10 December 2006

the best of 2006

I'd like to pick up on Trevor's post below and extend it by asking:

Which one or three works of alternative prose you encountered this past year most startled and/or delighted and/or influenced and/or infected you, and, in a sentence or three, why?

Note the works in question don't necessarily have to have been published in 2006. You just have to have engaged with them then—and not necessarily for the first time.

I'm naturally as leery as the rest of you when it comes to the simplicity and sucker's game of lists, yet think this one might serve us all well, both by bringing to our attention works that might otherwise be overlooked, and by generating a resource for readers and writers searching for texts The New York Times Book Review would like to pretend don't exist.


Kass Fleisher said...

lance, ok, i'll play; it might spark some holiday reading for me.... my best prose books of the year would have to be tomasula's _book of portraiture_ and berry's _frank_; enjoyed di blasi's _the jiri chronicles & other fictions_ and your own _nietzsche's kisses_; saw some bang-up work by davis schneiderman in m.s. (stay tuned)....

but my pick for best book of the year, genre aside, is mullen's _murmur_---it's available from futurepoem now but i'm happy to say i got an early review copy through the auspices of _the iowa review_. gorgeous, difficult, revelatory, refusing of genre---really really nice stuff.


mark wallace said...

I just finished reading Patrick Ourednik's book Europeana: A Brief History of the 29th Century (first translated into English in 2005), and whether you call it a novel or what-all-else it's an amazing book, a deadpan satirical recitation of 100 years of atrocities and foolishness-cloaked-as-wisdom that left me both laughing and stunned. I had the sort of unpleasant realization one has when reading a book you would have loved to have written but know you never could have. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

Matt Roberson said...

I've been reading WG Sebald in bits and pieces. And a colleague who works on Robert Musil got me started on The Man Without Qualities, though I've got a long way to go there. But I like it. My senior seminar last spring had a great time with Lance Olsen's 10:01, both in print and hypermedia. What else . . . . I had fun reading Kelly Link.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, again right up at the top of my list this year, VAS: An Opera in Flatland.

Joe Amato said...

I can't answer Lance's question correctly (directly), so I'll answer it the best way I know how. Five books that I've read (or reread) in the past decade that have had considerable impact on me follow, in no particular order:

-- The Gold Bug Variations (Richard Powers)

-- VAS: An Opera in Flatland (Steve Tomasula)

-- The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects, 1940-1990 (Jed Rasula)

-- Muse & Drudge (Harryette Mullen)

-- Living Downstream: A Scientist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (Sandra Steingraber)

I'll refrain from detailed exposition. I reviewed Rasula's book for PMC (have a look), and wrote an Amazon blurb for Steve's book (which links it to Powers's book). Steingraber's treatise is, to my way of thinking, the long-awaited sequel to Silent Spring (yes, it's that important, and Steingraber was a student here at ISU, btw). We heard Mullen read from Muse & Drudge at U of Chicago some years ago, and that reading has stuck with me.

I could go on and on.



Anonymous said...

I just read the first of the 4 pieces that make up Yoko Tawada's The Bridegroom was A Dog. I'm so happy. It's bawdy and smart and just so fun to read. I'm planning to teach it pronto. Great little pictures by ryujo watanabe come with it. Yrs, Lucy Corin

jdeshell said...

This has been a great year for fiction:

Lynne Tillman's American Genius
I read this in ms a year or so ago, and it is a work of. . .

Laird Hunt's The Exquisite
Loved this. Again, like the Tillman, appropriately titled

Brian Evanson's The Open Curtain

Kate Bernheimer's The Complete Tales of Merry Gold

Marcia Douglas, Notes from a Writer's Book of Curses and Spells
Smart, tough and magical

And a book I'm reading and really liking now, albeit a bit late, is Noy Holland's What Begins with Bird

I'm very glad Ted Pelton's Malcolm and Jack is out.

