If you liked Valencia by Michelle Tea, you’ll love Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover by Mila Jaroniec. If you liked The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, you’ll love Abandon Me by Melissa Febos. If you liked Nevada by Imogen Binnie, you’ll love Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks. If you liked Eight by Amy Fusselman, you’ll love Mickey by Chelsea Martin. If you liked Summer Sisters by Judy Blume, you’ll love Marlena by Julie Buntin. If you liked Proxies by Brian Blanchfield, you’ll love When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy. If you liked Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio, you’ll love Violation by Sallie Tisdale. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005
This was a year of books of marvelous disappearance. I began with Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Jonathan Dunne: a catalogue of vanished writers that is also a paradoxical and seductive manifesto for the “literature of the No.” I read Haytham El-Wardany’s How to Disappear, translated by Jennifer Peterson and Robin Moger: a sustained immersion in sonic detail, in the endless sound of the city, that uses the form of a self-help book to explore alienation and failure. That probably sounds depressing, but in fact it’s exhilarating! So is Joanna Walsh’s Hotel, a small dense meteorite of a book about disappearing from home, womanhood, and even language. So is Dodie Bellamy’s essay collection When the Sick Rule the World, in which entire neighborhoods have vanished. An uncanny year. I read, for the first time, Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark, with its wonderfully creepy long central chapter, the narrator escaping -- from what, she doesn’t exactly know -- across a dark Irish landscape that hums with paranoia. I reread Alain-Fournier’s The Wanderer in the old Françoise Delisle translation, which I think is supposed to be a bad translation, but I really love it: that weird children’s party, the simultaneous sense of carnival and threat, and then, of course, the disappearance, the lost love. I was privileged to read, in advance of publication, Kate Zambreno’s incredibly tender Book of Mutter, forthcoming from Semiotext(e) in 2017: a book about art and grief and how both create strange loops in time. I read Renee Gladman’s Calamities, which is really about appearance, not disappearance -- the appearance of writing, the appearance of drawing -- but still has a profoundly ghostly feel. It’s like a book of spells: so focused on the desire to conjure something, it becomes the song of what isn’t there. I read, for the first time, Roland Barthes’s lectures on The Neutral, translated by Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier. How fantastic to think about a kind of disappearance that isn’t negative, but bubbles up like champagne foam! I read again, because I can’t stop reading it, Bhanu Kapil’s lush and harrowing Ban en Banlieue, in which a girl stops, evanesces, lies down on a sidewalk forever. I read Ashon Crawley’s Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility, which is about being sent, transported, about black church practices that cannot be owned but only collectively produced, that must be given away. This too is a kind of disappearance: an ecstatic dissolving of the subject so that a collectivity can come into being. In the communal shout, in the moan, one is no longer one but part of “an unbroken circle, a critical sociality of intense feeling.” More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005
Inevitably this year, as every year, when the darkness creeps in on both sides of the day and the snow begins to fall and remain, I become newly aware of the weight of unread books in my vicinity: the pile on my desk growing, having spread to the table beside my desk, multiplied into stacks on the window ledge and the chest of drawers, and eventually creeping out into the hallway. They’re in a holding pattern, beckoning to be read before being returned to the shelves. Collecting and its relationship to hoarding and of both to loss, is the subject of a wonderful, rambling essay by Douglas Coupland in e-flux, which touches on collecting across varied art forms. He writes about how the acquisition of objects fills an emptiness, a longing. This is true for my desire for books, as I imagine it is for many of you. And it’s many other wondrous things too, but come December the growing stacks become a commentary on the passage of time; the awareness of another cycle passing and outpacing me. Soon with the new year, these shortcomings will be transformed into new resolve and focus, the possibility of remaining abreast. But for now I hunger for these books to devour me too. Which isn’t to say I haven’t read and adored a number of books, this year. I have. The books that stayed with me seem so intrinsically entangled with these ideas of time’s passage, of regret, of