January 1, 2014

Oops, I haven’t posted here in three months. My excuse is that I moved countries and that I’m lazy. I guess that’s two excuses! I guess I’m NOT LAZY AFTER ALL guys HA HA HA HA

Anyway, despite being lazy, I love looking back at my reading year and though I have to go cook mushroom bourguignon soon I really wanted to note a few of the books that made my year what it was. I read 81 books (I’m in the middle of The Goldfinch now, and I’m not going to finish it before tomorrow, so…bummer).

Some of my friends wrote wonderful books: Jo Case, Hannah Kent, Amy Espeseth, Davina Bell, congratulations, wonderful ladies. God, actually, I’m sure there are some I’ve missed here. And many more to come in 2014. It’s going to be an excellent year, too.

Anyway, 2013:

Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty / Diane Williams

This was a weird little literary paradigm to enter. Short stories that require all your attention and emotional might despite their abstract visions. I loved it for tossing my head around.

Bad Behavior / Mary Gaitskill

I finally got around to reading this and of course it’s everything.

Tenth of December / George Saunders

If there’s one short story collection I read this year that I would recommend (actually, I didn’t read much short fiction this year, but anyway) this would be it. I can’t help but think now that there is something of the very conventional to Saunders’ emotional arcs, simply because I felt gut-pummelled every time I finished each story in this collection. But this doesn’t mean the stories are tough on the psyche. They’re extraordinarily humane: a mix of the naive, the brutal and the simple effort of getting to wherever. Just wonderful.

Tracks / Robyn Davidson

Tracks is my new go-to recommendation for anyone who feels a bit stuck. Davidson’s classic tale of desert exploration widened this city slicker’s horizons considerably. Trying hard, sticking to your guns, changing your mind, falling in love, understanding country, making compromises, it’s all here.

Wonder / RJ Palacio

Simply one of my favourite YA reads of the year. Gorgeous tale of a young boy with a facial deformity, whose gracious struggles affect all around him. Also a wonderful portrait of a loving family. I’m crying even thinking about it.

High Sobriety / Jill Stark

Fantastic publishing that hit at just the right time for me personally. I’m not a huge drinker but reading Stark’s account of her year without drinking and her research into Australia’s relationship with booze was key social-issue reading for me this year.

Swimming Studies / Leanne Shapton

A really bittersweet personal account of Shapton’s competitive swimming past, and her changed relationship with the sport and the water. Supplemented with Shapton’s own drawings and photographs: a special, contemplative memoir.

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls / Alissa Nutting

For me, this is the Nutting book to read. Tampa is a kind of fashionable “issues” book with a strong focus on character that didn’t quite make it to where it wanted to go, but this short fiction collection is odd and just astoundingly apt reading for any weird girls out there. Each story is about a girl with a particular job. Nutting does the internal voices just right. So good.

Taming the Beast / Emily Maguire

Got me in the throat and the loins. That’s all.

Night Games / Anna Krien

Oh Anna, I want to read a mining book by you so bad.

A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow / George RR Martin

I might be the only person in the world who prefers reading the books to watching the show. I love Natalie Dormer though.

My Year of Meats / Ruth Ozeki

I don’t buy meat in America now.

Forty-One False Starts / Janet Malcolm

Thank you Janet.

I Am Pilgrim / Terry Hayes

Totally devoured this thriller. For beaches.

How Should a Person Be? / Sheila Heti

Thank you Sheila.

White Girls / Hilton Als

ARGHHHHH. I had a couple of issues with the the peripherals of this book; I would have liked a bit more background on the essays (where they were originally published, if they hadn’t been published before, etc.) because this collection includes some quite straightforward cultural essays as well as Als’ own very idiosyncratic and highly original criticism-as-memoir (which is just incredible) and I think a bit more framing/context would have helped. BUT I just love the way Als works. I love reading about identity politics, and Als does it so personally and fucking wonderfully. The final essay, ‘You and Whose Army?’, written from the point of view of Richard Pryor’s sister, is a strange and glorious mess — to steal a term from Als, ‘a fictional essay’ — weaving her own recollections with comments on Virginia Woolf, stories about the characters from David Simon’s The Corner, Richard Pryor and their relationship. Als’ style is unlike most anything I’ve ever read before, a high-wire act of recombination, multiple voices, misdirection, autobiography and ventriloquism. I don’t even know what. And while I found this particular essay a little baffling and unfriendly (the latter not necessarily a criticism — I mean, just read cereal packets if you want to be patted on the head), the heroic originality Als is capable of makes the opening essay, an autobiographical one called ‘Tristes Tropiques’, one of the most beautiful meditations on love, film, race, brotherhood, friendship/twinship, women — everything — I’ve ever read. I feel terrible that this is such a ranted response, but I think to really respond to it properly I’d have to reread it and take a few days, or years, so this is what you’re getting instead. Also, this book changed my opinion of Eminem.

The Price of Salt / Patricia Highsmith

Now probably one of my favourite books of all time.


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