Monday, October 07, 2019

Status Update

It’s been a bad year, and it isn’t over yet. Without getting into all of it up front, I’ll just say that I decided to take the step of leaving the city of Baltimore, where I’d lived for eleven years, in an attempt to regain control of my life and subsequently improve it. The second part of the plan has yet to come to fruition, and things are still wildly out of control.

It is very difficult to move to a new city without a job lined up. I did this when I moved to Baltimore, after I graduated college, and I was young enough that it felt invigorating to be constantly meeting new people, even though much of my life was very much a struggle. Even as I made new friends, I still spent months e-mailing olds friends who were going through similar readjustments in different cities. I’d secured housing in Baltimore via a Google Group mailing list used by the city’s then-booming arts/music underground. In more recent years, as friends I made in Baltimore migrated elsewhere, I posed to them this question, that while it seems like the physical spaces people once congregated were dissolving, as more people spent time online, it also felt like the online spaces people once turned to were falling apart, and I no longer knew where people were.

I left Baltimore for Philadelphia, a much larger city that was relatively recently comparably priced. The larger size theoretically affords more opportunities, although it also makes them much more difficult to know about. I have no idea where the people I would get along with would be located, if they are not already friends with the people I knew in Baltimore who moved here a few years prior to me. Without a large network of contacts, finding work is difficult. One can attempt to believe in the meritocracy and think they might find a job on Craigslist, which is where I’ve looked for housing.

In looking on Craigslist, I’ve met a handful of weirdos I cannot trust, some “normal people” who most likely eye me with suspicion, but more than that, I’ve exchanged messages, e-mails and texts, with entities that are seemingly either not located in the United States or are bots that can’t be said to have a physical location at all, running scams. The first scam I encountered involved being referred to a website called “Roomster” to start a profile, subsequent research shows this to be an App that you pay a certain fee for the first few days, that then renews at a higher rate, and continually renews every month at a rate of $24.99. This, again, is a scam pitched to people looking for roommates, people looking to occupy a room in a house shared with other people, most likely a money-saving technique for those who do not have much income. By all accounts, most of the posts on the Roomster app are made by bots as well. I’m unclear on what those bots’ endgame consists of, as I didn’t join. It might be the second scam I encountered, which apparently proliferates on dating apps as well. In this scam, the person texting you alleges to wish to confirm your humanity by having a code sent to you, which you then respond to them with. This code is generated by Google, as part of setting up a Google Voice account, and establishing a recovery contact, if I understand it correctly, which I do not. Essentially, if you were to give this code to this other person, they could then have a Google Voice number set up in your name, which would then, I suppose, give them the ability to conduct more of these scams (and other ones) with you on the hook for them.

These scams are minor, in the face of all the other troubles we face. They’re petty and small-scale individually, and feel targeted to one person at a time, and I think many of the people to encounter them escape unscathed and congratulate their hard-won sense of discretion which has emerged from their world-weariness. They are not the biggest problem, but they feel symptomatic of what’s wrong in a way they won’t go away until larger structural problems are fixed. You encounter enough, as you’re desperately trying to pursue leads that could lead to finding a stable place to live, and you feel like society is collapsing. If there are more people in the world that are predatory than are honest, we’re doomed. You are grateful that these people have only come to you through the phone or your modem, and not in the street armed with knives, and at least no physical harm was done.

I’m grateful for my physical safety, obviously. The troubles I alluded to as being the cause for my leaving Baltimore included being the victim of violent crime and dealing with the trauma lingering as stress and anxiety when I had to walk by places I could not avoid. These scammers, I suspect, are not nearly so close at hand. They are most likely not located in the U.S., but Eastern Europe or Asia somewhere, one of those places that makes the news with talk of clickfarms and fabricated pro-Trump propaganda.

However, the danger is still real that being the victim of an online scam could take more from you than any person armed with their fists ever could. I got jumped by four teens and left with a swollen jaw, and the amount of cash they gained to split between them was only ten dollars. You most likely have encountered a homeless person asking for change and been unable to help them, even if you were willing, due to no longer carrying cash on you. What you have on your person is likely nothing compared to the digital slime trail of data quietly being monetized by digital conglomerates that monitor the moves you make online. When people talk about identity theft, they’re not talking about body-snatching aliens, but an association of your name with transactions you had nothing to do with. You might have more credit afforded you than actual cash on hand, and the scammers seek a profit more valuable than what a person with a gun could pull off your body unless they had the knowhow to sell your organs after the fact.

Some reading this will want to tell me what I’ve been told before, that Craigslist is dead, and that people now find housing via Facebook marketplace. As the paranoid cast of my comments about data collection may suggest, I am not on Facebook, and consider their ubiquity a sort of meta-scam unto itself, a large-scale profit generator which also does its part to subvert democracy.

The absolute wrong lesson to learn from this is that we need to be more closely surveilled, with our retinas on file in a database, and these sorts of measures will prevent identity theft. Let me clarify that I I think this sort of “global economy” of exploitation and internet has made cities within the United States the target of this sort of thing is a large part of the problem, and that things need to shift to a smaller scale to better accommodate human beings, and their concerns and communities. As long as data collection and surveillance are large segments of our economy and people are alienated from those around them, we will be disincentivized to create the sort of sustainable communities in which we have agency and are safe.

I am talking about all of this stuff as a way of dancing around another issue, which is that all this struggle has taken a toll on me. The amount of effort it takes just to be alive is wildly disproportionate to whatever reason for living I feel like I’m supposed to have. I often feel like I want to die simply because the struggle I’m undergoing is without reward. My last post spoke of my generation’s death drive and attempted to play it off as something of a goof. Obviously, there are responses to this stuff, cries of “mental health care” that I know everyone knows it’s difficult to get. My despair is not so severe as to be the result of brain chemistry gone awry. It results from not having needs met. I left a city where I no longer felt safe, and while going somewhere more expensive means paying for less active danger, it also creates a greater sense of precarity. If suicidal ideation is seen as a mental health crisis, or something that should be avoided, we also need to create a world that feels in some ways abundant, where people have the agency to change their circumstances, without this seeming like a luxury. I am lucky that the past few months there is still a large number of friends I can text with. None of them, of course, are in a place where they can offer material support. Part of this is by design, where I find rich people disgusting and cannot relate to anyone not engaged in the day-to-day struggle of reality and making rent. I’m also aware the truly rich have all of their relationships be determined by transactional gain, and this seems like a truly spiritually deadening way to live.

I know everyone knows about the high level of income inequality in this country, and how this creates a world where the rich increasingly shore up their fortresses for themselves while the rest of us are thrown to the wolves, to be besieged by disease and crime and addiction, and that the vicious churn of it continually throws people from lower rungs into the thresher to be destroyed. I talk about all of this simply to account for the growing void, the hungry maw lapping at the shores of the threshold of safety, as Trump continually threatens to crash the economy, and people in positions they think might endure until the next election are likely unprepared for the latest mutations in societal viciousness. As of now, I am not yet registered to vote in Pennsylvania, as I’ve yet to secure a permanent address. To the rest of you, I can only entreat: Please vote for Bernie Sanders.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

NO ONE UNDER FORTY IS GOING TO VOTE FOR JOE BIDEN


Much to my dismay, Joe Biden is the leading Democratic candidate in the polls. I do not think he could win an election, although I am aware that in polls showing match-ups with Trump, it is Biden that wins by the largest margin. I do not think this is true, although I do generally think that anyone could win against Trump, as he is historically unpopular. I know people imagine that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would take a large amount of damage once the full operational power of the Fox News propaganda machine is targeting them. I do not worry about that. However, I do worry about the damage having Joe Biden and Donald Trump compete against each other would have on the morale of the American voter, especially among those young enough to not yet be experiencing cognitive decline. The sort of dementia-off normally confined to retirement homes where children never visit would play out on national television for hours on end. There’s a reason Michael Haneke’s Amour is not shown on network television.

People talk about about how climate change is an existential threat, or how Donald Trump is an existential threat. Both of these things are true. However, having Joe Biden go up against Donald Trump would signal that we live in a world that is completely absurd and meaningless, and in a way that is not fun, but crushingly tedious. The distinctions between them are strictly partisan, and they have far more in common than they do distinguishing features. Both are old racists who do not respect the boundaries of women. They would surely be friends if Biden weren’t such a loser. The idea of voting for either one of them should make any sensible person want to kill themselves, but here’s the thing: You don’t need to actually commit suicide, and go through the rigamarole of bumming out your loved ones, if Donald Trump gets a second term. He will surely kill us all in time.

Unless they work specifically as therapists, older people are likely unaware how widespread nihilism and suicidal ideation is among my generational cohort. If faced with the choice between Biden’s do-nothing incrementalism or Trump’s fuck-it-all accelerationism towards extinction, why wouldn’t we just sit it out, and wait for the end? We all want to die. I’ve previously said “If you want to vote for Joe Biden, move to Delaware,” but for most of us that’s a fate worse than death. Just because it’s the greatest tax haven this side of the Philippines doesn’t mean it has anything else to offer.

Some of us need reasons to live. Despite its crises, the twenty-first century offers plenty. The modern world, for all its air of impending doom, is exciting. We are living in the future! In 2016, Bernie Sanders was the candidate that seemed to understand, and be excited about, the fact that it wasn’t the 1990s anymore. Since then, I have continued to feel he would be a good president for this era, where there are mainstream public debates happening about reparations, decriminalization of sex work, and ending mass incarceration. It’s insane that in Donald Trump we have a president who is in every way a throwback to the twentieth century, with the pro-Klan politics of D.W. Griffifth’s 1915 The Birth of The Nation but who fast-forwards through Steven Seagal’s 1988 Bloodsport. Still, I am sure this is what accounts for his popularity among the elderly. This also explains why so many old people support Joe Biden, who, probably literally, does not know what year it is.

While I would gladly use ableist slurs to describe both Biden, Trump, and their supporters, I do not wish to be unduly ageist. Bernie Sanders’ sharpness is admirable, and I firmly believe that in 2020, he should be the first presidential candidate that is also a spokesman for Fish Oil gummies. The youth of a candidate like Pete Buttigieg is not a point in his favor, because I fully recognize that it is too young. Technically, I will be 35 by the time of the 2021 inauguration, however even though I know I’m smarter than Donald Trump, I also had to deal with a recession right after I graduated college and am nowhere near what could be called a career path. That dude is already planning a plum retirement of of giving speeches to investment banks while the rest of the class of 2008 is one accidental pregnancy away from moving back in with whichever divorced parent has the most room at their place.

I am an “elder millennial” who was once excited to vote for John Kerry, a feeling that is now incomprehensible to imagine. The only reason I can imagine why “Is this candidate better than John Kerry” is not a question asked about every Democrat running for the presidency is that after realizing he’s a complete nonentity, we forgot he ever existed. He’s still alive and married to the ketchup lady, I think. I’m afraid to google it and find out some sort of Mandela effect thing has happened where in the timeline we now live in, he married a syrup heiress who has since murdered him. There are plenty of voters younger than me, who I know older people love to label as optimistic. It’s true, there are a great deal of inspiring youthful activists for climate and gun control. There is no reason to believe any of them would vote for Joe Biden, as it’s only the more progressive candidates who are sincerely engaging with them and their goals. “Vote blue, no matter who” is the rallying cry for people whose identity is defined by being Democrats, which is a distinctly over-forty thing to do. Younger people would prefer an identity that’s marginally cooler, like being otherkin, or asexual.

Maybe people could rally behind the other centrists in the race. Of everyone running, Biden seems uniquely repulsive. (I’m writing this assuming that by the time it’s published, Amy Klobuchar will have dropped out of the race.) Even the joke candidates are at least somewhat relatable — Andrew Yang is a rich guy who wants to buy friends! Marianne Williamson reminds me a lot of my two friends in a Fleetwood Mac cover band. But there is no one I would describe as “doddering,” unless there is an 18-year-old with Benjamin-Button disease I’ve yet to hear about. I’m sure the dark-money forces united behind the Biden campaign already have an array of VP candidates ready to assuage my fears  and remember the names of foreign leaders for him, but I hope I never learn who they are. I certainly don’t want to deal with their nonsense when they mount a campaign for president in 2032 when “blue state” refers to places literally underwater and our only saving grace will be the electorate’s brains will be too fried to conjure up the name recognition Biden is currently coasting on.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Books I read in 2018

I am attempting something slightly different with this post writing up various books I've read so far this year. I am not quite writing them all immediately after reading, but am trying to keep up a little while at the same time delaying the posting until I read a bunch of books I am anticipating reading that I think I will like enough to recommend to others. But let's begin with the explorations of unknown quantities.


Rachel Ingalls, Mrs. Caliban. This novella, recently reissued by New Directions, is about a woman, neglected by her husband, who begins an affair with a frog-man who's escaped from the military. While probably more unconventional at the time of its original writing, nowadays it fits in with The Shape Of Water, but it is clear reading it that it's not really beholden to any genre. The tone is controlled enough to convey a balance between realism and the fantastic, while never really feeling surreal or far-out. Charming and likable, not something I would press you to read, but something that the premise might make you want to read, and I would not recommend against. I haven't read Ingalls' other work, though a small collection of three of her novellas, curated by Daniel Handler, was issued by Pharos Edition around the same time this came out. I guess this book also did well enough for New Directions to be reissuing another novel of hers, Binstead's Safari, next year, but I don't think I was really intrigued enough to check that one out.

