Friday, June 13, 2014

Follow me on Goodreads!

This post is a sequel of sorts to one I wrote a few months ago, where I listed all of the books I'd read and offered some brief commentary. This is essentially what I would write on Goodreads if I had a profile on that site, which I do not because I find the idea of giving book's star-ratings way weirder and more off-putting that I do with rating movies on Netflix, which I do incessantly. During the early entries on this list, consider the post I wrote about drug use and know that I felt fairly weird and distracted during that era, but was progressively on the way towards feeling increasingly fine and normal. Many of these books helped. It is weird to think about the fact that some people think the redemptive power of fiction is stupid, or corny, or not the purpose of art: Art seems like it should be able to fuck people up. But there are many things more effective at fucking people up than art, and the act of creating something, even something that embraces darkness, can feel spiritual in its own way. That said, I still continue to dislike or feel indifferent to most things, even the things that I seek out because I expect to like them.

A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley. It’s cool, sort of, to read a book that a lot of people like but feels completely internalized to me, its voice so diffuse that I feel like I’ve seen it elsewhere. A man who drinks too much and feels superior to most people, although he hates himself and hangs out at his parent’s house watching television. I have friends who love this book, much like I have friends who love John Fante and Charles Bukowski, who I haven’t read, and I feel like I or any of them could write this sort of book if they engaged their worst impulses. I think that is the appeal of this sort of writing, that never feels startlingly insightful so much as it just feels honest, and honesty is sometimes enough, for some people. It can feel like it’s in short supply, or it can feel like it’s always being invoked in defense of misogyny. To each their own.

Nightwood, Djuna Barnes. Abstract enough for me to have forgotten most of it, besides the fact that I liked some parts. Weird and cryptic and mystical.

Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem. Decent historical fiction, with bits about Quakerism, and alzheimer’s. Felt thought through, lived-in, complete. History of Jewish twentieth-century New York liberalism. The characters are smart but that does not prevent them from hurting each other.

Demonology, Rick Moody. Collection of short stories, none of which spoke to me, all feeling fairly middle-class and unremarkable. Bought at a cheap price and I’m not going to be able to trade it for store credit anywhere.

Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem. I was really into this one. Riffs on the psychology of Tourette’s that seemed made up but still insightful and real. I was particularly fond of the narrator talking about relating to the 12-inch dance remixes of Prince singles. Also a really well-realized sense of location and place. Characters felt vividly realized. There’s this thing in books, where, in a movie, you can see a character and know everything about them at a glance. The drips of information where you can feel like you only fully understand a character at the end of a book works well in the mystery genre. In this book, it’s like, oh yeah, these characters that are being described, they would all hate each other, and that feels like an epiphany, placed at the end, whereas in a film body language would reveal that right from the first establishing shot.

Beloved, Toni Morrison. Totally confused by the storytelling here, to the point where halfway through I realized I had character’s genders wrong. Most people I talked to about this book while reading it admitted they found it confusing when they read it. Song Of Solomon rules though.

Europeana, Patrik Ourednik. A brief history of the twentieth-century, told in terms devoid of humanism, no proper names, only names of groups and ideologies. Compelling enough, although because of where I was at I found the autistic voice occasionally deeply terrifying.

How I Became A Nun, Cesar Aira. A short book, but still long enough for me to go “this book rules” to “well, that was disappointing.” Aira’s improvisatory style here gives way to philosophical private-world residing until the “plot” kicks in to tie up things based on what happened earlier in the book. Still sort of fun, probably the best Aira I’ve read.

Tell Me, Mary Robison. Thirty short stories, all sort of blurring together and being more traditional than the formally daring Why Did I Ever. Running theme in this list: Things being traditional in a vague literary sense and my being disappointed in them, a risk particularly likely to be run by short story collections.

The Isle Of Youth, Laura Van Den Berg. I saw Laura read in Baltimore last year, and  wasn’t really able to pay attention, blamed it on the fact that live readings are not an ideal way to take in prose. This book was revised/finished on the block I live on. Short stories, all sort of in the same wheelhouse, driven by women, tangential to the crime or noir genre, recast slightly to allow for more focus on character and ambiguity than plot. The last story in here, where people impersonate each other on false pretenses, is the best- getting more abstract in a more complicated plot that then allows for something closer to true mystery. The story I was bored by in a live reading is not that much better on the page.

5 Novels Of Daniel Pinkwater. Compendium I paid two dollars for, on the endorsement of Matthew Thurber. Young adult novels from a more innocent era, goofy and exploratory and gentle. Interesting to see the stuff of youthful fascination be mined for all the simple pleasures they afford. The last book collected is an abbreviated form, as Thurber’s article talks about a whole plot that never comes into being.

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon. I am very happy that Thomas Pynchon is still alive, and his faculties are still with him. I talked to a friend who is more of a traditional science-fiction reader who was totally thrown by Pynchon’s approach to sentences, their jumps in register from slang to technical talk.I liked this book a lot. It felt like being set closer to the present made it feel more sinister, whereas in a book like Against The Day, seeing the anarchist argument being presented in the past, feels more hopeful. Pynchon’s always fun.

Sexing The Cherry, Jeanette Winterson. I remember girls in college being really into Winterson and me not knowing what her deal was but intrigued by the obvious erotic undercurrents in the titles. Later I’d see clips of her on television talk shows, online, on a panel about the comic Kick-Ass and talking about how dumb and sexist it was. This book is her as a fantasist, and skimming it in-store particular sentences struck me as the exact sort of thing I like to read. Also I really like the illustration/design style of the current editions. Anyway. Reading it, it scanned as more vague, philosophical in tone but without much in the way of insight, besides like “Time might not be real,” “nothing might be real,” and the fantastical elements sort of go-nowhere and unsatisfying.

Miami, Joan Didion. This book rules. Journalism about something I didn’t really know about, Miami in the 1980s Cuban population- so sort of like Brian De Palma’s Scarface, only rather than be about like the excesses of capitalism it’s about a population who is really into capitalism and conservatism because of feeling fucked over by Fidel Casto and Kennedy. The figures in this book have a different sense of politics than is traditionally found in American life, which I found refreshing, even as it’s about assassinations and counter-intelligence, which is its own type of darkness, but more interesting than the brainlessness of partisan cheerleading. Apparently the Miami Cuban population is Democrat-leaning now.

The Skin, Curzio Malaparte. Yeah, another winner. One I recommended to all sorts of people. Italy is occupied by the Allies in World War II, and Naples is debasing itself to survive. Malaparte walks around, takes in the landscape, and when Americans offer judgments, counters with charming amorality. I don’t know how much of this book’s more vivid and grotesque scenes actually happened, but learning that this is what a moment in time felt like is enough. A few months after reading this I saw Walter Murch give a talk at Johns Hopkins where he talked about translating Malaparte into free verse poetry and compared the composing of poems to the editing of film, the length of lines likened to how long to hold a shot before cutting.

The Hour Of The Star, Clarice Lispector. I keep giving Lispector chances, even though I should have learned I don’t like her. I was loaned this (and her short story collection, Family Ties) by a friend and it is fairly short. Philosophical or metaphysical proclamations and repetitions. Fine enough.

Don’t Look Now, Daphne Du Maurier. I read this while going to and staying at my mom’s house over Christmas. Horror short stories that have been turned into movies by Nicolas Roeg and Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds). A fun light read, although reading short stories that you’re familiar with as movies sort of ruins the factor of shock and suspense. Other stories, where a woman gets eye surgery and sees people with animal heads, and one where a woman kills soldiers out of a hatred for war, are just as good. I feel like an idiot having as much of an allegiance to the NYRB Classics brand as I do, but the books that seem like they’ll be appealing generally are, divorced from any kind of hype cycle.

Traveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker. I love this book, I love Nicholson Baker. Incredibly plain-spoken and straightforward, the voice in this book is able to juggle multiple things to be about- An appreciation for simple pleasures, a hatred of war and drone strikes, love of poetry and music, affection for a long-term partner, regret at mistakes made. The love of music includes both tutorials for current electronic music software and ruminations on playing classical music. One sentence, “Aphids and grubs stir cuntily in the bass clarinet,” wowed me enough to tweet, dubbing it “Best Music Writing 2013.” Highly recommended.

A Changed Man, Francine Prose. Another book picked up for two bucks, that I remembered reading praise for on Bookslut around the time of its release, although way too traditional for my tastes. This took me a very long time to read, despite its plot and easy prose. It is a novel about a skinhead trying to reform himself who ends up living with a family and working for a holocaust survivor. A friend of mine once talked about the historical origins of the traditional novel as being a kind of field-guide to all the different types of people one can meet in the modern world, and reading this sort of thing, where characters are these different sociological types, I sense a completely different appeal being attempted than what I am interested in as a reader.

Taipei, Tao Lin. Insufferable characters whose nihilism sort of convinces you that things are going to be okay by virtue of their not really mattering, through attention to detail of moment to moment inconsequential action and associated feeling. As someone who felt a little crazy from a hallucinogen experience making me feel like life wasn’t real, reading Tao’s approach to drug use, where they are not presented as profound but just as a momentary sensation, is comforting. Still not a particularly interesting book or an author or scene I feel like supporting. It seems fucked up to me that these people can tweet about wanting heroin and not have their friends say “hey, don’t do heroin.” Tao gets mad at his mom for his mom not wanting him to do drugs, and makes an argument that drugs are not a problem unless one views them as such. What a shitty and privileged way to look at as basic an impulse as one person’s concern for another. Depression and ennui are basically championed as default states, drug use as a temporary balm, with no real thought given to ways to improve one’s being, and this whole thing is sort of symptomatic of the modern world, presented in the book as without judgment. Whatever to the book in the singular, a hearty “fuck you” to this scene in the abstract, and the abundance of books with this point of view occupying readers’ brainspace. The conversation/interview between Tao and Sarah Nicole Prickett that Sheila Heti set up is pretty great though, Sarah seems like a total badass whose point of view Tao seems completely unable to understand.

Tenth Of December, George Saunders. George Saunders remains better at a certain type of short story writing than pretty much anyone else. I can remember multiple stories in this collection: Their plot, their language, imagery, and effects. Extensively praised at the time of its release. The most memorable bit to me is a sequence where a chemical allows for more articulate language floods the narrator’s nervous system. I’ve said this before: Saunder’s solution to solving the problem David Foster Wallace felt- where being incredibly articulate and self-aware stifled his ability to be direct and relatable- was to dumb down his language and make jokes, but he’s still able to shift things about some when he needs to. Few people can preach empathy as effectively.

Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed. Cool book, dedicated in part to George Herriman, both a classic to a certain extent and totally neglected by most quarters. Most people I talked about this book in terms of its sheer premise thought it sounded great. The spirit of the twentieth century and modernism and jazz is presented as a voodoo curse, presented by black people, and the knights templar emerge to repress it with counter-politics positing a falsely intellectual avant-garde. True enough! Seems obvious why Ishmael Reed is not widely read, but this book is a lot of fun, written with velocity. Most satires about race from this era that I can think of are films made by white people that feel incredibly dated - (Hi Mom, Putney Swope, The Landlord) but this book rips all of that to shreds with its historical sweep.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis. The newsstand/bookstore at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Train Station is surprisingly great, and on the way back to Baltimore I bought this book, which took me a really long time to read, owing to not being my kind of thing at all.

Memories Of The Future, Sigimund Krzhizhanovsky. Intellectual fantasias from a man whose work was never published in his lifetime, owing to the Communist regime of Russia at the time. There remains a philosophical approach to logic, contorting the language in a way that makes it less accessible than the fables of, say, a Calvino, but it’s also much more politicized, about discontent with the modern world that leads to these fantasies. Really smart and strenuous work which probably is not as enjoyable as the work of many of the artists you would want to compare it to, but each story has a memorable idea or insight inside of it.

Ablutions, Patrick Dewitt. Picked this up because I liked The Sisters Brothers a lot. This is a book about a dude working in a bar, hating himself, acting out, with some spooky bits. Good and bleak, gets harsh enough to counteract the quasi-autobiographical general conceit. The “normal guy” tone also sort of shows a knack for storytelling that explains how a western can grow out of it, that storytelling is just a form, or muscle.

Tampa, Alissa Nutting. Cool to write a book that functions as a “guilty pleasure” with the intermingling of those feelings as being a part of its point or literary effect. Told from the perspective of a sociopathic female pedophile, it manages to be pretty hot, occupying this woman’s mind. In an interview, Nutting has said her goal in writing about sex is a feminist operation, opposed to patriarchal violence. Through the scrim of language’s separation from images, readers of any orientation can feel these thoughts and fantasies palpably: Not manifesting as empathy or sympathy, but as heat within the body. Playing this transgressive trick enables it to read easy as trash while still being able to evoke a sense of culpability in the reader. Alissa’s short story in the My Mother She Ate Me, My Father He Ate Me collection, which contains a line that gives the anthology its title, is good as well, and shows her skillset runs deeper than a facility for horniness and monstrosity.

Crystal Eaters, Shane Jones. Read this twice to write a more formal review that went up on Fiction Advocate.

Master Of Reality, John Darnielle. Basically a reread, picked up one afternoon. I think I’d probably read all of this book in bookstore skims years ago. I’m excited to read John’s novel, Wolf In White Van, when it comes out.

Blindness, Jose Saramago. Flipping through this in stores, every sentence seemed brutal. An epidemic of blindness strikes, people get quarantined in a hospital, the outbreak continues to spread, conditions worsen as society collapses. Reading it and finding out that there is a narrative, not just a procession of degradations, one is comforted by the characters love for each other, their decency in resistance towards systematic oppressors. The plot is set into motion arbitrarily, and then the happy ending, where the blindness goes away, is just as arbitrary. Most would consider this book a classic; I would like to read more Saramago, but do not at the moment feel any pressing need to do so, in absence of another book being championed as loudly as this one is.

The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz. Put out by Dalkey Archive, and described by a friend of mine as her new favorite book. She then proceeded to seem shocked and indignant that I hadn’t read it, in that moment, the first I’d heard of it. A book of porous progressions: An island exists where music has enough silence in it to blend in with atmospheric sounds, there are names for stains that objects can be likened to, and a book is collectively written, filled with digressions. Everything in the book is a demonstration of this principle, an argument against the concrete: A woman hears her neighbor composing a story through the wall filled with sexual degradation only to later learn the story was not about that at all, but that was how she interpreted the sounds: The perversions that so shocked her came from inside herself. It took me a really long time to read this, due to its lack of incident, and the way in which the type was set.

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov. Reread, bought a replacement copy for one that got lent out and was never returned. I first read this book in high school and remembered finding it confusing, rereading it I realized that I had totally understood it, and remembered a lot of it, besides the fact that some of the confusion in the early going is completely deliberate, owing to its structure. I’d remembered the poem being incredibly moving but had forgotten the details of it.

99 Stories Of God, Joy Williams. I was incredibly excited to learn this book existed and then convinced I would probably never read it for lack of an e-book reader but it turns out there’s an app for that lets you read Kindle books on your computer. I still prefer paper, but I read this late one night, eyes becoming strained, soul becoming moved, feeling close to weeping. Each story places its title after its body, like a little hashtag. The weight of this book, felt more on the eyes than in the hands, and as such closer to the brain or soul than the body. Like it’s playing a trick on your tear ducts. Its prose incredibly direct in its address of the strangeness of being alive in this world. Jesus in an office building, asking “what has become of my living water?” to be responded to with “Oh, we thought that was just a metaphor.” That Williams’ conscience is consumed by issues of metaphysics, as well as environment, as well as just brutal tragedy- She is taking in so much at once that grace just emerges by virtue of these juxtapositions.

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. I tried to read this a few years ago and kept falling asleep at the density of its language. I think this was after I’d read The Road and The Sunset Limited and didn’t like either of them. Since then I read Suttree and Child Of God, liked both, and saw The Counselor, and liked it. I intended to write a blog post about The Counselor, actually: How it seems really weird as a movie because it’s all about this sort of cruelty and violence that is unearned, how people just die in it for no reason, good doesn’t triumph over evil because it’s making a point about evil’s existence. Basically, it is more like a book than a movie, and I think that’s fine, that’s the argument McCarthy wants to make. But at the same time I find his books- frequently incredibly violent, sprawling in their casts, mostly devoid of characterization, fairly frustrating and unsatisfying: They can be tedious whereas a film like The Counselor just feels constantly surprising.

Family Ties, Clarice Lispector. Do I remember anything from this book at all? I’m not sure I do. At this point I had realized that I didn’t really like her work but I might as well read this book before I returned it. I still haven’t returned it, but I have read it.

The Quick And The Dead, Joy Williams. Reread predicated on ordering a personal copy after reading this book from the library a few years ago, and writing a long essay about Joy Williams for Pleasure Editions, the gist of which is: I love Joy Williams.

The Literary Conference, Cesar Aira. Borrowed this from a friend who had it, read it very quickly. Not very good. I really dislike books about books and the world of writers. It just seems small. This book starts off with talk about a mad scientist plan to clone Carlos Fuentes, and ends with mass destruction by giant blue silkworms. And then the destruction stops. Aira views himself as a writer for readers who already read a lot, who have consumed a great deal of literature before they got to him. This is probably an accurate and self-aware thing to do, but it lowers the stakes of expressing oneself to virtually nil. Do you like to read? You can read this incredibly quickly! So basically it’s the sort of logic that leads to short stories being written on Chipotle cups, without any hope for mass appeal or communication.

The Defense, Vladimir Nabokov. This book’s fine. I kind of wish I’d read Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story instead but that will happen one day or another. Nabokov’s always pleasurable, this was one of his I hadn’t read.

Clandestine In Chile, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez died recently, and this work of journalism, reissued by NYRB Classics, was on my radar. This one is him working with the memoirs of a filmmaker, in exile under Pinochet, sneaking back into his country to make a documentary about conditions under dictatorial rule. Totally an interesting premise, but I think I might hate Marquez’s voice. It’s been a long time since I read One Hundred Years Of Solitude, but it was not so long ago that I read The Adventures Of Maqroll, by his good friend Alvaro Mutis (also recently deceased), and I hated that book as well, for the same reason I took issue with this book: The voice of the “charming rogue,” that assumes it’s ingratiating. I would rather read a book from the perspective of an unrepentant dirtbag shithead. The storytelling effect in things like this makes me feel like nothing is happening, there are no stakes, because the protagonist is always going to behave decently, everything is a “fun adventure,” and no impression is made on me whatsoever.

Partyknife, by Dan Magers. My friend Tim Paggi has been an MFA student for the past few years, and has been paying attention to the world of contemporary poetry. We met up and exchanged books. He lent me this, which I wouldn’t have read on my own. It’s got a blurb from Thurston Moore, world-renowned terrible lyricist. The voice in the poems goes from jokey alt-bro to poet-guy but always feels smug, like I could imagine the voice’s elevation of volume and subsequent pauses for laughter. I read this really quickly so I could be done with it and return it.

Tyrant Banderas, Ramon Del Valle-Inclan. This book’s cool, although not as cool as I wanted it to be. Supposedly a masterpiece and very difficult read in it’s native tongue, for the way it switches from dialect to dialect, from class to class. In English there are several examples of the sorts of sentences I am always down to read. What’s in both versions is a structure based on numerology, a large cast, and some parts that are really visceral and moving-forward, and others where things are more confusing. Some funny parts, although not laugh-out-loud funny. It was shockingly vulgar and black at the time but the jokes scan as more “gently satirical” now. I would still recommend this book, generally. It’s about a dictatorship in South America, and plots to overthrow the tyrant, aided on both sides by magic. Generally speaking, the longer an individual character is followed, the more into it I was, but for structural reasons, which I was into for their own sake, it couldn’t maintain that sort of linearity throughout the book. Another winner from NYRB Classics.

Granma Nineteen And The Soviet’s Secret, by Ondjaki. What the hell is that book, you’re asking yourself? I got a review copy as part of my attempts to write book reviews, thinking it would be pretty good, as a work in translation needs to bypass so many hurdles to exist in English. The author is African, from Angola, and writes in Portuguese. Another of his books won the Jose Saramago prize, which I didn’t know was a thing, but there you go, it is. In the end I didn’t write a real review of it, unless you count this blog post, because mostly all I wanted to say was that it was a Young Adult novel, with children as main characters, simple prose, a generally light tone, a happy ending. It’s about some kids in Angola who hatch plans to steal dynamite from Soviets so homes are not destroyed. They end up blowing up some salt and making fireworks. Granma Nineteen is so named because she has a toe cut off. It’s all very simple and straightforward. I know there’s a big controversy when people say adults shouldn’t read YA, but honestly this isn’t the sort of thing I was into when I was younger either. In middle school I remember reading Poe and Wells. Robert Cormier’s I Am The Cheese was pretty good though.

