people worldwide joined in for a year-long read of Proust’s seven-volume novel at Goodreads, and it’s my hope that the discussion board there—which enriched many of our reads and re-reads of his work with historical, aesthetic, visual, aural, biographical, and other topics—will serve as a framework for future readers of In Search of Lost Time for many years to come.

Jason Schwartz, John the Posthumous

A horrifying, heartbreaking, mindfuck of a book—a book unlike anything you will ever read. Schwartz has a unique stylistic approach that uses repetition, disorientation, and a kind of confessional alienation to map interior spaces’ topologies, causing rooms to speak, bringing colonial homes’ blueprints and the imagined people that populated their rooms to a bloody sort of life. Read my review of this brilliant, bewildering book in 3:AM Magazine:

Herta Müller, The Appointment

Müller’s unnamed narrator journeys on a tram to make an appointment set for ten o’clock sharp; this is not the first time that she has been summoned, and, in Ceausescu’s Romania, there is no telling when the interrogations will cease or to whom she can turn. On her way, the narrator recounts her life under communism, where intimacy and betrayal, sex and power, and truth and lies inform the individual’s relationship to state, self, and other.

Nicholas Mosley, Impossible Object

Love is perhaps one of the most hackneyed subjects, one to which writers turn again and again, often in redundant and cliched ways. Mosley, on the other hand, creates a fragmented world that overlaps another world: one that is interiorized and split, one that arches across multiple characters and yet which also causes them to be read as continuations of each other. An intriguing experiment in how a text can evade a definition or genre—is it a group of interrelated stories, or is it a novel?—Mosley covers the gamut of love’s narcissism, masochism, its highs, its lows, all with a minimal compression that encompasses all of humanity just as much as it focuses on two people in and out of time.

Claude Ollier, Disconnection

Perhaps slightly similar to Mosley’s Impossible Object, if only as it concerns two individuals whose stories are linked across temporal borders; however, Ollier’s searing consideration of war in Disconnection is a prescient and important book for our times, one that asks critical questions about complicity in the face of war. Here, there are three world wars: one that is remembered, one that is lived through in a “present” narrative during the Second World War, and another that is lived through in an overlapping “present” during the text’s own present. Does war and trauma link us across temporal and national borders? Disconnection is both a nightmare and a revelation.

Sam Michel, Strange Cowboy: Lincoln Dahl Turns Five

Michel’s prose is difficult to fully grasp: there is a rhythm here, but then the rhythm refuses the reader; it begins to morph and change, almost symphonically, and one must tread along, wandering where our narrator—Lincoln Dahl, senior (and junior to his own father)—journeys over the course of one ordinary day, but also an extraordinary one as it is the day his son turns five. A meditation on fatherhood, intimacy, guilt, and regret, Michel proves himself a master of style while rendering an age-old tale magical, bewitching, and at times perplexingly opulent with his desert prose.

Honorable Mentions:

Martín Adán’s The Cardboard House; Gerbrand Bakker’s The Detour; Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck; Pia Juul’s The Murder of Halland; J.M. Ledgard’s Submergence; Xavier de Maistre’s A Journey Around My Room; and Marie NDiaye’s All My Friends.

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Steve Donoghue

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Steve Donoghue, whose most recent contributions to The Quarterly Conversation is are a review of a new translation of The Decameron, an interview with its translator, Wayne Rebhorn, and a review of Rimbaud the Son by Pierre Michon.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

1. Pierre Lemaitre’s big World War I historical novel, Au revoir la-haut, which recently won France’s Prix Goncourt, is utterly absorbing—it pulls the reader in almost gently, with great understated lyricism, so that it’s only after a hundred pages or so that I realized how angry a book it is, full of rich, memorable scorn for the war, for war itself, and even, ultimately, for people who allow wars to take shape.

2. Australia’s “Text Classics” series is an ongoing marvel, bringing lost and out of print first-rate authors back and putting them in front of a whole new generation of readers—authors like the acerbically brilliant Elizabeth Harrower in her great novels The Watch Tower and Down in the City, the deft satirist Madeleine St. John in her feather-light comic masterpiece The Women in Black, and perhaps best of all, the great Martin Boyd, many of whose best works, including Outbreak of Love and A Difficult Young Man. For many readers this will be an entirely new world of literature, and a glorious one.

3. Barry Powell’s translations of the Iliad and Odyssey, new from Oxford University Press, begin with deeply intelligent Introductions (and the traditional ‘translator’s note’ that in both cases boils down to a rather charming “I did it because I can”) and proceed to give readers a taut and often caustic rendering of Homer’s world that’s refreshingly different from the many that have preceded it. These are the epics of the season, well worth your time.

4. Outside professional historiographical circles, it’s hard to think what readership Oxford University Press could hope to have for its 2013 title The Oxford Handbook of Holinshed’s Chronicles, but it certainly deserves a readership: it’s a collection of meaty, engaging critical and historical essays on the groundbreaking historical work written by Rafael Holinshed in 1577 and revised in 1587—a work that fed the imagination of dozens of later writers (most famously, of course, Shakespeare) and is, it should be remembered, extremely good reading in its own right.

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Greg Gerke

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Greg Gerke, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is a review of Robert Bresson Revised.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

William H. Gass – Middle C

Like a film by Kubrick, each book by Gass is an event. Three novels in nearly fifty years is a good ratio and one that flies in the face of a mounting internet-era axiom that everything written should see the light of someone else’s eyes.