Peter Rock, The Unsettling. Brian Evenson selected this book for Pharos to reissue. Despite the title, it is not as spooky as Evenson's stuff, but sort of run in a Poe-inspired way. One of the characters in one of the stories is particularly into Poe, and that's the longest story in the thing, the one that comes closest to a novella. Looking at Pharos' page for this, I see Daniel Handler also liked this one, as well as Ursula Le Guin. It was pretty good, I would recommend it to someone wanting to read a short story collection that can't really be pigeonholed into any genre. I read this while listening to Eliane Radigue's Trilogie Du Mort to drown out the awful pop radio that contractors were leaving on at night in the house next door to convince would-be intruders there were people there.

Harry Mathews, My Life In CIA and Cigarettes. Mathews died last year. His early novels seems like a more cracked-out version of early Pynchon, which would seem to be up my alley but I find the prospect a little intellectually intimidating. His first book ends with several pages of untranslated German, for instance. My Life In CIA is a "novel" that also is kind of a memoir, about a time he lived abroad and people thought he worked for the CIA, he gets involved in espionage. It's a fun enough and fairly easy read, light in its tone which alternates between basically two types of very easy things to read. Cigarettes I was at various points VERY into, despite its resemblance to things I would think I wouldn't be interested in. He employs his Oulipo background to structure the book like a sestina, but rather than reuse words each chapter discusses different characters and focuses on their relationship, building a sort of intense social lattice of interconnections. It's a social novel about rich people but damn certain chapters are emotionally intense and others were just fascinating and involving. I thought to myself "I would want to write a book like this" despite knowing that not only would I not want to do that, I probably am not even interested in reading others like it! The insane structuring guarantees there are not actually other books like it. I don't know who I'd recommend it to, though I've seen it praised by both Blake Butler and Sarah Nicole Prickett, two writers who probably wouldn't agree on much else.

Kerry Howley, Thrown. This book got a good deal of praise when it came out a few years back but I decided to read it after reading this amazing profile the author wrote about Reality Winner. This book's about following around MMA fighters, it's "creative nonfiction" because the author writes from this perspective of an essentially fictionalized character version of herself who seems a little ridiculous in her belief in watching fights as this ecstatic state. I thought a lot about masculinity while reading this one, as I was reminded there's a whole world of young men who exist outside my frame of reference I never think about. I definitely feel like Howley is a writer to keep an eye on, partly because at this point I don't know what her thematic interests would be exactly.

William Gaddis, The Recognitions, first 200 pages. At a certain point I texted a friend of mine who had read this book to say that while I liked it I wished there was less bullshit and his response was "good luck with that." The part I read is about the child of a esoterica-interested priest getting sick until the father does something weird and occult so he lives, this kid grows up to become an unsuccessful artist whose own "deal with the devil" includes making forgeries. Cool stuff! I bailed before the four-fifths of the book where the main character (already absenting himself) is replaced by a series of characters with similar names. Even the stuff I read has plenty of stuff that sort of doesn't go anywhere but reinforces the bleak worldview. I'm not saying this book isn't worth the effort, but the feeling that the degree of difficulty was going to increase made me return it to the library rather than renew.

Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins Of Latin America. I don't read nearly as much non-fiction I should. I found this through a dude on Goodreads who wrote very short and generally dismissive reviews of all the books he read, whose tastes like mine included Nabokov and Gaddis and various NYRB things, but then all of the books I had never heard of he rated five stars were these non-fiction books about various leftist topics I'm interested in but wouldn't know where to begin learning about. This one was written in the seventies and covers centuries of Latin America being exploited, over and over again, by Europe and later America, first taking the metals and minerals and then consigning various countries to unhealthy agricultural practices oriented around single crops. That this book stops before the various abuses and indignities that happened in the eighties feels kind of crazy but gives valuable historical perspective. There's this huge moral and economic debt we owe our neighbors that we have no intention of ever repaying,  and we not only wash our hands of it, but double down on the horror.

Denis Johnson, The Largesse Of The Sea Maiden. Have not read all of them, but this might be one of Johnson's best books. The follow-up to Jesus' Son both in the sense of being a short story collection and feeling mostly very closely tied to autobiography, there is a sense of directness that feels very real. The few stories that don't feel like they are taken from Johnson's actual life come with a sense that they are an alternate path, stemming from the past he once lived. All of the stories have this sort of intimacy with death and failure and just this sense of being alive as a source of great pressure and tension. It is very easy to see how this would be the best book of the year.

Padgett Powell, Typical. I've wanted to read Powell's book of questions, The Interrogative Mood, for a while, but this was at the local used book store and had a good cover. I would say it's not great. In the post-Barthelme school of short story writing, this was written at a period of time (the turn of the eighties into the nineties) where there seemed to be a real literary concern with "irony" as a distancing device. You might be familiar with this from various David Foster Wallace essays. There's some sort of interesting stuff here with voice and southernness but not really a lot and I don't think it ever really makes that leap into the transcendent genius realm that you get with Barthelme. It feels more like someone amusing themselves and keeping their tenured position at a college. It's not bad but I would definitely sell this one back if I thought I could get more than two bucks for it but I don't think I can.

Ann Quin, Three. I think last time I mentioned feeling like much of what I was enjoying had some association with a Brian Evenson endorsement, but I didn't realize, when I bought this book, that the most recent printing of it, via Dalkey Archive, had Evenson writing an introduction to it. This is Quin's second book, weirder than Berg by a good bit. A married couple is investigating the life of the woman who was living with them, until the point where she killed herself, looking at her diaries and tape recordings, all of which are more abstracted in their relationship to her feelings than a suicide note would be. Sometimes feels difficult, or unsatisfying, but less so as it goes on and you sink into it.

Tao Lin, Trip. This book came out right before I had jury duty assigned and I correctly assumed it would be an easy read. I think it told me a lot I already knew, about drugs and Terence McKenna, and a lot that wasn't that interesting, about Tao Lin. Maybe the best part of the book was Tao talking about a text-based game played online in the context of drug addiction and language, that was maybe the point where it seemed like he and his perspective were adding something potentially illuminating.

Ishmael Reed, The Terrible Twos. I found this at a used bookstore I went to on my lunch break from jury duty when I needed a second book and it seemed like the most promising thing available. It's not as good as the older Reed books I've read, but it is similarly busy with characters and incident. This one's about the Reagan era, which means that now the elements of hope and optimism in the satire seem outdated, but also anything heavy and cynical doesn't seem aware of how much worse it could get. Mumbo Jumbo and Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down have this historical sweep to their vision that avoids this, I think, though also I read them before Trump got elected.

Helen Weinzweig, Basic Black With Pearls. Another book printed by NYRB Classics, I was convinced to pick this up due to the writer Lauren Oyler saying it was good. Didn't realize it would have an epigram taken from Ann Quin's Passages. It's pretty cool, plotwise: A woman is having an affair with a man who is essentially a spy, and so she follows this code to meet him, around the world, driven by this longing or erotic obsession. It feels both adjacent to a spy novel but also like the narrator might just be completely insane, and is very compelling. As the Quin influence might suggest, it's fairly experimental: The afterword compares it to David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress, which seems fair. At various points I was also reminded of Javier Marias, though the sentences work differently, and aren't crazy-long. There were a couple of tangents where I was like "wait, how did we get onto this subject" which happened to me when I was reading Marias' Dark Back Of Time. There's also a sort of similar relationship to espionage style plotting. I came to this comparison and thought "Javier Marias always writes about translators though," and then later found out the husband the narrator abandoned is a translator here as well. This book is pretty good at revealing information at a steady clip while still feeling like there's more to be revealed. I like Marias a lot, enough that I feel like I could read one of his books every few years and reliably enjoy them, but the feminine viewpoint distinguishes this one enough that it's probably better than the vast majority of a prolific yet consistent writer's body of work. Recommended.

Ann Quin, The Unmapped Country. A collection of short stories and uncollected work, including a fragment of the novel Quin was working on at the time of her suicide. Not very good. Quin's stuff is so weird and abrasive it helps for it to go along enough for it to become hypnotic and change and vary and see how much it contains. The beginning of the novel is the best part, an account of being in a mental hospital. It makes sense to compare it to Anna Kavan's Asylum Piece, though it's worth noting Quin is way more vulgar and sexual when talking about the behavior of the inmates or people in general. People view her as a predecessor to Kathy Acker, for instance. For a while I thought this was because Kavan's older, but now I think it's probably because she was on heroin and that could've killed her libido to the point she didn't think about sex at all. The Unmapped Country part of the book is better than the part of Asylum Piece that takes place in an asylum.

Isabelle Eberhardt, Oblivion Seekers. I read this before The Recognitions but am placing it next to the Quin book now as it's similarly a collection of fragments. Eberhardt lived a really interesting life, and was clearly a pretty good writer, but died in a flood that also basically destroyed the manuscript of the book she was working on. I think this book is an assemblage made by Paul Bowles. It seems like the other book attributed to her that's been published might contain some of the same material? There is basically no way reading even a short bio of Eberhardt won't make you want to read her writing, such a bio is printed in the intro to this book, so you might as well just read it there, as the book itself is definitely not as good as you'll want it to be or that satisfying.

Penelope Mortimer, The Pumpkin Eater. Oh wow just now thought "wait, is this woman Emily Mortimer's mom?" She isn't, but after a divorce, the husband that this book is basically about married another woman also named Penelope who gave birth to Emily. This book is another NYRB Classic, about a woman stuck in a bad marriage, with a ton of children, who's essentially forced to go to therapy. Pretty bleak in its viewpoint, this took me a very long time to get through despite being short and well-written. It's less compelling for how you feel you can basically extrapolate the whole of the book based on reading only a small amount of it. The "female suffering" genre. I would recommend it if you liked Play It As It Lays, or The Bell Jar, and now I guess I would recommend it to fans of Emily Mortimer, assuming such fandom is based on the movie Lovely And Amazing and the HBO show Doll And Em. I don't know what else she's done.

Jenn Pelly, The Raincoats. A 33 1/3 book about a great band, there are various points of interest in terms of the biographies of the members involved and the political milieu they lived in, though the stuff about fan perceptions of the music and its reception based on projection is in some ways less interesting. But art is also about the relationship the audience has to it, and with "punk" in particular artist and audience are essentially meant to be thought of as equals. It's just that in this instance, the artists really do have uncommonly interesting life experiences and live in a cool milieu. I'm mad about this book beginning with a Chris Kraus quote and ending with an interview with people who wrote the screenplay to Ten Things I Hate About You, is what I'm saying. The author talking about how she turned the band on to Angel Olsen is cool though, though obviously that sort of exchange wouldn't have fit into the book thematically if it wasn't so much about how what people who came after the band responded to their music. Still, for a book about stuff that happened in 1977, few things are going to date it as being written in 2016 like name-dropping Chris Kraus and Angel Olsen. Though I agree that the latter is great I dunno if young women forty years from now will be as psyched on her as Pelly is on The Raincoats.

Eve Babitz, Slow Times, Fast Company. Babitz was a hot young woman in L.A. who dated a great many celebrities; her voice is incredibly charming and smart and witty. Certain chapters falter a bit in scenes where there are too many characters, when the tone starts to seem less insightful (pretty much whenever she's speaking generally she seems really insightful) and more gossipy, which would honestly be fine if it weren't for the pseudonyms that help make this thing a novel. Although it's more of an essay collection about characters, if that makes sense. A good beach read, this sort of book probably does as much to create NYRB's glamorous cachet as the uniform design sense. It's not as good as Renata Adler's Speedboat but if you read that and thought Adler came off as kind of a square you might like this more.

Wolfgang Herrndorf, Sand. Another NYRB Classics book. This writer wrote an enormously popular YA book, then wrote this, and then killed himself before his cancer did him in. It's a moderately funny thriller, in the end pretty nihilistic, and the back-of-the-book praise compares it to Pynchon and Gaddis and Catch-22 and the Coen brothers. The afterword adds Nabokov would appreciate it for the games it plays. All of this is extremely my shit, I was pretty involved in this, though I didn't solve any of the book's puzzles on my own. It largely concerns an amnesiac trying to figure out why people are after him, which also creates a sort of narrative uncertainty akin to Evenson; there's also this feeling of "how dark is this going to get?" throughout, even though the tone remains vaguely comedic. I think pretty much everyone I talk to about to about books would like this one, unless they were in the mood for something more philosophical and ideas-based.

Harry Mathews, The Solitary Twin. Published posthumously, this short book seems pretty boiled down and distilled in terms of carrying characteristics of various older books of Mathews. Feels pretty loose for the most part but then an ending sort of comes out of nowhere, with one twist easily foreseen and another that's kind of bizarre. I don't get the feeling that Mathews writes with "ideas" in mind that he wants to communicate, but is more amusing himself with a sense of play. I don't offer this as a complaint, it might be the smarter way to work. It's a charming and fun book.