And Frank. And The Bird has Gone. And Complexities of Intimacy. And Frances Johnson. And I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Everything. Salad days indeed.

blonde said...

francis johnson.

nietzsche's kisses.


the book of portraiture.

american genius.

the exquisite.

a gesture through time.


my sister's continent.

the garbageman and the prostitute.

for me there were no other books.



Ted Pelton said...

It's a strange feeling when you see books that you'd seen earlier in manuscript catch on with other places and do well. I had that experience twice in 2006 -- A Gesture Through Time by Elizabeth Block and Tetched: A Novel in Fractals by Thaddeus Rutkowski were two of my favorite books in 2006, and both had been shortlisted in our contest in recent years, then scooped up before we could get them second offers.

I just finished teaching (and thus re-reading) Nina Shope's Hangings: Two Novellas, which edged out Block & Rutkowski (in our minds) for the Starcherone Prize two years ago. So if you liked either of them but haven't read Nina...

Starcherone also had the pleasure of bringing out Jeffrey DeShell's Peter: An (A)HIstorical Romance this year -- a book that has yet to get the attention it deserves.

Thaddeus Rutkowski came to Buffalo last summer and did a terrific reading. Tetched is a novel made of short pieces about coming to understand one's self and one's desires, and strikes me as one of the most deeply (and sexually) honest books I've read in a long time.

I think of a lot of great authors I saw perform in 2006 -- Camille Roy, Kent Johnson, Timothy Liu, Gary Lutz, Brian Evenson leading 5 great readers at our PP/FF event at AWP, many others I'm sure I'm forgetting. (Lance was in Buffalo, too, and was terrific.) I guess I find myself receiving a lot of literature in this way as manuscripts and teaching keep me otherwise over-occupied and cut down my reading all too much. But two titles I praised on this blog should get repeat mention: Peter Markus, The Singing Fish, and Kent Johnson, Also with My Throat, I Shall Swallow Ten Thousand Swords.

Since Matt mentions Sebald above, I'll list the two Euro writers who interest me most, both of whom have 2006 books I plan to read over "break" (I just got my grades in yesterday) -- Michel Houellebecq and Elfriede Jelinek.

Has anyone read Jelinek's Einar yet? These are essays, evidently, but I'd read a shopping list written by Jelinek.

Ted Pelton said...

Oh, and for sure Frances Johnson -- which I reviewed in Rain Taxi -- was that this year??

Dimitri Anastasopoulos said...

A lot of the best ones have already been mentioned.

Three that stood out for me were Lawrence Norfolk's In the Shape of a Boar, Percival Everett's Erasure and Nathaniel Mackey's Atet AD.

Anonymous said...

avoiding books by fellow bloggers & others cited, here are additional works worthy of mention:

Drought by Debra Di Blasi

The Body Shop by Lynda Schor

Chinese Sun by Arkadii Dargomoschenko

Other Electricities by Ander Monson

The Plant Waterer by Kathryn Rantala

streets that smell of dying roses by prakash kona

blonde said...


excellent call with the diblasi and schor.

i commend you.


Anonymous said...

Two books by Antoine Volodine: Dondog, and Minor Angels. One of Minor Angels' achievements is to have made of "capitalism" a marked case, without the novel sinking into propagandizing. In most novels, capitalism is assumed to be the case, so much so that the very word sounds ridiculous in a fictional work (unless the it's science fiction or it's militating for some other system.)–-The novel Dondog is a blur of incident and forgetting, disintegrating narrators and hand-written works circulated in prison camps.

Laszlo Krasznahorkai's The Melancholy of Resistance. It's a giant block of prose, and not the fun kind. With Thos Bernhard, the other writer of Mittel-European giant blocks of prose, there's sheer style to cling to. With Kraz (as I call him, for short), it's all in the thorough-going-ness of the nihilism.—-I saw the movie first, though, so in some odd sense I'm not sure I really read this.

Javier Marias's Your Face Tomorrow, volume 1. A house guest spends more intellectual force than Kant can have used on the Critique of Pure Reason, in an unsuccessful attempt to discover the source and significance of a stain on the floor—-to paraphrase what Rebecca West said about Henry James's The Sacred Fount. Still, I can't stop reading it; I'm in the second volume now. (Which concerns a different stain.)

