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Reviews & Roundup

Every Book I Read in 2016

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Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. (Jan. 19-26)
A lot of things were happening, and I thought I was in love, maybe, ultimately, wrongly, but I was distracted. And I was devastated, and I decided to challenge myself with a difficult read. I hadn’t been reading much by the end of 2015. Bad things were happening. The light in my room was affected by a red lampshade from a previous tenant, and I lived in Bushwick, and I often raced to get through my allotted daily seventy or so pages so I could go to sleep. I wasn’t talking to anyone, and I had no one to talk to about the book. The book is about history and the removal of the experience from the event. I felt like I missed a decent amount, that there seriously lacked the emotion of Faulkner’s other great works, but I enjoyed the places and the desperate, pre-suicidal voice of Quentin, who felt like an old friend, from a time when I had been more excited about literature and life. I was happy when the novel was over.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (late Dec. 2015-Jan. 31)
I started this book sometime in December (but it was not the first book I read in 2016), and found it pedantic and boring. But after finishing Absalom!, driven (not in a car, but figuratively) to my parents’ house, I felt I had no excuse but to push through it. I hate letting a so-called classic defeat me, or get past me, and I hope to one day lay that feeling to rest. If people like this book so much it must be for a reason; there are some nice sentences, but people probably just like it because it’s like a movie, and I read it by the fire, while my parents watched TV. I read the majority in two sittings that way. Sometime earlier, however, a woman approached me, at my cashiering job at the food coop, and told me I was disgusting for reading Lolita in public. I told her I wasn’t.

The Tennis Handsome by Barry Hannah (Feb. 1-2)
I had fallen into some weird freelance things after quitting my salaried, union-benefitted, university library position the previous summer. I had reason to join the public library and was ripping video of a fashion label to media cards, testing that they worked and mailing them out all over the world at a highly inflated rate. It was nice to make money off so little work, but the work soon went away, and I had to find more. Hannah’s fourth novel is an amalgam and extension of several stories from his hit collection Airships, and is mostly about sex, like a lot of his early work. It was a pleasant read for the most part, even making me laugh, and then I was in Massachusetts. I didn’t have a car and was out of touch with most of my old friends. I didn’t have much reason to go back to Brooklyn.

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January 2nd, 2017 / 11:46 am

“Surely no reader will wish me to invent anything further” : On B.S. Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry

B.S. Johnson

I’m not sure you could come up with a better name for an experimental writer than B.S. Johnson: it sounds like someone both regal and a joke, which for the English writer of this name, who walked a strange line between outsider artist and one at the cusp of avant-garde, it could hardly be more fitting. B.S. Johnson was decades ahead of his own time, both in the fuck-all way he approached the act of narrative, and the very outline of his life. His was a career that would not begin to find its traction until long after his death, and for my money, still not to the level he deserves.

From the beginning, it was clear that Johnson wanted little to do with the bullshit tropes of how a book is known to work. Raised by a working class family and spending his early years working as a bank clerk, he eventually taught himself Latin and left the workforce for college, then began writing as an assault on what he critically referred to as the “neo-Dickensian” output of those who would become his literary peers. READ MORE >

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December 28th, 2016 / 12:10 pm

A List of Especially Memorable Fiction and Nonfiction from 2016

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For the past few years I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I’ve read. This simple trick has resulted in a marked increase in the amount of reading I do. I group the book titles by month; when the date is getting to be in the mid- to late 20s and I check my list to find that I’ve only listed one or two books so far, which is often the case, the next several days will include harried bouts of late-night reading intended to prevent myself from later feeling ashamed when I would hope to be proudly perusing my list.

Highlights from this year’s list follow the jump. READ MORE >

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December 27th, 2016 / 1:16 pm

Rachel and Ben (episode 4)

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December 22nd, 2016 / 3:22 pm

Five Shadows: Garett Strickland

THERE’S A PHOTOGRAPH, long lost, I used often to describe, to illustrate something essential in myself. I was five and visiting Disney World. I wanted to have my picture taken with Goofy, but I was shy. Also, not understanding the lack of peripheral vision in the mask, I didn’t get that I hadn’t gotten his attention. And so what evidence there was – or perhaps still is, somewhere – of this encounter: a photo of that character with some other kid (his parents taking theirs as intended), & me, a few feet away, little boy of coy resigned posture, photobombing my own commemorative image.

Much has been decried or even celebrated of selfie culture and its underlying impulses, the ‘for whoms’ and ‘whys’ of the choice we make in documenting ourselves in our moment. To add to such navel-gazing would no doubt extend the rabbit hole that much further, so I won’t. Instead of that, I’ll rather turn my attention to the specific (tho no doubt no less narcissistic) act of mapping a series of images I’ve selected as an index and gloss to a life lived thus far. In this case, the notion of experience wraithlike & lingering, a golem of the self that trails behind, that reminds, that effaces. Dark scribble over the reflection that shows up each day in the glass.

.. which is not to say that there isn’t a fondness for the weight one willingly drags when one looks back. Most of the stories I’ve chosen ever to share socially have detailed some humiliation, some misstep or another – and there’s been some satisfaction in that. As to why I’d share my shame & regret with a raconteur’s fervor – beyond the obvious: dropping ballast, distancing the incident thru an act of telling that reveals to the listener an unassailable ownership and helps as such to render in the speaker an imperviousness to the kind of criticisms he’d encounter in the company of others, behind his back, or echoing & imagined inside his own head — well, let’s presume a joy of morbid reverie. But also in the same manner in which we may advertise our sadnesses in tweets or choose to include in a published book an image of our face streaked with tears, it’s in our sharing what’s unflattering that we build the greater bridge to sistren & brethren alike, a brick flung into the temple of warts-and-all humanity, for better or for worse, in the epic forge of what forgets us.