Noy Holland, I Was Trying To Describe What It Feels Like. Noy was associated with Gordon Lish, the teacher/editor most known for his work with Raymond Carver being too heavy-handed, but who has a whole coterie of short story writers whose work is more language-y, like Barry Hannah, Amy Hempel, and Gary Lutz, all of whom I like. This is Noy's big "New and selected works" collection, but I was not nearly as into it as I would like to have been. The language felt pretty opaque. While Lutz's prose is convoluted in a way where I get a feeling for the characters as deeply socially alienated weirdos, with Noy's writing, mostly about families, it sort of seems like narrators might be brain-damaged, or the family has had some sort of sexual abuse that is now being largely talked around, but maybe not? The timelines skip around to give out information, but it never feels revelatory so much as mostly ADD. Sentences individually have good rhythms, but on a paragraph level don't come together.  I kept on feeling like I didn't "get" these stories, on several really fundamental levels. It goes back and forth between long pieces and really short ones and while the long ones were a total slog I didn't really feel like the short things made any real impact on me. Note: I realize it is kind of sexist for me to refer to Noy Holland as Noy while I call Gary Lutz by his last name, but I don't want you to think I'm thinking about either the country of Holland or either of the cartoonists Gary Panter and Gary Larson. For me questions of distinctiveness in names take priority over stylistic consistency, sorry if this offends.

Mark Leidner, Under The Sea. Short-story collection by a guy whose poems I liked, partly due to their being funny. A few of these stories feel like "exercises," attempts to do something specific to show off how varied he can be, and there's a sense of logic or attentiveness to a character's inner world that runs throughout and unites the whole thing, but sometimes I felt the presence of an "ironic distance" between the author and his choice of subject matter. It often feels like the sort of "parody" I would write in high school of some sort of genre I only half-paid-attention to, where there were a lot of jokes that were indicative of a sort of sarcastic contempt for the thing in question. That's not to say this isn't better, just that they share the feeling. Here that self-consciousness is employed to a literary end, but I as a reader definitely felt aware of the writer's knowing tone in ways that were sort of distracting. I kind of think the book could've benefited from the stories being in a different order. (I think opening on the story that's most plot-heavy, and about a lower-class crime milieu, was totally a mistake, and I would've opened with the story about ants, "Avern-W9" instead. That one really gets you on board with it, whereas other pieces you read with a bit more hesitation. Then I would've put "Garbage" third. If you're going to read it based on my say-so, read it in that order and let me know what you think.) I still think it's pretty good, and it gets better as it goes along, with the final story both making me laugh out loud and feel "seen." It has a good front cover, and I think flipping it open to pretty much any page or sentence will present an intrigued potential reader with enticement to read more, as the tone definitely works.

Emily Fridlund, Catapult. Selected as a contest winner by Ben Marcus, which made me pick this up. Fridlund wrote a novel that was seemingly pretty well-reviewed but I never heard of. These stories are all pretty much about relationships between two people where one feels alienated from the other for various reasons. It's kind of similar to Samantha Hunt's The Dark Dark but better-written on both a sentence level and in terms of having more realized characters, though it never really tries to get weird, staying firmly in the realm recognizable as "traditional literary short story." Probably I should've tried to read this and the Leidner at the same time and just switched back and forth between them.

Roque Larraquy, Comemadre. This is a pretty short book, split in half with two narrative threads taking place at different times. The first half involves an experiment to get the decapitated to say as their last words something insightful, the second half is about the world of modern art. It straddles the horror/humor way differently than most things: Normally, in a film, instances of gore have this over-the-top grotesque quality that might make you laugh, here people are weird and cruel in an underplayed way where there's absolutely no catharsis and you just feel uneasy. The translator, Heather Cleary, writes a column online that seems like it might be a good source for info on other translated books, I'd trust her taste based on her interest in this one. This one's got blurbs by Brian Evenson and Samanta Schweiblin.

Mathias Enard, Compass. This is a long book, taking place over the course of one night in the stream-of-consciousness of an orientalist musicologist talking about a woman he is in love with but never had a relationship with. It's erudite and digressive in a way which would appeal to fans of W.G. Sebald, who I guess was publisher New Directions' hit author for awhile. I don't love it but it's fine. It's some shit you would read if you dressed like a tenured professor with elbow patches on your jacket.

B. Catling, The Cloven. This is the conclusion to The Vorrh trilogy, and after starting it and feeling like I would remember enough of the previous book, The Erstwhile, to enjoy it I realized I was wrong and reread that one. I like this stuff: a sort of gnarly fantasy that ends with an acknowledgment that humanity was a mistake that gets erased from the face of the Earth before World War II starts.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes. An early NYRB Classics publication, feels sort of staid and droll and very British at the outset, it's also sort of a feminist classic due to it being about a woman becoming a witch, because she'd rather walk around the woods alone than hang out with her family. I kind of expected it to be weirder than it was but if you like stuff that predates modernism, or Barbara Comyns, you might be into it.

Harry Mathews, The Sinking Of The Odradek Stadium. Most of Mathews' stuff is kept in print by Dalkey Archive now, but in the eighties a big paperback was printed with his first two out-of-print novels alongside the publication of this one, which was serialized in The Paris Review. The idea of that big book was very appealing to me. This one's an epistolary novel, half of it written in broken English that improves throughout the reading, between a married couple planning on searching for treasure and infiltrating secret societies. It ends up reading less like Pynchon than I thought, in part due to the rigidity of the form of letters back and forth, rather than Pynchon's free-flowing storytelling.

Chelsey Minnis, Baby I Don't Care. The title is taken from Robert Mitchum's autobiography. A book of poems written in a voice familiar from the femme fatales and glamorous ingenues of Turner Classic Movies, to the point where every line feels like it might be taken from elsewhere, and is now being collaged into a new form. At the same time, especially compared to Minnis' earlier work, which I also adore, these feel "classical," controlled in their rhythms, but surprising and compelling in the way they develop and how far the voice is able to go. Feels similar to Alice Notley's Culture Of One in how the sequence of poems suggests a narrative moreso than just being a poetry collection, though this has a much smaller cast of characters: It's basically just a woman addressing a man.

Gabe Habash, Stephen Florida. One of the more acclaimed novels of the recent past, this book about a college wrestler obsessed with winning a championship and having no real goals after that point has compelling and funny voice and consistently strong sentences. I read it in a day and was pretty absorbed. I don't think I would recommend it too strongly just because of the weird hype that accumulates around "new" novels, I wouldn't want to postulate it as one for the ages just yet though it's definitely good. Habash is married to a woman who just wrote a review of another currently acclaimed novel where she criticizes how the women are written in it, but this book does this thing where the love interest literally asserts her own agency and says that she's not just a character in his story, which is something I don't think people do in real life so much as something writers put in out of self-consciousness about how readers don't understand the basic premise of first-person narration or something. Habash also liked Comemadre, both books were put out by Coffee House Press.

Helen Dewitt, Some Trick. This got a lot of acclaim when it came out because people love The Last Samurai and want Dewitt to have a win, but this collection of thirteen stories is not really that satisfying. Three are dated "Oxford, 1985" at the end, and they're the weakest stories in the book, but also read different from the rest, which are all about the frustrations of being a genius, basically, in that the world isn't really designed to just let them thrive. This is true, and requires a degree of thought and rigor to write about, but also feels fairly entitled and low-stakes for a book's worth of short stories. (The struggle for Dewitt is life-and-death, she's struggled with suicide as a result of the difficulties she's had with the book world.) I basically disagree with the idea that these are "funny" but maybe it's just too dry for my dumb and vulgar sensibilities. I could see myself rereading this after getting a used paperback copy for cheap some years down the line though.


Sergio De La Pava, Lost Empress. I kind of feel like De La Pava and Dewitt have a lot in common, in terms of being really smart and not really well-served by the literary community, but damn if reading these books one after the other didn't underline out their contrasts; i.e. how De La Pava's concerns are way more pressing and politically engaged. This one’s about a ton of different stuff, but the criminal justice system and the struggles of the working class are a big part of it. There’s also a ton of stuff about football. This is all rendered in a voice driven by all of the major characters being these hyper-intelligent steamrollers of authority and genius who bend the world to their will. I definitely think Dewitt is more right-on about how intelligence works in the real world when dealing with others. The appeal of this aspect of De La Pava’s writing is more that of fantasy than actual insight, despite its insistence on how smart and right it is. Certainly some of this is gendered; the fact that one of the main characters here is a woman doesn’t really negate that aspect so much as it amplifies the fantasy element further. This one has a lot of talk about Joni Mitchell’s work in the seventies, concluding with a dismissal of Charles Mingus as being “beneath her” as a collaborator which would be shockingly wrong if it weren’t coming from a dude who I think really loves like technical metal and bravura displays of technique in general. Mitchell, like Salvador Dali, another figure in the book, gets to be cited as this sort of genius figure that people defer to and gets to be really successful and generally understood as a genius. It's like he doesn't really have time for geniuses who aren't widely appreciated, but maybe he's trying to assert these values as a way of aligning himself with popular tastes for the sake of winning the understandings of a wider audience. (This is my view of what Pitchfork did when they gave Kanye West album of the year, by the way. They were already popular, but by flattering a mass audience's taste by agreeing with them they positioned themselves for still-greater cultural dominance.) For all the digressions and desire to dominate with opinions, there's still a lot of plot here, and overall it's pretty enjoyable. I had fun with it, though I don’t think there’s anything here as moving as certain passages in A Naked Singularity and Personae. Various parts of this actually reminded me of Vanessa Place’s LA MEDUSA, other stuff is like David Foster Wallace. The people who are vocally against DFW or Vanessa Place would really hate this but I think those people should be dismissed as boring scolds.

Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year Of Rest And Relaxation. Hot on the heels of reading Lost Empress, imagine my surprise on opening this one to find an epigraph from Joni Mitchell. People really love that lady. And people love Moshfegh too, if they're into "literary fiction" as it stands in 2018. That said, I would recommend this to people who maybe don't follow that world too closely, and I'd use the premise to do so: It's about a woman in 2001 New York looking to hibernate by taking a bunch of prescription pills, only to start acting out in a blackout sleepwalk state. The characters are unlikable and shallow and the whole thing Moshfegh does might not be "for you" but I feel like it's as good as "that thing" gets, it's a well-done enough take that I don't resent her her success or feel like someone whose work is weirder necessarily deserves better accolades. She's like the thing you'd point to as an example of the success of a system of MFA degrees creating stuff that seems objectively "good."

Cristina Rivera Garcia, The Taiga Syndrome. This one is also kind of like Ann Quin! It doesn't sell itself that way, instead acting like it's a mystery novel with a lot of politics, and things to say about fairy tales, but really it's got this sort of vague quest narrative that's really traveling to a landscape of inner/outer void and desolation.

Rita Bullwinkel, Belly Up. Damn, I dropped the ball on keeping up with doing these write-ups close to finishing the books in question and I barely remember this one at all. It's blurbed by Lorrie Moore. Looking at the back-cover descriptive text there's this thing about how "characters question the bodies they've been given and what their bodies require to be sustained" and I think this book made me realize I hate when books are pitched as being about bodies. Like, it feels like a reach in a sort of pretentious way to just say something is about what basically everything with characters is implicitly about. I shouldn't act like I hated this book because I think I mostly liked it but the things about it I remember I hated. There's a story with the premise that a teenage girl gets someone to walk around carrying her breasts because the economy is so bad it's easier to hire someone to do that rather than buy a bra. And another story that starts off talking shit on the state of Florida where I felt really strongly that the writer had almost certainly never lived there. Oh, there's a good story in here about corresponding via the mail with someone in prison.

Steven Millhauser, The Barnum Museum. I love Steven Millhauser, he's one of my favorite writers, I got this book as a Christmas gift ages ago and couldn't read it at the time for reasons I attributed to the typeface being bad. I don't think this is one of his best. He uses a lot of the same themes over and over so the things that are good in this one are sort of present in his other books. This one's published by Dalkey Archive and that might be what made me think of it as being maybe a little bit more detached and exercise-y than his later short story collections. Damn there's a real running theme to this year of me not really liking anything! I was maybe in kind of a bummed-out mood year all year.

Sabrina Orah Mark, Wild Milk. Oh, I really didn't like this one either! Like a sort of small-press "it's weird and poetic" thing that never really does anything and sort of feels primarily written for other people who do the same sort of not very successful thing. I wish I thought this was funny and not just tedious but no.

Kirsten Bakis, Lives Of The Monster Dogs. I enjoyed this enough to a point where I thought a lot of other people would like it. It feels very "nineties," maybe comparable to Katherine Dunn's Geek Love which I've never read. It's written as a collage of different people's journals, about a race of hyper-intelligent dogs being bred and given technological equipment that enables them to speak, and the story of how they both kill their masters, and then move to New York. The one human narrator is sort of constantly charmed by all the dogs and sort of ignores all the red flags, which are constant, but nothing bad ever really comes of it. It's got a nice tone to it, I found it charming as I wondered where it was going. This is the only book the author ever wrote and it's over twenty years old.