All three of these writers have been mentioned in the New York Times, though not always these specific works.

--Nadia Gregor

Lance Olsen said...

Terrific suggestions, one and all. Instead of duplicating any of them, I'd like like to offer something old and something new.

The new would be Shelley Jackson's novel, Half Life, which appeared in August. It's the story of a 28-year-old bisexual, bi-headed narrator who, citing "irreconcilable differences," seeks divorce from her other self by decapitation. A wonderful exploration of the instability of gender, identity, the very notion of unity. Funny and strange and beautifully written.

The old would be a novel I've been meaning to reading since its appearance in 1976, John Hawkes's (17 August 1925 – 15 May 1998) awesome Travesty, which, believe it or not, I found myself picking up for the first time three weeks ago. I've always loved Hawkes's dark obsessiveness, elegantly dense prose, and odd European feel (despite the fact that he was born and raised in the U.S.). Travesty takes the form of a short, 128-page monologue by a man driving his car at high speed at night through the French countryside. Next to him sits his poet-friend, Henri. On the floor of the back seat curls his twentysomething daughter (with whom Henri has had an affair), vomiting. The narrator is on his way to crash his car into the wall of a farmhouse, and the narrative, such as it is, takes the form of his mad (and not so mad) rants leading up to the inevitable. It's frightening, moving, gorgeously turned stuff, a miniature existential parable about the fiery crash waiting for us all, and it inhabits the same landscape as, say, Ballard and Poe. One reason I decided to pick it up is that it has struck me with force recently how Hawkes's amazing writing is beginning to be forgotten. This is unforgivable. Let me leave you with two quotes by Hawkes about his writing:

--"For me, everything depends on language."

--"I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme, and having once abandoned these familiar ways of thinking about fiction, totality of vision or structure was really all that remained."

Anonymous said...

Being a sort of pseudo-translator myself, I would like to at least mention some notable translations imbibed in '06 and written/published between the 19th and 21st centuries...

* Comte de Lautreamont: Maldoror / Poems (Les Chants de Maldoror / Poesies, trans. by Alexis Lykiard)
* Octave Mirbeau: The Torture Garden (Le Jardin des Supplices, trans. by Alvah C. Bessie)
* Christopher Gailley: Red Haze (Nuage Rouge, trans. by Brian Evenson and David Beus)
* Henrich Boll: The Silent Angel (Del Engel Schwieg, trans. Breon Mitchell)
* Roland Topor: The Tenant (La Locataire Chimerique, trans. Francis K. Price)
* Hagiwara Sakutaro: "Cat Town - Roman in the Style of a Prose Poem" (Neko no machi, trans. Hiroaki Sato and included in the collection "Howling at the Moon: Poems and Prose of Hagiwara Sakutaro," Green Integer #57)
* Alain Robbe-Grillet and Rene Magritte: La Belle Captive (trans. Ben Stoltzfus)

See you all in '07, I take it...?


Anonymous said...

Agree with many mentioned above:

Evenson - creepy about defined it perfectly!

Peter Markus - I was behind on this man and read all three this year - simply mesmerizing

Thought the PP/FF collection was fantastic.

Monson - both Other Electricities and Tupelo Nights

Michael Martone - Michael Martone

Stephen Graham Jones - Demon Theory - extremely interesting way of telling a full story (though I've passed this on to two others who both called it an annoying way to do so)

Davis Schneiderman said...

Let me second Lance's call for Shelley Jackson's _Half Life_. What a book!


Lance Olsen said...

In a post related to this one, the contributors at the Syntax of Things blog have composed a list of and links to information about the most underrated writers of 2006.

Among those cited are: Jay Cantor, Steve Erickson, Brian Evenson, Laird Hunt, Peter Markus, David Markson, Michael Martone, Heather McHugh, Jeff Noon, and Jeff VanderMeer—worthy candidates all.

You can find the full thing-in-itself, which is both interesting and provocative, here.