Scarecrone, by Melissa Broder. If you’re going to read poetry by a depressed person on the internet in 2014, I don’t think you can do much better than Melissa Broder. (Unless it turns out Patricia Lockwood suffers from depression and just isn’t making her work about that.) That’s a condescending way of putting it. I didn’t talk much about that John Darnielle Master Of Reality book, but in it there’s a part where the narrator talks about the idea of Ozzy Osbourne as saying “Pretend I am evil.” Even though he’s not, in many of the songs on Master Of Reality he’s advocating for Christianity, even. Broder is doing a similar thing, almost: Positing herself as witch, writing a poem called “Self-portrait as Satan,” when what she is doing is feeling gross about her body, as a woman in our society taught to fear calories, trying to turn that grossness into a power, trying to inherit some matriarchal energy whereby the feeding of menstrual blood to a man can make him love you, just trying to be happy, just wanting to be filled by God and content and talking about it in terms of sex as a way of owning degradation and power.

The Age Of Wire And String, by Ben Marcus. Completely inadvertent theme of this blog post is me being disappointed by books put out by Dalkey Archive, I guess for being too weird for me. (There are books they’ve put out I like or admire: Stanley Crawford, Stanley Elkin, Flann O’Brien, Marguerite Young) Another book lent to me by Tim. I remember people reading this in college and me looking at the first page and thinking, bullshit. Now I have more time for things I am initially dismissive of, I guess, but as I write this it seems like distrusting instincts is a waste of instincts- That’s why they’re there, hardwired in. I should trust myself. Who else do I have? Plenty of people, actually, I am well-loved. But still the point stands!

The Fifth Head Of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe. Another book Tim lent me. People love Gene Wolfe, specifically his Book Of The New Sun. Science-fiction that plays games with expectations and the world you think you’re inhabiting. This was presented as an easier entry-point, a collection of three novellas that function as a triptych. Prior to this I’d read a massive collection of Wolfe’s short stories, that bummed me out with its authorial notes of introduction that seemed way too self-satisfied. The first story was good, interest waned a little after that point, I think I generally like to be carried more by language or an authorial voice than the way these stories like to reveal their details about the world. Science-fiction requires a level of focus, a decoding of world line by line, where other forms set in more recognizable worlds allow for a certain drift of attention, with the understanding that you’ll click when insights occur. The level of gamesmanship in a work like this is fun but I am not always so attentive.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Music in 2013

One of my biggest disappointments this year was the Voice Of The Valley noise festival. The past two years, it's been a highlight of the year, to get out of the city, to go camp in the woods of West Virginia for a few days, with a large group of people from Baltimore creating a miniature version of the city that can sit around a campfire. The music is generally great: All of a "noise" or "experimental" nature, but with a great deal of variety. In 2012 there was Tiger Hatchery's free jazz and Gary War's blown out synth pop, each playing in front of an audience that was generally into what was happening, with whoever was particularly into one act or another circling to the front of the stage. This year, the event was held at a different campground, with one person previously heavily involved in the curating sitting out, sound that was pretty much garbage, and almost no female performers. Everyone was bummed out and disappointed, and when the rain turned the dirt to mud and soaked through tents to make sleeping bags into breeding grounds for hypothermia, many bailed out early. It felt like something dying, even if it was just my interest. As people played their undercooked electronic music, I kept on thinking about how much I'd rather be listening to rap.

A much smaller disappointment is that I did not end up consistently writing about music for a print publication this year, although for a minute there I thought that would happen. I'm not sure how interesting of a columnist I would've ended up being: I think the initial offer was made from an assumption that I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, including lots of "experimental" stuff, but this year I had almost no interest in any of that, and was instead mostly into pop music. This definition of pop music is not the same as everyone's- I'm not sure how genuinely popular anything I listened to was- but it seemed at least to be made by people with an interest in pop music, and an interest in "swinging for the fences," some degree of emotional transparency, and a disinterest in abstraction. The music I liked pretty much all chose warmth over coldness. Also I think pretty much all of my favorite non-rap music was made by women, at least in part. If you look at that big post I made where I discussed the books I was reading, pretty much all of my favorite books were written by women, and my favorite comic to come out this year was probably Anya Davidson's School Spirits. (This certainly says more about me as a person than it says about women as a gender but take it however you want to take it.)

But what am I actually talking about, you might be asking yourself?

My favorite band this year was probably Blanche Blanche Blanche, who are definitely experimentalists at heart. But that experimentation seems more related to jazz, and song, than electroacoustic composition or whatever- It seems very human. If you had never really heard Frank Zappa but only knew him as a dude who championed Captain Beefheart and The Shaggs- Wooden Ball is sort of like the dissonances of Trout Mask Replica played on a synth, while being grounded (like how bass can work in a jazz context) in these sort of flat speak-sung girl vocals. I've described them as being "younger sibling music," invested in a sort of brattiness. Breaking Mirrors has parts being played by a rock band and it feels very tight, only slightly off-beat. The energy seems related to what Deerhoof were doing ten years ago. It also feels related to Matthew Thurber's comics - they just did the music for an online ad for Infomaniacs but I'm not sure if that's for a love of the game of if Matthew just paid them - and the newspaper Mothers News. These are my favorite things. This band seems to be doing the thing that happens when you call a band your favorite band, beginning to seem like a part of my identity, or conception of self, as much as they're a separate entity. It makes me wonder if Zach Phillips was into They Might Be Giants when he was a pre-teen.

The new Saturday Looks Good To Me is such a classic conception of pop, that K Records thing of romanticizing the 1960s and girl groups, this infatuation with reverb and romance that is so distant from today's pop music emphasis on bass and the body, that it feels at odds with almost everything in the world that includes music and its attendant culture. This feels so distant from the world of partying I don't even remember what horrible stupid shit had went down the night before that led me to tweet the lyric "The city's falling apart, time to build a new city." This record is a form of gorgeousness that you only see when everything else looks ugly save for the weather.

I ended up feeling the new Marnie Stern really hard. I had been really into her first record when it first came out, the way it moved like a Deerhoof record, but it seemed like, in the intervening years, as she was becoming more straightforward, she was moving through classic hard rock in a way I found a little unpalatable. The Chronicles Of Marnia feels like it's hitting the pop spot cleanly, and it suits the inspirational pep talk thing Marnie does well. It feels bright, effervescent.

Similar feelings are evoked by the new Fielded record, Ninety Thirty Thirty, a lot, although certainly some songs are better than others. I've seen her do noise sets, and her last record I viewed as a sort of experimental folk record, but this is bright, shiny. I described it on a couple of occasions as "Kate Bush meets Bruce Springsteen" and while both of those are artists that I can't really listen to a full record by, I don't think, somehow the sweet spot between the two, when it converges with Lindsay's own particular sensibilities, I was able to get behind. (Fielded is the project of a woman named Lindsay Powell. I need to point this out because it seems like in the context of this sort of rock-based but with eccentric edges pop music I could be alluding to Lindsey Buckingham. And the Fielded aesthetic does seem like the work of someone who might have a shrine to Stevie Nicks somewhere in her soul.)

And while invoking Fleetwood Mac I should mention that I was just as into that Haim record Days Are Gone as every major press outlet. The personalities behind the record seem deeply normal, to the point of blandness, almost, but I found that compelling. Most music feels like it's being made by "artsier" people: People who found each other and it was a great relief. This band of sisters feels so assured, relaxed and comfortable, that it feels adamantly mainstream. But they make the sort of music that you want normal people to make, rooted in all sorts of pop music that's actually really good, as opposed to the sort that's actively horrible. There is in this music the sort of niceness that you get sometimes in people who are privileged enough to have never learned the defensiveness and fear that infects most people. I like this sort of person a lot but they never really want to hang out with me as they've got their own thing going on.

Much more personable was Speedy Ortiz's Major Arcana, which in its obvious nostalgia for 1990s indie rock shares my interests. It seems really similar to Helium, or a Pavement record. Their lyrics read well, they sell poetry zines at the merch table, and the bandname is a Love And Rockets reference. A similarly fun rock band, 2 Ton Bug made really satisfying garage rock, while maintaining Twitter accounts that make me feel like I would get along with them really well if we lived in the same city. They made my favorite music video of the year:

Other indie rock records I liked a lot that are sure to show up on other people's end-of-year lists were those made by Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Neko Case, and Bill Callahan.

The rap record I listened to the most often this year was Earl Sweatshirt's Doris, but the rapper I kept up the most with, downloading multiple mixtapes, was Starlito. His Step Brothers 2 record with Don Trip is probably stronger than this two solo albums from this year, but people looking to dive into his oeuvre with a free mixtape are recommended to check out Funerals And Court Dates from last year. Rapping that goes super-hard, verbally and is incredibly moving in the way that writing can be when it means it the most. As interesting as the Kanye West record was in terms of production, these records actually rewarded paying close attention to them. I also liked Young Thug, for not really rapping but taking the form of rap and just making it weird- his work on the Gucci Mane song "Virgin" is incredible. I don't mean to go over the entire genre of rap in a single paragraph, but I feel like this music has been discussed plenty, enough so to actually inform my thinking, and I cannot even have the illusion that I have something new to say. Lil Ugly Mane's "On Doing An Evil Deed Blues" was a great song. Danny Brown's Old was good. I liked the Cam'ron and Da Mafia 6ix mixtapes although I only listened to each once or twice. I'm looking forward to the new Future record dropping before the end of the year, as well as the new R Kelly.

Music I thought was beautiful, more rooted in chamber music or instrumentals, was Colleen's The Weighing Of The Heart and the cassette tape release of Brute Heart providing a soundtrack for The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari. I also liked the White Poppy LP on Not Not Fun and her cassette tape Drifters Gold, which were much less composed, more loop-based and repetitive, but still beautiful.

There is other music I liked this year, and this is still far too long and disordered to be any type of year in review. These are the things I feel like I have to talk about, the things that to not mention would be lying.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Small Press/Self-Publishing

The other day while riding the bus I struck up a conversation with a dude with a Picturebox tote bag. "Pretty cool publishing company," I said, and went on to recommend he check out Anya Davidson's School Spirits. The conversation turned to comics, whether I made them, I said that I wrote prose, and then I talked about self-publishing, or chapbooks- I feel like this comes up a lot, when I say that I write, but that I don't have any substantial work published. Self-publishing is presented as a viable option.