Jose Revueltas, The Hole. Recently translated and released by New Directions, this is a super-short novella, in a single paragraph, about prisoners arranging to get heroin smuggled into them, and how things go wrong. Written by a political prisoner and essentially about how fucked prison is from a political and humanitarian standpoint. Probably the reason I do not remember this very well is because of the circumstances under which I read it, waiting on the porch of my girlfriend's house while I was waiting for her to get there so I could help her move, basically immediately before we definitively broke up, overwhelm the memory. But also I was pretty excited about this one, and also pretty disappointed in it.

David Bunch, Moderan. NYRB Classics expanded this collection of short stories, all taking place in a sci-fi world that is essentially meant as just a parody of modernity: The world is covered in plastic, men are cyborgs with most of their humanity traded out, and are constantly at war. This is pretty repetitive in the point it makes but frequently really insane on a language level.

Hera Lindsay Bird, Hera Lindsay Bird. This woman wrote a poem about pyramid schemes I really loved. That led to me finding her Twitter feed, which eventually contained her retweeting one of the co-creators of Peep Show saying she's a genius, which led to me pulling the trigger and buying her book. It's pretty firmly in my wheelhouse, poems are explicitly labeled as being homages to Chelsey Minnis and Mark Leidner. There's a lot of jokes, I felt reminded of my own writing to a certain extent although she's much more sexual. I think a lot of people hate jokes and pop culture references in poetry, but I do not. I liked this and wish her every success, apparently one of these poems "went viral" but I wasn't a big fan of that one on its own though it's fine in the book. She explicitly identifies her theme as "you're in love and then you die" and that's great, it's true and that's plenty.

Taeko Kono, Toddler Hunting. Another one from New Directions, though they put this out in hardcover ages ago and just rereleased it in paperback. This one's pretty good, but upsetting. A bunch of short stories from the sixties mostly about women into BDSM, and frequently they're into fantasizing about children getting tortured as well. It's real weird in a way that makes you think "this is probably about the society it's written in on some level, it can't just be about this lady being real weird" but hard to know without being a part of that society. Still fascinating, although occasionally confusing on a level of "I can't keep track of these character's names."

Amparo Davila, The Houseguest. Another one New Directions just put out, this one's a collection of short stories by a Mexican lady that they REALLY oversell by comparing to Poe, Shirley Jackson, and Franz Kafka. The back-cover text really tries to sell it as being horrifying but the cover is just a drawing of pink chair on a light green background? I don't think they're actually trying to entice readers that are into horror. Every story is like half of a Daphne Du Maurier story, like Du Maurier would've waited until she had another idea to put into these before writing them. At least one of these stories has a "twist" or "surprise ending" that's just a total non sequitur. It's crazy that this is a selection of short stories that's the first stuff being brought into English when it reads so much like the dregs of someone's career, like the collection of previously uncollected works you'd do after someone really successful dies.

Anyway, that's enough negativity for one year I guess! I'm admittedly reading a book I don't really like right now and am imagining I will probably go back to this big collection of early Harry Mathews novels pretty soon. I hope you found something on this list to investigate you end up liking and aren't just someone who works for a publisher seeing me dismiss something you put out because you have a google alert set up and then you decide I'm an asshole. But you know, whatever, either way.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

2018 Music

During the past twelve months of working at a music store that actively stocks new releases, I kept track of what I heard that was released this year that was remotely of interest. I also kept track of all the things I heard and investigated via the internet. I am actually in a pretty good position to do a year-end "the year in music" post. The main thing working against me is just the feeling that records can't really be ranked, when you consider how disparate everyone's goals are. So, rather than come up with some kind of "master list" I wrote a bunch of short lists that are essentially determined by genre. But genres are about as fake as ranked lists! These lists should maybe be thought of more like an attempt at coming up with a bunch of theoretical tastes a person could have, perhaps to more efficiently "catfish" nerds. To that end, I'm doing a weird thing where I'm putting reissues of stuff alongside new releases. Without counting, I imagine this might end up being like fifty records, which is honestly way too many for a "year-end" list to have and retain some sense of purpose for anyone who wasn't paying attention to music all year, which I always think is the "point" with such lists at major publications. This just being my blog, it's fine, we do it "strictly for the heads" here at briannicholson.blogspot.com. Anyway, I'm including Bandcamp links when possible, which is not always.

Let's begin with the weirdest genre of all... The total outliers. Or what I could call "jazz-adjacent freak prog." I wrote it down. Number one on this list is the five Haruomi Hosono reissues Light In The Attic put out. I bought all of them, which is insane. My rationale was: Two of them, Philharmony and Cochin Moon, I already know and love. The other three were basically unknown quantities. While plenty of people only buy records they know they love after extensive online sampling, those people are basically assholes, unadventurous and intellectually uncurious. These Hosono records are rewarding, but they're also sort of challenging: Not because they're abrasive, but because they're insanely goofy, and maybe most easily explained in terms of references to things I don't regularly listen to, or sometimes even actively avoid. They're all good. Next up on this list is Creative Healing's record Low Effort Social Events, which is like an art-rock thing, post-Captain Beefheart, with violin and saxophone. It's got members of some bands I knew from releases on OSR Tapes, Salt People and Listening Woman. Recommended if you like getting the coffee jitters and listening to Prime Time. I really did make lists, but am not just copy-pasting them because the spacebar key on my keyboard is broken and I'm using copy-paste to make spaces between words and I don't really think a list of bandnames followed by a paragraph explaining what's good about each would be particularly readable anyway. You have to just trust me I have a series of lists I'm going to work my way through. Next up is Kemialliset Ystavat's new tape SIIPI EMPII. Damn they make beautiful music, fascinatingly alive and finding harmonies between stuff that feels futuristic robot and organically grown, in a way that's really only analogous to drug experiences, but so filled with motion and allergic to stasis that it's totally unlike everything else that gets called "psychedelic." This description could be used to discuss virtually all of the music they've made, they're basically never bad. Way poppier than this is Daphne And Celeste "Save The World," produced by Max Tundra, which is bright and sunshiney and totally funny and goofy in a way that definitely places it in the same universe as Hosono. Then there's Jake Tobin who also I know from OSR Tapes releases. I think he is someone who likes Steely Dan, who are terrible, but are a good reference point for Hosono's Paraiso. His tape Fifth Thought is, I think, a mixture of Chopin etudes and improvisations. He also just released another tape a month ago I only discovered yesterday but haven't spent much time with yet. He's an interesting cat for sure. Next up is Mouse On Mars' Dimensional People, a record I think people didn't really like, maybe because it has a lot of features but they're not very good? I still think Mouse On Mars are generally interesting and this one doesn't really feel like an attempt to make a party record, it's more like everyone's been invited to something very weird and are trying to make the best of it and have a good time. Damn I'm just realizing this list is going to be defined more than the other lists by people whose work I've followed for over a decade but are really unfashionable, like this is my "bad list," like an uncle whose top albums of the year include Paul McCartney and Van Morrison, only I'm riding for IDM dudes who have lost "relevance" as music-writing embraces more straight-forward pleasures. To that end, the fucking Dirty Projectors released a record Lamp Lit Prose that I only heard once but thought "This is pretty interesting... It's weird this guy isn't just the poster child for cocaine though, because this record is manic and all over the place." Again, I think people turned against this dude for making a break-up record and breaking up his band but those early Dirty Projectors records were done solo and are totally insane, this one is like that but with guest singers who are successful r&b vocalists. Anyway when I ordered the Jake Tobin tape I got two more tapes thrown in that I really liked and would be remiss to not mention, by Magic From Space and Dok-S Project. Some people might know the latter name from having put out a tape with Orange Milk, it's in this "insanely sequenced electronic music" realm which is kind of a theme here. Also only heard the Paul De Jong record You Fucken Sucker once but thought it was real interesting, and intense in its use of sampled screaming, really the sort of thing you can only listen to the privacy of your own home and only when you're in a weird mood of self-loathing. This list ends with Marcia Custer's Stacey's Spacey, which is a noise performance art comedy thing. I saw her perform live and would highly recommend it.

 But I called that "jazz adjacent" which is sort of insane but I guess a lot of music is jazz adjacent, especially if you're just moving in a direction away from the blues, but what about actual jazz? Well, shit, I really loved the Charles Lloyd and The Marvels record featuring Lucinda Williams, "Vanished Gardens." And I don't really listen to Charles Lloyd ever or Lucinda Williams. Having Lucinda on every other track and a bunch of long jams just fucking rules. Bill Frisell is a member of the Marvels and also plays on some Lucinda Williams records. This record is long and the fact that you sort of get used to a vocalist but she's not always there means you can sort of lose track, like "what am I listening to" but the very fact that you ask that question means you're engaged. Loved it. Blue Note also put the Nels Cline 4 record "Currents Constellations" which is similarly defined by two guitars, it's great. I actually bought the Alice Coltrane "Spiritual Eternal" reissue though, of three LPs on two CDs. Another actually astounding reissue is of Sun Ra's God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be, which is a piano trio record circa the time of him putting out funkier records, i.e. what most people I know would maybe consider their favorite era. It's so good, a piano trio can really rewire your head when someone like Ra is doing what he does with harmony and rhythm. The Sylvie Courvoisier Trio also did a great record this year, D'Agala. She also performed a track on this Tzadik comp "Winged Serpents - Six Encomiums For Cecil Taylor" where six different pianists did solo tracks. I feel very differently about piano trios (with bass and drums) than I do about solo piano but am trying to suggest something about her skill level by bringing that comp up. Also Sarathy Korwar's "My East Is Your West" is a double-CD merging of Indian music and jazz, covering Alice Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Don Cherry, etc. It's almost obvious, in that it's obvious you will like it. Sons Of Kemet's Your Queen Is A Reptile is a pretty great upbeat record. Bandleader Shabaka Hutchings seems like a dude who loves both jazz and "jazz-inspired" no wave but wields it into effective dance music; this record has some rapping on it for the sake of pushing the energy level higher. I also liked the Fire! album from this year, which I guess is aiming for like a jazz-meets-krautrock thing, I found it real listenable. Damn this preference for listenability is leading me to mention stuff that's not necessarily the most radical- I both acknowledge that jazz isn't just music to put on at a cafe or something but also like it should be played in such contexts more! This is the paradox of modern jazz basically. I also liked the Brian Marsella Trio album released on Tzadik, it's all covers of this pianist "the legendary Hasaan" who really only cut one record with Max Roach that he wrote all the tunes on. I also have the "J-Jazz" compilation of jazz from Japan at the bottom of the list but I remember it less than any of these other things and obviously my memory with instrumental music isn't as good as my memory of stuff with vocals.

I also made a list marked "droney stuff" topped by Park Jiha's Communion, which is a record calling it drone oversimplifies, as it clearly relates to jazz, minimalism, and traditional music of Vietnam. It's a really beautiful record, but I should clarify, not just beautiful, clearly comfortable with creating moments of tension, it's not trying to relax or be ambient. Similarly tense is Louise Bock's Repetitives In Illocality. The artist's name is a pseudonym for Taralie Peterson of Spires That In The Sunset Rise. Way more relaxing is the Matchess Trilogy, three cassettes, only the most recent of which came out this year, the others were released on vinyl in recent years. My friend Sara did the album art for the cassette box and that's only part of why I endorse the more affordable option. Another amazing reissue was Laraaji's Vision Songs, handled by Numero Group, that differs from his other stuff by the presence of vocals, singing songs which are sort of like new age gospel numbers but very very funny and kinda dumb. I like this WAY more than Day Of Radiance. I think this is a CD and LP reissue of what was originally a self-released tape. Contemporary music released on tape was the Gemini Sisters, which is a duo of the people from High Aura'd and Mind Over Mirrors which I like more than their individual efforts. But the new Mind Over Mirrors record Bellowing Sun is way ambitious and it gets a slot on the list as well.  I should also mention the Joe Talia record, Tint, and Alison Cotton's All Is Quiet At The Ancient Theatre. The Talia record is very nuanced, he contributes to another record I'll talk up, and there's a sort of scope or attention to detail that's interesting- There's a huge difference between people doing stuff I'm calling "droney" on a record vs. a tape but it's not a qualitative one, it's more like a type of nuance that's almost besides the point in terms of how you feel the music but it's like a different approach to the horizons of the perceptual field or something. On a tape those effects are still there but maybe you're hallucinating them, whereas Talia is doing like an electro-acoustic thing where that stuff is deliberately being worked on. Alison Cotton is more of a Tony Conrad type thing, at a high enough volume you don't notice the difference: But with the stuff that's on CD or LP you do hear the difference. Is this very clear? Also, rounding out the list is the new Yo La Tengo record, There's A Riot Going On, which is basically ambient, with many of its songs being like peaceful pools you dip your toe into, but with a few tunes as well. They don't really disturb the calm. It's not the best Yo La Tengo record but I truly appreciate it.

