:: Buzzwords Archive: December 2015. Click here for the latest posts.

Top Reads of 2015: Steven J. Fowler (published 13/12/2015)

 

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Tom Jenks, Spruce (Blarts Books)

One of most overlooked poets in the UK, doing the work conceptualism should be doing, getting to the heart of uniquely British ennui through splicing methodology and jet black humour.

Sandeep Parmar, Eidolon (Shearsman Books) 

High modernism powerfully maintained and redeployed by one of the most interesting poets crossing the American / UK scene.

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Tom Chivers, Dark Islands (Test Centre)

One of the clearest voices in British poetry in his finest work to date, beautiful rendered, written and designed.

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Emma Hammond, The Story of No (Penned in the Margins)

Powerful for it’s immediacy, incredibly sophisticated for it’s lack of pretension in the face of profoundly personal poetry. Amazing book.

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Christodoulos Makris, The Architecture of Chance (wurm press) 

This is the future of a poetry which reflects our world of language without dispensing with the expressionistic skill of interpreting that language. Found text lies with lyrical poetry, a thorough achievement to balance them to such effect.

Peter Jaeger, A Field Guide to Lost Things (If P Then Q press)

Clever, resonant and profound, as all of Peter Jaeger’s works are, a fine example of the possibilities of contextual, process-orientated thinking getting to the heart of contemporary poetry.

servantdroneBruno Neiva & Paul Hawkins, Servant Drone (Knives forks and spoons press) 

Brilliant collaborative poetry collection (of which there are far too few) taking on a necessary issue in necessarily disjunctive ways.

Michael Thomas Taren, Eunuchs (Ugly Duckling Presse) 

Best possible example of what is possible in contemporary American poetics of my generation. Excessive, authentic, ambitious.

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Rebecca Perry, Beauty/Beauty (Bloodaxe Books) 

Reflective and observational in the most well conceived way, a clear poetic experience as a book, it accumulates and resonates as a collection.

Lee Harwood, The Orchid Boat (Enitharmon Press) 

The last work by one of the most interesting poets in the English language in the latter half of the 20th century, a typically beautiful book.

Top Reads of 2015: Tristan Foster (published 12/12/2015)

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Wolfgang Hilbig

I’ve got a problem with best-book-of-the-year lists. I can’t really articulate what that problem is – they’re egotistical? it’s not the end of the year yet? I’m doubtful anybody cares? that they seem to somehow dovetail into the frenzy of Christmas? Whatever it is, they fill me with a general discomfort. So in compiling my list I thought: why not give that discomfort an even deeper skewering? Listed below are the books that are my most memorable from the year. Incidentally, they’d all likely make my best books list anyway (with a few others: Pond by Claire Louise-Bennett comes to mind, Hotel Andromeda by Gabriel Josipovici, Cassandra by Christa Wolf etc.), so maybe I’m sort of cheating.

On, then, to memorability: I read the sequels to The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf this year and think about them often enough. About how Kristóf totally upended the first and how brave I thought that was, but mainly about how shocked I was by the difference in tone and narrative style. So why aren’t they on the list? I wish I hadn’t read them at all. That’s not why they’re not on the list, but I hope it goes some way in explaining why the books below are. Wishing I hadn’t read them is a personal response, and Kristóf’s books are memorable, but their memorability is not, in this instance, linked to the personal; their prominence in their intersection with my life is negligible. When it comes to these lists I find myself more interested in reasons why. Reading, it hardly needs to be said, is a personal act. Maybe, ironically, most of these best books lists strike me as impersonal. Here are the books that have stayed with me – and, maybe, why.