For comics, self-publishing is a viable option, a decent business model. Many of my favorite cartoonists have published minicomics or zines. Now that the serialized alternative comic book is pretty much dead, at least as far as distributors dealing with retailers are concerned, small presses (and the internet) are pretty much the way to access the newest shit, the things that feel like the future.

For prose, though, I am still only interested in books published by actual publishers. Maybe this is because the well of literature is so deep that it seems relatively unexplored- there are hundreds of years of books available, and the desire for the newest shit is drowned out by the feeling to only explore that which has stood the test of time.

The other thing is the question of slightness, immediacy. The peer-to-peer communication which characterizes the low print run makes sense for zines of drawings in a way that it doesn't for the storytelling impulse. Showing your sketchbook to a friend is a way to explain the visual ideas you've been having, while a story in pupa form can be conveyed verbally. The oral storytelling tradition is a rich one.

Contradicting this idea is the idea that the written word and the spoken word are two very different things- and again, the chapbook is more a form for poetry than for what I'm characterizing as "the storytelling impulse" for probably just that very reason. It's maybe related to the fact that a small limited-release cassette tape (of which I have dozens) is different from a live musical performance, which is maybe more analogous to the folk form of storytelling. But then, people prefer music to literature, and can ingest more of it, more casually, than they can consider the written word. All that said, while I love the cassette format, I find the small-scale nature of the seven-inch record a disgusting waste of resources.

When I think about books, or literature, I think of volumes, works of effort. I think of Italo Calvino's collection of Italian Folktales, say, a herculean effort that, were it a fraction of its size, only consisting of a handful of tales, would not need to exist: Those stories could just be told in their original form. Or I think about joke books, compendiums of tiny bits of thought that then act as a testament to a moment in time, the culture that conceived them. It's cool and interesting that Fantagraphics is collecting books of minicomics, and they're these bricks of four-hundred-plus pages: Not the work of a single author, but documents independent culture during specific time periods. That's what's interesting about small works: In time, they don't exist as themselves. They don't get to transcend their era. They are contextualized in shorts programs and anthologies. It's funny, I guess, the idea of things feeling like the future that end up being just documents of their era.

I don't know how to conclude this post. I wish I was just saying these ideas out loud, that this conversation could move on, to be about anything else, but maybe the idea of it would linger with you to be repeated, moving into the future, rather than just living on as link on this blog's sidebar with the heading October 2013.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Drugs: Don't Do Them

There are plenty of drugs out there, and many varieties of them I have never ingested. I have never done cocaine, or amphetamines, or any form of opiate, never even been given prescription painkillers in the aftermath of surgery. The only illegal drugs I've ever taken fall under the general rubric of "hippie drugs," and I have not even done very many of them, or very often. There is a post on this blog I wrote approximately ten years ago, where I posted the notes I'd made in Wordpad the first time I smoked pot, one bored night in college. My thoughts were racing too fast for me to get them down, but none of them were that insightful. I feel like what I experienced was all of the unconscious thoughts that precede conscious thought, all of the "what is the word for that" that you need to have at hand in order to form a sentence. Years later, I would have the experience of smoking pot, or maybe it was hashish, and rather than try to transcribe my thoughts, I attempted to socialize. As my friends spoke, the same thing happened, as I attempted to formulate a response. I had so many things to say in response I was not really listening, and certainly I could not keep track of the overall shape of the conversation. It really depressed me, knowing that this was how my friends went through their days, that most of their interactions with me had this taint to them, that they were too lost to themselves and the noise of their thoughts that it seemed impossible they could understand me and my personality. I have been told by people who smoke a lot of pot that when you smoke a lot of pot this is no longer the experience, that once you build up a tolerance your thoughts don't move as relentlessly, but I am still responded by the joke from Jim Breuer's stand-up comedy, that you can stump any stoner with one question, What were we talking about just now, and and that has been pretty much borne out through the years.

A few years after my first experience smoking pot, I tried LSD, and I enjoyed it, although in most ways it was the same experience, but worse: Thoughts accelerating to such a pace that they deconstructed themselves. Maybe it is because I am a writer, but in retrospect, at this moment, I want to say that the whole thing of language, how you put a name to what you see and as such understand it, combined with the hallucinatory effect of seeing things other people cannot, falls apart. I feel like I saw how my brain works, how all brains work, but in the feedback loop of trying to process this, through language centers or whatever, I eventually disassembled myself, ending up in a blank of neurons firing. It was interesting, but one of the other revelations I had in the midst of this was that I am not someone who uses drugs, really, and what I was doing, and pretty much resolved not to bother again in the future.

It was not a firm resolution, however, and there was a time since then where I used the drug and ended up having a really nice time, not really disabled, but I lay on my bed, listening to music, and thinking about my friends. This must have been a weak dose, or hit, and here, instead of having everything disassemble itself, I felt more like I understood the intentions of everyone, the imagery and moods the music was created to express or capture, and the nature of my friends, filled with love and beautiful. I feel like when people talk about the importance of setting, this is what they are referring to: I can imagine being in a really dirty room, walls and rugged stained with cigarette smoke and cat piss, and feeling the cold indifference of people who do not want to improve themselves.

About a month ago, I tried LSD again. This time, I was trying to experiment with "microdosing," which I'd read about in the context of psychedelics research. The idea is that, you take a hit of acid and dissolve it into a bottle of water, then mark that bottle of water, dividing it into fractions. You would then take a sixth of a hit in the morning, every three days, and keep a journal of what happened. This is meant to be such a small amount that you do not actually hallucinate. Most, apparently, report just having "a real good day," where they are able to get a lot done, with their mind working quickly, without the locked-in, mechanical feeling that is said to come with doing amphetamine derivatives like Adderall. This sounded great to me. I thought I'd be able to do a lot of writing. And maybe, on one of those days, I did. I was not actually keeping a journal. Nor did I have the acid-infused water in a bottle, because I try to avoid purchasing bottled water. I had a tall glass of water I kept in my bedroom, vaguely aware of the scope of it, and I didn't have the methodical approach to only take a small amount every few days, partly because I was worried about the water becoming stagnant and stale, sitting out on my bookshelf, without a top to it. I drained the bottom third one night, aware of the fact that I would probably feel something, and was resigned to the idea that this would probably be a good time.

And it was, for most of the night, until I tried to go to sleep, which I realize is actually maybe a classic mistake in the annals of trip reports. Had a weird night, basically, at that point, my brain's attempts to shut down combined with other active parts led to some unpleasantness. The next day, while trying to read something- Dhalgren, maybe?- that made me nod out with boredom, this then led the drug to reinitialize itself, which wasn't really something I was aware could happen, and I ended up spending two consecutive nights, feeling myself go crazy. It the days and weeks that followed, I was essentially afraid of the hypnagogic state, the border between waking and sleep. Often during the waking days I was also just afraid of my drug experiences in the past, things I'd already worked though, coming back to say "this isn't real." The idea of such deconstruction of thoughts, and the connection of sleep to death, and death to DMT, led to me becoming freaked out by the idea of death, even, which is something I've been accepting of the inevitability of for my entire life. It kept me up at night, and made me feel weird and distant around people I care about. I wanted to tell them about what I was going through, dealing with, but also didn't want to think about it, so this awareness was just a loop at the back of my brain, that I could tune past when I was really engaged. I feel like in general my standing heart rate was elevated, like I was on speed or something, and felt like the speed of my thoughts was such that I couldn't really engage with other people's tempos, my mind racing to the point where I could read, but wouldn't really retain what I was reading. I could watch a movie, and wanted to watch movies, out of a desire to distract myself, but I wouldn't really be engaged with it. (Just yesterday I watched the new Nicole Holofcener movie, totally awake, feeling like I had a hummingbird heart, but I don't think I really got anything out of the movie. To be fair, it's totally possible the movie is mediocre- most of the movies I've been seeing have been pretty mediocre, the things I'm able to choose from when seeking distractions is mostly limited to what's at Redbox, because during this time I have also been pretty damn broke. I watched This Is 40, which is a total piece of shit, much as I'd expected, out of a desperation to fill the hours.)

I feel really certain at this point that what is most important in life is engagement: personal interaction, taking care of those close to you, communicating with them, sharing their joys and sorrows, helping them. What's important is being present in the world and not lost inside your own head. Partly I think that the lingering effects of that last trip over the past month have been because I have been feeling really lonely, and one of the revelations that struck me during said trip is how it's sort of absurd to be lonely in a world with so many lonely people, although previously I'd felt about loneliness the same way I felt about death, as an inevitability that should be accepted. Language, the thing that psychedelics deconstruct by separating the symbol from the symbolized, is, if not truly a miracle, near enough to one, the redemptive force that humans have to connect them. Self-consciousness is paralyzing, and while it is good to be aware of yourself to the extent that you do not say something stupid or hurtful, to be too hyper-conscious is to reach a place where you do not say anything, do not communicate anything, because you are lost in solipsism. I am saying this to you even though I do not even really wish to write it, partly because of my dislike of the way it sounds, either morally scolding on one hand or waving a sign that says "mentally disturbed drug user" on the other. It's me contending with anxiety, the act of consciously thinking about what I don't want to think about, because trying not to think about it doesn't work. Writing this, I feel present, but my hope as I write this is that when I am done with it I will be able to put it behind me, having thought this out and through, and being able to move past it, to focus on things other than the drug I did a month ago, or the drug I did seven years ago. It is absurd to be consumed by those things, despite the all-encompassing feeling they create. I hold in suspicion even the exhilaration of euphoria, feeling now that peace is found in stillness and silence.