I also made a list of stuff I'm calling "electronic-y stuff" but that's probably not the best way to define it. It has nothing to do with computers or the stuff I was talking about on the "outlier" list I opened with. I'll explain the vibe as I go. Maybe the best of the year was Profligate's Somewhere Else which was released in the first few months of January. I vaguely consider Profligate in the vein of like "a noise dude making techno," but also feel like, in a live setting, it doesn't really move the crowd as effectively as some other people in that realm. But on record it's a different thing, especially here, it feels like a sort of mournful downcast bedroom thing, unconventional songs but with a good amount of lyrics and live guitar. Numero Group put out a compilation called Switched-On Eugene which collects tracks made by the Eugene Electronic Music Collective, people in Oregon in the eighties who would share equipment and be played on college radio shows hosted by members. Most of the people do instrumentals, there are some tracks with vocals but they're towards the end, which really does help conjure up this late-night radio vibe. Similarly sourced from self-released cassette tapes is Michele Mercure's Besides Herself. But the thing about late night is that it's not just about feeling sorry for yourself, it's also about feeling like your brain is leaving your body. Surgeon's "Luminosity Device" is supposedly inspired by the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, but let's be real, that's press release talk to benefit hacks, it's psychedelia via beats is not that far off from the rest of people here. High-minded in a different way is Lucrecia Dalt's Anticlines, which is an interesting development away from her earlier Badalamenti-ish work to something more abstract. It's comparable to Laurie Anderson, whose record Landfall with Kronos Quartet I thought was stunning. Exploded View are more of a "band" than the the rest of what I'm talking about, but their Obey is nicely propulsive and grimey. There was also a 2CD reissue of the Nightcrawlers, The Biophonic Boombox Recordings. The Nightcrawlers were a Philly-based eighties-cassette concern, in a similar universe to the Mercure but a little more dedicated to the drawn-out atmospheres of the German electronic stuff I don't really deal with. Glasser's Sextape seems like a serious leveling up, despite the potentially-alienating use of heavily featuring spoken word interviews with queer people talking about their earliest sexual experiences. (I think a dude I know is sampled extensively on this record, actually.) Rounding out this list would be Lolina's The Smoke, which in some ways didn't click for me but I returned to a few times to see if it did, and I always basically enjoyed it enough to let it play out its runtime.

Also, let me talk about film scores real briefly, as that's a designation that's actually important, with intentions distinct from albums. Jonny Greenwood's score to You Were Never Really Here is great, I heard it months before the film and always felt like "wow, this must play over a really intense scene!" even as I enjoyed it as music. The Lynne Ramsay film is similarly good, in that, as you watch it, it feels very intense and compelling, though as a narrative, it doesn't really leave you with a ton to think about afterwards. As a film, it works as this cavalcade of sensations, which is kind of what you want from a film score. Matthew Herbert's score for A Fantastic Woman is very understated, almost minimal, and while I haven't seen the film, the score is stately and romantic. Liars have long been one of my favorite bands, literally, for the entire time I've maintained this blog, but I kinda didn't they could pull off a film score, but the music they did for 1/1, what I think is a horror movie, that I also don't know if anyone's seen, was great and really engaging. I also thought Alexandre Desplat's music for Isle Of Dogs was a lot of fun, I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson doing these sort of "boy's adventure" movies and the galivanting miniatures of his recent scores do a lot to animate them.

I've got a list here I labeled "indie rock," which I view as a pretty wide category, but let's say that means there's a rhythm section and there's a vocalist and the bulk of what you're hearing is being made by a solid "band" type structure of people in a room, and the general mood of the music is not one of aggression, but something more conversational and empathetic and built around the relationships of the performers. (When I have "metal" list, aggression will be the determining factor, say.) Let's begin with Palberta's Roach Going Down, let's say that's the best of the year. Palberta's three women, switching off on instruments, playing short songs, sort of RIYL The Raincoats, The Minutemen, and Deerhoof. You might have noticed those are some of the best bands ever! Palberta are truly compelling, giving off the feeling of being fun goofballs you could be friends with if they weren't already such good friends with the people in the band who are really good at making music. They're a great live band, but not the best I've seen this year, (I think I last saw them last year) that honor belongs to Ohmme from Chicago, who made a record called Parts. Live, the group (two women are the "core" of the thing, the songwriters, though the drummer seemed very skilled and sharp, relied upon to be a background element) shredded way more than I anticipated having heard the record, doing weird songs in a natural way that made me think about a version of The Roches that had more in common with King Crimson than just being produced by Robert Fripp. Their vocal harmonies are less complex than The Roches, it's just the two of them singing the same lines, but it arrives at a nice place between classic songcraft and complexity. I'll link you to this live video, where they do one of their own songs and then cover Jim O'Rourke's "Memory Lame." (From the record Insignificance, which makes this as good a time as any to say RIP Nicolas Roeg.) The record is also embellished by appearances by jazzers Ken Vandermark and Tomeka Reid, which is waht got me to check it out initially, despite the fact that they're barely on it, that's a promising pedigree. The Breeders' All Nerve is a really good record, stacked with good songs, marginally better than the other post-Last Splash Breeders records, which are also totally good. I have no idea how overjoyed I would be to see this band perform live but damn I'm pretty happy that they still make good records. On the same record label as Ohmme is this band The Ophelias, who released a record called Almost I listened to a ton. Produced by Yoni Wolf of Why?, who I guess is also playing the vibraphone, and with prominent violin, we get something very poppy and gentle, but never really reassuring, always sort of comfortable with its provocations and potential to unsettle, more melancholy than anything. This is the record I played the most this year, with the melodies that got stuck in my head the most often. Possessing a totally different kind of tension is the Oneida record Romance, which actually is on the same label as well, a double-LP set of long, tense, dissonant songs where you rarely get catharsis, but feel relief when a song ends. The songs are long, but not ridiculously so, this is a real nervous-feeling record, a psychedelia like you get from eating spicy food or something, where you feel just barely out of your mind. It rules. Big Blood have been a favorite band of mine forever, their new one Operate Spaceship Earth Properly reminds me that while I think of them as being a folk duo, who clearly listen to a lot of great records due to their choices of what they cover, probably they listen to a lot of Black Sabbath. A band built around being a couple, this one has their child, probably quite young, playing drums with a steady beat. Rose Mercie and En Attendant Ana are basically the same band, two gangs of french women playing songs reminiscent of Electrelane, Rose Mercie are the better of the two and don't have an American record label helping them out. Locate S,1 is the newest name for Christina Schneider's songwriting outlet, previously associated with C.E. Schneider Topical, this is a little lusher and very inviting. Their record is called Healing Contest and it's both initially charming and a grower. It's a total bummer to me they're on tour opening for a band as mediocre as Of Montreal but maybe they're making a lot of fans that way, their softly "jazzy" songwriting probably wouldn't win them many fans on a more DIY circuit, I definitely had a difficult time trying to get them on a bill a few years ago. I checked out the band State Champion after the press release for their record Send Flowers had a blurb from David Berman calling the frontman "the best non-rap lyricist working," after wondering if David Berman listened to Starlito I realized this dude also fronts the Load Records band Tropical Trash, and his earlier records had press releases by such If-you're-going-to-sing-you've-gotta-have-the-lyrics-matter sticklers as Wooden Wand. So, despite the southern twang which will assuredly turn some people off, I was totally on-board, the songs are in a sort of plugged-in-and-jammed-out style as to feel pretty loose, but closer to "free" than tossed off. Probably the next closest thing to a "good lyricist" would be the Haley Heynderickx record I Need To Start A Garden, whose songs were much shorter, and called more attention to the fact that this is a woman who cares as much about meter and syllable count as she did making sure there was evocative imagery. This list seems as good a place as any to mention that Numero's Basement Beehive two-CD set of obscure girl group stuff ruled, and I appreciated its willingness to include both a and b sides of singles, and present individual artists with a degree of agency rather than just presenting them as just a cultural phenomenon. I liked this year's U.S. Girls record, In A Poem Unlimited less than the previous Half Free but I guess the presence of a live backing band makes for a more satisfying live experience, I think everyone left the show I saw her do a few years back pretty disappointed. Also in the "probably a great live band" category is Lithics, beloved by my friends in Portland who get the chance to see them perform regularly. Their record Mating Surfaces certainly indicates a fun time. The new Low, Double Negative, is an unexpected turn by a band who it is easy to take for granted to the point of ignoring. The new Stephen Malkmus record, Sparkle Hard, is maybe the best of his post-Pavement records, with a couple unexpected moments and maybe only one embarrassing misstep.

I also made a list more explicitly marked "singer-songwriter," and that list is topped by Ned Collette's Old Chestnut, a sprawling double-LP that Joe Talia contributes to, I think playing drums on. A dude from The Necks plays piano on it; it is a great-sounding record, sort of like if one of Jim O'Rourke's "pop" records were stretched out to a double-LP using embellishments from his more "experimental" work. This was released in the U.S. by Feeding Tube Records, who released a ton of the stuff I'm advocating for now, even more that doesn't quite make the list (like the A Faun And A Pan Flute 2-LP, which I bought a cassette of but probably deserves to be heard in the best possible quality), a good bit I'm ambivalent on, and way more that I haven't heard. I also heard the Mount Eerie record Now Only exactly once, streamed via NPR's website. I thought it was great but devastating and haven't heard it since. I want to track down a copy but I have to do so via mail-order from Phil and if I were to do that, I'd get a bunch of his records at once and it would be a big expenditure. I was really surprised by how good the Anna St. Louis record If Only There Was A River was, sort of close to the Angel Olsen close-to-country style of Half Way Home, or stuff on Numero's Cosmic American Music compilation. It's produced by King Tuff, who is a garage rock guy whose stuff I don't really engage with, though I was recently reminded he rips a guitar solo on Blanche Blanche Blanche's "Wink With Both Eyes" and has been in bands with Ruth Garbus and Kurt Weisman, he's not unfamiliar with nuance, this record sounds gorgeous in a way where I very quickly felt like "wait.. this record is really good," even though, yeah, some lyrics I found a lil' silly. Speaking of Jim O'Rourke, I gotta cite Eiko Ishibashi's The Dream My Bones Dream, which he produces and plays on a little, though it is Ishibashi's earlier records with O'Rourke I freaked out about and texted friends about, I'm a little unsure if I "get" the new one yet I'm confident it's good. Like Lucrecia Dalt, hers is a discography worth digging into, I actually think there might be a lot of parallels between the two of them actually. One artist whose work actually seems to just be getting better and more interesting is Sarah Louise, whose album Deeper Woods feels like it's heading nicely to places further and further out, but also burrowing inwards into not just the self but also the past and musical traditions there. Anna & Elizabeth's The Invisible Comes To Us has a different relationship to the past of songwriting traditions and how to move further out from there, I shouldn't consider it "singer-songwriter" record so much as just a "folk" one utilizing traditional song.

As for metal, as usual, I barely paid attention to it, but The Body's new album "I Have Fought Against It, But I Can't Any Longer" is phenomenal, they just get stronger and stronger. Also I'd never really listened to this band Daughters, who I guess used to be a grindcore band, but now aren't. I don't know if you'd really consider them a metal band either. Still, You Won't Get What You Want rips, put it on if you want to get yelled at. The Body's collaboration with Uniform, Mental Wounds Not Healing was good too. Also, not really metal but definitely notable and important is that this year the High Rise album II was reissued and I heard that for the first time, more of psych thing played at high speed but really distilling the whole "oh shit rock music" in such a powerful way that I'm classifying it with metal out of respect for its force. Also not really metal but described at their show by an audience member as "kind of a merger between nu-metal and indie rock, but in a good way" was The Dreebs who I've seen live many times over the past few years, and they're frequently good but Forest Of A Crew is the first time I've felt like one of their records worked, though maybe it's the first I've actually heard. Again, I don't pay a ton of attention to metal, but I occasionally buy metal stuff via Bandcamp, because I love having a weird diverse collection there.

Let's stay in the realm of "genres I barely pay attention to," because just because I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I don't have opinions! Tirzah's "Devotion," produced by Micachu, is the r&b record of the year, built on minimal loops, winning the approval of Earl Sweatshirt and the "album of the year" slot on two lists I've seen thus far, reminding me that people love r&b. I like the narrow range it falls into, the lack of vocal dramatics complementing the music really well. I also liked the Kadhja Bonet album Childqueen a good deal. It's lusher and more colorful but still muted. I realize I am mentioning things Numero did a good deal, and generally I feel like they do a better job branding themselves than they do in putting out things that are truly extraordinary, but their Eccentric Soul comp of the work of the Saru label contained a ton of great songs. Hearing the sample Kanye West built "Bound 2" around is a stop-in-your-tracks moment but the whole thing's that good. Meshell Ndegecello's Ventriloquism album of covers of sort of classic hits rendered in mildly artsier ways I found really winning. Also, while previous records by The Internet I've been pretty ambivalent to, their newest Hive Mind is pretty good, good enough for a local jazz player to ask about it while it was playing in the store.

