Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Year in Reading 2013

I plowed through so many flipping books this year I don't see the point in ranking them all. I won't rank the ones I reread every year because I reread them because they are favorites and what is this list but a list of favorites and the twenty that I list here will be ones that I read for the first time and will reread again aside from longer reads like The Ambassadors, Freedom and Under the Volcano because those take the kind of commitments that I might not have as I encroach my years of grave sickness and destitution. I am reading more non-fiction and more women. Found my soulmate in Dawn Powell, who I write nothing like. Wish I could because she is a comic genius.

  1. Memoirs of Hecate County by Edmund Wilson
    Subsequently saddened that it wasn't all true, but still I pretend. Surprise hit of 2013 from 1946.
  2. Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs
    An astounding achievement. Here's a story: I was housesitting over at Jeff's. Dogsitting really. Jeff had a dog and a snake. I had been asked to turn the snake's light off, it's a python really, off at night and back on in the morning. The morning I went to the python's room to turn off the light, she was not in her cage. My heart pounded when I looked down and saw the python darting between my legs. Reminded me of the time my brother frightened a snowflake eel from out under a rock and between my legs in the Cook Islands. Turns out it was the zipper tassel on my fanny pack swaying around and not Jeff's snake. I called Jeff who said the snake had its own balcony that is not visible from the front. Told timtam for it was she who had brought me the fanny pack as a gift from Vegas and she said what does the python transport itself into a balcony from another dimension? I just hung out pondering this, while working up an appetite for next door by reading Naked Lunch and its scenes of horribly detailed fantastic gay sex.
  3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    Probably VN's best.
  4. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
    Tequila-sodden. Electrifying prose that has the DT's. 
  5. Life on the Missisippi by Mark Twain
    Love Mr Twain. Sui generis thing of wonder.
  6. Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis
    Read during a heartbreak and chuckled like a drunken doofus! High praise for the high priest of the folksy parlance.
  7. Ninety Two in the shade by Thomas McGuane
    Crushing 60s vibe, when the buzz well and truly died, coked-up to the gills, like Fear and Loathing.
  8. The Golden Spur by Dawn Powell
    Frothy like the Dud Avocado and my coffee when properly heated.
  9. Freedom by Franzen
    Rivals the best of Philip Roth.
  10. The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte
  11. Badtime in Civil Warland by George Saunders
    Deserves several thoughtful praises every second by those of the corporate world who have good sense.
  12. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
  13. Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
    Underappreciated, I reckon. 
  14. The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O' Connor
    With love, it's her bleakest.
  15. Personal Anthology by Jose Luis Borges
    More mystery and detective work that you could shake a stick at. Held together by the most enchanting, swinging prose.
  16. The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
    I think the artist Grimes may have taken her name from the sisters in Richard Yates because she's really good and that would be really cool. I liked The Easter Parade a lot and could stomach the devastation and emotional brutality of their tragedy better than a lot of my friends, who I reckon are way less sensitive than me.
  17. Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St Aubyn
    Awesomely bleak but not a patch on Yates remarkably.
  18. Speedboat by Renata Adler
    Weird and wonderfully experimental.
  19. Maggie by Stephen Crane
    Powerful appreciation for gutter-strewn sex workers. 
  20. A Way of Life Like Any Other
    I loved Darcy O Brien's funny, sad fictionalized memoir of Hollywood Babylon with Dad George O' brien star of Murnau's Sunrise.
Other lesser works include Men's Club by Leonard Michaels, a novel that's not a scratch on his short stories, Dalva by Jim Harrison, noble in its ambitions, but (Dalva) thinks too much like a man. Jim's The English Major is one of his best. A retired biology professor takes a former student (highly-sexualized, of course) on a road trip to rename state birds. Overrated was Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr particularly once the entertaining slapstick turned into a dystopian futureworld. Black Spring by Henry Miller was good, but unmemorable. I liked the poetry collection Play the piano... by Charles Bukowski an awful lot and thought The Second Coming by Walker Percy was good, but dogmatic in the way it beat you over the head with its faith. The Watch and In the Loyal Mountains by Rick Bass are good, but came off as second-rate Barry Hannah probably because Rick and Barry run in the same circles and have the same hobbies that introduce them to the same types of people even though Barry does a better job of pushing the berserker envelope. Sea Wolf by Jack London was kind of a slog for the same reason I didn't think too much of the Bob Redford sinking yacht movie and Malcolm by James Purdy was a good strange, eccentric, then disturbingly strange in not a good way, but then its ending was so poignant, I must revisit this weird fairy tale. The Ask by Sam Lipsyte prompted me to question the state of the comic novel and eager to revisit Portnoy's Complaint because Lipsyte's book was irritatingly ranty in ways that I never felt with the Roth book. His stories however are instant classics for me (The Fun Parts), using sarcasm as impressive high comedy, but probably don't overstay their welcome like the novels or the people who deploy sarcasm frequently do. A couple things make McGuane's most recent novel (his last?) Driving on the Rim by different from his other nine. For one, the author hasn't used first person since 1978's Panama — not everyone's favorite. In fact, critics gave him hell for Panama, a little unfairly, I reckon because I loved the sad, funny story about the price of fame starring a burnt-out case with a brain fried so dearly on cocaine that he can't remember his dog's name. Panama was loosely autobiographical, while the new one isn't. In fact, B. Pickett, is about as far from T. McGuane as H. Humbert is from V. Nabokov. The Heart of a Dog by Bulgakov is minor stuff. The Ambassadors by Henry James was super dense and mysterious. I liked it. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie was a charming kid's book and gifted to me by a nifty Navajo. Letters to Yesenin by Jim Harrison are poems to a Russian poet who killed himself while thinking of killing himself and it is these poems that he writes to a long-dead poet that saves his life. Play it as it lays by Joan Didion is so spooky and creepy, it makes me happy to be east of the west. Expected to glean creative inspiration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, or at least surprise. The absurdity and nonsense seemed old hat.

  1. Just Before Dark by Jim Harrison
    Essay collection full of beautiful prose and a searching hilarious mind who really cares what he thinks and eats.
  2. An Outside Chance by Thomas McGuane
    Essays from the greatest mind that I have ever had the pleasure of getting an email from.
  3. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
    Nails the harsh essence of the Southwest in lean muscular prose and gives indirect advice on how to go about experiencing it.
  4. Lunches with Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom
    From one of the greatest minds to ever live in an age without an ability to email me. His candor and unfiltered style is why I enjoy Bret Easton Ellis's twitter.
  5. Fran Lebowitz Reader
    What a lady. Mostly superb satire.
  6. Killer by Nick Tosches
    Pulpy fever dream. 
  7. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by DT Max
    Page-turner about David Foster Wallace that confirmed my suspicions that he is someone that I would have never enjoyed being around. 
  8. Nathanael West/ His Life and Art by Jay Martin
    Exhaustive biography of a unique and compassionate ironist

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