52 books of 2013

There’s no one way–there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place–you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time–not steal it–and produce fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.
—  Bernard Malamud, in Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. Malamud’s method is probably closest to what I’ve been doing this semester, and I think–finally–I’ve got it down.
The dispersal of an empty law makes judgment legitimate and
yet also completely arbitrary and thus an instrument of the exercise of unlimited authority. Law’s emptiness—the absence of a content to the law—can become the ultimate trick that authority plays, namely, dissimulating a denial of content only so that everyone is forced to supply arbitrarily content every instant anew, and yet always with the same result—ascription of guilt. The emptiness of the law is universal, but in biopolitics this is understood as the license for everyone to pass an arbitrary judgment—that is, a judgment without concern for truth. In this sense, the prison without walls represented in The Trial can be viewed as the perfect depiction of the repressive emptiness of the law. This pure authority of the empty law is only possible because the law is dissociated from truth.
—  Dimitris Vardoulakis, “Kafka’s Empty Law: Laughter and Freedom in The Trial” in Brendan Moran and Carlo Salzani (eds), Philosophy and Kafka, Lexington Books, 2013, pp. 33-52

Book 25: Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy. 

There are some serious plot holes, but I think Murphy raises some important questions about the nature of our belief in a guy as the son of God. While I think he wanted to write a graphic novel about the IRA, he gets into why religion is such a big part of that movement allegorized in the form of Chris. It’s an interesting take on the religious zealotry we find in the United States, and perhaps the most interesting choice made here is the fact that the book is in black and white.

I really really liked it though, it was one of those reads that makes you wish you wrote it, and I didn’t notice the major story issues until after a week of reading it. Definitely one of my favorite books I read this year. 

Well this is troubling.

Book 34: The Circle by Dave Eggers. This was not suspenseful for a single page. It was, however, the best book Eggers has ever written. It asks serious questions about the nature of social media, even the media I’m currently using to tell you about this book. The book made me question why I use this platform, and it reformed me to distance myself from it slightly. To turn it off. There were many elements that portrayed Eggers’ style of telling us rather than showing us, but when he does tell us it’s with the purpose of showing how skewed the perspective is on social media, and the employees at the Circle. Next to Pulphead this is likely right there with one my favorite books I read this year, and I would recommend it to everyone who uses Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr extensively. It asks serious questions about the nature of why we use these things.   

Book 40 and 41: Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

I finished them over the Thanksgiving break, and I have to say that this series is absolutely in my favorites this year. I like it so much I think I could build a course around it. There’s obviously morality, the flipping of the damsel in distress, communist commentaries, and many other things.

We saw the film adaptation of Catching Fire in Michigan of Thanksgiving and wondered how the twelve and thirteen year-olds who view the movies and read the books react to the violence. Do they understand how truly awful it is? The series is crucial and should be required reading for any teenager as they develop as readers. It opens many doors.  

Book 28: Adventure Time, vol. 1 by Ryan North, Braden Lamb, and Shelli Paroline

God, this is brilliant. Absolutely amazing. Full of subversive laughs and creepiness, but exuding an excitement that is unlike anything else. There’s something about Ryan North’s voice that just displays his joy at the things he does. Wish there was some way that I could engage this sort of thing, or have as much enthusiasm, but North’s enthusiasm is exclusively his own.

Book 27 of 52: Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. This was like drinking a delightful chocolate milk with some liquor in it; a rebooting of the brain–seriously. There are so many things to take away from this that I think I’ll spend a considerable amount of time trying to unpack it.

The primary thing was a fascination with my family’s history, which is similar to Nabokov’s. The Presses [we think it was shortened when we entered Ellis Island], left St. Petersburg around the time of the revolution and the end of Czar Nicholas’s reign, but unlike the Nabokov family who went to Europe, we went to America and settled in the Bronx, where my great-grandfather ran a textile shop in Gramercy, close to the Flatiron building. We’ve always been in clothes.

A while back, before my paternal grandmother passed away, just before I went home for a summer, I was thinking about working on a genealogy book sort of like Speak. I want to know my family’s history, and I refuse to use a website like Ancestry.com, because I feel like this information is best gained by doing actual leg work, rather than filling in a form and someone else doing it. That means of course talking to other side of my parents’ family and, well, we don’t get along.  

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Book 24: Chew, vols. 1-6 by John Layman and Rob Guillory.

The thing I hear often about this series is that it’s not for everyone. For me, it’s exactly my thing. The in-jokes, the off-panel signage, the attention to dialogue, the off-kilter plots, the uniqueness of the characters and Rob Guillory’s art makes this one of the most perfect comics out there. It’s exactly the sort of book that only John Layman and Rob Guillory could do, and is uniquely suited to the form, because I’m pretty sure a live action version of this show wouldn’t be possible, which is why I’m happy it’s going the animated route.  

Book 20 of 52: Taipei by Tao Lin. This was much better than I expected, in fact it was downright scary in the sense that it reminded me very much of my first year in New York.

“On the fourth story roof Paul said he wanted to run ‘really fast in a circle,’ vaguely aware and mostly unconcerned, though he knew he didn’t want to die—less because he had an urge to live than because dying, like knitting or backgammon, seemed irrelevant to his life—that due to alcohol and Klonopin, in a moment of inattention, he could easily walk off the building.”

I’ve read Shoplifting from American Apparel and Richard Yates and they both left me bored with the dry prose that comes off unemotional. However, while there is again this dry clarity of that stuff, in this case this book has more emotional honesty than I expected and this makes this book the best thing I’ve read of Lin’s yet. 

Collage, the art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image, was the most important innovation in the art of the twentieth century.
—  David Shields in Reality Hunger. I bought this book when I was in Manhattan this weekend and I’m finding it very good, but kind of shocked that he doesn’t acknowledge comics in anyway. 

Book 7 of 52The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. 

This took me two weeks to finish, half because I was bored with it, but mostly because I’m a softie. When I know a book is going to end on a sad note I tend to try to numb the pain for as long as possible. The reason I was bored was there was a fairly obvious narrative choice that serves as the crux of the plot, but did nothing but disconnect me from the story as well as the main character who is a very self-involved individual. (She’s a 16 year-old girl–so, yeah.) For most of this reading I found the characters more realistic interpretations of smart teens usually attributed to Dawson’s Creek. It is markedly better, honest, and full of delightful heartfelt moments, and made me cry by the end, but the obvious plot choice spoils the narrative, which is totally fine. This choice was very purposeful in order to make this book less about narrative and more about life and connecting with readers, which I say is the true purpose of any novel.

Book 2 of 52: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. This was slow going at first, but like the knife that sinks in between the bones it didn’t take long for the book to bleed my organs.

Strunk writes in the Elements of Style about choosing your words to call up pictures and I think Ellis is probably the best at delivering that concept. The bits where he shifts to the hunter’s perspective, to when he transcribes the police blotter allow me to see a New York I didn’t recognize in the seven years I lived there. I also really loved the Manhattan history bits as that’s kind of a new point of interest for me. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything of Ellis other than his blog, so I was definitely over excited when this book finally arrived and I was a little disappointed at first, but by the end I’m just happy to have another Warren Ellis novel on my bookshelf.