Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



forever lasts to the end of time
while eternity is timeless, still
present even after time's run out


2018 best of

Whew, wanted to get this wrapped up by Christmas, tis the seasoning of the year (attention conservation notice: I has a taste) ... for the first time since 2012 I fell short of 100 books read, other things on my mind. That's life, I s'pose. But I made the most of my reading.

This year's big project was The Journey to the West in 4 (revised) volumes (Anthony C. Yu) [Chicago], incited by remaindering at bookculture (as was The Story of the Stone, many years back). Hit the sweet spots of interest in syncretism and cultural transmission: yes Monkey steals the show, but the blend of Zen Tao Kung & alchemy sets the stage; began to wear in V3, have to say that one reason I persevered was that the Tang Monk's journey is the reader's as well, with all its trials and tribs, and another of the main characters, the Idiot, is constantly looking to bail out ... of course this may be an anachronistic way of taking it, but it certainly wasn't to achieve merit.

In poetry. I've finally filled enough gaps to feel fairly well-grounded: this year, with selected by Thom Gunn, Yvor Winters, Mark Strand, Charles Olson, Anthony Hecht, A.R. Ammons, and W.S. Graham (the bookends the best) (also by poets better known as translators: Alastair Reid [meh], Michael Hofmann [solid], Richard Howard [Harold Bloom: "Robert Browning's authentic heir"; mixed blessing, that, at least early on], Dick Davis [rent formalwear]); in translation, Doris Kareva, Adam Zagajewski, Eleni Vakalo, and from waybackthen, Li Shangyin and One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, all very good; and among more current poets, Tracy K. Smith and Layli Long Soldier, the latter of which enticed me in to a couple of Native American poetry anthologies, including that recently edited by Heid E. Erdrich (a form of collection I normally avoid), as another part of catching up on the "N.A. Renaissance" (of which I'd only read Louise Erdrich previously) in preparation for Tommy Orange's There There, best U.S. debut of the year (and Wu He's Remains of Life fits in here somewhere as internationally indigenous).

For other fiction writers in English this year, there were a few standouts:
Gerald Murnane, Border Districts [FSG]: still Bernhard on 'ludes [MAOrthofer; previously]
Gabriel Josipovici, The Cemetery in Barnes [Carcanet]: counterpointing Monteverdi's L'Orfeo with Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, with Joachim du Bellay's Regrets providing a third voice, there's something fugal about it, yet another art developing in the transition from Renaissance to Baroque (curious as to why a few of the details regarding Barnes Cemetery [link in following] were twiddled) [Mitchelmore]
Eley Williams, Attrib. and other stories [Influx]: varied difficulties with and around words [TLS, TWR interview]

Of foriegn authors new to me though not BTBA-eligible this year:
Daša Drndić, Belladonna (Celia Hawkesworth) [NDP]: as impressive as expected, wide-ranging yet focused; alludes back to prior work (Trieste, Leica Format, also englished, though I won't be backtracking to them) without undue dependence thereon [MAO] and TLS fair use: "This novel—the first of a trilogy featuring Ban—resembles topography, as if inviting the reader up on the top of a mountain to survey a geography as mutable and varied as that of the Balkans themselves. These lands, that have so regularly changed nationality and provoked persecution, are also the groundsoil of Drndic's previous ten novels. Celia Hawkesworth's translation indelibly transcribes perhaps one of the strangest and strongest books on ageing and rage, and the need to bear constant witness." And Doppelgänger (S,D, Curtis & Celia Hawkesworth) [Istros], an asymmetric pairing of tales darkly humorous or vice versa [MAO]. Looking forward to EEG [MAO].
Filip David, The House of Remembering and Forgetting (Christina Pribicevich Zorić) [Peter Owen]: Shoah survivor identity crises, the problem of evil & Jewish mysticism, nother must-read [LARB]
Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury (Eliza Marciniak) [Transit]: late communist rural Polish upbringing, surprisingly engaging debut (and hey poet's prose!) [WLT]

As for the BTBA-eligible, I've read nearly a score, and of what I've read consider Olga Tokarczuk's Flights (Jennifer Croft) [Riverhead] to have the inside track, with Vladimir Sharov's The Rehearsals (Oliver Ready) [Dedalus] (and so it is written, microcosmically [MAO, LARB]) right alongside, while MAO favors Carlos Rojas' The Valley of the Fallen (Edith Grossman) [Yale/Margellos], and Dag Solstad's T Singer (Tiina Nunnaly) [New Directions]. In recent years the judging has diverged from either of our esteemations, though still on worthy works (cf their ruminations): I expect that due consideration will be given to Hanne Ørstavik's Love (Martin Aitken) [archipelago] mother and son unparallelled stream of consiousness [MAO] and Ondjaki's Transparent City (Stephen Henighan) [biblioasis], Luanda seen through [JoburgRB], as well as others I've not (yet) read. But my preferences tend towards more inventive works, not for everybody:
Maria Gabriela Llansol, The Geography of Rebels Trilogy (Audrey Young) [Deep Vellum]: more like the topology of mystics, mostly, achronoillogical (and many referents unfamiliar [to me anyways, thx wiki et al]), infused with a unique poetics ... no neither Pessoan nor Lispectorate but similarly sui generis [TMN]
Wolfgang Hilbig, The Tidings of the Trees (Isabel Fargo Cole) [Two Lines]: a notch up from The Old Rendering Plant which is sayn sumpin [FullStop, Asymptote]
Brice Matthieussent, Revenge of the Translator (Emma Ramadan) [Deep Vellum]: pomover-the-top author-translator-character contention replete with red herrings in sauce [LARB]
Willem Frederik Hermans, An Untouched House (David Colmer) [archipelago]: WWII insensibility [MAO]
Alicia Kopf, Brother in Ice (Mara Faye Lethem) [& Other Stories]: exploration of the poles, art, writing, family, self [TWR]
Dino Buzzati, Catastrophe and other stories (Judith Landry) [Ecco]: the sense of unease shared with The Tartar Steppe the more remarkable for being accomplished in such short scope [3AM]
Matei Calinescu, The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter (Adriana Calinescu and Breon Mitchell) [nyrb]: sui generis must-read [MAO]

The above by no means exhausts what I found worthwhile but I'll leave it at that, as I've left a more complete rendering at The Fictional Woods (in a slightly less convenient format since migration to a new platforum, c'est la vie). Merry Christmas!