12 December 2007

Book Recommendations

Hi, All --

Can we put together a list of books from the past year(ish) that we'd recommend? And maybe ones we look forward to reading?

I'll start with just a few (sorry if I actually *got* some of these from our past lists):

Half Life, by Shelley Jackson
B., Jonathan Baumbach
Anxious Pleasures, Lance Olsen
Europeana, Parik Ourednik
Tetched, Thaddeus Rutkowski
American Genius, Lynne Tillman

I plan to read Only Revolutions, by Mark Danielewski

I'm sure I'm forgetting many more.


Anonymous said...

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Andy Farkas

Anonymous said...

Melancholy by Jon Fosse

Joe Amadon

Anonymous said...

J.K. Huysmans: La Bas (19th c. French literature never goes out of style!)
Andre Breton: Nadja (Neither does 20th c. French surrealist literature!!)
Michel Leiris: Manhood (ditto....)
Carole Maso: Beauty is Convulsive
Robert Irwin: Exquisite Corpse
Brian Evenson: The Open Curtain
Yuriy Tarnawsky: Like Blood in Water

I second Europeana and Anxious Pleasures.

Looking forward to reading Text: UR (The New Book of Masks) (edited by Forrest Aguirre)


Charles said...


Impotence, by Matt Roberson.

Waterbaby, by Cris Mazza.

The Trouble With Being Born, Jeffrey DeShell.

All left me rather in awe, on a number of levels.


The Art of Friction, Blackstone and Talbot, eds., with innovative contributions from Mazza, Olsen, Pelton, Schneiderman, Schor, Sukenick, and more.

Lance Olsen said...

I really appreciate you posing this question, Matt.

It's one I meant to do the honors on as soon as the ice storm called the End of the Semester (my first at the University of Utah, by the way, and one that exceeded my expectations in myriad ways) stopped pelting me.

In addition to the above strong and interesting choices, I might add the following that appeared since last January:

--Don DeLillo: Falling Man

--David Markson: The Last Novel

--Lydia Davis: Varieties of Disturbance

--Yuriy Tarnawsky: Like Blood in Water

And, although not fiction, the following important collection of essays on the experimental:

--R. M. Berry & Jeffrey Di Leo, eds.: Fiction’s Present: Situating Contemporary Narrative Innovation

Too, here are a couple of pieces I discovered this year, although they appeared earlier:

--Lynda Barry: 100 Demons (graphic novel)

--Young-Hae Chang & Heavy Industries: Traveling to Utopia and Bust Down the Door (both new-media writing, and both available for free online)

--Aimee Bender: Hotel Rot (new-media writing available online)

And, while I have you, I'd just like to thank you all so, so much for keeping Now What up and thinking for another year...

Anonymous said...

One might also enjoy:

It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature, by Diane Williams

Partial List of People to Bleach, by Gary Lutz

Jonas Williams

Davis Schneiderman said...

Aside from what's been mentioned...

1) VAS: An Opera in Flatland--Steve Tomasula and Stephen Farrell.

Can I ever say enough about how cool this book is, even though it's a few years old now?

2) Swann's Way (Proust), Lydia Davis translation.

3) Under my Roof--Nick Mamatas.


Anonymous said...

Twin Time by Veronica Gonzalez

Now, Voyagers by James McCourt

Dies: A Sentence by Vanessa Place

new translation of Paradiso by the Hollanders

Steve Tomasula said...

Okay, I really appreciate a list like this, sort of a Best of the Year as seen from the side of the fence that doesn't consider it a product review, but I always hate to contribute out of fear of forgetting books I should have included. Anyway, here goes:

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. In form and themes, this seems like old-school metafiction (characters realize that their author is god and go to war), but told through the eyes of Mexican migrant workers, and is very funny, still makes these themes work in a philosophical, cultural and personal way. I’d put this one high on my list if I were ranking these.

Electronic Literature Collection, Hayles, et al eds. Long awaited anthology. There’s so much great e-lit around; there’s so much more sophomoric, throw an e-zine together, e-lit around. Very nice to have ELO sort it out, point out some of the works worth paying attention to.

Frances Johnson by Stacey Levine. Uses the rhetoric of girl novels from the ‘50s, or so it seems to me, to tell a very funny story about growing up, discovering who you are. A profound story told in a deceptively simple style.

Under Virga by Joe Amato. Maybe the best book I’ve read this year: called poetry, but it does everything: nonfiction, memoir, aesthetics….

The Edge of Europe: A Kinetic Image by Pentti Saarikoski. Another great novel by a poet, has a Ulysses’ feel to its themes of wandering, hanging out, going through a day, but done in less than a couple hundred pages.

Anxious Pleasures: A Novel after Kafka by Lance Olsen. This book is great—but I think you need to read it along side, or after, Kafka’s Metamorphosis to get the cross-novel jokes, references, where the story really is.

