Emerson says, Never read a book that is not a year old. It feels silly to only list books from a certain year — “as Borges has taught us, all the books in the library are contemporary.” (Gass, Reading Rilke)
Ingeborg Bachmann — Malina: Jagged and fanged and utterly unlike Virginia Woolf. A Jamesian ghost story with loads of strange-hued ores — in a way it is Inland Empire before Inland Empire, but Bachmann’s dark tower stands alone. “While Reading Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina”
Paul Batchelor — The Acts of Oblivion: An incredibly wrought book of poems that feels like many years in the making — they are redolent of Geoffrey Hill, with his histories and his glorious bitterness, and are often set in England’s past or the Venice of yesteryear, especially in the two supercharged long poems “Brantwood Senilia” (an ode to Ruskin by Ruskin) and “The Marble Veil.”
Gabriel Blackwell — Doom Town: A stunning book — a look inside the worst tragedy imaginable, as well as an indictment of the US and academia, that put me in mind of Lydia Davis’s novel and all of Gerald Murnane. One of the great short novels of our time. Joseph McElroy wrote that it was a “singular novel that I think will last.”
Jen Craig — Since the Accident: Bitter truths about creativity speckled with dark humor in Jen Craig’s wise and witty novel that goes in many unexpected directions. Proustian — all the characters are mirrored in one another. Narrated in an unique screen-like fashion. The wallop at the end is in keeping with what had gone on before. A major book. Will be re-released in 2023.
Serge Daney — The Cinema House & the World: The first major offering of Daney’s criticism in English — thank you, Semiotext(e). He viewed cinema as a great living and giving tree, branching off in many directions — by turns Marxist and Lacanian, he explicated the rapture of cinema, how it acted on him as a breathing presence, a companion. Also includes most sublime essays about tennis on TV. Review forthcoming at LA Review of Books.
Evan Dara — The Lost Scrapbook: Maybe the best US novel about the middle west — it’s full of the humor, absurdity, violence, and sadness that lurks in the grand decaying country, and is probably set at the time, late 80s to early 90s (and the proliferation of cells and screens), when vile seeds were planted that effortlessly sprout today. Voice dominates — all the voices we grow up hearing and not fully understanding for a while or never understanding are in this novel, like this:
Anna DeForest — A History of Present Illness: It’s as scorching and wise as Paley, Jaeggy, and Schutt, with a voice of Buddhistic poise, empathetic for the next ant we will unknowingly step on, while also calling out the cruel.
Gilles Deleuze — The Movement-Image and The Time-Image: For me, the two most wonderful, inexplicable monuments to cinema in language. I’ve read them completely out of order, the second before the first, starting in the middle and jumping around, and paying little mind to his grounding things in Henri Bergson —I shrug off Deleuze’s maddening terms, that don’t really add up for my taste, in favor of his large form rhizomatic readings of specific genres, directors, and other changing milieus of cinema, like sound, history, cultural mores, etc. As in the below:
Mark de Silva — The Logos: Mark de Silva’s The Logos stands with some of the best novels of the century: The Known World, Middle C, and A Naked Singularity. It’s a dark mountain with vertiginous switchbacks — it quests to ask why we “love” those who use us, those who feast on our souls.
Genese Grill — Portals: An eclectic wonder, with probing essays built by exquisitely carved sentences — Grill glories in the subjects she most cherishes: the spirit in matter, the book as a magical object, how meaning is made, the act of writing, words as “living powers,” and objectification and animism. “Words and symbols describe, denote, suggest, but they may also coerce and imprison; words calcify clichés, but they also can be rearranged and newly coined to make us see and be in new ways.”
Emily Hall — The Longcut: An incredibly intricate novel that surveys and unwinds the moment that is — the one we live, adorn, remember, and fall asleep to. What should the artist do, what is her work? Hall doesn’t take these answers lightly and the result is as solid and imposing at Serra’s steel.
