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Best of 2013

2013 has been an excellent year for reading (yeah, no, it's not over yet, but). Shifted some cinderblocks off the Bookshelf of Good Intentions: Remembrance of Things Past, The Tale of Genji (though now Tyler's followed with Heike), & Infinite Jest (& Norman Davies, Europe: A History). Collected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Barbara Guest, & Zbigniew Herbert (& Paul Muldoon, to '98). Twoscore authors I hadn't encountered before (and only a handful of poets among them) (where've I been?).

But on to the stuff that the year brought fresh. First, the best in translation:

1. Mircea Cărtărescu, Blinding: The Left Wing (Sean Cotter)
I finished it, but I'm not finished with it. It did not finish me, but it's not finished with me. Wow. Tis wondrous strange, all-encompassing, if schizophrenic, symmetries imposed and broken, some allusions dropped like hints both carefully and carelessly, others fully elaborated and more. Now that I've read it, Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be. But now I must wait, impatiently, for the following volumes to be englished. (LARB's review gets at some of it; the Pynchon comparison is telling, beyond what he makes of it, but even that's only part of it—Blinding is in Gravity's Rainbow territory, and others besides: Romanian surrealism, in an imagined Bucharest that residents recognize; physiological-genetic-evolutionary, and behind that, complex maths, like fractals, chaos theory, which are being brought more to the forefront in what he's writing now—longer wait).
2. Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Seiobo There Below (Ottolie Mulzet)
Many reviews (eg TQC) take art beauty divinity as the base, but I take it to be the gaze and the traversal (the first half of which touched upon by Eric Foley, and Nietzsche's BG&E#146(ii): ... when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.) (the second half, not just travel but preparation) in its apprehension. His best so far, which is saying a lot.
3. Javier Marias, The Infatuations (Margaret Jull Costa)
More The Imputations, working at both narrative & meta levels, keeping alternatives (some not even mentioned) open all the way through; very impressive. (Read A Heart So White earlier this year, first fiction for me, having got to him first via Reading Writing, just as with Julien Gracq, Written Lives preceding this year's reading of The Opposing Shore (Richard Howard); all excellent).
HM: Gert Jonke, Awakening to the Great Sleep War (Jean M. Snook); okay, so that was 2012; if it must be this year, Pierre Michon, The Eleven (Jody Gladding and Elizabeth Deshays). Though I still have Gerbrand Bakker's Ten White Geese (David Colmer) in the queue, and a couple by César Aira, and Wieslaw Mysliwski's A Treatise on Shelling Beans (Bill Johnston) to look forward to.

Best in English (and the U.S.) this year:

1. Lindsay Hill, Sea of Hooks:
The map is not the territory, but it's all we got. Another poet excelling in prose form.
2. Charles Newman, In Partial Disgrace:
The first third blew my socks off, and it didn't weaken so much after, though some seams shown. To think this was the preliminary study for what I shudder to contemplate (and somehow apropos how it comes to hand, so imperfectly yet). As it is, a dense thicket and varied topography for which the map is the terrierstory, deeply allusive in an underground way and self-referential if -irreverential (haven't noticed anyone else noticing Flann O'Brien's 3 beginnings and 3 endings), Pynchon comparison warranted (and so many flourishes ...perhaps pynchon-l will take it up the way they did Pale Fire, but no, not with Bleeding Edge happening). (cf Robert Boyers remembers Charles Newman)
3. Renata Adler, Speedboat:
So it's a reissue, add it to my fave NYRBs. Barthelmean, Ashberian.
HM: William H. Gass, Middle C: Yes, Middle C is excellent, yes, Gass the past master. But masterpiece? not so sure. Can variations on a theme qualify? (I wouldn't even accord Exercises in Style.) But who am I to judge? (wait innit the central question?) (despite anticipating the keynote). For one thing, Thomas Hardy pervades, I suspect beyond the simple multiple allusions, but I hardly know him. Other ponders: Middle C is the note that exists between staves. The last chapter centers on his encounter with Songs That Never Grow Old, a "fake book" (though neverever called such). Faking it as mimesis, or is it t'other way round? (and will it be covered in Music & Literature?) And, in oeuvre, fullcircleback to Ohio; in some sense cumulative?

And no, not Pynchon's Bleeding Edge, not that it wasn't enjoyable, but it's an entertainment (in the Graham Greene sense, qualified; and better than the other such) but a bit more, The Crying of Lot 49 all grown up (but it was such a cute kid); I thought the middle half best (beginning kinda Simpsons, ending kinda obligatory), though that trademark Pynchon patter carries one through.
But in the category of entertainment, John Scalzi's Redshirts is hard to beat (even for the Hugo), and in the SF slot I still have M. John Harrison's Empty Space to fill the time.

This merely scratches the surface of this year's reading, but I would be remiss in not mentioning satisfying my itch for more esoteric stuff: Raymond Roussel, New Impressions of Africa (Mark Ford) was amazing, incredible lotsaways; I'm currently in the midst of Julian Rios, LARVA: Midsummer Night's Babel (Richard Alan Francis, w/ Suzanne Jill Levine & the author), an orgy of language; and I'm saving George Perec & the Oulipo, Winter Journeys, for the solstice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have fallen in love with the NYRB classics .In the past five months I've read William Dean Howells"Indian Summer",Patrick Leigh Fermor's two books on Greece"Mani&Roumeli,Nicholas Bouviers amazing travel book"The Way of the World" and just ordered John Williams"Stoner" which was published in 1965 but deals with the 30's and 40's and as one reviewer said is almost like the anti-Gatsby.It seems to be winning awards this year for some reason and I've seen him compared to writers,writers like Yates and Salter.Also in the past five months I finally read my first Thomas Hardy The Woodlanders and was hooked.Followed by Far from the Madding Crowd and now The Return of the Native. bosox

6/12/13 00:48  
Blogger nnyhav said...

re: Stoner
fw: nnyhav
cc: waggish

so oh yeah Stoner fersure among my faves; also, A.J.A.Symons, The Quest for Corvo, and all the J.G.Farrell
and Chess Story is my favorite chess story ...
but NYRB often seems to be the reissuer of B-sides (not that many classics were so wrongly relegated in their time) (and besides ...)

PS: TLS BotY most cited (4 times, thrice online), and Waterstones' BotY is Stoner, now on track to be the most rediscovered novel ever.

6/12/13 12:11  
Anonymous Blogger said...

"The Gravity's Rainbow territory" is enough recommendation to grab all three volumes of Orbitor. Let's hope his long poem Levant will get a decent translation one day too.

25/1/14 14:16  

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