Thursday, January 5, 2012

2011 in books

2011 in new books

Uhhh... the only book I read that actually came out this year was The Pale King. And that was far from having been written this year. Hmmm.

I'm not especially happy with not being at all current with literature but whatever can't have them all.

2011 in old books

Okay since I keep track of such things I'll just go through and talk about every book I read this year in roughly chronological order. Crazy? Ha but you're reading it who is crazy now???

James Joyce - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Reread this near the start of the year, can't remember especially why except that I guess I was just reading stuff on the new kindle. I actually got a nice hardcover version of this from 1960 today for five bux at the used book store. It's illustrated too. But yeah good book second favorite book. ****

Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
I didn't read this through cover to cover again but I did probably reread the entirety at least once this year as it was sitting next to the toilet. Compared to stuff like Finnegans Wake or Infinite Jest, which I also had in the “study” for frequent nonlinear “study”, GR is probably the most fun 'cause the mysteries of the text can usually be found just through concentrated imagining, not novel-spanning analysis or uh whatever cosmic knowledge is required for FW. Plus the whole thing is fairly hilarious. Good stuff. ***

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Idiot
I think I started this last year but only finished it this year. Prolly my third favorite Dostoyevsky. Maybe the best example of a purely sympathetic character who is compelling and generates genuine sympathy in any novel outside of Alyosha I guess. ***

Kurt Vonnegut - Breakfast of Champions
Reread this some afternoon on the kindle 'cause I was curious if his little drawings were recreated in the ebook. They were. This is still my favorite Vonnegut, I think it captures a lot of concepts he goes for in a lot of his books the best, like, the “running joke” idea thing, the idea of author as god within book, some of the best Kilgore Trout novel within novels, etc. *

James Joyce - Ulysses
Reread this twice cover to cover this year, plus probably most of it three or four times in sections. Definitely have sank more hours into this than any other book this year, probably twice as much time as the second most read book, Infinite Jest I guess. Anyways uh still the best piece of text produced by mankind and an artistic achievement on the tier of Beethoven's Ninth, Tetris, etc. *****

David Foster Wallace - Infinite Jest
First big novel I read this year. Also the biggest novel I've read ever. Beautiful, beautiful book. I regard it now as the true manifesto outlining the death of the dehumanizing cynicism of postmodern aesthetics. Is that a “crazy sentence” either because it means nothing or means something untrue? I'll have to get into it more later but uh I would love to see it regarded down the line as influential in a new era of sincerity in writing. I'd love to see it as influential in any of the millions of other regards in which it is brilliant, too. ***

Stuff by H.P. Lovecraft
I read a whole lot of his short stories at the start of the year. I can't remember which ones but obviously your famous Cthulhu stuff and colour from space and what have you. Some were great, others just decent. His language is always very vivid and evocative and imagining whatever crazy thing he's dreamed up is trivial so the quality hinges mainly on the novelty of the idea. And really most of them were novel at the time, it's just the ones that are easier to replicate have been replicated many times and now feel lame. So I dunno, fun stuff in general.

Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita
Starting in on the Nabokov with his most famous. And for good reason! This is a memorable, one of a kind book. Yeah yeah unreliable narrator risque subject matter they're all novel but I think the quality really comes from the beauty of the prose. Holy cow the man can write, can't he? What I remember more than any plot element is the descriptions of things that really could be found in any story. ***

Tao Lin - Shoplifting from American Apparel
I figured I had to read this and it was short so whatever. Seems like lots of people on the internet are writing like him, even those people who don't like him so much. At times I think I'm in that category. Guy has some insight and poetics but really I dunno like really there isn't much actual content here. B

Jack Kerouac - On the Road
I guess this was the beat generation's Tao Lin? Ha ha not at all. Seriously the frantic writing of the futureless has certainly changed over the years, hasn't it? This is gripping explosive prose that stirs the most irrational parts of the inner soul. *

ulillillia - The Legend of the 10 Elemental Masters
Geez what can you say of a masterpiece like this? I don't think I've ever seen someone's artistic vision rendered so acutely, so accurately. Seriously this is like a 1:1 pixel-by-pixel mapping of everyone's favorite posthuman's imagination. *

David Cross - I Drink for a Reason
Funny stuff, I dunno, some of it kinda hit or miss but mostly laughs. Worthy of being written which is what I think these celebrity comedian text-version-of-their-routine books should strive to be. A-

Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
Oof, bleak! Third bleakest novel I read this year? Or second? Some real nice writing makes her plight pretty intimate. I loved her poetry so I love this too, that checks out. S+

David Foster Wallace - The Pale King
dfw moves on from tackling the extremities of human emotion to the extremes of unemotion. Well and a lot of other emotions too but here we actually have a writer actually sitting down and going “today I am going to write about boredom”. Amazing. Some of his best writing, and thus some of the best writing in the post-internet voice. Also contains some beautiful beautiful forays into the realm of “confrontational sincerity” that was conceptualized in his earlier stuff, really the only example of long prose in this mode, which I honestly believe/hope will be the major literary style of decades to come. It's also tragically unfinished and disjointed without the microcosms of resolution seen in his short story collection, which makes it end up being just... dissatisfying. Ahhhh welllll. *

Milton O. Percival - William Blake's Circle of Destiny
I was reading some essays on Finnegans Wake and one got really into Blakean mythology and mysticism and all that so I felt pretty lucky when I picked up this nice book on the very subject. Sorta dry but I suppose most literary explication texts will be. Very informative and insightful, really spells out with clearness and organization Blake's system of mythology. Has great reproductions of Blake's drawings, too. S

Ernest Hemmingway - The Old Man and the Sea
I dunno why I left this classic for so long. I feel like I missed like a whole category of writing, of the like, single event in epic mode with allegorical easiness. Well I guess some Orwell stuff qualifies, anyways yeah I still wish I had read this earlier. It was the sort of thing that I heard so much about that eventually it seemed like I had read it. But yeah, gripping powerful stuff. I read it over a weekend where I was sick, I think that helped me get in a good mood for it. **

Haruki Murakami - Kafka on the Shore
There was stuff I liked here, yeah, some nice writing and an intriguing plot, but lots of it is pretty silly too. Basically he can't write well enough yet to get away with whatever he wants. Almost, but not quite. Maybe that's just the translation, I dunno. I wish he could be like Pynchon and make everything wonderful, but not quite. A

Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene
I dunno why I waited to read this one for so long either. I think it was on some level just 'cause other aspects of Dawkins bug me, but that's a dang silly thing and I regret that pettiness. On another level I just thought I probably knew all the relevant stuff from this but geez no, even though I basically understood gene theory before but explanation made me realize quickly I didn't really know it. Fascinating, fascinating stuff. And now I act like I know even though I just read the most surface explanation of it. Cool cool whatever. S+

Haruki Murakami - Sputnik Sweetheart
Took another stab at Murakami, had more fun this time. The simpler plot suits him nicely, and his little artistic commentary tangents seemed way more natural. S-

David Foster Wallace - A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
Great stuff. Titular essay is probably my favorite, but his look into the dynamics of reflexivity and cynicism of TV as a medium is one of the most insightful looks into the culture of my generation that I've ever seen. *

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Crime and Punishment
Reread this, can't remember why, why not I guess. Second favorite Dostoyevsky, very focused, very intense. A real thrillride, something you might not expect from the Russians. Well maybe not quite a thrillride, something like a fast and scenic train ride through Siberia. ***

Jane Austen - Mansfield Park
Had to read this for class. Brutally uninteresting. Empty glorification of insubstantial idleness. Only redeeming feature is the prettiness of the writing. C

David Foster Wallace - Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Great stuff in general, some a bit hit and miss but some on par with the best of Infinite Jest. Lots of cool experiments into literary form, not all successes but the inclusion of ugly attempts seems endearingly sincere and insightful and entertaining. This is also I think the first time I think people actually hard called out the fundamental paradoxes of sincerity in a postmodern environment. Sure, he didn't really escape that trap, but at least he acknowledged it. S

David Foster Wallace – Oblivion
Oh geez this is brutal. Tragedy too intense for anything longer than a short story. Some of his best work in both the neo-sincere and postmodern “writing as logical exercise” modes. **

Richard Harrison - The Hero of the Play
Had to read this for class. Collection of poems about hockey. Fun, sure, good stuff, good way of addressing subject matter. B+

Richard Outram - Mogul Recollected
Had to read this for class. Collection of poems centered around the drowning of an elephant after the sinking of a circus ship. Lots of animal humanizing stuff, fine with that. Also like half-parody of traditional poetic styles, that's always a lot of fun. Some really deep ideas here, too. A