Anyway: I'm drinking a tea before bed as of the past few nights, a mixture of valerian and camomile, which has me sleeping pretty well, and I've got a new job to fill my weekdays. I am hoping also that writing this helps me to get past these things. One of the things that sucks about me, and has been damaging, is that I often walk around, thinking about these novels I've written, and imagining myself talking about them to people who'd read them. One of those books, that I finished four years ago, is partly about a dude with psychological issues compounded by drugs, and the importance of getting out of your head through connecting with other people. Literally, I wrote a book about this, and one of the things I imagine myself as having to say is that I don't want to viewed as a "drug writer," but as of the last month of time I've had to amend that to hoping that this book could be therapeutic for those dealing with the same sort of shit as I've been dealing with recently. That's a book that I started writing before I'd done acid, but I took acid during the writing of, partly in the hopes that it would make the book easier to write. Another book I've written is, sort of, about me working through the revelations of that drug trip, or sort of being a response to the idea that Paul McCartney, after his first acid trip, wrote a note to himself that "there are seven levels," and then correlating that concept to the idea, in m-theory, where spacetime consists of eleven dimensions, the four common dimensions (including time) and the seven higher dimensions. These fantasies of talking about myself (self-consciousness and solipsism, again! Which in the book I identify as one of the seven higher dimensions. Man, I hope no one steals my book idea, extrapolating from the explanation within this blog post) have become newly tainted by anxiety, and make it harder to know what it is I am supposed to think about, when I don't have anything to think about. Just writing these past few sentences have made me feel anxious again, after feeling good and relaxed for most of this blog post's composition. I want to keep on writing now, until the point I feel calm again, which I had reached at the conclusion of my last paragraph. But this is still more self-consciousness, which I have already identified as being a problem. This David Foster Wallace style eating of oneself. I'm trying to write a new novel now, that would be more straightforward, and it is to be a horror story, and I think to a certain extent this engagement with terror is what has led to this incessant anxiousness, which has made me too distracted and unfocused to actually write said horror novel. I am just going to assume, now, that this newest bit of panic and tension in my chest is actually just hunger, and move now, to post this and prepare myself a dinner.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Books I've Read So Far, In The Year 2013

I have probably read more books in the year thus far than I have any year previous. Partly this is the result of feeling like I have already seen every movie that I would ever love, and the changes in Netflix service that followed this thought. Partly it's seeing these long Blake Butler lists of all the books he reads in a given year, serving as a reminder for how much literature there is out there to be explored, if one does not merely wait for a critical mass to accrue around something before you feel as if you have to read it. I have also had a lot of free time on my hands, but always paired with an anxiety of thinking that this free time could at any point disappear.

I wanted to write about the books I read, to be able to remember that I read them. The reading has been so constant that to talk about these things also seems to form a type of a diary, a chronicle of a time of my life that's been largely uneventful except for this continuous consumption of prose. With the exceptions of the works I loved, my reaction is generally "It is what it is," and while that response is completely unhelpful, it is the works I had that response to that I am most likely to forget I read. I will try to explain what it is they are. Some of these responses might seem dismissive, but they're still not nearly as dismissive as it is to not read something.

I was going to post this at the end of the year, and then I was offered the chance to do a "sponsored blog post," which I accepted. It being for a grammar-check website then made me feel like I should actually write sentences in response to these books, as opposed to the sentence fragments I think I generally use when I'm chronicling my reaction to something, and not forming an argument. It's important to note this isn't in strictly chronological order. At first I was not keeping a list, and the first chunk of this list, where works are grouped together by author, was from memory, at the time I decided to write down all that I had read, after realizing it had been quite a bit.

Blaise Cendrars, Moravagine. I bought this in Philadelphia, on the way home from Christmas, and while I was very excited about it, I also sort of dreaded its supposedly horrific content. Moravagine, as a word, means "vagina death," and the talk around the book gave the impression of misogyny, that it was a book with a lot of rape in it. Reading it, it didn't come off as a transgression or a provocation, as much as sort of a more well-written pulp thing, in the tradition of the European romanticization of the villian, as seen in Fantomas, but here we have a protagonist who is mentally ill rather than brilliantly cunning. I thought it was fun, and the violence is never gruesomely detailed in a manner I found disturbing.

Alan Garner, Red Shift. Another NYRB Classic, purchased from Joseph Fox bookstore at the same time. I don't think I knew, going in, that this was a YA novel, I anticipated a science-fiction thing, but then mostly just following one of its three (?) narrative threads, the romance between two adolescents. I liked that plenty, and like the idea that there is stuff I missed because I wasn't paying attention- I read this in line at the food stamps office, so the parts that were just dialogue between two characters were obviously the easiest to follow.

Ian Svenonius, Supernatural Strategies For Forming A Rock And Roll Group. I went to the reading this the same night my friend Carson was getting ready to leave town, and I took a bunch of books from him that I didn't really try to read, that are at the moment just objects, reference books. These would be things I'd like to learn about, like the I Ching, and the Popol Vuh. Svenonius' first book, The Psychic Soviet, is one of my favorite books, and I talk about its argument, that the evolution of musical trends is a form of downsizing, fairly often. Chris Day said he liked this book more, found it more personal, and while that is maybe true, I both appreciate the theoretical quite a bit, and find certain hints at Svenonius' personality here rather frightening. There is a chapter about communication, with people outside of the group, which is a form of gang, that discusses it in terms of this sort of challenge, a game for you to win, that feels like an admission of a sort of intellectual sociopathy. I've witnessed it, its a funny insight into the world, but it's also kind of a bummer. Not included in the book is the biographical factoid that sort of explains this sort of behavior, that Svenonius' dad was a college professor. I learned of that detail through one of his former students, my friend Matt who writes for Tiny Mixtapes.

Apology, Volume One, edited by Jesse Pearson. This magazine was mostly bad, I thought, although the article of questions Frederick Exley asked Gloria Steinem article was something I obsessed over and thought a lot about. Steinem, being a public figure that Exley, has a lot of information about her readily available for Exley to research, but, in his being a novelist, what he wants from a subject is so much more, to almost obsessive detail. I thought about this in the context of being a man talking to women. Exley kinds of as kind of a creep, almost stalkerish, with these questions he rambles into a tape recorder while drunk, but his curiosity is admirable.

Jonathan Lethem, They Live. It feels good to read this sort of articulate parsing of all that is at work within a film, all the things I feel like I intuitively grasp as a viewer. My issue with most Lethem is the sort of inevitability I feel while reading it, like I am not being told anything I don't already know, since I am someone who shares many of his interests. It reads like a conversation where you are constantly being told things you agree with, and mostly nod along. The excerpt from a Stanislav Lem novel in here is awesome.

John Berryman, The Dream Songs. I mostly just read the original book, although the edition I have contains follow-ups. Sort of cool, but, like all sorts of books I own, almost more of a reference point object than a text I actively engaged in. There are some good parts here but I didn't internalize them.

Lawrence Wright, Going Clear. A lot of people read this book, a big Scientology expose, and I was one of them. Reading the early chapters, I felt the allure of most new-age spiritualities, understood the appeal, which isn't really the point of the book, but reading about its early stages, I could see the same appeal that Burroughs saw, although he quit engaging with the Church pretty quickly. Later in the narrative, David Miscavige is a crazy madman, violent. An allegory that I think Twig Harper was telling me about The Master was that Phiiip Seymour Hoffman is the L Ron Hubbard figure and Joaquin Phoenix is like David Miscavige. There is a lot of talk about celebrities in this book, too much for me to find interesting, although the constant returning to Paul Haggis and Tom Cruise does sort of lend it its narrative thread.

Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity. I loved a lot about this, not the least of which is the law talk, the morality of being a public defender that most people do not see in their desire for a law and order that punishes the guilty. This book was originally self-published, and while I saw some people talking about it needing an editor, I'm not sure what could be cut, it's a ramble intentionally. Even though I found the talk about television the weakest part of the book, the part that felt the most 1990s, I appreciated it as filler, essentially, that it was not just about its plot, even though its crime elements were well-handled. Reading discussion of this book made me want to read Moby Dick.

Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister. It took me a bit to find the posture for this book, due to its weird opening, a drawn-out description of a puddle. I really like that the main character in this book was a bully growing up, clowning on a mediocre nerd, who goes on to run a country but remains small and petty. It feels like an inversion of so many popular tales we tell ourselves and our children. Nabokov's politics are weird, he's mostly disinterested in them, almost out of a snobbery for the common rabble, viewing the pageantry as bread and circuses. This is a novel opposed to totalitarianism for the way that totalitarianism won't let you ignore it, and the emotional core of the book remains a father's love for his son. In the end it becomes aware of its being a fiction, almost to lighten the load, a further pleasure, and another way of Nabokov averting himself from the implications of writing a political work.

I also read Nabokov's biography of Nikolai Gogol, which goes more into what he values in terms of literature's pleasures, and his disinterest in social comment. He seems to love Gogol's work but is completely dismissive of Gogol's stated goals for what he's doing. It's interesting in its crotchetyness, although not so much as to make me want to read Gogol, who I've tried to read in the past and found I couldn't get into.

Joyce Carol Oates, Foxfire. I picked this up because I enjoy Oates' Twitter feed and wanted to read something by her, and this was a novel about girl gangs. I thought this was okay. It's interesting to think about someone who just writes all the time. It feels impersonal, somehow, and my mind viewed it like a movie, a narrative that I understood, intuitively, almost like it was a collection of cliches, just this general feeling that it was something I had seen before, and I could not really be surprised by it. It is worth noting that I don't really read books for plot, so much as voice, and this sort of narrative, that seems like it's a guide or insight into a particular milieu, a time and a place, I find myself reading at a remove. That's not to say it isn't well-written.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. This is the one book I took from Carson that I read. It's a quick read, that I guess most people are already familiar with. This sort of conceptual thought exercise does a lot more for me than Oates' approach, and this feels like a really pure example of what I think of Calvino as doing. There are things I like more, and things I like less, but they're all generally more impure.

Italo Calvino, Difficult Loves. I read this partly as research for an interview with Molly Colleen O'Connell, who named her comic from Domino that came out last year the same thing. When I asked her about it, the answer was that while she loves Calvino, this isn't her favorite book of his. I strained to read this, and thought it was real boring, so much about a war, so far from the area where Calvino excels. This is his early work, before he found his more experimental form.

Amos Tutuloa, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts/The Palm-Wine Drinkard. This book kept on coming up, being recommended. One dude at a party talked about it in the context of hearing about it in an interview with Jeff Mangum, which I think is what finally pushed me to read it. It is, narratively, pretty haphazard, but fascinating for how it reveals how deeply felt and real the myths and beliefs in ghosts are in Africa. This fascination for me arises, specifically, because of how bizarre and anti-narrative the stories are, the bits of cow-transformation and ju-ju. Imagine believing dreams to be real even when, as you retell them, they sound like total nonsense that contradicts itself, existing in a culture where that logic somehow supersedes that found in the waking day. Please do not interpret this in a racist way, where I am diminishing the Yoruba culture: I am not a huge fan of the rationalist worldview and find these sorts of insights into cultural subjectivity. Why not believe in dreams?

