I suppose this is true for many cities, but it is remarkable nonetheless: I am staying in a part of Boston that is roughly 30 minutes by bus away from downtown Boston. The area I live in is majority black. I say “majority” but I’ve looked at the clock: it usually takes ~25 minutes until I see the first white person on the bus or on the street, the first person, that is, that isn’t me. The difference to not just downtown but even just the parts that are more equally split is stunning. Just the way healthcare is delivered alone – and the astonishing frequency of churches, many of which are just inside regular houses. On the bus route I am taking there is on average one church per block. But also the poverty. Many of the bus stops are near clinics or “health centers,” and I see people entering and leaving. A disquieting visual, certainly, and it reminds me of how rarely truly open questions about economics are raised here. Someone once said that debates about racial justice, and policing are supplanting debates about economic equity in the US and sometimes, in Boston, it seems like those people are right. In the most affluent part of the center, just off Commonwealth Avenue and Boston Commons, on and around Newbury Street, there are a handful of churches, all of which have banners proclaiming (sometimes in arabic script) that refugees and Muslims are welcome. Two unitarian (I think?) churches even hung a “Black Lives Matter” banner in their window. And yet I wonder how concerned these same churches are about the lack of economic opportunities for the black people whose lives supposedly matter, how concerned they are with the fact that Boston is among the most segregated cities in the country. In an hour, I will get on that bus again, and will take a trip through a part of Boston that many Bostonians I talked to said they wouldn’t set foot in. They say it’s because it’s dangerous. What they mean is, it’s because it’s black.
I’m sorry for the relative silence here. I’ve been finishing my PhD draft and several conference papers and am generally trying to find some financing for said conferences which isn’t looking great, so this is all a bit stressful. Too broke to blog, is, I suppose, the summary of this blog post. But I have a bunch of book reviews in the pipeline. June should be better. I’m giving a paper on Pasternak in Boston this week and I can see a review of Dr. Zhivago coming out of the whole stressful mess. 🙂 So, stick around, come by now and then and maybe you’ll be surprised. 🙂 Have a lovely week. PS. SHould I blog from Boston?
Have a great 2017 everyone. I’m listening to an Otis live records right now, drinking a lovely gin. Who knows how long I will be around, any of us really. Have a drink on me, on you and the new year.
Read poetry, write poetry, read books, punch a fascist, you know, you do you next year.
So after posting 26 reviews last year, I happened to post the exact same number this year, despite some quiet months without reviews. An alphabetical list of the books under review this year are below, with short commentary. I wrote about three very notable books that I didn’t get around to reviewing (but will probably review next year) here. If you feel like supporting this blog, why not click here. If you want to buy my book, why not click here? Incidentally, I have review copies of my book in pdf and (possibly) epub, if you feel like reviewing German poetry. Email me! Now, here’s the list of reviews.
Margaret Atwood et al.: Angel Catbird. Margaret Atwood is a genius novelist. Not a genius writer of comic books. Two more volumes coming early next year.
Glyn Dillon: The Nao of Brown. The less talented Dillon brother. The art is good. The overall impression is meh. His brother died this year. A genuine loss.
David Ebershoff: The Danish Girl. Terrible book. One of the top 3 worst books I read last year, overall. Dubious America-centric revisions to history that, given recent elections, seems somehow symptomatic
Brian Evenson: The Warren. Science fiction, I suppose? One of my three favorite books of the year.
Ellen Forney: Marbles – Mania, Depression, Michelangelo + Me. Writing about depression while fetishizing the psychopharma industry.
Tomer Gardi: Broken German. One of the best German novels of the year, written by an Israeli citizen in his German language debut. Hilarious, sharp, brilliant.
Claire Gibson, Sloane Leong and Marian Churchland: From Under Mountains, Vol. 1 One of my favorite comics of the year. Art and writing perfectly complement each other.
Kent Haruf: Our Souls At Night. Quiet little book. Not as good as I hoped, not as bad as I feared. Won’t be reading more of his stuff, I don’t think.
Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat. Excellently crafted little story/novel/novella about a cat, Japanese modernity and a marriage.
Line Hoven: Love Looks Away. I’ve read a couple of German comics this year and this is easily my favorite. Will post a review of the thoroughly mediocre Kinderland by Mawil next year. Hoven’s book is smart, poetic and the art is spectacular.
Paulette Jiles: News of the World. Award-winning piece of Americana drivel. Good for a present for your badly read relative. Solidly done, enough to dazzle some. One of the worst books I’ve reviewed (if not read) this year.
Han Kang: The Vegetarian. Genuine, absolute masterpiece. There’s an odd connection between Kang and Evenson in how they approach physicality.
Kolbeinn Karlsson: The Troll King. Swedish comic. Interesting, well made, a bit racist. Overall a recommendation.
Phil LaMarche: American Youth. Eh. So it’s MFA Americana fare with good ideas, but dull execution.
Fouad Laroui: The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers. Laroui is a profoundly interesting writer. In this I introduce you a bit to his work. Not a very popular review with editors (sigh) but in a reduced form, it’s done well on this blog this year.
Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda: Monstress. Very good comic book. Among my favorites this year. Doesn’t rise to the heights of, say, Tom King’s Vision or Lemire’s Descender, but very good nonetheless.
Valeria Luiselli: Faces in the Crowd. Overrated book. Overdetermined, too disinterested in the idea of making a story cohere.