Marilyn Dumont - Really Good Brown Girl
Had to read this for class. Collection of poems from a Metis author. I actually met her, yeah! It was pretty neat, fun to talk to an author about their work. I wrote a pretty decent essay about her approach to dual acknowledgment of cultural perspective and refusal of the expectations of that perspective. Fun times. A

Kate Chopin - The Awakening
Had to read this for class right after Austen and I was like ehhhhhhh bet I'm gonna hate this too, but nope! This was a very refreshing piece of work. Really ahead of its time, beautiful prose, complex ideas about societal roles that has some good relevance today without being too hamfisted about it. Wrote an essay about this one where I went crazy trying to explain some half-baked idea about dreams structures but my TA liked it so okay. S

Aiyoku no Eustia demo
This was a visual novel demo that my roommate got me to read. I had never been into VNs but this started turning me around. The release of Katawa Shoujo is obviously the big event, though, oh man excited for that. Anyways uh since this is a VN I wasn't sure if I should talk about it here or in the post I plan on making about comics/manga or the planned one about video games or what, but whatever here's good enough. Plot/setting/protagonist all good, on the tier of good Final Fantasies. Dunno if it'll live up to that reputation in terms of scope/villain but so far so good. Supporting cast is obviously pretty different in role from FF games, dunno yet if there'll be like, routes, but I doubt it. I like all the characters though. Music and voice acting are great, fan translation reads nicely even if it's more like, light novel/anime narration tier than a contender to real lit. A

James Joyce – Dubliners
Reread this after we took on “Araby” in class. Still my favorite collection of short stories, even if only “The Dead” is on the tier of Ulysses. Recently I've been reading a lot about Joyce's early work and first attempts to be published, it makes me respect this work even more. ***

Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart
Had to read this for class. Pretty nice book overall. I liked the greyness of the morals and the strong sense of immersion in the community. When a setting influences the prose on a very basic level I really find myself getting into it much more. Plus we talked about Colonialism in class a bunch, interesting stuff there. S-

Thomas King - Green Grass Running Water
Read this one for class too. Postmodern look at the intersection of the western academic/intellectual canon and the traditions of Aboriginals with a fairly predictable moral base, albeit a more complex one than most. Comedy through the mashing up of various canonical texts that ol' trick, well, I like it. And I liked the characters and the way he writes. Good stuff Mr. King, I will look for more of your books I think. S-

That's about it for books in 2011.

Since then I've started Pale Fire, enjoying it so far but also just completely failing to “get it” on other levels.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post, I certainly enjoyed making it, you can hopefully expect to see more such things for TV and video games and anime and comics and movies and music.

Hey Steven I don't get your ranking scale

Yeah me neither. It's based off the one in ITG, I like it because it goes from letters to stars and there's no sense of something being out of something (even though in ITG this is absolutely the case). Instead the thing just gets the grade it has earned. It looks like this:

F – Absolutely nothing of value contained within.
D – Insufferable. Nothing good.
C – Bleh, mostly average stuff, just mediocre. Maybe a few decent elements.
B – Good enough that you don't regret viewing it/reading it/whatever as a waste of time. Worthy of inclusion in the medium or genre.
A – Really enjoyable on some level. Has some ideas or elements worthy of thought and full appreciation.
S – Exemplary work, something great, something worthy of really sitting down and thinking about why it is so great. Contains real originality and interesting ideas.
* - Fantastic. Good enough to make your jaw drop. Will stay with you for years.
** - Wonderful. Good enough to make you feel like fainting at times. Will stay with you for the rest of your life.
*** - A masterpiece. An artistic effort so magnificent that you feel you cannot, perhaps never will, be able to appreciate it fully.
**** - God tier. The sort of thing you could happily devote your life to study of. Completely changes the way you think about things on a fundamental level. Stuff that constitutes the cornerstone of a medium.
***** - The greatest artistic achievements of man.
****** and beyond – I think I'd only go here as a joke, or maybe in weird specific cases like trying to put the Hidamari characters on a scale that has Strike Witches characters at *.

No I mean I don't get what the point of it is at all, like, who rates books in such a childish manner?

Me. Because otherwise I wouldn't be able to get so enthusiastic to write up little blurbs about random stuff I've read this year. 'Cause like without the ranking what's the point of those little blurbs? I can barely begin to explain how much I liked something, let alone why, so I ought to make one of those really clear at least.

And why do you have such a detailed record of all the books you read this year? Who does that?


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