Cormac McCarthy, Suttree. A collection of scenes, chapters, without progression. I liked the way the sex scenes were told, or really the whole thing. Long and somewhat haphazard. Made me feel like I could give Blood Meridian another go, like I could read it if I tried to in an upright chair. The first time I tried to read Blood Meridian I kept on falling asleep, the opacity of its language forming a warm blanket. I was able to read this, although it certainly took some time to do so.

Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers. Reading this right after Suttree really made me want to write a western, really made me think about the form. I really liked the bit of period detail about the invention of the toothbrush. I liked the weirdness of the interludes, the voice of the narrator, everything about it. It's really easy to read. I want to watch Terri, the John C Reilly movie he wrote the screenplay for. At the time I confused it with Cyrus, and Cyrus turned out to be a winner, in a way that I then interpreted to mean it was THE winner, which I no longer am so convinced of. Once I reactivate my Netflix, it'll be top of the queue.

Amelia Gray, Threats. Liked the voice in this. It's interesting to read Goodreads or Amazon reviews where people complain about it not making sense. It is true that the plot does not resolve satisfactorily, and while I feel "who cares" about that sort of thing, it's interesting to me that a lot of readers really expect resolution. It's a mystery that is not solved, where it is unclear what, even, is going on. Does it make sense that fans of mysteries are not so much a fan of the mystery so much as they are the solution? I suppose, if you view mystery as a genre and not just a fact of life.

Amelia Gray, Museum Of The Weird. Reading this I thought about the idea of it not being satisfying- I read it so quickly, owing to it being a collection of very short stories, easy enough to go through it like it's a thing of Pringles. Some of it's good, or funny, but the idea of FC2's "innovative fiction" prize felt absurd, with this stuff like Donald Barthelme but more engaged with the fantastical, and not as good. (I rate Barthelme pretty highly.) The frame of saying "weird" is off-putting as well, I suppose. Quirky rather than horrifying, whereas Threats felt dark enough to possess a threatening undertow this mostly lacked, although the story about a serial killer named God was good. For the sake of disclosure I should admit that currently I have a novel's manuscript submitted to the same contest that Amelia won a few years ago. It makes sense that a short story collection would win because of how different people can like different stories, and this is one that tries enough different things for that to be the case. I don't expect to win. The idea of calling anything "innovative" seems self-congratulatory. It's used as an alternative to "experimental," I get that. I think I just prefer the idea of "novel" as indicating some kind of novelty, by itself, and think that all the genre things people read for comfort should be the things given a separate label, like "narrative reinforcement" or something. Of course, this is not a novel, but a short story collection. And there I just think I prefer the idea of "stories" to the idea of these things being "weird." I don't think these stories are weird, I just think they are what they are, and don't like deferring to the terminology of people who would call themselves "normal."

Joy Williams, The Changeling. Oh shit I loved this one. I tried to summarize this book to Matt when I had just started to read it, but it starts off with this parade of false starts, plot movement at its most jagged. From a woman being on the run, she is immediately retrieved to be put on a plane that then crashes, and simultaneous to this action there is an occupation of this hallucinatory territory, that then takes up most of the book, as it slows down to just being about a drunk on an island surrounded by children. The critic who loved State Of Grace and then hated this book seems like someone who must have tastes completely the opposite of my own. Harold Brodkey. What were some of his other opinions, I wonder? Reading his Wikipedia page I can read people's negative reviews of his own fiction.

I also read Dimmer, by Joy Williams, which is contained in this anthology of stories originally published in the Paris Review. Many of the things in this collection were pretty terrible, including the story Joy Williams picked by someone else, about the world of literary publication, but the story she actually wrote, from 1969, I think, was good. Good sentences, not reprinted elsewhere. I wish her new book was not an e-book.

Joy Williams, Taking Care. Towards the end of this, there's a story about the characters that make up Breaking And Entering. I like Joy Williams a lot, I prefer to spend those extended jaunts in the novels than her stories, but these were good. It feels really hard to remember individual short stories when they're done in this mode, though, the "literary fiction" mold. When people talk about how literary fiction is a genre like any other, it is short stories that fit that description better, as opposed to the way a novel can have its tangents and surprises and weirdnesses. I wonder if people who read "Breakfast" in 1982 remembered it when reading Breaking And Entering in 1988. Perhaps as you read this, you are thinking "It seems like you don't find short fiction that rewarding," and maybe it is true that I tend to prefer novels in general. But if you were to then ask "then why don't you just not read short story collections?" keep in mind that would be sort of stupid and close-minded on my part to just avoid that form of expression altogether as a rule.

Nicholson Baker, A Box Of Matches. This would be an example of a novel I didn't find all that satisfying, that didn't really have the heft I want from Baker. Which is almost absurd, considering how devoted to the tiny and slight Baker is, as that's pretty much his entire agenda. It's really short, its chapters are short, and each start in the same way, with these little introductions, and it doesn't have the weird forward pull from thought to thought, or the level of obsession, that The Mezzanine has.

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke. This book is huge, but it's about all the little things that have been written out of history. Specifically, pacifism, that ideology that people treat as being quaint, that Baker takes as his own, and takes very seriously in this work of history. It doesn't really try to make an argument, it just sets out the facts, both of pacifist objections to World War II during the buildup, while also including things about Roosevelt's anti-semitism. The latter is disappointing, a further reminder that there are no real heroes to be found in history, but overall while reading it I kept on feeling like it didn't have a thesis, or I didn't understand its argument. Although I think that marks it as an important bit of history, and certainly I have no interest in reading a book with a political agenda that can be easily understood. One person who might be a historical hero, actually, is Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress who was later the only member to vote against war with Japan after Pearl Harbor, who believed that women's participation in politics was the key to peace. Thinking about her in contrast to current political climate makes me want to weep at how far we've fallen from any sort of idealism.

Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist. I read this around the same time as a friend of mine from college. Cameron was real proud of having sent Nicholson Baker a fan letter and eating a lunch with him in Maine. This book's real good, I had avoided it because it seemed boring, as it seemed to be all about rhyming poetry, sort of seeming like it would just be a non-fiction book about a subject I wouldn't read about. All that stuff ends up being interesting and smart, and the voice is consistently engaging, but it turns out to maybe be more about failure. I am surprised by how comfortable this book is, how the relentlessness of The Mezzanine turned out to be a fluke.

Around the same time,I started reading Finnegan's Wake, but didn't finish it. I had this idea ten years ago I would read that book when I turned 27, in June of 2012, almost in preparation for the world's ending, or in some way becoming deeply crazy and chaotic. When that didn't happen, I realized I could still start reading it and maybe finish it before I turned 28. That didn't happen, I didn't even finish the first book of it, but I like that I own the book now. I like its long sentences, its rhythms when read as if out loud, getting the occasional meaning behind a joke. I like it more than Ulysses, which I also didn't finish. I can be fine with it being an object I dip in and out of for the rest of my life, as the "plot" or whatever is completely indiscernible. I could read a guide to decoding it, but the pleasures for me are mostly in the music in it, at least at this point.

Another book I started to read but didn't finish, but that I got out of the library, rather than buy a copy of, was Clarice Lispector's Near To The Wild Heart, which takes it title and epigraph from Portrait Of The Artist as a Young Man. The thing I don't like about Lispector is how it doesn't progress, not just in terms of plots, but in terms of its arguments, or its psychology- Having a psyche is so repetitive, the thoughts you return to incessantly, that reading something like this irritates me. I should try to go back and finish it, but yeah: One of the things I was thinking about was how I don't like the psychological novel because psychology isn't novel, in fact it frustrates novelty all the time, these repetitions, how circular thought patterns are. I don't even like rewatching movies, which so many people find comforting: I crave stimuli, to not just go into the same tracks again, the comfort of depression, the depression of comfort. This wasn't inspired by the Lispector, which at least in the early going is linguistically fresh enough to avoid these sorts of thoughts, but rather an awful play.

Brian Evenson, Fugue State. This unwinds it's psychology in short bursts, the better to make potent what singular thoughts are. It's a short story collection, and some pieces I remember better than others. For something that seems like overall the effect that is being gone for is one of horror, it's interesting how the story from this I most remember is one of the more humorous. Overall I probably remember more of this than I do of most short story collections, because of how each story seemed to have a separate goal. I'd read one of these stories in McSweeney's ages ago and remembered it upon rereading, although at the time it didn't make enough of an impression on me to track down more of Evenson's work.

Brian Evenson, The Open Curtain. I didn't love this the way some people apparently do, but liked parts of it, the progression, the feeling of tension and danger in the descent into madness, the ending scene with post-it notes in the mind of someone whose brain has snapped, but sort of didn't like the actual ending, the payoff to the growing horror, the killing of the girl who felt doomed from her introduction on.

Blake Butler, Nothing: A Portrait Of Insomnia. Got this on the cheap after reading a bunch of Butler's writing about books and liking them, but feeling sort of distrustful of his view of literature. His embrace of experimentation and darkness seemed a bit too whole-hearted, where I would be more reticent. He likes a lot of stuff, which is what led to me reading a bunch of work he's vouched for. I do this thing, when reading, where I think about my own writing, wondering what I'm getting out of it, how much it aligns with my goals or whatever. I think that Blake probably does the same thing, but by viewing himself as more of an experimental writer (whereas I don't really know what I am, and am looking for something that makes sense) he's able to embrace a good deal more than I would. I think that fails him, sometimes, in this book, which I liked a lot of parts of, but I felt the dives into the more self-consciously experimental portions, or the parts heavier on philosophical quoting, fell flat. I think I would say this book is about two-thirds to three-quarters good. I sent Blake an e-mail recommending issue 4 of Ganges, which approaches some similar subject matter with a different tone. For instance, while Blake, in talking about insomnia, will quote dense philosophical writing, Huizenga talks about the appeal of such writing to the insomniac as a possible sleeping aid for the circularity of its logic.

Blake Butler, There Is No Year. I don't think I like pages with lots of negative space on them. Interesting the bleakness, or reading Blake's blog from when he was writing this and talking about how evil it felt, like he was getting out the evil by writing this. Interesting again to think about readers, people on Amazon giving negative reviews, and think to myself, "Yeah, people don't want evil" but there's good stuff in here, interesting feelings. Obviously there are words and phrases that dude returns to incessantly and that's problematic too, distracting, or stupid. I like the scene where the son looks through pictures of people who died young, and his picture is there too, and the feeling that the list is sort of all people that Butler respects in some way or thinks about. DJ Screw and Ol' Dirty Bastard and David Foster Wallace are all there. Later this year, there was a thing in Vice's fiction issue, (which only contained women writers, but people didn't know about that context) this photospread recreating the suicides of women writers, and many found it to be offensive. I thought about that scene, and how what people consider rude towards death could actually be a sign of respect, but it's a territory that people get very uncomfortable about.