I don't feel like I ignore or don't really fuck with rap but I feel like I am too old for new rap, all of the Soundcloud stuff I'm avoiding on like general principle, and a lot of older rappers are clearly corny now, and now it's actually really hard for me to keep up because I think a lot of stuff is exclusively on streaming services I don't fuck with, whereas for awhile there was a lot of stuff you could get a download of via Datpiff or there'd be CDs pressed. Anyway, I do think the new Earl Sweatshirt rules, such a weird raw fucked-up record, following in a tradition of Wu-Tang Clan's The W or Lil Ugly Mane's Oblivion Access. That it's called Some Rap Songs when that seems barely true owing to how the raps are buried, it feels more like a blown-out beat tape with some rapping quietly in the mix making it more captivating and compelling than any beat tape since Donuts. But also, for whatever it's worth, I also thought the new Dr. Octagon album, Moosebumps, was better than I would have expected. It seems like Kool Keith is maybe the only aging rapper to not become corny. I also really enjoyed Roc Marciano's Behold A Pale Horse, which is filled with jokes I thought worked. All of these records work basically outside of the expectations that I have for rap besides that the language will be interesting, but I'm continually reminded that for a lot of people that isn't even an expectation.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Catching Up On Writing About My Reading

I am not reading nearly as much as I did a few years ago, when lists of all the books I read in a year would appear on this blog, with a handful of entries including links to longform reviews I wrote elsewhere. Partly this is because the main venue where those reviews would appear is now defunct, and the other sources by which I would find out about books, both new and old, seems largely to have dried up. Much of the book coverage appearing online now feels less related to criticism than it does to plain publicity, which would be an unreliable source of information even if what weren't being sold so often seemed plainly unappealing. There remains a small handful of people I respect as writers even as I suspect our tastes differ too substantially for me to put too much faith in their every recommendation. I am grateful that they are out there writing about literature regardless. Still, any coverage inclined towards new books ends up sharing the biases of our age, towards a set of literary values it's difficult to place much stock in. Largely it all comes from people wanting to encourage each other, in a climate not necessarily amenable to literature, which I understand. If you need a disclaimer that my own opinions are formed at least in part by my resentment of my own failures, there you have it.

I do find a lot of value in people simply keeping track of what they're reading, what they like and what they like dislike. Even if no one recommendation leaps out, the slow accrual of endorsements can make me notice something. Often it seems like the books being published currently now only attempt to do one thing well. Seeing that there are certain books that work for a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons, over time, points us in the direction of work that does a lot of different things. This is a record of what intrigued me enough to investigate, subtracting the things that were too dull to risk me repeating the pattern of my mistake in others. I will warn against wastes of time unless a book seems too exhausting to give any more time to than I did in my initial reading.

Let's begin with the good stuff. Jen George, The Babysitter At Rest. This was great! Weird and funny and brutally mean short stories. Ended up lauded by The Believer, and Jen George got on a Granta "Best Young Novelists" list despite not having written a novel yet, alongside Rachel Glaser, who has written a novel, but still probably seems like she earned her space on the strength of her superior short stories. I would describe the vibe as like Donald Barthelme but with the concerns of a young female art student as opposed to those of an older man. I was immediately gripped from the opening pages.

Catherine Lacey, The Answers. I reviewed the same author's earlier Nobody Is Ever Missing somewhat enthusiastically for Bookslut back when that came out, and am relieved her new book is good. It's better than her first, richer in characters and plot. A woman, short on funds due to receiving new agey medical treatments for chronic pain, becomes a subject in a paid experiment where a celebrity delegates various aspects of a relationship to a fleet of disparate women. Mary is the "emotional girlfriend," who nods along with full eye contact while he talks about his struggles, and who he falls in love with without once asking anything about herself. Lacey plays the satirical aspects from a removed distance. At times it feels like she read Tao Lin and took deliberate note of what effects she could channel in a more rewarding book.

Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy. I am a fan of Lockwood's poetry and tweets and her memoir works really well. It's about being raised as the daughter of a man who converted to be a catholic priest. Lockwood presents herself as devilish, mischievous, filthy, worldly, literate, in contrast to her politically conservative father. The story of her distance from him and the patriarchy in general, is a question of feeling unseen, unlistened to: It's then her challenge to see and capture everyone around her as accurately as she can, to demonstrate her empathy and gift of sight, even as she initially frames all characters as somewhat ridiculous. Everyone's sense of humor is presented as a way to stop from going completely crazy, even as the sense of humor presents itself as self-consciously crazy. I would recommend this one more widely than it would be appreciated.

Antoine Volodine, Minor Angels, Bardo Or Not Bardo, Radiant Terminus, and under the pseudonym Manuela Draeger, In The Time Of The Blue Ball. Volodine's is maybe the most exciting literary project I became aware of over the past year. A French writer, writing under several pseudonyms, with some of these pseudonyms appearing as characters in other books. The name Volodine itself is a pseudonym, the writer's true identity is essentially anonymous. Many, maybe all of these books take place in a post-apocalyptic landscape, after the fall of Capitalism, but also sort of are manifestations from a Bardo state. The first of these books I read was In The Time Of The Blue Ball, credited to Manuela Draeger, who in the context of other books it is revealed is a children's librarian at a prison camp. The Draeger books, published in France as children's books, with no mention of Volodine's name, are more indebted to surrealism and British nonsense literature than the other stuff. That book is totally delightful, especially initially, although as it collects three short books the way the world is established becomes a bit repetitive over time. I was infatuated enough with the voice to track down a translation of a fourth book, published in the anthology XO Orpheus, where it appears along another one of Volodine's pseudonyms, Lutz Bassmann. Minor Angels is maybe a better book to start with, a collection of fragmented short stories being told by a grandchild, sired from lint, about to be executed for accidentally reinstating Capitalism, it would seem to convey many of the author's themes in literature. The most recently translated Volodine book, Radiant Terminus, is long, bleak, Tarkovsky-esque sci-fi, that only momentarily clicks into something vivid and compelling: A scene where a character pricks himself on a phonograph needle, dooming him to thousands of years inside the dreamscape of a psychic dictator, as all characters are in a post-death state where they are essentially continually dying. Volodine's endgame is to have 47 books in total, this being the number of days one spends in the Bardo, according to Buddhist teaching.

George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo. This was widely acclaimed, and I am a big fan of Saunders' short stories, but I thought this novel was basically terrible. It has an incredibly simple plot, to the point where at no point in my reading did I feel like I didn't know where it was going. There's plenty of interviews with the author where he talks about how hard he worked on it, how much revision he did, but reading it feels like you're just waiting to get from the premise to the happy ending. Nothing really feels inventive, everything seems like going through the motions. Maybe the revision means that no single page that you read is untouched by the writer's knowledge of what is to come, and so nothing ever bears the spark of the writer surprising himself.

Samantha Hunt, The Dark Dark. This book carries a blurb by Kelly Link claiming that every sentence of Hunt's is "electrifying," a plainly disingenuous claim, although a closer inspection reveals it was originally written about a novel, which might inhabit a separate voice than these short stories do. Sometimes that voice feels painfully middle-class; caught between a sense of superiority to other people and a defensiveness about being thought of as less than. If you ignore this element, which reoccurs throughout, certain stories do end up intriguing, although more on a level of structure and dreamlike progression than language. The way information is parceled out in individual stories can be thrilling, and the first story of the book, written somewhat realistically, is used as raw material for a vicious dream of a story at the book's end, which makes the book seem to cohere into a more interesting thing overall than it seems reading each story individually. Also, the front cover has a rorschach blot that includes the title of the book, which I probably would've missed if someone hadn't pointed it out online, and this discovery also made me appreciate the book, as an object, more.

Samantha Schweblin, Fever Dream. This book, like The Dark Dark, was praised by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, and the author, like Hunt, had a short story published in that magazine also. Schweblin is Argentine, and this novella is a translated work. There's a good deal going on in it, a work of unease, about polluted villages, body switching, curses, and any confusion it creates in the reader is deliberate as it goes about creating its effect. The whole thing is narrated in dialogue, using flashbacks, from a sort of hospital or post-death state, although I didn't think this structural device worked as well: A further confusion that sort of pushed it too far away from immediacy for my liking. Still, not bad.

Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar's Guide To The City. This is a non-fiction book published by the same FSG Originals imprint that released The Dark Dark, which puts out straight to paperback stuff that is maybe a little weirder or quirkier than most of what is put out by mainstream publishing houses. Mostly this means they release books by people whose earlier books were put out by smaller independent presses. Anyway, I pay attention to them, maybe more than I should for how little they put out feels particularly uniquely rewarding. This book was cool enough, filled with interesting details about break-ins and heists, although its essayistic sweep was I thought lacking, with a thesis that felt more endlessly reiterated than actually supported by the material at hand. Still: Do you want to read about break-ins and heists? Of course you do. The biggest thing I took away is that it is sometimes easier to break through a wall than it is to open a locked door, which I think is probably a good rule of thumb for writers to consider before writing anything of any length.

Lindsay Hunter, Ugly Girls. Also published as a paperback under the FSG Originals aegis, although the hardcover was put out as a hardcover by FSG as well after Hunter's earlier short story collection came out straight to paperback. This is straight-up not very good, a story that develops like a crime thriller in a lower-class milieu only to not have an ending. Unsatisfying on most levels, it seems like the people who praised it largely admired the attempt at setting. Obviously, the setting seeps into the language, the metaphors the characters use to describe their surroundings, but that doesn't really make the book more beautiful or interesting to engage in. I suspect also that Hunter's pedigree means the people reading it maybe wouldn't have read many other novels of a similar ilk, of which I can only assume most would be more successful.

Denis Johnson, Already Dead and Train Dreams. I read Already Dead when Johnson was still alive. It's broken up into three sections, and I sort of felt like it lost its grip on me by the end, but it's a long book, and I was into it for a good long time. After he died, when I was thinking he wrote one of the best books I'd read recently, I read Train Dreams, a shorter novella that is pretty satisfying. Johnson was a good, maybe a great, writer, a close peer to Joy Williams in a lot of ways but more interested in the crime genre as a way of getting at a sort of desperation that gives way to an almost supernatural grace. It seems like there's a lot to learn from him that gets obscured by how invisibly he goes about a lot of what he does, particularly since his most famous book Jesus' Son seems so casual and direct.

Alice Notley, Certain Magical Acts. Didn't know this was coming out until I saw copies. Alice Notley is a very good poet although admittedly I wish she wouldn't talk about being a poet in her poems quite as much. This isn't her best book. At her best, reading her makes my brain light up somewhere between a field at night where lightning is striking tree stumps and moving through a haunted house and catching ghosts in the light that comes through windows. I don't remember this doing that so much.

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook, The Fifth Child, The Cleft. Much as it is easy to hear lots about Infinite Jest without learning that it's partly about experimental film, I had no idea going into The Golden Notebook that it's about a woman becoming disenfranchised from her involvement in the Communist party after word of Stalin's abuses got out. Reading it during the Democratic primary, when political options felt incredibly small, and the more conservative candidate was presented as the women's candidate, being reminded of the vastness of political thought, through women who derided the Labour party as middle-of-the-road, felt refreshing. That's not to say The Golden Notebook doesn't have other stuff going on. It's a vast book, largely about the irreducibility of life to a single narrative. Lessing's whole career is interesting and inspiring, feeling committed to doing whatever she wanted. The Fifth Child is excellent, laser-focused in its movements through a story, about two people who want to have a lot of children only to have one come out monstrous and have to confront their inability to live their ideal life. Told without chapter breaks, the story just proceeds, always engaging and never really giving an indication of where it's going, slowly tapping into horror without giving any clues at the outset that's what it wants to do. It feels like the intention is purely to tell this story and not let anything interrupt. The Cleft meanwhile is couched in small framing devices, some of which are unnecessary, like an opening note from the author, explaining the roots of the concept. The text of the novel is presented from a historian's perspective, telling a creation myth, essentially, of the emergence of men on Earth after a previous all-female form of humanity. At its best, it feels like it's tapping into something very universal and filled with feeling, although as it goes on, the aspects of the form of the novel seem to not particularly aid in its effects, as certain things feel superfluous and unnecessary. I should point out that I have another Lessing book, Briefing For A Descent Into Hell, that I have technically begun but can't really make much headway into. It has a strong premise but also sort of one that allows for it to waste pages on bullshit that doesn't really do anything. The "crazy narrator" premise allows a space to exist in it conceptually for a sort of stalling that the other books don't allow.

Dennis Cooper. Try, Guide, God Jr. The books in Dennis Cooper's George Miles cycle are incredibly powerful, owing largely to their willingness to be upsetting. I haven't read all of them because I'm borrowing them from a friend who is also lending them to other people, some of which are not as fastidious about returning books as I am. I found Try, with its teenage narrator, more upsetting than the books which feature Cooper as a protagonist. God Jr., lacking sexualized violence directed towards young men, is more accessible than the one-word titled books. It's about a father, consumed by grief about his dead son, playing a video game obsessively. All of these books are pretty short, and each moves quickly, to contain multitudes of literary effect.