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Wolfgang Hilbig, ‘I’, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (Seagull Books)
The novels I feel compelled to review are often the novels I feel stuck or lost in the middle of – the writing is my way out. Such was the case with ‘I’ by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole and published this year in typically stylish fashion by Seagull Books as part of their German List. Though it seems to be drawing nearer, I can’t fathom the state as depicted by Hilbig, a state based on his experiences in East Germany; of not only having suspicions of being watched and followed but of knowing I’m being watched and followed. ‘I’ is a paranoid narrative that uses formal experimentation to loop that paranoia around itself.
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Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, trans. by John E. Woods (Vintage)
I read The Magic Mountain at a time that I was experiencing bad health or grief or anxiety – exactly which I’m still not completely sure. My time in the sanatorium with Hans and Joachim at times exacerbated it, at other times relieved it. I probably shouldn’t have read the book at that particular timing – I felt like I’d be stuck on the mountain forever. Finishing, and leaving behind Hans Castorp, was like losing a friend. Godspeed, dear Hans.
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Ivan Vladislavić, Portrait with Keys (Portobello Books)
My interview with Ivan Vladislavic for 3:AM was a selfish act. I read Double Negative a couple of years ago, thought it was exceptional, promised myself I’d find and read more of his writing, then got distracted by other things. The pitch to interview him, then, would, if he agreed, both give me the shove I needed to read as much of his work as I could find, and to ask him some questions about it. As I read his books, it seemed to me the world of his work grew, expanding wider and wider with each text. Apart from Double Negative, my favourite is Portrait with Keys, the story of Vladislavić’s Johannesburg. Fragments of life at the local scale work to build up a picture of Ivan’s home city, mapping out the demands it puts on its inhabitants and the conflicted relationship he has with it.
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Rohini Mohan, The Seasons of Trouble (Verso Books)
I brought the new year in with The Seasons of Trouble by Rohini Mohan. Many words have been read since, but Mohan’s Seasons, on the Sri Lankan civil war, was an indelible reading experience, made all the more profound due to the fact that the conflict continues to affect the Sri Lankan people and produce Tamil refugees, some of which look to my country as a place of asylum. This has directly influenced immigration policy in the country, and, by extension, the region – a policy which has been denounced internationally for its treatment of these so-called boat people. Like Vladislavić, Mohan examines the small to understand the grand – her journalistic impulses ensures that she brings the reader in close while remaining at a distance herself.

Tristan Foster is a senior editor at 3:AM.

Top Reads of 2015: Joanna Walsh (published 11/12/2015)

joannaJoanna Walsh’s Top Reads of 2015

 

My books of the year, all published in 2015, and in no particular order…

 Pond

 

Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond (Stinging Fly/Fitzcarraldo) 

Words build spaces for living in Bennett’s genre-defying meditation on creating and practicing a solitary life in rural Ireland.

 

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Gavin Corbett, Green Glowing Skull (4th Estate) 

An ecstatically energetic, linguistically inventive, moving, and very funny novel of strange bodies, Hibernian nostalgia, love, and New York.

 

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Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women (Ahsahta Press) 

The poet’s essential lyric essay on surviving as an artist and a mother in contemporary America.

 

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Marlene van Niekerk, The Swan Whisperer (Cahier/Sylph Editions)  

A couple of unreliable narrators inhabit an unreliable format (is it a lecture, a story an epistolatory novel?) in this slim, gorgeously-produced pamphlet, by the Man Booker International Prize-nominated South African author.

 

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Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Harvard University Press) 

Ngai nails the affective categories that define what we really care about, and how.

 

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Clarice Lispector, The Collected Stories, trans. Katrina Dodson (New Directions) 

A vital new and complete translation of the stories of the giant of 20th century Brazilian literature.

 

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Bae Suah, Nowhere to Be Found, trans. Sora Kim-Russell (Amazon Crossing) 

A bitter slip of Korean Nouveau Roman that plays with the difficulties of coherent identity in an atmosphere of repressed violence.

 

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Kathy Acker & McKenzie Wark, I’m Very Into You (Semiotext(e))

An intoxicating, sexually and intellectually stimulating correspondence between the two writers.

 

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Gregory Howard, Hospice (University of Alabama Press) 

Using the tropes of fairy tale and horror movies, Howard creates a delightfully uneasy narrative floor that shifts and collapses like a fairground haunted house.

 

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Susana Medina, Philosophical Toys (The Dalkey Archive Press)

Medina’s Nina, a philosopher in high heels, takes a playful and invigorating re-evalutative tour of Freud, Buñuel, sex, and sex objects.

