A Year in Reading: Ben Lerner

December 8, 2014 | 3 books mentioned 13

covercovercoverFrom where I’m sitting I can see the galleys of Maggie Nelson’s incredible The Argonauts, which will come out this spring from Graywolf, and Aaron Kunin’s brilliant, Cold Genius, just out from Fence. Chris Nealon’s Heteronomy, published by Edge, has been supporting me all fall. Nealon taps into the energies of popular culture without condescension or self-congratulation or (easy) irony; his poems are at once totally well-wrought and unaffectedly conversational; he is clear-eyed about the catastrophe of the present but refuses to descend into mere melancholy; he has no illusions about poetry’s practical power but he is not in love with — or particularly tortured by — its marginality; Nealon — an accomplished literary critic — neither disavows his learning or retreats into it. Please read this book with me because everybody who reads it gets to enter a meadow where we can dance and die together:

“I think whenever you felt it, in austere modernity above a skyline, or in the back of some pub on the

pilgrim’s way –

I think wherever you are when you feel this, you’re in a kind of meadow –

And – I don’t know how to explain – I think no matter how we all go down together, by whichever

combination of terminal failures –

Whether the landscape after is a ravaged wasteland or a wide plain, hushed –

I think however we die out, we’ll have died in that meadow”

More from A Year in Reading 2014

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979. He has been a Fulbright Fellow, a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, a Howard Foundation Fellow, and a Guggenheim Fellow. His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, won the 2012 Believer Book Award, and excerpts from 10:04 have been awarded The Paris Review’s Terry Southern Prize. He has published three poetry collections: The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path. His new novel 10:04 was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in September. Lerner is a professor of English at Brooklyn College.


  1. No, it’s not. These two have been fellating each other across the internet for the last couple of months. She’s thanked in the acknowledgements of his new book, then she reviews said book for the Los Angeles Review of Books, then he picks her book as his favorite books of the year and I’m sure if she gets a chance she’ll pick his book as her favorite book. I’m starting to get used to this logrolling. It’s what the internet is about. There’s no point in fighting it. Just recognize it for what it is and take every recommendation witha grain of salt.

  2. Lerner and Kunin are also friends (per an old Believer interview). Hilarious. Doubt Lerner even read the Nelson or Kunin. “From where I’m sitting I can see the galleys…” Congrats on your ability to see!

  3. Thank you! The meadow conceit is lovely and makes me eager to discover the rest of Nealon’s book.

    I must also say I’m aghast at the crudeness, rudity, and absurd presumptiousness of the previous commenters. This whole series is a gift to readers, and a wonderful one, and it will be taken away from us, because who on earth would contribute again after responses like these?

  4. I don’t think someone telling you to read their friends books is a gift. It’s PR. Don’t be so melodramatic. The people who are using this exercise to be thoughtful and recommending interesting books are being thanked; the logrollers are not, as they shouldn’t be. Ben Lerner’s recommending Maggie Nelson is the equivalent of Uncle Eddie’s handing his already half-drunk can of beer to Clark Griswold. “I bet you could use a cool one, huh?” “Now you’re talking.” That’s what kind of gift that is.

  5. In res: Wyatt’s comment

    What is “rudity” supposed to mean? Is that a new alternative spelling for “rudeness”? And for “presumptiousness” – shouldn’t that be spelled “presumptuousness”?

    Condescending to other commentators (particularly if they have a point which you don’t even address) by using fancy words usually works better if you use words that actually exist and if you spell them correctly.

  6. Claudia,

    The crudity rudiness of your commentarity is sickning!


    Newsflash, half of these year-end lists are PR for writers’ friends or their own publications. There’s no need to break out the fainting couch over this, it’s just a silly year-end exercise. Also, it’s possible to like a friend’s book in good faith. It isn’t, however, a “gift,” let’s be clear on that…

  7. So far, Lerner gets the Matt Bell logroller of the year award, but we have yet to see Bell’s contribution, so until then, the champion holds the belt.

  8. Wow, quick to the throat, aren’t we, and so witty! Rudity may have been a mistake, but it is fine by Webster’s online. Condescension was not what I intended, at least no more so than when my 4-year-old daughter angrily shouts at my 5-year-old son the most potent insult she knows: “You’re rude!” (She hasn’t learned yet how to mock style.) The comments here are unwarranted and unappreciated. They are self-congratulatory and mean, and completely out of the spirit of this series. These are the personal recommendations and reading experiences of authors. Truly, what does Mr. Lerner owe to you?

  9. Would The Millions please offer some of our esteemed commenters a Year In Reading of their own? This is not a joke! I am really curious.

  10. Or maybe you dumbasses could consider that having a personal relationship with the authors increases their impact?

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