Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books Read - 2013

As is the annual tradition, here is the final list of books I completed reading in 2013, in chronological order of completion. As usual, links are to posts in which I've either written about the book or the author, or posted excerpts—though this year there were very few of either. The whole year featured just 25 posts overall prior to this one, and fully 16 of those are excerpts only, including the last 7 in a row, dating back to May; another two posts briefly comment on some current event, but mainly as an excuse to post excerpts from something else; and then one last post was an ancient one excavated from the draft folder—so it's been an exceedingly slow year blogging-wise (two posts - one, two - touch on one reason why).

Following the list are comments and observations, including remarks on my favorite books of the year, plus the always all-important statistical breakdown.

1. The Roving Shadows, Pascal Quignard (Chris Turner, trans.)
2. And Chaos Died, Joanna Russ
3. Berg, Ann Quin
4. Heart's Wings, Gabriel Josipovici
5. Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf
6. Heroines, Kate Zambreno
7. Mathilda, Mary Shelley
8. The Zanzibar Cat, Joanna Russ
9. Exodus, Lars Iyer
10. Endgame, Samuel Beckett
11. All That Fall, Samuel Beckett
12. Pointed Roofs, Pilgrimage vol. 1, Dorothy Miller Richardson
13. On the Natural History of Destruction, W.G. Sebald (Anthea Bell, trans.)
14. A Time for Everything, Karl Ove Knausgaard (James Anderson, trans.) (also)
15. The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois
16. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
17. No Longer At Ease, Chinua Achebe
18. Eeeee Eee Eeee, Tao Lin
19. Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks
20. Divorcer, Gary Lutz
21. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde
22. Backwater, Pilgrimage vol. 2, Dorothy Miller Richardson
23. A Choice of Gods, Clifford D. Simak
24. Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
25. Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shakur
26. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
27. A Paradigm of Earth, Candas Jane Dorsey
28. Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams
29. Mystery Train, Greil Marcus
30. My Struggle, Book Two, Karl Ove Knausgaard (Don Bartlett, trans.)
31. Anti-Systemic Movements, Giovanni Arrighi, Terence K. Hopkins, and Immanuel Wallerstein
32. Women, Race & Class, Angela Y. Davis
33. Babel-17, Samuel R. Delany
34. The Middle Mind, Curtis White
35. What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism, Joanna Russ
36. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
37. The Science Delusion, Curtis White
38. Killing Rage: Ending Racism, bell hooks
39. Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought, Elizabeth V. Spelman
40. for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange
41. When Rain Clouds Gather, Bessie Head
42. Maru, Bessie Head
43. Quicksand, Nella Larsen
44. Betsey Brown, Ntozake Shange
45. Mathematics: (a novel), Jacques Roubaud (Ian Monk, trans.)
46. Feminism Is For Everybody, bell hooks
47. The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Amos Tutuola
48. On Lynching, Ida B. Wells-Barnett
49. Dylan's Visions of Sin, Christopher Ricks
50. Peru, Gordon Lish
51. White Rat, Gayl Jones
52. Celestial Seraglio, Olive Moore
53. Fugue, Olive Moore
54. ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound
55. Malina, Ingeborg Bachmann (Philip Boehm, trans.)
56. The Dead of the House, Hannah Green
57. Our Beautiful Heroine, Jacques Roubaud (David Kornacker, trans.)
58. We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo
59. Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empires, Prison, and Torture, Angela Y. Davis
60. Our Sister Killjoy, Ama Ata Aidoo
61. A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid
62. The Store of a Million Items, Michelle Cliff

Some statistics
Number that are re-reads: 0
Number of books that were borrowed from the library: 30
Number of books that were borrowed from a friend: 3
Number of books read on the Kindle: 1 (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass)
Number of books written by men: 28
Number of different men represented: 25 (actually: 22 distinct men wrote 27 books, and one other book was co-authored by three men)
Number of books written by women: 34
Number of different women represented: 26
Number of books by American authors:
Number of American authors:
Number of books by African-American authors: 16
Number of African-American authors: 13
Number of African-American women: 10 (13 books)
Number of African-American men: 3
Number of books by non-American, English-language authors: 22
Number of non-American, English-language authors: 17
Number of non-American, English-language authors of color:  7 (9 books)
Number of books in translation: 7
Number of authors of books in translation: 5
Number of translated books by woman authors: 1 (Bachmann)
Number of foreign languages represented in translation: 3 (German, French, Norwegian)
Most represented foreign language: French (3: 2 Roubaud, 1 Quignard)
Number of Nobel Prize-winners:1 (Beckett)
Number of books which were acquired via the Big Dalkey Get: 0
Number of other Dalkey books: 2 (both Olive Moore novels read in Dalkey's Collected Writings)

Number of novels: 32
Number of collections of short stories: 5 (Josipovici, Lutz, Jones, Cliff, Russ' The Zanzibar Cat)
Number of books of poetry: 0
Number that are plays or written for stage: 3 (both Becketts, Shange's for colored girls)
Number that could be categorized as science fiction:7
Number of science fiction books written by women: 3

Number that are biographies or letters or memoirs: 5 (Du Bois, Lorde, Shakur, Douglass, also counting Knausgaard's My Struggle here, and as a novel)
Number that are philosophy or about philosophy: 3
Number that are books of criticism or essays: 6
Number that are about politics or economics or history: 11
Number about pop music: 2
Number about science: 2
Number explicitly feminist or about feminism: 8
Number about parenting or education: 0
Number that are anthropology: 0

Number of books from before 1800: 0
Number of books from 1800 to 1899: 3 (Shelley, Douglass, Wells-Barnett)
Number of books from 1900 to 1914: 0
Number of books from 1915 to 1940: 7 (both Richardsons, both Moores, Larsen, Pound, Woolf)
Number of books from 1941 to 1950: 0
Number of books from 1951 to 1960: 7 (Tutuola, Brooks, Bester, both Beckett, both Achebe)
Number of books from 1961 to 1970: 5 (Quin, Delany, Du Bois, one Bessie Head, one Russ)
Number of books from 1971 to 1980: 9 (Head, Bachmann, Simak, Clarke, Green, Marcus, one Shange, Jones, Aidoo)
Number of books from 1981 to 1990: 11 (Lorde, 1 Russ, 1 Davis, 1 Shange, Williams, Lish, Shakur, Spelman, Kincaid, 1 Roubaud)
Number of books from 1991 to 1999: 4 (1 hooks, 1 Russ, Cliff, Sebald)
Number of books from 2000 to 2010: 8
Number of books from 2011 to 2013: 7

Comments & Observations:
Reading was often difficult for me this year, but I nonetheless did read some excellent books.

I started the year, in sadness, reading Pascal Quignard's uncategorizable (and indeed, not reflected anywhere in the above statistical breakdown, aside from books in translation and books written by men) and apropos book, The Roving Shadows. I finally read Ann Quin's Berg, which I'd had for a few years, and rather liked it (I'd many years ago read and loved her novel Three). Heart's Wings is an excellent introduction to old favorite Gabriel Josipovici's short fiction. I was excited to read Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas essays, given its advance billing as anti-war and feminist, but I have to admit being some let down in the event. On the other hand, I very much enjoyed Kate Zambreno's also more or less uncategorizable, and much discussed, book Heroines. I'd hoped to have something of interest to say about it, but was not able to come up with anything. I dipped back nearly 200 years for Mary Shelley's curious novella, Mathilda. A trip to Philadelphia to see an excellent production of Beckett's Endgame, resulted in a reading of that play, as well as All That Falls, the play that immediately follows it in the "Dramatic Works" volume of my fancy Grove Centenary edition of Beckett's works (this reading was also somewhat inspired by a re-read of portions of Hugh Kenner's very helpful A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett). I began the project of reading Dorothy Miller Richardson's generally forgotten Pilgrimage series of novels. And I read two excellent contemporary European novels: Exodus, the final book - presumably - in Lars Iyers' brilliant and funny Spurious trilogy, and Karl Ove Knausgaard's simply astonishing A Time for Everything.

At this point, my reading year had been exclusively white. I don't remember if I was annoyed by this, or if I was having a hard time following the Knausgaard book with anything worthwhile, but I then ended up reading W.E.B. Du Bois' posthumously published Autobiography, an often fascinating book he'd written in his 90s and which I'd first learned of via Aaron Bady's old blog some years back. Around this time the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe died, and I soon found and read cheap paperbacks of his famous Things Fall Apart, and its related follow-up, No Longer At Ease. I thought the former more or less deserved its reputation; the latter seemed less good.

From here I roamed here and there, following a few personal trends, ebbs and flows in my interest and focus, etc. One major focus, again, was specifically to read books written by women, and in fact, for the second year in the last three, I read more books written by women than I did books written by men. I also tried to focus more on African American women writers, in a variety of modes, as well as other writers of color from around the world. This was well worth the effort, as I read a number of writers I'd never previously heard of, as well as plenty I'd been meaning to read. I'd especially single out the poet Geraldine Brooks' lone novel, Maud Martha; Shirley Anne Williams' novel about the aftermath of a slave revolt, Dessa Rose; Audre Lorde's memoir, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name; and Assata Shakur's Assata: An Autobiography. Ntozake Shange was a completely new name to me this year, which given how important she seems to be to a lot of people, is more than a little embarrassing. Her famous for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf didn't really grab me as a reading experience, despite many striking lines; I expect I'd have appreciated the stage production better. I had better luck with her later novel Betsey Brown, which I gather is at least somewhat autobiographical, following as it does the coming-of-age of the title character in the late 1950s St. Louis, as schools were being integrated there for the first time. The novels Maud Martha and Dessa Rose, I'd like to emphasize, are both formally interesting and unconventional, Dessa Rose in particular, which its shifting points of view and timeline.

I'd read (and blogged about!) two Joanna Russ novels early on; later, I continued the science fiction thread, by mixing in some novels cherry-picked from this list of Ethan's top ten SF books (at least his top ten on that moment in time). I had good luck with all of these, but I especially enjoyed Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama (despite some rather glaring and utterly gratuitous sexism) and Clifford D. Simak's Choice of Gods. I bought a copy of Samuel R. Delany's Trouble on Triton (also on Ethan's list) and began reading it, but quickly realized I wasn't in the place for it; I did, however, manage to read Delany's earlier novel, Babel-17, and I liked it quite a bit.

I completed no poetry collection this year, though I did read some Czesław Miłosz poems (thanks BDR!), some Wallace Stevens, again tried some Geoffrey Hill. . . and then of course, there was quite a number of poems included and discussed (well, he sort of discusses them) in Pound's ABC of Reading. Pound, almost despite his best efforts, actually helped.

Brief interlude to include a list of books I read substantial portions of - or at least began in earnest - without yet completing by the year's end:

Prison Nation, Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, editors
The Meaning of Freedom, Angela Y. Davis
Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle, Gore, Theoharis, & Woodard, editors
Decolonizing Anarchism, Maia Ramnath
In Letters of Blood and Fire, George Caffentzis
Feminisms, Warhol and Price Herndl, editors
Direct Action: An Ethnography, David Graeber

Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais (J.M. Cohen translation; have read first 3 of 5 books)
Blue Pastoral, Gilbert Sorrentino (enjoyed what I read, but will likely be re-starting this one)
Escapes, Joy Williams (read about half of this decidedly meh collection of stories before giving up)
The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1941-1956
The Silent Crossing, Pascal Quignard
Praeterita, John Ruskin
Selected Prose, 1909-1965, Ezra Pound

Also in the mix in the middle of the year were explicitly feminist books. More to the point, I became more aware of intersectionality as a concept - one that seemed intuitively accurate to me once it had come to my attention - and so began seeking out texts that seemed to embody that idea (though I've only more recently become fully aware of, for example, the Kimberlé Crenshaw essay called "Mapping the Margins", which introduced the term. CORRECTION: Crenshaw actually introduced the term in her 1989 essay, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics". The other essay is from 1993; it's not clear why I thought it had introduced the term). Angela Davis' classic Women, Race, & Class, first published in 1981, has it right there in the title, in the intersections of gender, race, and class as modes and systems of oppression. Davis' book is fantastic. The only part that gave me pause was her short critique of the Wages for Housework movement. Davis makes some interesting points, but which felt a little dismissive. As far as I can tell, Davis has not returned to this topic, which is too bad; I'd love to know what she'd think of Silvia Federici's more recent modifications of the ideas, as well as her deeper analyses of the politics of care. In this context, I also read Joanna Russ' What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism and Elizabeth V. Spelman's Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought. Looking back, I find it a bit unfortunate that I read these two, albeit excellent, books by white feminists before certain options by black women, though somewhat mitigated by the fact of reading the Davis first, as well as several bell hooks volumes. In the event, both books are brilliant, though not without some flaws. Russ, for her part, limited herself to texts available at the time she began the book in the early 1980s, though her declining health meant she didn't finally publish it until 1998. Given that, it remains puzzling that she didn't mention Davis' book at all, which is especially unfortunate since Russ' stuff on Wages for Housework is excellent, and seems to me to implicitly address Davis' concerns. It would have been nice to see her tackle Davis' critique, and it seems strange that she did not.  In addition, she does not herself write about the racism of some of the white feminists of the 1970s and earlier, but rather quotes extensively from black woman writers exposing and critiquing that racism. This may have been a tactical move - letting black women speak for themselves, as it were - but it seems to me that some explicit lines from Russ herself would have been prudent. Her book also includes a couple of unfortunate-at-best passages reflecting her earlier transphobia (which she apparently recognized as wrong in the years before her too early death). Spelman's book - which is much more philosophical in both focus and pitch - was published in 1988, and while it doesn't have anything rivaling Russ' transphobic remarks, neither does she really address the question of transgender or trans women head on; instead, in a couple of places, she uses a particular trans woman's memoir as useful for illustrating other points. But interestingly, her book makes many arguments which strongly imply a trans-inclusive analysis, were she only able to see it (actually, the same is true to a large extent of Russ' book). Speaking of bell hooks, I also read two more of hers, Killing Rage and Feminism is for Everybody, which both extend the sort of arguments she makes elsewhere, though each has some new things to offer making them worth reading.

Women, Race, & Class and What Are We Fighting For? are both also bibliographical goldmines, which is always very exciting. Davis' book in particular has already led me to finally read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave - not that I didn't know about that classic book, but Davis made it abundantly clear that I needed to read it. But along with memoirs and autobiographies by black women and men, as crucial as those are, I realized I should seek out more essays and histories and critical works by black women and men. I've already read a few of W.E.B. Du Bois' books, and now am firmly committed to reading his enormous study, Black Reconstruction (meanwhile, I've had Eric Foner's book Reconstruction, unread, since college; I hope to read that soon-ish too - but after the Du Bois). Anyway, in this vein, I read - cited by Davis - Ida B. Wells-Barnett's writing on lynching, collected by Patricia Hill Collins as, simply, On Lynching. Following on from this, I've become increasingly interested in prison abolitionism, and have been reading Davis' work on the topic, including the short book of interviews with Eduardo Mendieta called Abolition Democracy - the title a concept borrowed from Du Bois. Of course, her own autobiography, which I read last year, as well as Assata Shakur's structurally similar autobiography, have also helped shape my thinking on this topic.

The last couple of months of the year saw a detour back into some European writers, then a spate of African and Caribbean writers. Olive Moore's Celestial Seraglio and, especially, Fugue, are excellent novels. Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina is indescribable, really. I was by turns entranced, baffled, astonished, distracted . . . then put off when midway through I glanced too long at the afterword, which made me fear I hadn't understood a thing to that point. I read two Jacques Roubaud novels this year: Mathematics:, the third volume in his Great Fire of London sequence (I've only otherwise read the marvelous first volume), which I found fascinating, brilliant, and, hah, at times rather boring - yet I was somehow interested in my boredom, or, rather, I felt compelled to soldier on through it, to experience it, and then it finally lifted before the amazing, and political, final section about the nuclear testing. The other Roubaud was Our Beautiful Heroine, the first of his "Hortense" novels, which I'd been both curious about and wary of, but which in the event I found simply delightful. Of the African and Caribbean writers, I'd especially like to mention as outstanding Our Sister Killjoy, a novel by Ama Ata Aidoo, from Ghana.

Ok, time to bring things to a wrap here. I've not said anything about the two Curtis White books, Middle Mind and the newer The Science Delusion. Both are worth a look, though the latter is the far superior book. I'd like to say more about them, but time is short. Perhaps actual blog posts are in order! Who knows? I'd also like to make a quick mention of Christopher Ricks' Dylan's Visions of Sin. I love Bob Dylan's music, and I loved Christopher Ricks' book about Samuel Beckett, Beckett's Dying Words, yet I'd long resisted this particular book. But this year, since about July, my love of and interest in Dylan has broadened and deepened to the point of obsession, and I came across the book at a used shop while I was standing around listening on headphones to a used copy of Esther Phillips' excellent LP Black-Eyed Blues, leafed through it and was hooked. And I can only say, if you like Bob Dylan's music, you're probably going to want to read the book, but especially if you already like Christopher Ricks as a literary critic. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

And with that, I'll close here. Thanks for sticking with me, and thanks for reading. See you next year.

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