Anna Kavan, Sleep Has His House, Asylum Piece, Julia And The Bazooka. Anna Kavan struggled with mental health issues, and had a couple nervous breakdowns in her life. Asylum Piece chronicles a descent into madness, beginning with a series of Kafka-styled paranoid short stories, told in the first person, that then leads to a sort of "break" followed by a short novella, told in third person, in a mental institution, that isn't nearly as strong or visceral. Sleep Has His House is a essentially an ode to sleep and dream as a respite from reality. It's maybe a little closer to Clarice Lispector than her other stuff, owing to having a little bit less of a narrative arc. Julia And The Bazooka is short stories largely themed around her drug addiction. The first one includes an AMAZING passage where the narrator, mad at everyone, gets hit by a car, causing her head to fall off and her to gush blood drowning everyone, and the surprise of that part really raised my expectations an insurmountable degree for the rest of the book. Reading her final novel Ice before any of these probably did a similar thing, but she's a wild one for sure, and I can't say any of her books I've read are actually bad.

Virginia Woolf, The Waves. This book is beautifully written but really washed over me without making any impression at all. Mostly non-narrative, it had characters but I couldn't distinguish between them. It seems like maybe she wrote it closer to the end of her life, after multiple successes and was maybe being a little self-indulgent, or at least making a book that should largely be read by people who liked her other books and had specific things they would then be looking for in her writing, and not necessarily trying to communicate the full extent of her genius to the unconverted. This is why I wanted to read it, that sounds great to me, but the truth is it might have been better for me to have attempted to read Orlando again.

Otessa Moshfegh, Eileen and Homesick For Another World. I would most likely not object to anyone calling Moshfegh overrated, owing to the amount of acclaim her short stories, published in The Paris Review, have gained, but a couple of those short stories, collected in Homesick For Another World, I thought were really great. One is the title story, the other one's about a dude who's dirt poor and spending all of his money on designer clothing that looks indistinguishable from knock-off copies of the same. The latter in particular resonated as a good description of the way our world currently works, and it efficiently and casually set up an ending I didn't anticipate but loved. Her novel, Eileen,  she has sort of half-dismissed as a genre exercise done to get money, and there's several aspects to it that smell of cynicism, but I certainly didn't think it was bad. A miserable woman becomes infatuated with someone more charismatic than her, and unaware of the moral systems she lives in, becomes an accomplice to a crime. It feels like it could be a movie, certainly, although the pace is pretty slow. I wouldn't be surprised if she at some point wrote a truly great book, although I will a little distant from her personality or sensibility to know what that book would entail. There's a cynicism, a bleakness, to her work that feels a little performative. Not necessarily unearned, because the world we live in is bleak, but maybe more learned from literary forebears than emerging from anything that feels uniquely hers.

Ted Chiang, Stories Of Your Life And Others. The title story of this one got turned into the movie Arrival, and I read it before the movie was produced, and thought "not really sure how they'll turn that into a movie," and after watching the movie learned the screenwriter adapting it spent a decade writing it on spec, probably working out ways to make what happened visually interesting and emotionally satisfying and not just intellectually interesting. The other stories are good and thoughtful things. I think Chiang is considered pretty emotionally resonant for a science-fiction writer but as someone who's not a huge science-fiction reader that wouldn't be the main takeaway. He seems pretty interested in religion. If he had more books out I would read them because as is I'm not sure I can wrap my head around where he's coming from.

William Gass, Cartesian Sonata. Wanted to read The Tunnel, which seems appropriate to our current situation, but found this one at a used book store instead. I didn't love it. It's a collection of short stories, maybe novellas, many of which are pretty boring. Well-written on a sentence level but I don't really care about that unless it's doing something else, and really the only thing the other thing these stories do is be pretty boring.

Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado and The Old Man And Me. I'm a longtime open admirer of the NYRB Classics line, and The Dud Avocado seems particularly well-known or iconic as one of their books, in that it's a fun and likable book that would be difficult for contemporary audiences to know about without the imprint. Nails the balance perfectly between being light enough to be understood as a comedy and dark enough to actually be funny. That's not to say some of the comedic elements are not somewhat dated, but it essentially works. In terms of movies, if there was ever a historical moment where Elaine May was a peer of Billy Wilder, Dundy's work would function inside that time.

Iris Owens, After Claude. I think Owens' main thing was writing porn under a pseudonym, and this is her lone "actual" novel. Also from NYRB, way meaner than Dundy, dark enough to abandon jokes altogether at a certain point and just be kind of upsetting. Not a great book overall although enjoyable at first, and sounds good in summary. Probably one of the most lacerating books about its female protagonist written by a woman.

Lucy Ellman, Man Or Mango. Ellman's later novel Dot In The Universe was shortlisted for a Believer book award fifteen or so years ago which made me aware of her to pick up this book when I saw it for sale cheap. A quick flip through reveals a multitude of voices inside it, although a reading reveals a lot of these are essentially epigraphs, or bits taken directly from other books. Two narrators, one male and one female, having shared a romantic past, slowly get back to each other, after making a bunch of jokes about other things first. Once reunited, they promptly die in a flood. "Dying is easy, comedy is hard." This took me a long time to read despite not being very challenging, it was amusing but not compelling. I finished it on a bus trip. It's not bad but I think I'd only read her other books if they fell into my lap again.

Roberto Arlt, The Seven Madmen. Another NYRB Classics book, this one ends with a "To Be Continued," essentially, into a book that's not translated? I really don't get why both books weren't just published in a single volume. This one is sort of a Dostoevsky thing, about a man's tortured psychology leading him astray, into crime, and the companionship of a terrorist who aims to radically reshape the world. Always enjoyable, but never particularly distinct, each sentence moves forward but doesn't necessarily reward rereading, and it never really gets to the exciting surprising place you're hoping for as a reader, instead choosing to move in this world of moral turpitude, where we are meant to feel concern for the protagonist's soul.

Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama. Another NYRB Classics, translated from Spanish, this got adapted into a movie this year that's supposed to be pretty good. Existentialist thing about a guy posted out far from home in a colony, with very little money, very little hope to improve his station, and he cheats on his wife. Not bad but I feel like anyone I would recommend it to would have read a lot like it already? Which I imagine to be true for the movie as well: The audience would have a degree of familiarity with the form.

Tarsei Vesaas, The Ice Palace. The same British imprint, Peter Owen Modern Classics, that handles Anna Kavan handles Vesaas, and this book also carried a blurb by Doris Lessing. It's cool, a spooky, sparse, snowlit thing, about the friendship between two girls, and the embarassment that leads one to skip school and explore a palace of ice she dies in, and the town's attempt to find her body, and the surviving friend's grief. Would recommend. One of Vesaas' other books got reissued this year, with an introduction by the popular-but-unappealing Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Blaise Cendrars, Dan Yack. I love Cendrars' Moravagine, and this, published by the Peter Owens Modern Classics line, had a good summary on the back although it turns out said summary totally gives away everything that happens in it. A rich dude, drunk after being dumped, wakes up beneath a table of poor strangers, than invites them all to be his new best friends as he charts an expedition to an island. They end up freezing to death in the arctic, although the rich guy survives. Apparently the rich guy is modeled on Cendrars himself and this is basically what his life was like? An enjoyable read.

Rachel B. Glaser, Hairdo. Glaser's short story collection Pee On Water is an all-time favorite, and made me interested in any other forms she might attempt. This is her second book of poems, and it feels a little bit better than her first, Moods, although it still plays a game so uniquely her own that how exactly I come to that conclusion mystifies me. The voice of these poems encompasses the adolescent and airheaded, but is able to nail perfectly both the details of that worldview and character and how it can still observe, poetically and brilliantly, the world outside it. These poems, and their relationship to character and voice, seem more closely connected to the joke-telling, or short-story-writing, impulse than they do to other examples of poetic form. It feels like a gallery show of cartoons drawn on napkins; or like Ishmael Reed in terms of coming up with a completely new literary value system in order to accomplish its myriad goals. Or if I were to make a musical comparison, maybe The Waitresses but tbh I don't know their deep cuts. I'm imagining deep cuts based on the singles. I think this is really good, and the fact that you might disagree makes me like the book more.

Mitch Sisskind, Do Not Be A Gentleman When You Say Goodnight. The publisher of Hairdo, The Song Cave, also put out this book, a collection of poems and short stories by a writer that Donald Barthelme once called the funniest living American writer. I do not think it is actually very funny. It is very Jewish and very 1970s. The Song Cave still seems worth paying attention to, I don't mind being on their mailing list. Their monochrome book design makes all their books like Night People tapes.

 Leonora Carrington, The Collected Stories. I read Carrington's novel The Hearing Trumpet close to ten years ago, as it was one of the favorite books of a friend of mine, although she said she never recommended it to men. Carrington was a surrealist painter, one Jodorowsky cites a guru. Her memoir, which I haven't read, was translated and published by NYRB Classics at the same time as this short story collection was published by Dorothy, A Publishing Project. These short stories sort of delight in their sense of wildness and transgression: It feels less dreamy than specifically pointed, and maybe a little bit corny and unmemorable, as you get a feeling for what it's going for very quickly. I wanted to like it more than I did but I think it's fine enough. I could certainly imagine selling it for money in the future although I don't mind it being on my shelves. Also, I ordered this from Amazon at the same time as I preordered the New York Review Comics collection of Nicole Claveloux comics, hoping this would influence the algorithm in some way. The science-fiction writer Jeff Vandermeer put both books on his "Year In Reading" list at The Millions but other than the two of us maybe not as much readership overlap as I'd assume.

B Catling, The Vorrh and The Erstwhile. The author's stated intentions, when writing The Vorrh, a book that begins with a man dismantling his wife to make a bow and arrow to enter a massive forest, were to make a surrealist epic. Seemingly Alan Moore's praising the book as a landmark work of fantasy then inspired the author to make it into a trilogy, of which The Erstwhile is the second part. (A third installment, The Cloven, is forthcoming in 2018.) Without being too versed in fantasy literature, I would say the vibe, its relationship to genre, seems sort of of a piece with assorted Vertigo comics, or Mike Mignola's Hellboy material. However, all that stuff generally makes a big deal of Lovecraft homage, and that material doesn't seem a part of Catling's influences whatsoever. There is violence and sex, all of it weird, although the prose sometimes gets in the way, either obscuring a bit more than it illuminates, or putting forth some clunky metaphors, but all in keeping with a poetic vibe in keeping with the world it describes. Away from the jungle, a cyclops kept in isolation has sex with robots filled with goo. I had a great time, felt very much at home, like I was indulging myself in something very close to the true heart of me.

Raymond Roussel, Locus Solus. Roussel is a character in The Vorrh, and this wild book, which is blurbed by a panopoly of important twentieth century avant-garde figures, also gave its name to a historically important poetry journal. It's about a rich scientist-inventor showing people around his palatial estate, and all the crazy inventions contained there, like a solar powered thing making a mosaic out of teeth. I don't know if it's the translation or what, but while the images are vivid and imaginative, the logic pulling the reader from one sentence to another isn't, and I frequently found this book exhausting and easy to put down, even as I admired it from afar. If my understanding is correct, this book was basically written by a proto-Oulipo method where Roussel wrote two sentences based on the most similar words he could think of and still make two completely separate unrelated sentences, and then wrote the book to get from one, with its meaning, to the other, but that would be in the original French and uhh I might be getting this wrong anyway: I didn't read the book where this method is outlined, "How I Wrote Certain Of My Books," but rather a Wikipedia page.

Brian Evenson, Windeye, A Collapse Of Horses and Last Days. Brian Evenson wrote a piece for Electric Literature praising the Catling books. Evenson's work has its own relationship to intellectualized horror. His short stories, collected in A Collapse Of Horses and Windeye, are haunting, dark-humored thought experiments, essentially. More specifically, they're interrogations into the failures of thought to make sense of reality, utilizing the ways in which fiction can be stranger than reality, as it doesn't play by any rules at all. I am reminded also of how similar the Samantha Hunt book seems to be by Evenson, but really only when she's at her best. Last Days is something that could probably be a fairly fast-paced movie were it not for prohibitive amounts of gore and disfigurement. It is more concerned with the body than the mind. It's about a private detective, who lost his hand, being called on to investigate a crime at a secretive cult that cuts their own limbs off as an act of worship. His work is consistently of high quality, although his novel The Open Curtain is a cut above. He's also a great translator of French literature, having handled In The Time Of The Blue Ball and generally being one of Volodine's biggest champions, writing the introduction to Radiant Terminus as well.

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks. I remember liking Cloud Atlas, but this one manages to have more complicated plot and do a lot less. While having huge threads of fantasy that essentially dictate the shape of the book, stylistically it feels very beholden to "realism," or agreed-upon notions of what constitutes "good" writing, with a lot of pages being spent on descriptions and characterizations of largely uninteresting people. It seems like the audience that would be most enthusiastic about the fantasy stuff would just skim the majority of the book. The fantasy stuff is fairly stupid. If you're emotionally involved by the end it is simply due to the sheer weight of having read so many pages about these characters. As far as integrating "literary realism" and "science-fiction excitement," this seems like basically the worst way to go about it, as opposed to the poetic surrealism where everything becomes interconnected of much of the work whose virtues I'm extolling in this post. For how long as this book is, it might be the thing on this list I resented the most.