Vernon Chatman, Mindsploitation. I recommended this in the same e-mail to Blake. Vernon Chatman, of PFFR, did this thing that's sort of like a prose follow-up to his film Final Flesh. That was about hiring companies that make custom pornography to act out absurdist scripts. This is about hiring companies, seemingly largely located outside the United States, that write essays for people's homework, to answer prompts that are absurdist in their formulation. It's more interesting in concept than it is funny to read, but it's occasionally fascinating how far out it gets, this reckoning of absurdity and profundity, these words so uncomprehending of the underlying joke that it feels like a computer made them but accidentally spits out truths.

Steve Erickson, Amnesiascope. So pretty much every Steve Erickson book is the same, and there is a degree of diminishing returns for sure, in these easy reads, these dreams of a brain that thinks about movies and sex all the time. Sometimes it feels corny, but in this seamless way where in retrospect, it's always corny, embarrassing, but it's continuously compelling as well.

Tamara Faith Berger, Maidenhead. This won the Believer Book Award, and I got excited to read it. It's got a good cover design, charged with this sexual energy almost like a forbidden object or something, a privacy that is in itself erotic, contained to the function of a book. But it's not very good. Partly it is distracting to me because the protagonist's object of erotic obsession is named Elijah, which is the name of a friend of mine. It is sort of like Judy Blume, only dirty, in its talk about teens, but also frustrating in its constant talk of theory, philosophizing. It's interesting to find out that the reason some people didn't like it is because they wanted it to be erotica but then were skeeved out by the abuse and the youth of the protagonist. There are some good sentences, enough to make me wonder what it would be like were the writer talking about something other than sex, or about a protagonist that wasn't young and therefore naive and therefore undergoing a coming-of-age. There's a voice it comes to that's focused, before it gets lost to either the sensation of what's happening or the over-thinking of things.

Rivka Galchen, Atmospheric Disturbances. I didn't really like this, but read it quickly enough and would take naps and feel its sentence rhythms in my head like I was still reading them. This was a big hit a few years back when it came out, I guess owing to its gimmickry, and reading it I kept on thinking about New Yorker fiction, or what I think a certain swath of books is like.

Kira Henehan, Orion You Came And You Took All My Marbles. This I loved, kind of, although I didn't think it was funny, its voice was interesting, weird, I want to read Henehan's prose-poetry, or the other books she might one day write. Similarly sort of about brain damage or weirdness as the Galchen but more internalized, less dry, immediate, while its plot is chaos, its setting practically a dreamscape.

Got a copy of Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales, and like Finnegan's Wake it is an object to have on hand, to skim, to be a reference book. Like the Tutuola the stories and plot structures are insane and haphazard. It is cool to laugh at story structure, to realize that a story is just something someone made up, sometimes as they go, and not someone sitting around for weeks coming up with a three-act screenplay in their head.

Renata Adler, Speedboat. I loved this. It's beautifully written, with a really engaging voice. The journalist's eye for detail turned to transcribing ambient chatter, telling details that feel like they are just about what we are, as people.

Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays. This did nothing for me. It's pretty much the opposite of what I want to read. It felt melodramatic in its plot mechanics, but flat in its affect, as if just the motions of the plot it was describing were enough to elicit a reaction. The edition I read also had this horrible introduction, about how much blank space there was, how that was for crying. I've heard good things about Didion's journalism.

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies. I liked this pretty well, a cute and easy read that still felt like it had a lot of ideas going on in its head, planned out in advance for its themes to resound off each other, but primarily interested in being a character-focused comedy.

Lance Olsen, Calendar Of Regrets. This has the same basic structure of nested narratives as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, but I'm not really sure why. It doesn't seem like form matches content so much here. It's also less interested in genre than the Mitchell book, and more historically based, with "experimental" passages that seem freely imagined where there would be something more easily pinned as science fiction. I wish I could think of ways to talk about this book without comparing it to another but I kind of can't. If I was more familiar with Olsen's other works I suppose I could discuss it in terms of his themes and preoccupations, but I don't know what those might be.

Helen Dewitt, The Last Samurai. This is a heavy hitter and, like Joy Williams' also-incredible The Quick And The Dead, shares a title with a movie it has nothing to do with, but this will need to be explained to people. This book is about a single mother raising a genius son, and not telling him who his father is, even though he desperately wants to know, because the truth would disappoint him, and by keeping his options open, the son's want leads to a pursuit for knowledge, all to impress the fathers he could theoretically have. The book ends up engaged with the question of genius, of potential, better than any other, and contains passages about languages and math and various sorts of intellect. It wears its intelligence outwardly but is really moving and relatable. I recommend it highly, but it's worth noting that it's out of print, only available second-hand, and the author has a place on her website where you can Paypal her the two dollars that a royalty would get her if the book had remained in print. It's not rare, copies of the book can be had for rather cheap, still.

Vanessa Place, The Guilt Project. I wrote about this in my most recent post, but to reiterate: This is a book written by a woman who works as an appellate attorney in California, defending convicted sex offenders. This is the book about how she rationalizes what she does, essentially, by talking about the ways in which the law's system of punishment is in some cases harsh to a point beyond sense. Like Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, it makes an argument that is going to be hard for many people to understand, difficult in this instance even to hear, over the instincts of morality's demand for punitive measures.

Dennis Cooper, My Loose Thread. A lot of people really love Dennis Cooper, although at least one such person told me he didn't really think of this as a major work. Somehow I imagined my issue with Cooper's body of work would be the violence, and transgression, but somehow what I found a harder time with, in this, was the flatness of the tone, that confused, zonked ambiguity that indicates distance between a narrator and his actions.

Lindsay Hunter, Don't Kiss Me. This made me feel weird about the state of contemporary literature. I read a bad review attacking it for feeling more like summaries of stories than stories itself, which is a complaint I can imagine applying to my own writing, and so don't hold against her. It's funny, sometimes, this book, and that's what got me to pick it up and buy a copy. Some of the stores are better than others, but overall they felt like candy bars. I thought of candy bars reading this, reading one story after another, and getting exhausted, not really happy with my decision to read it so fast, even though it was easy to do so. The incessant use of the word "momma," the limitations in the peculiarities of its vernacular, these things hit my brain like refined sugar. The idea that these are "moving" feels like such weird hype. Just let them be funny stories, comedy routines told in separate voices.

Renata Adler, Pitch Dark. I didn't like this as much as Speedboat, as it is more focused in the stories it tells, less free-associative. Its storytelling is more about the false start, repetition owing to not knowing where to begin, as opposed to Speedboat's circling of its subject. Towards the end there is talk about stories and the law, and that stuff I liked a lot, the argument finally coming together. The things about the law, the byline, all seemed really applicable to current stories about Edward Snowden and wiretaps in a way that felt very immediate and not dated at all, even as it makes the disclaimer that it is not truly interested in such subjects, that the story she is telling is about a relationship. It's iteresting to think of Adler identifying as a moderate, or a member of the radical middle, and wonder what she thinks about these modern moments. The Ireland trip that make up the majority of this book don't do much for me.

Vladimir Sorokin, Ice Trilogy. Another NYRB Classic, but this one, I didn't like. Three books in a single binding. It's interesting for its anti-humanism, how that's what maintains itself throughout its modes. The first book is all about this sort of new age awakening that leads to people being given magical powers and feeling alienated from humans. They gather themselves up, to end the world, and from the new age stuff comes sequences that are more action-oriented. This book is blurbed by Gary Shteyngart, who I know nothing about except that the fact that his most popular book is called "Super Sad True Love Story" and I am convinced he sucks off that title and his endorsement of this book. He also wrote a book called "Absurdistan," another "I will never read that book" title. I'm sort of unclear how much the anti-humanism is Sorokin's real worldview and how much the book is intended to be a satire of totalitarianism. I think I saw a movie Sorokin wrote the screenplay for, 4, years ago back when I was in college, at the Seattle Film Festival, and one person who I knew who liked it explained its argument as being basically that humans are dogs. Last year I read NYRB's The Adventures And Misadventures Of Maqroll, another compilation of books into a single volume, that I pretty much loathed.

Helen Dewitt, Lightning Rods. This book is very different from The Last Samurai, an ostensible comedy that I never really thought was that funny. I suppose "satire" is the better word. Its voice is that of corporate-speak and inspirational seminars, and this is used to tell a story about workplace sexual harassment, or institutional sexism.

Carson McCullers, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. I had a dream that I was being visited by the spirit of Carson McCullers, before I read her. Her name was a proper noun plucked from the ether to be the subject of a dream. I read this afterwards, to honor that name. It's a story taking place in a small southern town, a young girl growing up inside it, similar to To Kill A Mockingbird but without the racial elements, just about loneliness. A mute whose only real friend is another mute has everyone project their ideals onto him. This is not normally the sort of thing I read but it seemed fine.

William Vollmann, Rising Up And Rising Down (abridged version). Vanessa Place talks about how Vollmann's whole idea of a moral calculus is absurdly simplistic in the introduction to The Guilt Project. Around the same time I also started to read Vollmann's novel The Rifles but put it down pretty quickly, feeling like Vollmann basically overwrites. I also didn't finish this abridge version, feeling frustrated with it pretty much the whole way through it, and decided to skip to the "case studies." Those are interesting bits of journalism, nice to have that insight into parts of the world, although I'm not sure I felt like there was any real insight into the idea of violence, the book's ostensible theme, which is too large to really capture, let alone make sense of. I also consistently felt like it was overwritten in a way that made me not want to read it.

Carson McCullers, The Member Of The Wedding. This was in the same volume as The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, a Library Of America collection I checked out from the library. I'm not sure I would've pursued it just on the strength of the first book. This is another book about a young lonely girl's view of the world, about how youth projects its hopes onto other people. It's different from her first book in that it is not as much of an ensemble piece, not so much plotted to see the same thing in people in general, to make a grand statement like "the heart is a lonely hunter" to instead talk about a single individual, "the member of the wedding."

Mary Robison, Why Did I Ever. This book is great. I keep on returning to it, flipping through its pages, and recommending it to people. It's about a woman with ADD who keeps on gobbling speed, told in short disconnected sections, a portrait of neurosis that is frequently funny, but sadness runs through it. The way that its voice seems like it stems from its subject matter makes it feel like we are not just in the company of an interesting writer, but rather that a character is being revealed to you, that feels alive.

