A different pace of life than ever before. I like it. My reading has slowed, but it's for the best. I think I got more out of it this year. More catharsis, specifically – that's (inadvertently) the theme for this list in the context of my emotional life or something. When I look at these titles all together... I don't know that I was seeking comfort, but I got a lot of it.
1. Kindred by Octavia Butler
A thrilling way to start the year. Octavia Butler is so good with action and tension. In awe of how the characters are written; the relationship between love, forgiveness, and survival. I hear there's a TV adaptation that's come out recently. I think some stories are more effective when read, both by nature of the story and for the sake of hearing voice of the author – this is one of those.
Would recommend to anyone.
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
I loved Wuthering Heights. The way everyone's emotions are channeled into pure drama? Messy and intoxicating. This book lives in the embrace of love and madness; feelings that are tremendous/forceful but inactionable. What is bad timing? What is emotional unavailability? What is fear/pride? Where to draw the line between patience and the need to recognize that love should absolve these things, rather than succumb to them?
I enjoyed it vicariously at the time, not knowing it was in some way portending my own soup season. Never been through one before. For something that was nothing, it's been a lot...
3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
This is exactly the type of book I can’t bring myself to give star ratings for because as a book it very much succeeded in drawing me in. But because I felt so attached and invested, I also felt quite frustrated about how the characters acted at certain points, certain decisions that were made in the telling of the story where what was happening didn’t make sense based on who the two characters were. It’s a story that reminds me on a very visceral level that I can’t expect people to think, act, make judgements, etc. in the ways that I would, or even in ways I’ve seen so far. But also just generally the main characters' complacency and reticence in actually trying to be together felt insufferable.
Wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it because I guess I didn't not enjoy it. But would not actively offer as a recommendation. Might as well read Wuthering Heights. I guess it's not the same. Normal People is less sexually repressed and there's something to be said for that.
Laya says, "Normal People is Wuthering Heights for anyone who likes to be spoon-fed their drama." (non-pejorative)
4. The Hunting Accident by David L. Carlson
Picked this up at that used book store with pickles next to that soju bar in that triangle neighborhood in LES/Chinatown.
A truly wonderful piece of work all around. What's the opposite of sensationalizing that still delivers on emotional impact?
The description of the book as is available in other places doesn't do it justice. Most of the book is about the relationship and time spent between Rizzo and Leopold. It's a true story, which amplified its impact for me. I can't imagine this story being told in any other fashion. Truly, truly a work of art! The illustrations, by Landis Blair, are stunning and effusive, even though/when things are dark. His ability to capture emotion via facial expressions given the style of the drawings is also amazing.
Touches on one of my favorite themes in art/lit– the inevitable effort to make life meaningful wherever one is, which either requires or produces love + connection. Every life is equally valuable; just because (a) life is more difficult, that doesn't mean it's any less worth living.
I don't know if this response said anything of substance or clarity. But I highly recommend this book.
5. Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
The last thing I read by Eugenides was Middlesex, which I loved. Can't say the same for these stories. Honestly, remember reading the stories, but I didn't retain anything emotionally or otherwise.
6. On Writing by Stephen King
My dad gave me this book. I loved it. Again, more reflections on writing than anything didactic. He basically says he doesn't know where his ideas come from which felt affirming because same. I also love getting into what, on a practical level, people's lives look like concurrent to their career. As with his horror, lots of comfort in his writing here, on account of some sincerity and openness.
7. Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
Was drawn in by the title.
Not memorable. Didn't connect to the writing at any point. Probably I will not be reading any T.S. Eliot any time soon again.
8. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Could not make it past page 113. Both the writing and the characters – insufferable!
9. The 13 Crimes of Science Fiction edited by Isaac Asimov
Another random selection from a used bookstore. The stories aren't so great and a lot of them have colonialist vibes.
10. A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
First time reading Ibsen. I'm sold. The play itself feels quite contemporary, which is wild to me given that Ibsen was active in the 1800s. The writing/dialogue feel easy to read, honest. His ideas and values are years ahead of his time – Ibsen himself is a fascinating figure. He wrote for an audience that existed in a future that he believed in. I think that's amazing, and I feel similarly inclined.
11. Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous
Olivia recommended and lent me this book. Farcical, not American, relatively quotidian in terms of the actual action of it all – I really liked it. The ending was fun.
12. And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger
I often say I don't have a best friend, but sometimes Berger feels like my best friend.
13. Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen
I liked this play. The dynamics between the son and the other characters felt immediately familiar to me; the values expressed here are still in the process being accepted by a general public, I think. There's something essential in each of Ibsen's stories. I really fuck with his personality as was on record/comes across in his correspondences also.
14. The Truth Is a Cave In the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman
A haunting, beautiful, poem-of-a- book/story. More adult picture books please!
15. The Whole Town's Sleeping by Ray Bradbury
Another fun short story rooted in a visceral experience. You can read it here.
16. The Mind's Eye by Henri Cartier-Bresson
This year has been one of finding artists and thinkers whose voice/work/philosophies, like Berger's, complement and affirm and clarify and comfort my own. I came to Bresson via Roger Deakins.
This book is an embrace. It brought me great comfort and warmth; I think it could do the same for anyone.
17. It by Stephen King
Fuck yes. As amazing as this book was the first time I read it, it was truly ten times better this second time around. It has everything!!! I read it more slowly this time, which also made a difference. There is so much love in this book about evil. Which is how that goes, but King really handles it with such sincerity, tenderness, and care while still delivering on the action, the terror, and the plot. I'll reiterate how great his writing is – I had more of a cinematic experience re-reading this book than I did watching so many of the movies I watched this year. Also, I've come around to the sex scene.
18. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
Another tick me from for Ibsen. This one reminds me of the current conditions/conversations around anything related to environment and/or health. Again, sick that not much has changed since the 1800s. Also happened to coincide with me watching the first of Tsuchimoto's Minamata trilogy (ok I've only watched the first 45 min because then it occurred to me that Laya would like it and I told her so, so we planned to watch it together but still haven't done that yet).
19. Heretics! by Steven Nadler
Wonderful, wonderful book! I would give this to my middle-schooler. I think it's a conspiracy that basic philosophy is not taught in schools. This is a fun and easy way to get into modern philosophy/be introduced to basic concepts and ideas. In the realm of modern philosophy, Locke and Spinoza are my guys.
I do think we are on the brink of a Renaissance that should bring with it... new modern? post modern? idk academic language .... philosophies. Given how different the world looks and how exponentially it has changed (we now have to account for virtual realities in even the broadest sense like social media, for example), it makes sense that we should re-philosophize our existence on a fundamental level. Looking into this. Stay tuned, or if you have leads on others who are thinking/writing about this, please let me know.
Anyway that was all very serious but the book is much less serious in terms of tone. It's a graphic novel! Funny and informative; a book I'd get anyone a copy of.
20. Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance by John Berger
Oh man, this thin little book holds a world of testament, thoughts, feelings. Truly my brain feels/felt like how the Venom splotches in Spiderman look/move. The degree to which things were resonating or resounding felt forceful, particular. Also I took my time with this book and somehow ended up reading the right essays as at the right time; everything felt hyper-relevant to distinct and specific aspects of my emotional life at and what I was thinking about or struggling to understand at any given time. Hence some manic posts on Instagram, for example.
And some major epiphanies – being able to name things that were plaguing me; diagnoses. Like realizing, for example, that I actually don't have desires really. In my life I've only experienced desire twice, and the first time it wasn't for a person. This second time is relatively recent, and has been driving me crazy. Like truly crazy – as in I haven't been my normal self in so long that I think I may be experiencing an ego death. Because it feels ambrosial but also poisonous and also there is no reality to support these insane and alien feelings! Anyway. Berger helped me process a lot of that.
He writes about so much more than desire (the essay on desire is like 4 pages, if that). It truly does feel like a companion for survival, even just by nature of how he tells stories of other people and places he's visited. I kept thinking – is there anyone that we have today that goes out into the world the way that Berger does and brings things back for the rest of us the way that Berger does? Not so literally, but in the vein of a similar existential/broad philosophy? Anthony Bourdain is the most contemporary figure I can think of.
I have too many various thoughts about this book so I'll stop here for now. Probably I will re-read in the new year x