Steve Erickson, Shadowbahn. I am not sure I have ever taken more than two days to read one of Erickson's books. They are always compelling, mysterious in their construction, and powerful in a dreamlike way. They also almost always have stuff I wish wasn't in there, usually this sort of cornball eroticism, but now he's writing about his kids, I guess, and that element is gone. This one finds him riffing on a bunch of different themes and images in a near free-associative way: The Twin Towers, stillborn twins, twins of all sorts, a-sides and b-sides, music playlists. There's a narrative but it's as close to dream logic as he can get, as he chooses as his material all of these massive images that possess their own charged meaning. Certain passages felt inspired by Blake Butler, others were more rock-critic-canon inspired. Erickson's always great, but also always a little up his own ass, but always with the implicit agreement with his audience that that they'll shares many of the same obsessions: If you're reading his books, you're likely to be as deep into movies and music as he is, although this one has less movie-talk than most of his oeuvre.

James Hannaham, Delicious Foods. I read this because of an article written at The Fanzine by Scott Creney, who mostly wrote about music for them. He was talking all sorts of shit about contemporary literature, but had a brief digression where he listed recent books that were actually addressing the modern world in interesting ways, and this was the only one he'd listed I hadn't already read and enjoyed. So I ordered it from the local library, and yeah it's good: A plot-heavy thing about the world of modern slavery, of people abducted and working in a way designed to create debt, given crack cocaine. A boy is separated from his mother and tries to track her down. Tragic turns are taken. I feel like the language employs more cliches than are advisable but I remember images the book created in my head. If you're charting literary constellations, as seen from my hemisphere, Hannaham blurbed The Dark Dark.

Jessa Crispin, The Dead Ladies Project. Jessa was the founder of Bookslut, which I wrote for, so I went to see her on her reading tour. I probably would not have tried to write for Bookslut if I didn't think she was a great writer and admirable intellect. Her essays are appearing widely now and I always agree with them, and they're always written with style and brio. This is her book about traveling around Europe, visiting the places lived in by writers and personalities she admires. As good as this book is, it's also in large part a recommended reading list. The memoir aspects are sort of kept in check by the fact that she's not the type to really disclose too much, not a confessional writer, there's an assumption that you will know what she is saying if you've been alive for long enough and lived any kind of life at all.

Ariana Reines, Mercury. A widely-acclaimed contemporary poet, some of this I thought was very good and other parts did less. I was lent this book by a friend, a young female poet, and certainly I could return it to her and say I liked it without lying, although I'm sure that the overall book meant more to her than it did it to me.

Anne Sexton, Transformations. Supposedly Sexton is mostly known for being a confessional writer and this book, her riff on fairy tales, is an outlier but also her best book. Changes in consciousness of fairy tales and their attendant darkness almost certainly make it read differently than it did when it was written.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. A lot of women probably read this when they were teens but I didn't get to it until now. It is crazy to read a book that is so much like The Catcher In The Rye. It seems necessary for this book to exist so it can be read and no one has to write it now. Like the Sexton, it seems to owe so much to the context of the time its created, and its own constancy since that time, as an influence, that it feels tricky to read now and be surprised. This makes me appreciate the mission of publishers that are reissuing out-of-print books that much more: Many of them tend to exist inside this moment better than something that's been being read all these years.

Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress. Haven't read the best-known novel by Lem, Solaris, although I've seen the Tarkovsky adaptation, which seems pretty far from the things about Lem that intrigue me: A sense of play, that his science-fiction is somehow close to Calvino. This is the first book of Lem's that I've read, and it's wild, in that while you read it it often seems completely unstructured. The narrator attends a conference of people discussing the future, his hotel gets bombed, he wakes up in the future. Things continually seem to go from bad to worse, or be worse than they initially seem. That the ending actually calls back to things at the beginning and makes the whole thing seems like it would reward both people who expect stories to make sense and people who would rather they not. Apparently liberally adapted into a movie called either The Congress or Robin Wright At The Congress where the actress plays herself, but in a semi-animated setting? I have no idea how good it is, although I'm intrigued enough to investigate. I should also probably read more books Lem wrote.

Jonathan Lethem, A Gambler's Anatomy, Girl In Landscape. A Gambler's Anatomy is an intriguing one: Early chapters posit a fantastic premise (that the narrator, a world traveling gambler, owes his success to his telepathic abilities) while late in the game another character undercuts this as the delusions of a self-important jackass. I feel like the characterization in this book is actually really well-handled, like the characters are interesting, not completely self-aware, and feel full and alive, as revealed through their decision-making process. That's Lethem's new book. Girl In Landscape is probably twenty years old at this point, immediately preceding Lethem's breakthrough work, and is much simpler in some ways, although it's still a genre-switching work, integrating dreamlike science fiction elements into a western framework. I feel like Lethem is a weirder novelist than he gets credit for being, because it's easy to characterize his interest in genre as that of a nerd rather than as a collage artist consciously aware of the richness and depth of the material he's working with. Still, it's rare to feel totally blown away by his work, maybe because he frequently wants it to succeed as genre material, because he's aware of how that stuff can be transcendent when it works.

Joanna Russ, The Female Man. This is a landmark work of 1970s feminist science-fiction. Cool and experimental and more fragmented than I expected. Feels written from an angry enough place that, although there's a framework in place, Russ feels like she can just write what she feels the need to say at any given point.

Ann Quin, Berg. Good on a sentence level, good on an existential terror level, pretty weird and experimental. The Wikipedia article is both how I remind myself of the book's basic premise, and reminds me of why I read it. It's got a great first sentence. Quin was a British avant-gardist kept in print by Dalkey Archive, and this, her first book, seems less far-out than she later got. I imagine I'll get to the later books at some point. There's also a collection of recently discovered stories and fragments coming out next year.

Oisin Curran, Mopus. Initially read about this book through Blake Butler writing for Vice and saying it was a good companion to Joy Williams' The Changeling, so my expectations were high and not really met by this thing which has less narrative than I would want it to. It's like, a dude is looking for his dog, that is a ghost, sometimes the ghost is narrating?

Eugene Marten, In The Blind, Waste. Two novels of pared-down minimalist writing by a contemporary small press guy, blurbed by Gordon Lish. Waste is about a janitor at a large office building who finds a dead body in the dumpster and brings it back to his house to have sex with. In The Blind is a longer book about a locksmith. I heard about this guy via the publisher Tyrant Books, who published Marten's book Firework, which they're soon to reissue, who was talking about how James Dickey's novel Deliverance was a masterpiece and a big influence on Marten.

Kate Zambreno, O Fallen Angel. Zambreno is a contemporary writer with somewhat avant-garde and feminist intentions to her work. She is successful enough at this point to have written the afterword for the recent Penguin reissue of Anna Kavan's Ice. Her stuff was put out by small presses, but is now getting reissued by Harper Perennial. She's connected to Semiotext(e), and this one's got a blurb by Chris Kraus. It's... basically total garbage? A satire without jokes, split between narrating three characters, all of which are sketches: There's an angsty young woman, her consumerist mother, and an unrelated dude who self-immolates, whose awareness of the larger political realities is meant to be the point of the novel. I really don't know who would be surprised or rewarded by this book, who would find themselves challenged.

Vanessa Veselka, Zazen. While not necessarily a bad book, this one certainly feels like an argument for why the generally culturally accepted length of a novel is too long. This one feels written with a place of true familiarity with underground subcultures, or the periphery to them, of people working service industry jobs. It's about one woman's cynicism leading her to make bomb threats, and then places start exploding. Feels written by someone who's legitimately punk, but also feels fairly tedious a lot of the time, its supporting cast filled with interchangeable people, being criticized for their escapism and complacency.

Mark Leyner, The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack. So this dude was famously dissed by David Foster Wallace for being super-shallow and jokey. I read an interview where his stance was hey, it's cool to be compared to the antichrist, and his counter-argument is made by his work itself and he doesn't need to articulate anything beyond that. Anyway, the self-conscious metafiction elements in this are annoying as hell, super-tedious, not as funny as he thinks he is. The parts that poke through where he reveals his intelligence are good but few and far between, this is mostly head-up-its-own-ass garbage. The author is not be confused with Mark Leidner, the poet who has a short story collection called Under The Sea coming out next year, which I really anticipate. Both are "funny guys" but Leidner is no bullshit in his approach.

Witold Gombrowicz, Cosmos. A book where the main character shares a name with the author, about going crazy about the universe when weird stuff, like a hanged bird, is sighted. It's supposed to be a comedy but doesn't really get there. A classic in Poland, seemingly. Adapted into the final movie Andrzej Zulawski made before he died. That movie is pretty insane, and somewhat tedious, like Zulawaksi's movies can get sometime, although I guess these adjective apply to the source material as well.

Robert Walser, Jakob Van Gunten. Walser is a early twentieth century German writer supposedly admired by Kafka. This is a slight coming-of-age book about a boy who's run away from home and is attending a school for servants. J.M. Coetzee wrote an appreciation for it back in 2000 that helped it regain some attention. Can't say I got that much out of this one.

Raymond Kennedy, Ride A Cockhorse. Another NYRB Classics reissue, this one's from the eighties, and written by an American. I wanted to read it because it has a great title. Another attempt at comedy that kind of fails. I do remember a lot about it. A woman who works at a bank has her personality completely change, becoming sexually aggressive and taking over the bank and terrorizing her opposition until, eventually, saner heads prevail. Has a lot of Goodreads reviewers arguing about whether it's sexist or anti-feminist or if it's just about petty tyranny and its completely incidental that the main character is a woman. The back of the reissue talks about how it prefigures Sarah Palin, and Palin prefigures Trump, so it can still claim to work as satire. With its supposed satire that's largely unfunny, and maybe sexist underlying worldview, it sort of gives off the vibe of coming from the same eighties space as something that would be National Lampoon affiliated, like O.C. and Stiggs or something.

Susan Daitch, The Colorist. This was a Vintage Contemporaries book, circa 1990. It's got a great cover, and it's about a woman who colors comic books. When the publisher stops putting them out, she and the letterer work out their own stories, featuring the same superheroine. The stories they tell are summarized within the book, although they are impossible to visualize being told in comics, as they're incredibly complicated and would eat up pages. The stories become hopeless. It's a weird metaphor and I don't really get for what, or what this book is doing, beyond depicting a certain urban malaise, a mass of characters bouncing off each other, each stressed out, assailed by their reality and the uncertainties of it. Blurbed by Mark Leyner, but also Lynne Tillman, Salman Rushdie, and Mary Gaitskill. Was also considered a peer of David Foster Wallace's, for a time, and he publicly praised her work later, although this came out either before then or before anyone cared about him. The Google search I made to find out when this book exactly came out finds Eugene Lim, author of 2017's acclaimed Dear Cyborgs, also liked this book. It's well-written enough but I don't think it's unfair or unreasonable to want a book to do more, and cohere in a greater way than this does.

Alejandro Jodorowsky, Albina And The Dog-Men. Was sent a review copy of this, and while I reviewed another Jodorowsky book I've read approvingly this one felt a little tired. Jodorowsky's narratives are frequently digressive and all over the place: It's interesting how The Holy Mountain works because, despite its lack of a three-act structure, it can still be broken neatly into thirds, and so feels tighter and more focused because of this.

William Kotzwinkle, The Fan Man. Recommended to me by my friend Molly O'Connell, who I think read it in high school, I think maybe because a teacher really liked it. Recently reissued by Pharos Editions, whose books I haven't read too many of, although much intrigues. This one is narrated by a dirty and constantly stoned hippie who is collecting fans and other garbage, written in a voice that is constantly punctuated by the word "man." The narrator definitely commits at least one rape, which might put some people off. I was definitely thinking about the idea of the comedic novel, and trying to find examples that work these past two years, as that was what I was attempting to write. I'm not sure how well I pulled it off, and it's also unclear how well these books that feel so dated pull it off.

Charles Portis, The Dog Of The South. Another one I read because I heard it was funny, and it kind of is, if you can latch onto its tone. Real loose, about a road trip down to Mexico. The narrator is looking for his wife, who's run off with another man, and his companion is a con-man/salesman type, obsessed with a guy who wrote business self-help books, looking to get money from his mom, a missionary. When I say it's kind of funny, I mean I can imagine the characters being funny, if they were being portrayed by actors, as their situation is fairly pathetic, though the overall effect of the book is just fairly loose.

Nicholson Baker, Substitute. One of my favorite writers does what might be his longest book yet, a catalog of the days out of a year he got called in to work as a substitute teacher. He mostly loves being around the kids, and is blown away by how much tedium they are assigned as a way to keep them busy. This book definitely becomes repetitive, and sometimes feels like work to read, as it is capturing days of work, but is fairly interesting if you've been out of the school system for a while, although I think most people want their non-fiction reading to have more of a thesis and narrative structure than this.