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December 21st, 2016 / 12:25 pm

Authors’ First Tweets

Last night, Nicolette and I were getting ready to see Joy Williams at the Folger-Shakespeare Library in D.C. We made and ate dinner, then Nicolette made a Twitter. I was so happy. I love it when people make Twitters. She chose her profile picture and header picture, then asked what her first tweet should be.

I suspect that everyone who has wholly dismissed Twitter has done so only after creating a profile and, after much inner turmoil, was unable to conquer the bleak anxiety of The First Tweet. Does a person just tweet a variation of the seemingly inevitable ‘first tweet’ tweet? Does s/he ignore the obvious and awkwardly, just, what? Start? Interested in how other people handled it, we found a website that let us type in the usernames of various writers, and see their first tweets. It was really entertaining, so we compiled a “Best Of” list containing some of your favorite author’s first tweets.

Enjoy!

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December 20th, 2016 / 12:39 pm

Print test

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The IT field service agent handed me a sheet of paper covered in black. He had just installed a new printer and was showing me the test print. I asked him why not just print out a standard document instead of wasting all that ink. He said that was the standard printing test: an exhaustive print that employed the maximum breadth of the printing area. It was still warm. I came close to thanking him, but that seemed sentimental. The nuances were sensual. It looked like a reproduction of a minimalist black painting. Or a painting itself. I could smell a blog post.

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December 19th, 2016 / 2:21 pm

Volatile Translations: On Paul Cunningham and Sara Tuss Efrik’s Manias

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In my last post about translation and Ali Taheri Araghi’s anthology of contemporary, underground poetry from Iran, I pointed out that a big reason for the anxiety about translation comes form our literary establishment’s anxiety about excess: Translation produces too many versions of too many texts, from too many lineages and too many languages.

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Just as the reaction against the threat of the plague ground is to constantly make canons and lists of the truly good, truly “legit” poetry (prestige is the opium of the poets), I see the same thing going on in translation: we make hierarchies. We want there to be a foreign canon which will be as stable as the US canon – though there’s always a struggle to erect and maintain these canons since different people have different aesthetics and views.
Beneath this model and its anxieties we can sense what scholar-poet Susan Stewart has, in her wonderful book “On Longing” described like this: “… in the contextualist’s privileging of context of situation we see a Romanticism directed toward a lost point of origin, a point where being-in-context supposedly allowed for a complete and totalized understanding.” There is no origin where we can have “totalized understanding,” no matter how much such writers wish to demonstrate mastery. In the plague ground of poetry, poets and translations infect each other, deform each other. We lose the sense of the true original, the gold standard of interpretation, the master taste. READ MORE >

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December 9th, 2016 / 12:31 pm

Setting A Scene In A Bar

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Alaska Bar during the week it closed. Photo by Erik.

New York City, NY (resident 2010-present)

Ontario Bar

This is a classic dive with a suspicious Canadian theme. It sits across from a very fine Indian restaurant (fare of the northwestern subcontinent) on a long stretch of Grand Street in East Williamsburg, with many other bars–dives and otherwise. My normal procedure here is to drink a lot of whiskey sodas and say some friendly things to whomever is around. When I first moved to New York my colleague Bobo encouraged me to go to Ontario Bar, I think because it had more of a cozy neighborhood vibe (at the time) than places nearer to Bedford Avenue. He could sense that I missed smaller-city dives? In addition to serving other bartenders, staff are known to be friendly to dull-eyed, lonely men who work in production and creative services. It’s not a bad business model in Williamsburg. I once heard a bartender complain that she only makes money between the hours of three and four. Close later and change the whole experience of the night. READ MORE >

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December 8th, 2016 / 1:41 pm

Everyone Please Stop Listening to the Money: An AOL Instant Messenger Interview with Mark Baumer

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It is 19 days after the election. I go to the gym. I run on a treadmill. There are 26 screens. As I gaze into them, I enter podcasts where Americans speak about how they want to be seen. My body propels itself forward in place. I stare at a yellow wall, practicing Zazen. I want reality to fall away so that my listening and movement are symbiotic. In spite of this, I experience a cavernous feeling. It is a feeling like an architectural rendering where the edge of a building blurs into the sky.

On three of the 26 screens, CNN reports that the President-elect may terminate the agreement between the United States and Cuba. This possibility was announced in a tweet.

My body, running in place, accumulates miles.

Before and after the election, Mark Baumer is walking. Mark Baumer is crossing America with his bare feet. In a Snapchat message to Mark, I type: Do you have shoes with you, and if so, what kind are they? Slip ons called fit kicks, he says. I only put them on when I go into stores.

This is not the first time Mark has walked across the country. He did so six years ago, but not without shoes. Walking is part of Mark’s writing practice. Have you ever seen someone write with their feet?

As he walks, Mark nonviolently protests. “My goal […] is to stop the earth from dying because of climate change,” he writes. “I’m sure a lot of people don’t think I can make it across America barefoot and probably even more doubt I will be able to defeat climate change with this journey, but something deep inside of me is telling me to do this so I will do my best to listen to this voice inside of me and ignore all the voices outside of me who don’t believe in me.”

In a time of black mirrors, cavernous feelings, and running in place, Mark’s project strikes me as both very funny and dire in its seriousness—a source of light in the dark. If anyone can perform the super-heroic act of stopping climate change without shoes, it’s Mark. READ MORE >

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December 6th, 2016 / 1:12 pm