Sharon Dodua Otoo: Synchronicity. Otoo won one of the most prestigious German awards this year and she’s one of the most interesting German writers (she’s not German).
Iain Reid: I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Overrated piece of crap. Genre fiction by the book. No surprise. Nothing interesting.
Fran Ross: Oreo. A forgotten American masterpiece. Read it. Now.
Ray Russell: The Case Against Satan. Excellent, slyly complex piece of horror fiction. Deservedly considered a classic.
Cecilia Ștefănescu: Sun Alley. Bad novel, translated badly. No point in mincing words. Shame on the publisher who did a disservice to the cause of translated literature in English. Shame.
Akimitsu Takagi: The Informer. Crime novel from Japan. Exceptionally well excecuted, but appeals strictly only to people interested in genre, I’d say.
lê thi diem thúy: The gangster we are all looking for. A novel written in shorter segments about growing up foreign in the US. This is very good.
Yuko Tsushima: Child of Fortune. A masterpiece of Japanese fiction. Truly astounding.
Yvonne Vera: Butterfly Burning. African novelist of genius, sadly deceased. Novel is very good.
Kai Ashante Wilson: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. This has languished on the occasional fantasy discussion list, while it, and its sequel/prequel A Taste of Honey are really among the best books published this year. Tor inexplicably marketed this to fantasy fans; this should be read by all fiction fans, period. I’ve never wished more that a book had landed with a different publisher. FSG Originals, for example. They’ve been doing amazing work. I’ve read Kristin Dombek on Narcissism this year, weird fiction by Amelia Gray, and science fiction by Jeff Vandermeer, all published by FSG Originals. Well designed, well pitched. Wilson should be on many of the lists summarizing this year’s best fiction, yet he’s not. It’s hard not to feel Tor is a bit at fault for that.
As a new novel by Paul Auster is about to hit the shelves, I noticed that I have reviewed a few of his books here. Enough apparently, to make my blog findable for people searching for a very specific/unflattering phrase (see picture). If you’re interested in my opinion, here are the links
Sunset Park: “These are the games of a tired old author, coasting on past successes, making use of the same characters and the same tools for the millionth time, with radically diminishing returns. Auster’s writing remains as unremarkable as ever, and his characters as flat as ever. […] It’s as if he’s given up on himself, given up on creating work that is at least up to his own standards.”
In the Country of Last Things: “Paul Auster’s novels are like black holes, and they should be read fleetingly, glancing, without looking overmuch at their details and implications.”
Invisible: “The staggeringly low quality of Auster’s prose, especially in his more recent work, has always been a surprise to me, especially considering the far more sophisticated nature of the constructions and ideas that populate his fiction.[..] This novel is like a clever movie, throwing all kinds of ideas and plots at you and you should enjoy the two hours, but be prepared for an immensely cold, impersonal work, utterly devoid of any commitment except to the author’s ego.”
The Brooklyn Follies: “This novel is a huge failure. As a movie it would have succeeded, and as a novel written by a different writer, it would also have succeeded. Auster has his strengths, and I still remember the novel’s characters vividly, but writing prose just is not one of them.”
Marcel Beyer, one of Germany’s 5 best poets, one of Germany’s 5 best novelists and a damn good nonfiction writer, has just won the Büchnerpreis, Germany’s most prestigious lifetime achievement award. I mean he should have won it a decade ago, especially if you look at some past winners (Arnold Stadler, Sibylle Lewitscharoff, FC Delius and Martin Mosebach all number among past winners of the award), but this is well deserved to say the least. All of his fiction has been translated into English, and it is uniformly excellent. I’ll try to have something new on him up one of these days but in the meantime, I’m a bit perturbed that the only thing on my blog I can link to is my very bad review of his very good novel Kaltenburg. I feel it should be mentioned again for readers who only know his novels that Beyer has always written poetry as well as fiction and he is one of the very very few writers who excel at both. I have read (despite not owning) his last collection multiple times and the constant excellence of Beyer’s writing through the years that never flagged, never got bad or complacent, is just stunning. His fiction is infused with a passionate reckoning with the wayward forces of history, a work struggling with the complexities of knowledge and narrative. On top of that, he has developed a style that is always clear yet powerful. No two novels of his are truly alike except in the most broad of parameters and his poetry is still different. German literary fiction about German history, when it’s not written by Jirgl, is often either clichéd (Erpenbeck), sentimental (Tellkamp) or dour (Ruge). There’s really no writer like Marcel Beyer in this country, and that’s been true and obvious for a long time. This recognition by the German Academy for Language and Literature is long overdue.
I was a bit busy and forgot to check on the Tournament of Books. Here is my earlier post on it. So Villanova won March Madness and in the much more important Tournament of Books? Paul Beatty’s masterful novel The Sellout which I’ve read but haven’t gotten round to reviewing yet. So here is the link to the Finals matchup, which The Sellout won by a fairly wide margin.
Here is the brackets of this year’s ToB again:
Fates and Furies
v. Bats of the Republic
judge: Maria Bustillos
judge: Brad Listi
The Turner House
v. Ban en Banlieue
judge: Miriam Tuliao
Our Souls at Night
v. The Whites
Judge: Syreeta McFadden
A Little Life
v. The New World
judge: Choire Sicha
The Book of Aron
v. The Tsar of Love and Techno
judge: Doree Shafrir
v. The Invaders
judge: Liz Lopatto