Elizabeth Hardwick — The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick: “Hardwickian”
James Ley — The Critic in the Modern World: A critical history of six of the most important English-language critics: Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot, Lionel Trilling, and James Wood. Ley vibrantly encompasses many aspects of their life’s work and, while celebratory, can be fairly critical of them, especially Wood.
Joseph McElroy — The Letter Left to Me: Maybe the most underrated McElroy. Jamesian in tone and setting, which is heavy with the old furniture of Brooklyn Heights in the 1940’s; an examination of “character” — a key McElroy word — and the host far-reaching emotions that sprout and wilt from it.
“I knew the mileage between here and New York City, but I did not make it equal some other things about it, time, noises, money, always noises, sleep, a countryside between here and the city atomized by some disorderly dream of mine, a bird upside down on a tree trunk, black-and-white, its head black-and-white-striped, its cheeks black: “What’s it good for?” I would hear Pop state, and he might know the name of that living bird: the right-angle curve twenty miles south with the yellow-and-black barrier, a freshman, elegant, piloting his parents’ car, who died Sunday night of our fourth weekend-a life of four weeks-and I in detail envisioned my mother receiving news of my death, and swiftly made up a letter received after my death and saw her reading it.”
David Nutt — Summertime in the Emergency Room: A short story collection that engorges on language. Nutt loves curvy, twisty locutions and their slippery sounds as much as he does his cast of characters: drug-addicts, rapscallions, and ne’er-do-wells. The opening of “Theories for the Eternal Dog”:
“The freakiest thing about Syl’s superbly freakish body isn’t his ruined skin, all pink and burn-pruned, or the lack of hair, or the botched graft seams. It’s the arch of gothic script — Slug Life — tattooed on his pale abdomen that somehow survived the blast. He’s shirtless as always. The camo cutoffs barely cover his scar-mangled legs. Syl invites the gawking, really basks in it. He gets rankled when folks don’t leer. After all, he sat patiently on a small patch of Persian soil and watched two-thirds of his skin bubble off the bone like poorly applied papier-mâché. The least wartime civilians can do is acknowledge what it cost him.”
Emily Ogden — On Not Knowing: Wonderful short essays on life, love, art, and not knowing. Elizabeth Hardwick and Emerson seem the spiritual ancestors of this work (and are often cited), as Ogden writes strong lyrical and clipped sentences that glitter in their structural knowingness.
Marcel Proust — The Guermantes Way, Sodom and Gomorrah, The Captive: “A New Scar in Time”
Lisa Robertson — The Baudelaire Fractal: Is it a roman à clef? Does it matter? This is the type of prose I wish more “practitioners of autofiction” would traffic in — if at all possible. It’s more interested in the textures and colorations of a scene rather than pulling the leash of plot. The feelings in separate scenes coalesce into one unique declaration when all over, epitomized by: “Reading, listing, I wanted to escape the violent sociology of beauty to experience aesthetics as an even redistribution of the senses across the most banal parts of dailiness. I wanted to write it all down, everything inchoate: light, dust, textile, pigment, sentences. Beauty would be the lust for the complex, unspoken surface of the present.”
Hugh Sheehy — Design Flaw: A dark and devilish story collection pocked with loads of surface tension, as well as eddies of hidden menace. Sheehy grapples with the seedy underbelly in familiar things — there is a lostness to the characters that feels real, apt. These are sad and desperate people and nothing is going to save them — a stance that benefits the reader.
Christina Tudor-Sideri — Under the Sign of the Labyrinth and Disembodied:
Under the Sign of the Labyrinth is a very lyrical and precise multi-purpose book that blends memoir and essay, exploring the storehouses of memory in an uncommon manner, almost cinematographically, in the vaunted motion and content of a Tarkovsky shot — one of the author’s exemplars.
Disembodied: So much spirit in asking the big questions, in meeting the ineffable. An incredible book that flies in the face of so much present-day didactic fiction. Dostoyevskian, like a large stone that has no past because it has never had a present — more an always.