A Year in Reading: Kate Zambreno

December 22, 2012 | 3 3 min read

covercovercoverTwo works of what I might, perhaps awkwardly, think of as creative theory influenced my thinking about literature this year — Jack Halberstam’s The Queer of Art of Failure (Duke University Press), which argues against mastery, as well as Wayne Koestenbaum’s lyric series of “fugues,” Humiliation, part of Picador’s Big Ideas, Small Books series. The literary texts I have been drawn to this year often perform what Halberstam characterizes as a “radical passivity,” set often in a space of unknowing, often featuring alienating or abject encounters. I redevoured the works of Mary Gaitskill this year, and loved especially her novel of girlhood trauma, Two Girls Fat and Thin. I was really energized and wowed by Emily Gould and Ruth Curry’s curation of their ebook venture Emily Books— my favorite types of novels, the ones that cannot be categorized, a curious blend of fiction and nonfiction — like the bonkers and amazing Making Scenes by the pseudonymous Adrienne Eisen; also I’m Trying to Reach You, Barbara Browning’s multimedia noirish conspiracy set in the world of performance theory published by the always amazing Two Dollar Radio; and Tamara Faith Berger’s brilliant and philosophical erotic novel, Maidenhead, put out by Toronto’s Coach House. Emily Books also featured my good friend Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women, published by Danielle Dutton’s exciting Dorothy Project, a series of fragmented, poetic portraits of girls in a psych ward, pieces marked by Suzanne’s really gorgeous, wry, erudite voice. Promising Young Women reminds me of another favorite text I read this year, Shulamith Firestone’s Airless Spaces, published in the late 90s by Chris Kraus at Semiotext(e), a work that I began weirdly the day before I found out that Firestone had died. In Airless Spaces, Firestone draws from her own experiences being institutionalized to write vignettes of those she encountered who were forgotten by the system, including Valerie Solanas. The books Danielle’s Dorothy Project and Emily Books are putting out remind me, in a glorious way, of Chris’s Native Agents series at Semiotext(e), those beautiful books of the relentless female first-person, but a first-person that misbehaves, that questions, is eminently aware in a way of its own failure.

coverI can’t believe I hadn’t previously read David Wojnaworicz’s ecsatic essay-memoir-rant Close to the Knives — a furious portrait of America and alienation and the AIDS crisis. Another ecstatic, excessive work I was really blown away by this year was Ronaldo Wilson’s poetry collection Poems of the Black Object (Futurepoem) — unbelievably gorgeous lyrics on the body, on blackness, on queerness, on desire.

Speaking of a first-person that refuses to behave, of rebel voices, I loved Violence, the conversation on violence, patriarchy, and publishing, conducted between explosive awesomes Vanessa Veselka and Lidia Yuknavitch, published in a condensed form originally on The Believer online but then published in gorgeous print by Sarah McCarry (she of The Rejectionist blog) in her new radical essay chapbook venture appropriately named Guillotine. Some of my favorite writing I read this year was online — Bhanu Kapil’s brilliant notebooking performance on her blog; also online meditations on literature, the body, and alienation by a blogger called The Bookbat; Masha Tupitsyn’s Barthes-like fragments on love for her Tumblr Love Dog; Jackie Wang’s essays that are brilliant explorations of politics and aesthetics, especially her piece on innocence that was part of Lies: A Journal of Materialist Feminism. I’ve never really understood all those who are worrying themselves sick over the state of publishing — there’s never been more urgent, exciting stuff out there, you just have to look in the margins.

More from A Year in Reading 2012

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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is the author of several books, most recently the collections Appendix Project (Semiotext(e)'s Native Agents) and Screen Tests (Harper Perennial). Recent writing has been published in Paris Review and Virginia Quarterly Review. A novel, Drifts, is forthcoming from Riverhead in May 2020. She is at work on a study of Hervé Guibert for Columbia University Press.


  1. I suggest that The Millions rethink their policy of linking sales/inquiries to Amazon. It’s the Coach Houses and Two Dollar Radios and Dorothys of the world that make these great books happen — Amazon, quite the opposite.

    Love the recommendations, Kate (obviously).

  2. Hi Ruth, Apologies for the oversight. We are fans of Emily Books, of course, and have fixed the links.

    Readers of The Millions know that the site has frequently championed the efforts of small presses and independent, literary projects. Out of the many, many examples, two of the most recent are a piece by Two Dollar Radio’s Eric Obenauf (https://www.themillions.com/2012/11/dispatch-from-the-edge-of-literary-culture.html) and a piece highlighting the Dorothy Project (https://www.themillions.com/2012/10/love-you-madly-the-dorothy-project-and-azareen-van-der-vliet-oloomis-fra-keeler.html).

    The Millions links to Amazon for a number of reasons which our outlined here (https://www.themillions.com/2009/04/future-of-book-coverage-part-ii_23.html). While that piece was written in 2009, not much has changed since then in terms of the business models available to sites like The Millions, though the site is continually weighing its options and evaluating its relationship with Amazon.

    Thanks for reading.

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