Gabriel Blackwell – The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men: The Last Letter of H.P. Lovecraft

An enigma sewn into a riddle. There’s the letter written by Lovecraft/Blackwell and then the introduction, footnotes, and endnotes written by Blackwell. What it creates is a Vertigo-type story as written by Borges. Is Blackwell a satirist, an escapist, a nihilist? He’s a poet-critic who writes works of suspense.

Vijay Seshadri – 3 Sections

A powerful evocation of the modern consciousness in delight and despair over the cataclysmic times. Seshadri shows what technology is doing to humans. Some lines: “The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.” “On our first date, I told my wife / I was a lesbian trapped in the body of a man.”

Gertrude Stein – The Geographical History of America

There is much braying about experimental writing today. What is truly experimental? Does such writing even exist? The more fitting question might be who has read Gertrude Stein beyond Three Lives and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas? Because whenever someone goes Duchamping about with language she is there. The Geographical History of America is the ultimate think piece, because the thought is raw—it sits on the page newborn, squirming in blood, with the American placenta very warm.

Virginia Woolf – The Essays (all of them, in many different editions)

It does Woolf a dishonor to try and sum her up, because she’s limitless. She teaches one how to see, how to feel, and how to write effortlessly. Of her famous Mrs. Brown, she wrote, “She was one of those clean, threadbare old ladies whose extreme tidiness—everything buttoned, fastened, tied together, mended and brushed up—suggests more extreme poverty than rags and dirt.”

Hugh Kenner – The Pound Era andA Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers

The first is the premier book on Ezra but it goes much beyond, into Joyce, Eliot, Williams, banking, politics, and the acoustics of writing. Out of the thousands of readings of The Great Gatsby, the one contained in the second book might be the best. See my essay on A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers


Geoffrey O’Brien – Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows

One of the best film books of the year with pieces on the silent films to The Master. “Movies were in the beginning a way of extracting the world from the world, of scooping out a chunk of the flow of unmediated reality—what Kant did his damnedest to describe as ‘the swarm of appearance, the rhapsody of perceptions’” . . . —and turning it into a fixed object.

Cahiers du Cinema: The 1950’s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave

A Bible on film criticism and film love. Written by Andre Bazin, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer, who said, “. . . the Hollywood scriptwriters have been able to paint for us the image of a world where if Good and Evil exist, the boundaries between them are, just as Aristotle wanted, no more than unexpected bends and undulations.”

Kent Jones – Physical Evidence

Another exemplary film book from the director of the New York Film Festival. At the end of his introduction he says something fascinating about the director of a film, that good films “are made by people who don’t so much transcend their moment as bypass its clichés, its institutionalized inhibitions and prohibitions . . . they fight their way through the movie, past their own certainties, preconceptions, and tricks, until they arrive in territory that is uncharted, for them and for their audience as well . . . [an] artist must always be fighting against something.”

TQC Favorite Reads of 2013: Dan Green

We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Dan Green, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is a Long Essay on the novelist James Purdy.

To read all entries in this series, click here.

Lightning Rods, by Helen DeWitt

DeWitt’s ostensibly satirical novel about a man who starts up a service for oversexed company men (he hires women to take care of these men’s needs on the job) complicates its satirical take on the marketization of everything by locating us so firmly in the protagonist’s worldview that we are almost able to accept his actions as well-intentioned. The novel is finally perhaps as much a satire of fiction’s alleged capacity to let us “inhabit” human consciousness as of American corporate culture.

Those Whom I Would Like to Meet Again, by Giedra Radvilaviciute

A collection of pieces by the Lithuanian Radvilaviciute that blurs the distinction between fiction and nonfiction (“story” and “essay”) in both a provocative and entertaining way.

Middle C, by William H. Gass

One of America’s greatest living writers continues to create beautiful prose well into his 80s. For those who think of Gass as a “difficult” writer, this novel is fully accessible, although lurking behind its story of a fraudulent music professor is a more intricate narrative patterning linking fiction and music.

Repetition, by Peter Handke

I have been reading/re-reading Handke’s body of work, and Repetition is one of his novels with which I was previously (and inexplicably) unfamiliar. It turns out to be one of his best, telling the story of its protagonist’s attempt to recover the traces of a brother who disappeared many years prior.

Jesus Coyote, by Harold Jaffe

I have also been reading through Harold Jaffe’s body of work. By and large, his best work is in short fiction, but this is arguably Jaffe’s most compelling novel, recounting the story of the Manson family, through the thinly fictionalized figure of “Jesus Coyote.”

A, by Louis Zukofsky

I am still reading this massive and influential book-length poem, although one of the ways in which it has been influential clearly is in shifting attention away from the “poem” as a self-enclosed aesthetic object to “poetry” as a more dispersed and open-ended kind of literary “work.” It has the reputation of being formidably dense, but I am finding it surprisingly engaging.

The Facades, by Eric Lundgren and They Dragged Them Through the Streets, by Hillary Plum

Two intelligent and well-written debut novels. The first tells a quasi-futuristic story of an inhabitant of a decaying Midwestern city trying to understand his wife’s disappearance. The second focuses on a group of characters coping with the aftereffects of the Iraq War by becoming domestic terrorists of a sort.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


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 . . .


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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