Top Reads of 2015: Dustin Illingworth (published 10/12/2015)

 

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Clarice Lispector

I consumed books in two very different modes in 2015; the tension between the two shaped my reading year in a number of ways. As a critic adhering to a review schedule, much of my reading was necessarily driven by a need for angles and fertile connections, the controlled epiphanies of interpretation. There is certainly pleasure in treating a book this way, as an engine of discrete meaning awaiting articulation; however, when not on assignment, I experienced a kind of wanton gratification in striking out into literature’s fecund jungle without map, compass, or specific motivation. I followed trails of intuition that proved mainly worthwhile, explored recommendations, dove into the silver sheen of the past, re-reading Woolf and Lawrence and Lowry, their supple familiarity never less than revelatory. I devoured almost all of Gass, again. I read poetry and criticism and the letters of Conrad Aiken. It was either buttoned-up or a delicious blur. Perhaps I can better blend the two reading styles in 2016; though, for whatever it’s worth, the binary created my favorite reading year in recent memory.

 

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Charles Reznikoff, 
Testimony: The United States (1885-1915) Recitative (Black Sparrow Press)

Likely my favorite book of the year, Black Sparrow’s reissue of Testimony ensures this Objectivist masterwork will finally receive the praise and readership it deserves (glowing reviews in the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books certainly aren’t hurting either). Spare, haunting, plainspoken poems drawn from decades of court records depict a broken, enervated America, one in which a concentrated aesthetic witnessing—the titular testimony itself—becomes a profoundly moral act.

 

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James Salter, Light Years (Vintage)

James Salter’s Light Years—impossibly beautiful, virtually unimprovable—bears frequent returns, as a kind of life-giving water when the reading consciousness becomes arid. This is the work of a master prose stylist, one whose exquisite depictions of the drift and decay of marriage remain somehow both sumptuous and vigorous, a structure made of song and steel. Not since To the Lighthouse has time, in its rich melancholy and prismatic joy, been summoned to greater effect.

 

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Clarice Lispector, The Complete Stories, trans. Katrina Dodson (New Directions)

There was a definite “Lispector Moment” experienced in 2015—and lucky us readers. New Directions’ release of her complete stories was perhaps the literary event of the year, a gathering of attention for one of the great (and scandalously underread) geniuses of modern letters. Lispector’s work exhilarates and arrests in its unruly beauty, insisting convincingly that there is a porousness between the metaphysical and the mundane. “Coherence is mutilation,” one of her characters thinks. “I want disorder.” After spending time with her stories, you, too, will be duly seduced. A gorgeous, exhausting, sui generis collection.

 

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Susan Howe, The Quarry (New Directions)

Enamored of historical minutiae, inhabitor of dusty university archives, Howe’s rigorous, probing essays unfurl like unreasonably gorgeous microfilms, granting voice and contour to lives and objects obscured by national (and personal) history. If she appears preoccupied with specificitywhat she calls “the nature of a particular”her essays are nonetheless underpinned by both formal restlessness and lyrical ambiguity. The end result is something of a photographic negative: history refreshed and personalized by virtue of its own estrangement.

 

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Mark Greif, The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973  (Princeton University Press)

The first book of literary criticism I read in 2015 also turned out to be the freshest and fiercest. In a sprawling, erudite study, Greif delivers a rich and idea-intensive prehistory of our fraught contemporary moment as viewed through the prism of midcentury American intellectual history. Greif proves especially, even thrillingly, able as a cartographer of the generative nature of crisis discourse, particularly in his lethally intelligent literary criticism; the chapters on the fiction of Thomas Pynchon and Flannery O’Connor alone are worth the price of admission.

 

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John Williams, Stoner (NYRB Classics)

The farthest thing from a hip outré pick, John Williams’ quiet masterpiece commanded a surprising number of thinkpieces and counter-thinkpieces within the literary internet—a fascinating development, particularly for a book that simply follows the daily routines of a reserved college professor, from dirt-farm childhood to fading expiration. But what a life is contained in these humble pages! With anatomical precision, Williams constructs a novel that channels the violet-gray sadness of day to day existence, its small victories and long disappointments. In William Stoner we are reminded that one of the dimensions of heroism is dignity, the ability to endure apace with the elemental cruelty mere living promises.

 

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Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories (Oxford)

Virginia Woolf wrote of Mansfield “I feel a common certain understanding between us—a queer sense of being ‘like’.” They are usefully read side by side, I think; yet whereas Woolf mastered the voice of time’s ineffable rhythm, Mansfield seems to me better able to aestheticize the sexual and social tensions of her age. She could be as lyrical as Woolf, but also urgent and earthy. Unfairly put aside due in part to her preference for the short story form, this collection places her squarely in the company of the modernist masters.

