Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


2023 reading

A good year. Averaged 10 books per month. Tried widening my range, with uneven results, but worth it on the whole.

The writer I read the most (books not pages) was Esther Kinsky; my quick takes:
River (Iain Galbraith) [Fitzcarraldo]: wandering the marshy margins, interstitial residence (not Sebald esque but not possible without)
Grove (Caroline Schmidt) [Transit]: mourning sundry losses off-season in Italy
Rombo (Caroline Schmidt) [Fitzcarraldo]: NE Italy rocks! '76 earthquake before-and-aftermaths, through inhabitants' accounts
Cf NLR oeuvreview, TMN reviews

There were a number of writers who were worth doubling up on or back to:
Markus Werner, Zündel's Exit & Cold Shoulder both (Michael Hofmann) [Dalkey];
Gilbert Sorrentino, Blue Pastoral [Dalkey] & a reread of Mulligan Stew [Grove];
Hiromi Kawakami, People from My Neighborhood (Ted Goossen) [Soft Skull] & The Nakano Thrift Shop (Allison Markin Powell) [Europa] (cf below);
MAO favorite Amélie Nothomb, Loving Sabotage (Andrew Wilson) [NDP] & First Blood (Alison Anderson) [Europa];
the lately late lamented David Albahari, Bait (Peter Agnone) [Northwestern] & Checkpoint (Ellen Elias-Bursal) [Restless];
early Emmanuel Bove, My Friends (Janet Louth) [nyrb] & Armand (Janet Louth) [Marlboro/Northwestern];
and the latest Neustadt winner, Ananda Devi, poetry When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me (Kazim Ali) & prose Eve Out of Her Ruins (Jeffrey Zuckerman) both [Deep Vellum]

Short stories: Very good were T.C. Boyle's latest, I Walk between the Raindrops [ecco], Peruvian Julio Ramón Ribeyro's The Word of the Speechless (Katherine Silver) [nyrb], and Yoko Ogawa's linked stories in Revenge (Stephen Snyder) [Picador]; more esoterically, Gabrielle Wittkop's Exemplary Departures (Annette David) [Wakefield]; less impressed by J.G. Ballard's best (also doubled, with The Drowned World), Yuri Herrera's Ten Planets (Lisa Dillman) [Graywolf] (a letdown after his fine trilogy of novellas) and José Eduardo Agualusa's A Practical Guide to Levitation (Daniel Hahn) [archipelago] (similarly, better as novelist); and deeply disappointed by Antonio Moresco's Clandestinity (Richard Dixon) [Deep Vellum] (overindulgent) and Géza Csáth's Opium (Jascha Keesler and Charlotte Rogers) [Europa]; but the standouts were Bora Chung's Cursed Bunny (Anton Hur) [Algonquin] (after the first couple indifferent stories) and Lucia Berlin's Evening in Paradise [Picador] (of which I was unaware, until I'd recommended A Manual for Cleaning Women to my godfather, whose library then forwarded the other to him and he counter-recommended to me).

Long stories: First, a couple excursions on specific themes ... not mentioned last year, I enjoyed Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman and Mieko Kawakami's All the Lovers in the Night, which prompted me to follow up with other Japanese women writing on the margins: Hiroki Kawakami, as mentioned above, and Yu Miri's Tokyo Ueno Station (Morgan Giles) [Riverhead]; adjacently, from other languages, Elisa Shua Dusapin's The Pachinko Parlor (Aneesa Abbas Higgins) [Open Letter], Jessica Au's Cold Enough for Snow [NDP], and, farther afield, Augusto Higa Oshiro's The Enlightenment of Katsuo Nagamatsu (Jennifer Shyue) [archipelago] and Thuân, Chinatown (Nguyễn An Lý) [NDP], all of which punch above their pagecount.

Another excursion was into interwar Russian émigré writing in Berlin and Paris, of interest to me because Nabokov; I have Bryan Karetnyk to thank for his translations of Gaito Gazdanov's The Spectre of Alexander Wolf [Pushkin], Yuri Felsen's Deceit [Astra], and Boris Poplavsky's Homeward from Heaven [Columbia], though I'm uncertain about following up with Irina Odoevtseva's Isolde [Pushkin], not my samovar of tea ...