The Jiri Chronicles & Other Fictions by Debra Di Blasi. Looks like the National Enquirer, and takes up politics, celebrities, has ads for beauty products etc. i.e., mines trash culture, but is written so eloquently, and is so thoughtful that it’s literature with a capital L instead of the sort of joke books that this one looks like/plays with.

The Religious & Other Fictions by Christina Milletti. Given Milletti’s muscular style (no fat), there’s a lot of variation in this collection, from fairly realist, to more allegorical/fairy-tale like stories: very tight stories, a pleasure to read for the eloquence of the language.

Minor Robberies by Deb Olin Unferth. Very cool, funny, smart minimal fiction (comes boxed with two other small books, one by D. Eggers the other by Sarah Manguso, but I haven’t read these yet).

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Powers always comes down a little too heavily on the sentimental/human heart side of things for me, but the writing is also so great (if you like lyricism); he’s one of the mainstream authors writing what used to be called novels of ideas, and his ideas/observations of life are always smart, contemporary, so he always makes for thought-provoking reading.

Novel Pictorial Noise by Noah Eli Gordon. Kind of a mashup of prosepoetry & Ashbery parataxis—very cool, funny, smart poetry.

Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk by Joshua Marie Wilkinson.

Varieties of Disturbance. Vintage Lydia Davis short stories. She seems to be the most influential short story writer out there these days, judging from how much writing in magazines seems to have a Lydia Davis feel to it: kind of a understated humor, a poet’s precision of word use. She also seems to be most responsible for an evolution of the story.

Alarm by Mike Daily. Be sure to get the CDs that come with this novel—they add a dimension to it that I think would be sorely missed without the sound tracks, done by Daily’s band. This is what the novel would be if it were a garageband.

Double-Wide: Collected Fictions of Michael Martone. Need more be said?— Another author taking the short story in places it should have gotten out and seen more of before; very little in the way of character or plot; lot in the way of description as poetic truth. Also see his essays in The Flatness and Other Landscapes. Not new this year, but new to me.

Maps: Finding Our Place in the World, edited by Akerman and Karrow. So okay, maps always seemed like fictions to me, so thought I’d include this here as the essays collected and the samples they give vividly show how constructed our world is/has been over the centuries. The book was put together to accompany a fabulous show at the Field Museum in Chicago.

A Couple of Theory/Crit Books:
Avant-Post: The Avant-Garde under Post- Conditions edited by Louis Armand. The title says it, a very good considerations of what it means to do what we do 100 years after the historical avant-g. See esp. the essays by Berry on Lit., and Robert Archambeau on the death of the critic.

Fiction’s Present: Situating Contemporary Narrative Innovation, edited by R.M. Berry and Jeffrey Di Leo. A collection of essays by both novelists and critics that together forms the most articulate, insightful summation of the contemporary landscape of fiction that I’ve ever read. In fact, given how commercialization has changed the definition of literature, it may be the only one that rethinks what this means for the life of writing as an art form.

In the Not New but New to ME Category:
Mason Dixon by Pynchon. I bought this when it first came out, and finally got around to reading it this year. A pretty fabulous, novel. Maybe the most accessible Pynchon novel (other than Crying of Lot which everyone reads because its so short) but even though the language isn’t as intense as in Gravity’s R. , the writing, historical-contemporary mashup, humor is at that same level. A great book.

The Man without Qualities by Robert Musil. Another big book I’ve intended to read for years and finally got around to. A great, modernist novel. More Remembrance of Things Past than Ulysses, the other two books of its time that it gets grouped with, but great lit is great lit and this one is a classic everyone should read at some point.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar. This is one I read when I was too young to see how great it is so it seems like a new book to me on this rereading. Anyone interested in innovative/writing as art literature should read this novel, as like Tristram Shandy, Don Quijote, it seems to be one of the grandfathers of it all. I was also struck by how contemporary it seemed in its marriage of form to more ‘human’ concerns—innovative form (for its time) in the service of very human concerns.

Elegies & Vacations by Hank Lazer. See also his The New Spirit, and his Opposing Poetries, a book of essays about the poetry biz. After hearing him read, I pretty much went up and picked up a lot of what he writes, really love how his poetry retains this narrative aspect even as it does linguistic gymnastics.

Talking Dirty to the Gods by Yusef Komunyakaa. A pretty great collection, esp. in terms of serious, classic-leaning aesthetics.

Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art & Complicity by Johanna Drucker. She’s talking about visual art in this book, but it comes about as close as I can imagine to being an argument that explains the current state of contemporary literature as well, esp. the role of writing as an art form in an age of commercial domination.

An Anthology of Graphic Fiction edited by Ivan Brunetti. I think the overall best round up of graphic artist/novelists I’ve come across.