collecting and fracturing narratives, of the need to live through art and the desire be devoured by it. A heightened awareness of the passage of time and to the arc of a life carries Jenny Erpenbeck's elegant and gorgeously observed The End of Days. The protagonist dies within the first pages as a baby, her parents filled with regrets, with could’ves and should’ves. The narrator is resurrected again and again, and so she dies again and again, too, the cycle of loss never-ending, and the characters always prisoners to time. It’s a novel too of marveling at life’s ephemerality and the objects (the books!) that outlast; it’s filled with the wish to defy time, to reverse it, to manipulate the ways the unseen future slips into a past riddled with loss and regret. Janice Lee’s Reconsolidation is an elegy for her mother, a laconic meditation in line with Roland Barthes’s Mourning Diary. Writing the book was a way of engaging with the obscene presence of her mother’s absence. And yet, as the book’s title suggests, there is a looming awareness and sadness that this act of conjuring only further distances and distorts her memories. Included too is the soon-to-be published translation of Argentenian poet Alejandra Pizarnik's Extracting the Stone of Madness, a bilingual collection of the poet’s middle to late work. Pizarinik died of a deliberate drug overdose at the age of 36. Her poems portend this with their gnawing desire for solitude and death and birthing poetic bodies. Her words and imagery conjure a terrifying beauty best described by Rainer Maria Rilke: “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure.” Suzanne Scanlon's Her 37th Year: An Index is an emphatic, fiery examination of female aging, art, longing, and desire. As she writes under the entry DISCOURSE: “I don’t want to write a mommy narrative or a menopause narrative. As Eileen Myles said, I want to...[be] punk about aging. I won’t fit into what is allowed.” And she doesn’t. The book confronts loneliness, infidelity, and boredom that intermingles with restlessness, depression, inquiry: “Does it mean that, like Fanny Howe, I believe that art must show that life is worth living by showing that it isn’t?” Scanlon retools the female narrative with language and observations that are at times piercing, and yet at others so tender. Consider JOY: “Four-year old musing & inquiry; for a moment I wish that Magoo would be four years old forever, that I might spend a life in this room...There are times it feels like Heaven, to have this life.” On its surface Jesse Ball's A Cure for Suicide is a tale about the relationship between two people, a claimant, who awakes with no memory, though is told he was sick and almost died, and an examiner, who teaches the claimant how to live in the world again. Their dialogue waxes philosophical, almost Socratic as they discuss the nature of being and interaction: what is an organism? what is a city? are twins different people? how to interact? Later we learn of a tender love story that ends with overwhelming loss and a potential cure, and asks the question, is it possible to start over? Dodie Bellamy's never-complacent essay collection, When the Sick Rule the World, contains her iconic essays “Barf Mainfesto” and “Phone Home,” which is where I first recall encountering her writing: a tender essay about dealing with the loss of her mother, the way they overcame differences and distances and how the movie E.T. became mythic within this context. Bellamy writes of her conflicted admiration for icon Kathy Acker, even after her death -- “I didn’t touch the ashes. I didn’t want to and she wouldn’t have wanted me to” -- and laments witnessing her San Francisco neighborhood’s gentrification. Also and significantly, too, she writes of her Midwestern roots and the burning desire for art that’s shaped her life: With her mother in the kitchen her father cussing and smoking, she with her notebooks and writing dreamed of escape: “hover[ing] above the world craneless, educated and beautiful, with a mind lofty and brilliant enough to defy.” Paul Beatty's The Sellout breaks the mold. It’s the most roiling, irreverent, and raucous ride of a novel, with blunt-toking Bonbon Me at the helm, child subject of his social scientist father’s racial experiments, and with his father’s death he takes over the family farm in the L.A. outpost of Dickens, Calif., (with hopes of catering to the new fad for ostrich meat). The book opens with Bonbon’s case being heard by the Supreme Court: he’s violated the 13th and 14th Amendments by reinstating segregation and by owning a slave, and why? Because he’s lost faith in the system and so he “did what worked.” The book blows up every black stereotype, leaving the detritus in his wake: Bonbon’s just trying to figure out who he is and how to be himself in a world that’s always trying to label him. More from A Year in Reading 2015 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.