Then there was a tour of more current Czech literature (with a sidetrip into Nobelaureate Jaroslav Seifert's poems via Ewald Osers & George Gibian [Catbird]), in part since my favorite living Czech author, Michel Ajvaz, had his fourth englishing from Dalkey Archive in the form of Journey to the South (Andrew Oakland), and bolstered by winstondad's own excursion. The rest of the itinerary, all worthwhile:
Jáchym Topol, A Sensitive Person (Alex Zucker) [Yale/Margellos]
Tomáš Zmeškal, Love Letter in Cuneiform (Alex Zucker) [Yale/Margellos]
Daniela Hodrová, A Kingdom of Souls (Veronique Firkusny & Elena Sokol) [Jantar]
Bianca Bellová, The Lake (Alex Zucker) [Parthian]

Closer to home, my favorite press, archipelago books, had yet another stellar year (its 20th, celebrated over gala dinner in Vinegar Hill House), garnering recognition for Bachtyar Ali's The Last Pomegranate Tree (Kareem Abdulrahman), Cheon Myeong-kwan's Whale (Chi-Young Kim), and Maylis de Kerangal's Eastbound (Jessica Moore), one of the NYTimes Best 10 Books of 2023. As good as these were, they should be joined by the more substantial Hungarian Attila Bartis' The End (Judith Sollosy), which has flown under the critical radar (his Tranquility won the 2008 BTBA). I also backfilled with Ivailo Petrov's Wolf Hunt (Angela Rodel), one of a very few englished novels from Bulgarian (though another, Georgi Gospodinov's Time Shelter, won the International Booker this year, though I thought it weaker than his previous writings, and the shortlisted Whale more deserving).

Then there were the books I had long deferred (often due to availability) but that lived up to their promise:
Irmtraud Morgner, The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by Her Minstrel Laura (Jeanette Clausen) [Nebraska]
Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows (Chris Turner) [Seagull]
Juan José Saer, The Investigation (Helen Lane) [Serpent's Tail] (superior to the much-lauded Sebastian Barry's Old God's Time [faber & faber])

Other formidable 2023 releases, with quick takes:
Jen Craig, Wall [Zerogram]: Bernhardian artistic neurotic cringey evasive maneuvers (US ed blurbed by Emily Hall, The Longcut similar not congruent)
Mário de Andrade, Macunaíma (Katrina Dodson) [NDP]: wide-ranging syncretic (indige/afric/euro) fable newly translated with extensive underlying sourcing
Miquel de Palol, The Garden of Seven Twilights (Adrian Nathan West) [Dalkey]: elite intrigue in palatial retreat from nuclear holocaust
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, The Most Secret History of Men (Lara Vergnaud) [Other]: hybrid of The Savage Detectives (from which epigraph, title) and Yambo Ouologuem (whose Bound to Violence has been reissued in tandem)

and I had some catching up to do with untranslated works:
Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker [Indiana]: long-post-apocalyptic English coming-and-going-of-age
Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai [NDP]: held off on too long, both more and less than the hype which nonetheless justified
Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus [Penguin]: fine, rightly lauded, but the Christian & Grace episodes read like appendices
Elizabeth Taylor, Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont [Virago]: very good and/but very English (not to gainsay, but I prefer the sharper subtlety of say Penelope Fitzgerald or Kingsley Amis ...)

Poetry: a score of books, most good, some excellent, half of which translated; I shan't rattle off names, merely call attention to what took me most by surprise: I usually assiduously avoid anthologies, but Copper Canyon marked its 50th anniversary with two retrospective collections (found at the Brooklyn Book Festival) highlighting the best of their prodigious output:
A House Called Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Poetry (Michael Wiegers, ed): anthology from premier publisher a must for surveying the contemporary poetry landscape, damn there's a lot of good poets whose best stand up to anyone's, but more uneven in 2nd half from 2010 on
Come Shining: More Poems and Stories from Fifty Years at Copper Canyon Press (Michael Wiegers and Kaci X. Tavares, ed): supplement to A House Called Tomorrow (prior comments pertain), ~15% testimonials to poems chosen for both volumes
(in addition, they also released dancing with the devil: the essential red pine translations: translatravelogue thru China a millennium or two or so ago)

Nonfiction: aside from a bit of philosophy, just writers who I've followed online for years:
M. John Harrison, Wish I Was Here: An Anti-Memoir [Serpent's Tail]: the unexpected, as one (more or less) would expect (website)
Dan Davies, Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal the Workings of the World [Scribner]: (aka dsquared) a Cooks (the books) tour of malfeasance, a taxonomy of methods (of interest to me not only in finance but in analogy to literary hoaxing) (website)
George Scialabba, Only a Voice: essays [Verso]: modernity vs tradition, good selection spanning nearly 40 yrs (website)

And that's a wrap.