Vanessa Place, LA MEDUSA. This is another great one, but rather than being focused and made out of bite-sized pieces, it is huge, with different voices, long sentences, and doing so many things right that it made me feel like I had no idea what I was doing.

Joyelle McSweeney, Percussion Grenade. I wrote an Amazon review for this, so exciting did I find it. Poetry, that's wild with its rhythms so much it becomes a form of shrapnel. It uses violence in its aesthetics, as a weapon against the way that violence is smoothed over to a form of aesthetics in, say, video games that double as military recruitment tools. Somehow the idea of a poem against war feels naive and useless in a way that this doesn't- Its aesthetics are its politics and it succeeds in its arguments by being visceral and felt. It opens with instructions to read it aloud, and doing that, you become more aware of the rhythms you are making, and the disruptions to these rhythms, which are constant, become funny, as you say things you did not expect to say.

Vanessa Place, Dies: A Sentence. Rather than shift from voice to voice like LA Medusa, this book feels completely unmoored, like it's just running wherever, restrained only by the fact that it can't stop itself with a period. I love the long sentences in LA MEDUSA, the bits at the end where the narrative stops and Place is just talking about her life in this breathless manner, but this just didn't really make sense to me. I think I would have enjoyed it more had it stuck to its premise of being narrated by a dude who'd lost his limbs in World War I.

Barry Hannah, Long Last Happy. I hadn't read Barry Hannah before, despite having friends who adore Airships. Reading this collection, the material from Airships is not as strong as the material as that found in Bats Out Of Hell, which I think is an idea I got from an interview with Hannah I read around the same time. The conversation around Hannah posits him as a "sentences-first" writer, and what's weird is I'm not convinced that the contortions of the sentences, the odd shapes and the ways they jut, really works in service of the narratives he's telling. The stories I liked best are the longer ones, that take on odder shapes themselves. There is one involving a William S Burroughs analogue, for instance, that I found pretty fun. I checked this out from the library at the same time as I checked out Moby Dick, which I didn't really dive into because this presented easier pleasures. I liked what I read of Moby Dick and hope to at some point get my own personal copy and try again.

Joyelle McSweeney, Salamandrine. I ordered three books from the independent publisher Tarpaulin Sky and ended up liking none of them. This is a short story collection, but McSweeney's language games, without Percussion Grenade's outward focus, end up just exploding over the stories, tripping them up into this unreadable mire. I did like the first story in this, "Welcome A Revolution." One of the other stories in here also ran in the anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, edited by Kate Bernheimer, which I have a copy of but haven't read all of. Joy Williams' story in there is pretty good, as are the pieces by Alissa Nutting, who gives the book its title, and Kathryn Davis, whose story seems like it's expanded into her new novel, Duplex. Brian Evenson, Francine Prose, and Lydia Millett's stories are all pretty good.

William S Burroughs, Naked Lunch. I didn't read this ten years ago, surprisingly. I've read other Burroughs books, of course, and started to view them as maybe interchangeable. I generally enjoy his writing, however, and picked up a copy of this one at a yard sale. I can't imagine this being read by anyone who doesn't know what Burroughs' writing is like, or that I would have anything to say about a book as classic as this one. I'll say that last summer I was doing a reading of some of my writing and decided to include some of more explicit material and flipping through a copy of Naked Lunch in someone's bathroom pretty much convinced me it would be fine, which it turned out I was wrong about. It is crazy to think about literature in the 1950s, as it's harder to construct a narrative out of all of the disparate threads than it is to do with film, which has developments in technology to keep it all straight.

Joanna Ruocco, Man’s Companions. Another book from Tarpaulin Sky, this one a short story collection. The members of the band Humanbeast are listed in the acknowledgments section. These stories aren't bad. They move with a weird logic and I wasn't really sure what to make of them, or what all they added up to. They are flash fiction, basically, and like most flash fiction just sort of form a blur. I think my favorite story in here was the longest but I don't remember anything about it besides that it felt like the logic had a few more jags and odd movements to it than the rest, but I was never really deposited anywhere.

Kim Gek Lin Short, China Cowboy. The third Tarpaulin Sky book. Stephanie Barber has a rock band I really like, Bobby Donny, and they cover one of the songs at the end of this book, and Stephanie said she really liked this book and thought it was really dark. It did nothing for me. It's sort of a cross between a novel and poetry, moving forward to tell a narrative but shifting its form, but I didn't feel like the things you want from poetry or prose ever really found themselves here. It just felt vague and slight. The decision to order these books from Tarpaulin Sky came from trying to think about the idea of "small press literature" in not so much of a disparaging way. Generally I think of it as something that only people who are engaged in it as writers read, and that what's published there is small in scale. I think I was trying to convince myself I could be wrong but my biases ended up being confirmed after all.

Bob Levin, Most Outrageous. I talked about this in my last post as well. This is a non-fiction book about Dwaine Tinsley, cartoonist for Hustler, who got accused by his daughter of molesting her. Many things suggest she might be lying, but the district attorney uses his cartooning against him.

James Dickey, Deliverance. I didn't know that Deliverance was the first novel written by a well-respected poet, nor did I know that The English Patient was written by a guy whose poetry people liked. I still have no interest in reading The English Patient, or seeing the film, but I heard Deliverance was good, and it is. Not pulpy in its voice at all, it's simply a tale of survival, lean and resonant, men in nature.

Cesar Aira, The Miracle Cures Of Dr Aira. Cesar Aira seems interesting, an Argentinean author of a bunch of novellas, whose most known champion is Roberto Bolano, whose name is I think largely known on the basis of 2666, a book that's incredibly long. Aira writes books for people who like to read, that he writes by sort of creating corners and then writing his way out of them, without going back to revise. Also, it seems like he frequently uses his own name as the name of his first-person protagonists. The one I want to read is How I Became A Nun, but this was on sale at the Barnes And Noble where I live, near Johns Hopkins University, which is really good about getting New Directions books in stock, seemingly. This was a fun way to spend a few hours. In some ways, it's a book that doesn't make sense, which isn't to say it's incoherent, just that, at any given moment, it feels like what you are reading is being written in accordance with only one set with principles, to get across one particular idea, and many of the issues being raised are not going to be acknowledged. Trying to explain what I mean by this would take a plot summary, which, because the book is driven mostly by that plot, or the storytelling impulse, seems unfair to the book and the author's intent.

Mary Robison, Oh! This was written about twenty years before Why Did I Ever, and is Robison's first novel, after writing short stories. It's a domestic comedy, basically, about a family interacting, made into a movie that I haven't seen,1989's Twister, with Harry Dean Stanton, Crispin Glover, and the girl from Near Dark. It is probably one of the first movies I will see when I reinstate my Netflix account. I checked this out from the library at the same time as I took out a copy of Samuel Delany's Dhalgren, which I started to read and realized I didn't care about, and will probably never try to read ever again.

Lily Hoang, Changing. I really did not like this. Written in hexagrams, it never develops, and this harping without progress continually reinforces the feeling of the voice as being twee. Mostly unpunctuated and reading as childish, still the voice of the book, meant to be that of the author, addresses itself to "lover," over and over, incessantly. If anyone wants my copy of this book (or Ice Trilogy or any of the Tarpaulin Sky books or Atmospheric Disturbances or Patricia Eakins' The Hungry Girls) I will send it to you for little more than the cost of shipping and handling.

Apology Volume Two. I am not sure how much I like Apology Magazine, but I have considered buying a subscription to it. This had a good Patrick DeWitt short story and some cool photos of teddy bears. Jesse Pearson, a former editor of Vice, who felt guilty about the tone of Vice, started this magazine which is more like a literary journal in some ways but also does not have any of Vice's engagement with journalism, the world outside of the U.S., and instead includes things like really long interviews with Tim and Eric or a conversation with George Will about baseball. It seems weird to me that someone's response to Vice would be to make something LESS politically engaged. It's like the decision was made to be "more intellectual," not to correct any of the self-satisfied impulse, so much as to direct it in a different way. So there's like a long piece about the semicolon. Maybe the rationale is that political engagement leads to nihilism by just making readers think "everything is fucked" and that engaging with art and literature actually gives one a reason to believe in hope. I suppose it doesn't matter, as there are other magazines. It's not like I couldn't just buy a subscription to Harper's for its journalism, and be satisfied with Apology pursuing its path of the public intellectual, as it will probably continue to publish at least a few things each issue I enjoy reading.

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress. I haven't read Wittgenstein. This book seems to be making the argument that memory is both all we have and is totally subject to getting thigns wrong and misremembering. It's written from the perspective of a woman who is the last creature alive on Earth. She recalls things, including bouts with insanity. Most would say this book is a classic. David Foster Wallace said it was one of the most moving works of experimental fiction ever written. It is pretty sad, and mostly moving in the sense of making you feel crazy along with it.

Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers. I think this is the newest thing I've read, a critically-acclaimed novel of the sort that is all about its milieu, which in this case is the world of motorcycles, the New York art world in the 1970s, and the political upheaval of Italy in the 1970s. (The latter is also the subject of one of the stories in Lance Olsen's Calendar Of Regrets, FYI.) I thought it was good, although I read it with an awareness of distance, that this is not normally the sort of thing I read, although there are maybe books published like it. It seems to have a very pure storytelling impulse, which is maybe most in evidence in a portion towards the end where one of the characters fabulates a story of their past. It's interesting to me how more experimental works, like the Markson book I read right before this, in some ways wear their point more on their sleeve, that there is a tone they are trying to reach, a place they are trying to get to, whereas something like this, more romantic in its textures, creates these characters for the sake of realizing them, and isn't necessarily trying to say something about "how people are," but maybe wants to capture things like the differences in classes and cultures.

William Gass, In The Heart Of The Heart Of The Country. This is the first William Gass I've read, although The Tunnel has been recommended as being really good in the same breath as I've been warned that it's really dark. Reading these short stories, I am reminded of the Sun City Girls, their lyrical strategies' engagement with evil and misanthropy. It's a prickly darkness that I am able to appreciate on a certain level, although it resists being loved. It seems like horror, divorced from any thriller elements. Order Of Insects is pretty much the exact same story as Lispector's The Passion According To G.H.

Next to be read is Djuna Barnes' Nightwood, and then Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes. I keep on waiting for the pattern to break, to slow down to a more reasonable reading volume. I would like to have more going on in my life than just reading incessantly, to have more things to talk to people about.