Kyle King: besides being my roommate AND co-worker, I've spent countless hours sitting next to him in dingy vans as we rumbled across both North America and Europe in our now-defunct band, NEON PISS. He's now playing guitar in COLD BEAT and, as you'll soon see, reading a lot.
2013, best seen in the rear-view. In a year that careened from the depths of abject fatalism to the rocky heights of social aloofness, there was shockingly much down time; thusly, I read. I read in a handful of airports in different countries, on several trains, inside a cold warehouse, et cetera - typical jet set.
Naturally, I did other things with my time. I moved to San Francisco, stared at a myriad of glowing screens, and rediscovered a fondness for walking that I’d lost while living in Oakland. Music was a constant companion, as always, but the content of the following carried me from night into day and back again and thereby warranted a “year-end list.” Read at your own risk.
Honorable mentions go out to the books that keep me reading, the short and pulpy ones that infuse easy joy between interminable slogs of bleak foreign fiction. Simenon, PKD, the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard collection (Maj Sjöwall’s The Locked Roomespecially), Denis Johnson, et al.
Ten Fiction Books I Legitimately Enjoyed in 2013 (in no certain order)
1. The Hour of the Star– Clarice Lispector
Many thanks to E.R. Conner for directing my mind, at some point, towards Lispector. An excellent way to start a year while living under a staircase. (Hopefully, there is more Lispector to come now that I’ve escaped.)
2. A Fan’s Notes – Frederick Exley
Brutal clarity. Enough direct interaction with people whose stories don’t read so picaresque makes me approach anyone’s pseudo-fictional memoir of trips to-and-from the mental hospital with caution. Thankfully, Exley didn’t romanticize his degeneracy, he simply lived it, and lived it continuously. Hilarious, beautiful, and painful all at once.
3. The Elementary Particles– Michele Houllebecq
Having avoided this book due to the author’s reputation and the subsequent ado over its publication, I finally came around to it this year as it lay on a sale table at Moe’s in Berkeley. Complaints of misogyny via the poor characterization of female characters unfortunately ring true, yet the detached tone of narration – even regarding the two brothers at the story’s core – is one of misanthropy. With a current of speculative fiction running through this book (cloning, transhumanism, dystopian sexual deviance), Houllebecq throws the gauntlet at modernity with a sense of dark humor. Classically French, know what I mean?
4. Institute Zagreb 1986/The Air of Conquerors – S.T. Lore
Following an instinct towards the Ballardian brand of surreality, I came across this bewildering split novel courtesy of D.X. Stewart (distortcult.blogspot.com). The forced blur of consciousness that is air travel suited this book well, as the delusions of old age forge “detective fiction” unlike any I’d read thus far. It’s something of an inexplicable book that I’m looking forward to reading again.
“It was reassuring for her to view this landscape, to know that all that exists will return to molten form, whether it is a column of stone wrapped in molten metal or the figure of human beings themselves – all our landscapes will bloom and evolve along with dying stars. Just look around.”
5. Sátántangó– Lazslo Krasznahorkai
Like his collaborator Bela Tarr, Krasznahorkai uses minutiae as a tool, digging further and further into nuance, exploring every thought of each character. Notably referred to by Susan Sontag as “the contemporary Hungarian master of the apocalypse,” I was again ensnared as I perused the new releases at Green Apple, then found myself hugely affected by the fever-dream internality of his writing in this book. Binging on Krasznahorkai isn’t recommended, but the pieces in Music & Literaturemagazine were an excellent follow-up after Sátántangóhad me in search of more.
6. Astragal– Albertine Sarrazin
Something is lost in escaping – perhaps that’s the most transcendent part of each escape, the shedding of the bonds (literal or figurative).Disassembling oneself to fit neatly through the cracks in the door reveals a different escape plan entirely.After looking for a copy of this book for a couple of years – Sarrazin had been billed as a “female Genet” – New Directions put it back in print and I snagged it as soon as I saw a copy.Reading this book near simultaneously to watching Bresson’s A Man Escaped realigned my entire perspective of the world of crime/criminal fiction, as, like the best of them, Astragal meditates on “freedom” and its im/possibilities.
7. The Stars My Destination– Alfred Bester
Precipitating the “new wave of science fiction” and cyber-punk entirely, Bester made an absolute classic that I had the pleasure of reading this year and plan to read again in 2014. Teleportation, synesthesia, and hardly a sympathetic character to be found make this an essential read for a bright future.
8/9. The Face of Another/Inter Ice Age 4– Kōbō Abe
I read these two books by Abe – likely most famous outside of Japan for Woman in the Dunes– one after another, drawn in by his rigorously scientific style of speculative fiction. Not unlike The Elementary Particles, both novels deal with a kind of corruptive singularity theory; as technology enables human beings to do more, they become increasingly removed from humanity in thought and deed. As each story progresses, the plot becomes almost maddeningly claustrophobic as characters lose all mooring in what had previously appeared to be a rational universe. Psychedelic and portentous all at once.
10. Speedboat – Renata Adler
This was the last book I read in 2013, started in the back of a MUNI bus and finished on a couch in Big Sur. A fitting book to close out on. In Sátántangó, the mulling over of detail and every thought was like a slow rumble, a building collapsing from within, ice cracking underfoot. Adler does the same, but her prose hums along persistently, cyclically buzzing with a manic energy that crafts vignettes and takes each scene apart, bit by bit, with razor-edged finesse. Hers are the notes of a journalist, written in short hand on the backs of blank checks, and though discontinuity abounds, she draws some sort of narrative along, spellbindingly. Glad to have seen NYRB put this back into print, as well as her second novel, Pitch Dark, which I plan to dig up in 2014.