 

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Max Blecher, Adventures in Immediate Irreality, trans. Michael Henry Heim (New Directions)

In her beautiful introduction, Gretta Muller locates the pleasure of Blecher’s shimmering prose in the dialectic between substance and ornament, word and thing: “the eroticism that lurks in every ordinary object, waiting to ensnare a person.” That eroticism of perception gleams on every page of this sleekly liquid work, the poetry of seething matter itself.

 

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Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Chekhovian in pacing and structure, Berlin’s work possesses the grace of specificity. These forty-three stories create a kind of rangy diorama of poise and catastrophe, presented in a prose of lyrical economy that one can (and will) obsess over. An astoundingly assured collection to be read and read again.

 

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Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography (Belknap Press)

An ambitious marvel of sustained love and attention, Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography traces the history of the form without ever dipping into stale chronology; rather, this large, warm study mixes astute criticism and colorful anecdotes with the erudition of a literary historian. One reads Schmidt with confidence, leaping assuredly from the epistolary to the postmodern, secure in the intellect and ability of one’s guide. In prose that is never less than elegant, The Novel (at a towering 1200 pages) makes a strong case for being the definitive study of a cherished literary form.

 

Dustin Illingworth is a contributing editor at 3:AM.

Top Reads of 2015: Fernando Sdrigotti (published 09/12/2015)

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As always, I wish I could have read more in 2015. That said, it is still hard to cut down to only 10 titles. It needs to be done, though — people love lists. Here is mine, in no particular order.

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Michel Mourre, In Spite of Blasphemy (John Lehmann)
A remainder from last year’s summer reading list, In Spite of… is an autobiography that deals with the aftermath of the infamous Notre-Dame affair, and beyond. An interesting and odd book about the prehistory of the Situationist International.

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Susana Medina, Philosophical Toys (Dalkey Archive Press)
A witty, funny, and sensual novel, with an unlikely balance of fetishism and philosophical rumination. Medina is one of the most remarkable contemporary writers in London.

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Nicolás Mavrakis, El recurso humano (Milena Caserola)
Sadly not translated into English, yet, El recurso… imagines a near future where marketing succeeds in taking over every single aspect of our lives. A dark and funny book from a talented Argentine writer and critic.

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Jean Cocteau, The Holy Terrors, trans. Rosamond Lehmann (New Directions)
A strange and slightly disturbing story about a brother and sister living in a fantasy world. Imagine The Cement Garden but by a writer with a sense of humour. This translation has been praised many times, with reason.

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Michel Houellebecq, Soumission (Flammarion)
A highly problematic but challenging and well-crafted read, from one of Europe’s most acerbic pens. Undoubtedly reactionary, Soumission also posits very pertinent questions about the future of Europe and French Republicanism.

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Darran Anderson, Imaginary Cities (Influx Press)
A fantastic journey through a constellation of ideas about that most familiar and yet alien of spaces, the city. If I believed in miracles I would call Imaginary Cities a miracle. Imagine a book with the wealth and depth of research of an academic monograph, but well-written.

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Joachim Schlör, Nights in the Big City (Reaktion Books)
Nights in London, Berlin, and Paris, from 1840 to 1930. Schlör’s book traces the changes in the imaginaries of the city at night, in an engaging and well-researched way. Part of the sadly discontinued Topographics Collection. The good news is that it will be re-released by the publisher in 2016.

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Stuart Braun, Berlin, City of Exiles (Noctua Press)
Another well-researched and well-written book, Berlin… explores the radical history of this city through a large parade of exiles, from all walks of life. A rare example of a city’s history recounted mostly through the histories of its immigrant population.

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Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (Penguin)
An exploration of images of suffering and death mainly through war photography, by one of the most brilliant writers to have dealt with the power of images.

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Robert Sproat, Stunning the Punters (Faber)
Nine accented London stories by a very sensitive and witty writer. At times it is hard to determine whether the focus of these monologues is London life or language itself. Sadly a rare book and an obscure writer. Hopefully more people will read him.

Fernando Sdrigotti is a contributing editor at 3:AM.

Top image: “Old book bindings” by Tom Murphy VII – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –