What I Read in 2019

The following is a list of all the books I read in calendar year 2019. Despite it being an extremely busy year, I still managed to squeeze in reading time, mostly by avoiding distractions like sleep. I only listed the books I completed.

In this list are 26 fiction titles, 19 poetry collections, and 5 books of nonfiction. On a five point scale, almost all of these were in the 3 to 5 range. I only scored two books lower than 3. I’m not including scores here because I included them in GoodReads and, less consistently, LibraryThing.

What this list doesn’t show is all of the short fiction and individual poems I read in mailing lists, magazines, websites, literary journals and the like. Those together would probably equal around a thousand pages, or say four additional books.

I can say that it was the poetry books that got me to 50 titles for the year. Not that poetry is trite or easier to read than prose; it is simply that poetry books (the works of Evan S. Connell notwithstanding) are in the main shorter than prose works.

Though each of these books was in some way remarkable, I want to specifically call out five of them for sticking with me well after reading:

  • Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin (fiction)
  • Here: Poems for the Planet, edited by Elizabeth Coleman (poetry)
  • Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang (nonfiction)
  • The Language of Saxophones by Kamau Daaood (poetry)
  • Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski (memoir)

For 2020 I will track my reading a little differently: I will keep two lists, one for books and the other for short prose. As I ramp up my writing practice I will be reading A LOT of short stories as study for my own work. Keeping an account of this reading will help me figure out my own skills and shortcomings in the art.

Date Author Title
2019.01.17 Palmer, Ada Too Like the Lightning
2019.01.25 Steinmetz, Ferret Fix
2019.02.12 Greylock, TL The Blood-Tainted Winter
2019.02.14 Tucker, Phil Death March
2019.02.18 Clark, P. Djeli The Black God’s Drums
2019.02.25 Hernandez, Catherine Scarborough
2019.02.27 Link, Kelly Origin Stories
2019.03.13 Adams, John Joseph and LaValle, Victor (eds.) A People’s Future of the United States
2019.03.27 Oliver, Mary Why I Wake Early
2019.03.29 Huey, Amorak Ha Ha Ha Thump
2019.03.31 Dickinson, Seth The Monster Baru Cormorant
2019.04.02 Ferlinghetti, Lawrence A Coney Island of the Mind (50th anniversary edition)
2019.04.03 Ridl, Jack Saint Peter and the Goldfinch
2019.04.04 sax, sam madness
2019.04.11 Kocher, Ruth Ellen When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering
2019.04.13 Montes, Lara Mimosa The Somnambulist
2019.04.21 Cooper, Wyn Postcards from the Interior
2019.04.24 Evans, CJ A Penance
2019.04.25 Vodolazkin, Eugene Laurus
2019.04.30 Ostups, Artis Gestures
2019.05.10 Palmer, D. Thourson Ours is the Storm
2019.05.20 Comola, Jessica everything we met changed form & followed the rest
2019.05.26 Townsend, Tracy The Nine
2019.06.13 Coleman, Elizabeth J. (ed.) Here: Poems for the Planet
2019.06.20 Brace, Kristin Each Darkness Inside
2019.06.30 Krieger, Scott Illyrian Fugue
2019.07.01 Liu, Ken The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary
2019.07.04 Tomlinson, Patrick The Ark
2019.07.07 Tomlinson, Patrick Trident’s Forge
2019.07.12 Roanhorse, Rebecca Storm of Locusts
2019.07.17 Kowal, Mary Robinette Scenting the Dark and Other Stories
2019.07.27 Turgenev, Ivan First Love and Other Stories
2019.08.06 Kuznia, Yanni (ed.) A Fantasy Medley 2
2019.08.23 Chateaureynaud, Georges-Olivier A Life on Paper
2019.08.28 Daaood, Kamau The Language of Saxophones
2019.09.01 Serna, Rudolfo A. Snow Over Utopia
2019.09.06 Ivanova, Adelaide The Hammer
2019.09.19 Jin, Yong A Hero Born
2019.09.19 Breedlove, Lynn 45 Thought Crimes
2019.09.23 George, Jenny The Dream of Reason
2019.09.28 Kooser, Ted Local Wonders
2019.09.30 Rhein, Christine Wild Flight
2019.10.18 Harrison, Jim True North (re-read)
2019.10.29 Pimentel Chacon, Sasha Insides She Swallowed
2019.11.16 Straczynski, J. Michael Becoming Superman
2019.11.17 Buckell, Tobias It’s All Just a Draft
2019.12.02 Ashton, Dyrk Paternus: Wrath of Gods
2019.12.05 James, Marlon Black Leopard, Red Wolf
2019.12.17 Wang, Jackie Carceral Capitalism
2019.12.19 Fisher, Mark Capitalist Realism

The Shortest Day of 2019

As we roll into the holidays I have come down with one of the many and varied species of Crud which roll through Grand Rapids on an almost weekly basis. This makes me sad as this, the shortest day of the year, is also one of the most beautiful and sunniest we have had in months, with temperatures in the mid-40s (F) and local squirrels suddenly regretting having grown such thick pelts for the winter.

We had a surprising stack of books arrive here at the Library this week. I suspect it was various publishers rushing to complete their 2019 tasks before the end of the year. As a former publisher (about which more below) I can understand that.

At top left is A Creative Sojourn, a spur-of-the-moment Kickstarter backing which looks like it has a lot of content near and dear to my own heart, it being a journal of sorts kept by a group of creatives as they toured China and Tibet. The nest two are the latest from my subscription to Deep Vellum, Life Went On Anyway by Oleg Sentsov and Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River by Jung Young Moon.

At bottom left is issue 7 of Salvage, which should keep my head in the appropriate place for the rest of the holidays. Next to it is Michael Burstein’s collection I Remember the Future from Apex Books. On the bottom right is the latest from my subscription to And Other Stories, Luke Brown’s Theft.

In reading news I finished Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism and Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and, mind blown, moved immediately on to Gore Capitalism by Sayak Valencia. I have to say, this type of reading has put my head in an interesting and uncomfortable place, which I think can best be summed up by a tweet I posted yesterday:

Any sufficiently eldritch abomination is indistinguishable from capitalism. Corollary: Any abomination which is distinguishable from capitalism is insufficiently eldritch.

So, yeah, when I’m done with the leftist books I might need some time to reintegrate into the ever (and increasingly) wingnutty world of West Michigan.

Anyway.

A few days ago I removed from the Caffeinated Press offices the remaining copies of the twelve issues of The 3288 Review. And with that, my involvement with Caffeinated Press has ended. It was a good run, but now it’s over, and at present my strongest associated emotion is relief. I suspect that as time goes on my feelings will drift over to nostalgia tinged with regret as, for all its frustrations and long nights, it really was a lot of fun and quite rewarding in all ways except the financial.

Maybe I’ll do it again some day.

Entering the Home Stretch of 2019

Wow. That year went quickly and also dragged like a drunk sloth. And we still have three weeks to go.

Last week was fairly quiet for the acquisitions department here at the library of Winkelman Abbey. Most of my subscriptions have wound down and I am not out and about purchasing new books as frequently as I have in past years. I don’t consider that a particular problem as I have enough unread books here that, were I to quit all other obligations and devote my life to reading, I would still have difficulty making it through the pile before 2030. For every 36-page poetry collection I have a matching 800+ page genre novel, and more of each are published every day.

In the middle of the above stack is the latest issue of The Paris Review. On the left is Soft Science, a poetry collection by Franny Choi which I purchased on impulse when I visited Books & Mortar to pick up my special order of the book on the right, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher.

With the Fisher book in hand I now have a good stack of holiday reading, which I consider appropriate for some good holiday reading here at the end of 2019.

All of these books have arrived at the Abbey within the last year.

With NaNoWriMo over and Caffeinated Press winding down, as well as various other obligations on hiatus for the month, I have had a lot of time to read, which has been wonderful! I completed Dyrk Ashton‘s excellent Paternus: Wrath of Gods last weekend, and shortly after made it to the end of the magnificent Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Both books have sequels in the works, and they cannot arrive soon enough!

Currently I am about a third of the way through Jackie Wang‘s Carceral Capitalism. For this (and the other books in the holiday reading photo) I am going back to my roots as a student and treating the reading as a learning assignment. I am taking notes and cross-referencing, underlining long stretches of text with a blue ball-point pen. The experience has been enlightening, if such a word applies to a book as astonishing, infuriating and depressing as this one.

In my spare moments I have been organizing all of my completed, mostly-written, and partially-written poems and short stories, and sorting them into stacks based on whether or not I think they are ready to send out into the wild. Based on the advice Tobias Buckell offered in It’s All Just a Draft I have put together several lists of potential targets at which to fire off my work – fiction, nonfiction poetry, genre and themed deadlines and anthologies. Gotta be somebody, somewhere who wants to publish the work of a burned out, disaffected fifty-something dude.

With 2019, and therefore the decade, winding down, many think-pieces are surfacing on the internet, looking back on the events of 2009-2019 and how now compares to then. I have not decided if I will do something like that. If so it will certainly happen in the last day or so of the year. Wouldn’t want to miss a last-minute event.

 

Archives Are In the Attic

Yesterday whilst out shopping with my girlfriend I picked up some cardboard bank boxes, and filled them with books which, until that point, had been on my bookshelves.

Two things prompted this decision. First, as I no longer live alone, space in our living quarters is at somewhat of a premium and, well, I have a lot of books. Second, the two books which arrived last week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey are HUGE.

On the left is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Labyrinth of the Spirits, the last of the four volumes of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It is 880 pages long, several inches thick, and quite heavy. On the right is the latest delivery from And Other Stories, Endland by Tim Etchells. It is also quite hefty. At almost 400 pages it is probably the longest book I have received from this publisher.

So books require space. So do relationships. Therefore one corner of my attic is now the archive, and the first 60 books from my collection to be stored are now in boxes. Since I have significantly slowed my rate of acquisition (again, relationship) I don’t expect to need to shuffle books around more than once every six months or so.

I don’t have a firm criteria for which get archived, other than that I don’t anticipate wanting to read them, or needing them for reference, or otherwise finding them all that interesting at the moment. That could change in years to come, so I am trying to come up with a tracking system of some kind so I can, if need be in the years to come, find specific archived books with a minimum of hassle.

In reading news, I finished re-reading Jim Harrison’s True North, and it was every bit as good as I remember from the first read ten years ago. I am in the middle of Insides She Swallowed, a poetry collection by Sasha Pimentel Chacon which I picked up at Arkipelago Books in San Francisco in June 2018. I haven’t read enough to form a solid opinion, but the poetry therein is beautiful.

As the year winds down my already limited reading time becomes even more scarce and suddenly fifteen uninterrupted minutes is a precious commodity. NaNoWriMo starts in eleven days and the volunteer work for ConFusion 2020 is slowly ramping up. All of this is fun and wonderful but O, the time disappears so quickly.

The Emperor’s New Books

What, you can’t see them? There a stack right there, just above these words!

Another slow week for acquisitions here at the Library. No new reading material, which allowed me to catch up on some work, reading, and quality time with my honey (the last of which is NONNA YA BIZNIZ!)

Yesterday afternoon I finished Ted Kooser‘s Local Wonders, and it was, as Jim Harrison wrote in his cover blurb, magnificent. And I have just finished Christine Rhein‘s beautiful and sorrowful poetry collection Wild Flight. The two books together have further rekindled in me the writing itch, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, as well as an impending significant uptick in my available writing time, I have high hopes for the rest of the calendar year.

I have just started reading Marlon James‘ novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I am one chapter in and already hooked. As this book is something over 600 pages long I expect I will be finished around the end of the year, with shorter works interspersed as time and attention span allow.

The Last Day of Summer, 2019

The cover art seems apt for the eve of the darkening of days toward the winter solstice. This is the trade edition of I Am the Abyss, the Kickstarter-exclusive edition of which arrived here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey a few weeks back. Dark Regions Press has turned out a truly excellent product with this book which, given the difficulties they had with various printing and distribution resources, is quite an accomplishment.

In reading news, I finished A Hero Born and 45 Thought Crimes a couple of days ago. Both were excellent reads for entirely different reasons. A Hero Born was loads of fun, full of exciting battles, intrigue, compelling characters, and a surprisingly complex story line for an adventure novel. 45 Thought Crimes was energetic and angry, pointing out at the multiform cruelties of the 21st century here in the USA – economic, social, racial, gender-based, sexuality-based, and class-based. Sadism is, more and more, the national hobby.

Currently I am reading Ted Kooser‘s memoir-ish Local Wonders, as I need to let my brain cool off a little. I love Kooser’s writing – close to the earth, humble, insightful, and seasoned with a sly and wry humor which comes from a lifetime spent paying attention to the small details of the world.

In poetry I just started Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason, though I have not yet read enough to form an opinion one way or another.

Only forty days remain until the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month. I was not sure if I would participate this year, but recent events have freed up some time and brain space, and I will give it a shot, though I do not yet know what I will write, nor whether I have a chance of reaching 50,000 words in thirty days. Time will tell.

Late-Summer Doldrums

The first day of September 2019 dawned gloomy and wet, and the city seemed hung over after a night of desperate carousing at the end of the beginning of the Labour Day weekend.

Our hero, John Winkelman, looked over the stack of books which had accumulated during the last hectic week of August. The stack was short, consisting of a single volume — This Tilting World by Colette Fellous, published by Two Lines Press.

Oh, well, thought John, it’s not like I don’t already have a thousand unread books in my library.

“False!” shouted the Imp of Unpurchased Volumes from deep in Winkelman’s limbic system. “You have a mere thousand unread books in your collection. No serious antilibrary is so sparse that a single person could possibly read its contents in a single lifetime.”

Thus Winkelman was both shamed and enlightened.

I wish I could say that a slow accumulation of books makes for more reading time, but that just ain’t so. The frantic pace of the past couple of weeks has slowed my reading to a crawl. I did finish Kamau Daáood’s The Language of Saxophones, which was extraordinary, and immediately started The Hammer by Adelaide Ivánova, which I picked up at City Lights Bookstore at the same time I purchased the Daáood collection. So far it is very good; angry and pointed and occasionally surprisingly subtle.

I am almost finished with Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna, which has some good bits but is overall leaving me somewhat less than impressed. The writing is quite uneven and in places repetitive. The manuscript could have used another couple of rounds of editing. That said, the story — an odd mix of high-tech post-apocalyptic and fantasy — is interesting, and I would like to see a revised edition of the book at some point in the future.

 

 

Entering the Home Stretch of Summer

Yes, Summer doesn’t technically end until September 20, but this is the last week of August, so it’s the last week of Summer.

Not a lot happened this week, library-wise. I received the newest issues of Jacobin and Poetry (two great tastes which taste great together), but no new books.

In reading news, I finished A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, whose stories are wonderful and weird and strangely satisfying. Châteaureynaud has an interesting writing voice which feels like it came out of the late 1900s, even in his stories set in contemporary times. I am not entirely sure how much of this is Châteaureynaud’s own aesthetic and how much of it is a quirk of the translation process. I expect it would read much the same in French. Recommended for anyone looking for an unusual collection of short stories which skirt the edge of genre; like, say, Ivan Turgenev writing episodes of The Twilight Zone.

I am about half an hour from the end of Daâood’s The Language of Saxophones, and will likely finish it tonight. And I just started Snow over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Sirna, which arrived here a couple of weeks ago from Apex Publications. Only a few pages in, but I like it so far.

Namaste, yo.

Barry Hughart

On August 1, Barry Hughart, author of Bridge of BirdsThe Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen passed away. He was 85 years old.

I regret to say that I did not discover Hughart or his work until about ten years ago, when Subterranean Press announced that they were publishing a hardcover omnibus of the three novels in Hughart’s Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox series. There had been a thread on a website somewhere which had something to do with under-appreciated works which readers wished other readers could have a chance to read, and Bridge of Birds popped up enough that publishers began to take notice. Somehow I think I first became aware of all of this from a post on John Scalzi’s blog, which is a great place to be inspired to spend a lot of money on books.

I would like to say I read the entire collection in one sitting, but at over 600 pages, that was just not reasonable. I did, however, read it to the exclusion of all other reading material as well as a significant amount of sleep. Several times. All three novels are wonderful — full of action, adventure, wonder, humor both sharp and gentle, and above all a deep sense of empathy and compassion.

Subterranean’s was not the first omnibus version of Hughart’s novels. The books had been collected and published previously by The Stars Our Destination, a Chicago indie bookstore which closed back in 2003. This collection was their only publication.

(There’s something both melancholy and inspiring about this story, in the way the books came and went quickly, reappeared in an omnibus, disappeared again, then came back yet again, skipping like a stone over the surface of public awareness.)

Other than a rudimentary website, there isn’t much information about Hughart available on the internet, due likely to his relative obscurity and the fact that his writing career ended before the web really took off.

In the introduction to the Subterranean Press omnibus, Hughart described how he finally found the heart of Bridge of Birds:

… the first draft of Bridge of Birds didn’t really work and I couldn’t see what was wrong, so I dumped it into a drawer for a few years. Then one day I read Lin Yutang‘s The Importance of Understanding and found the prayer to a little girl that I mention in a footnote in the final version. It made me realize that while I’d invented good things like monsters and marvels and mayhem the book hadn’t really been about anything. I opened the drawer. ‘Okay!’ I said to myself. ‘This book is going to be about love.’ And so it is, and so are ones that followed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hughart.

Vita Brevis, Ars Longa

I can only guess that the current lull in books appearing on my doorstep is due to the end-of-summer doldrums currently afflicting (and affecting) the entire Midwest. The air has a noticeable weight to it which makes simple tasks like breathing and moving difficult. The only book to so far wing its way to my house is the one pictured, Snow over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Sirna, published by Apex Book Company. When Apex cancelled their superb magazine I tweaked the amount I contribute to their Patreon, and now I have a de facto subscription to the Apex Book Company catalog. Win!

No update last week as I was too busy with the ten thousand tasks which encumber the life of a homeowner and diligent boyfriend in these perilous times. I did manage to write a few poems, two free verse and two villanelles, which were both fun and useful for providing constraints which freed up the creative process.

In reading news I am working my way through two books – A Life On Paper, a collection of the stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, published by the always-excellent Small Beer Press; and The Language of Saxophones, a collection of the poetry of Kamau Daáood, which I picked up from City Lights Books during last month’s vacation to San Francisco. Both are brilliant, but my reading time has been been nearly non-existent this month so I probably won’t finish either until Labor Day weekend.