Category Archives: reading

Favorite Books of 2015

My year in reading was one of empathy. The voices and narrators behind these books enlarged my world in the way only books can do: permanently and with the bighearted force of being alive in in the world today. (NB: Most of these are 2015 releases, with a couple from previous years.)

favorite-books-2015

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Smarter people than I have dozens of pieces about this one. (Go read them.) To the awards, hosannas, and bestseller lists I would only add: every American teenager should read this.

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
Monique Wittig blew my mind in college; Nelson put it back together again. If only we could all be as trenchant, honest, and intelligent about love and family. Have you ever underlined every sentence in a book?

Treasure Island!!!, Sara Levine
There are plenty of comic novels about self-destructive monsters, but none of them have used classic literature as a cudgel against the millennials’ post-college doldrums. Someone in Hollywood should hand Levine a big check to do whatever she wants.

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, Will Chancellor
An adventure novel with a dead-on parody of the art world. Ulysses, water polo, Baudrillard, and Iceland collide in Chancellor’s wonderful story of an errant father and son shedding former lives for strange new ones.

Counternarratives, John Keene
A perfect fictional pairing with Coates’s book. Keene is flat-out brilliant, reinventing short fiction with the flair and maturity of the late David Foster Wallace.

The Following Story, Cees Nooteboom
Kundera’s always left me cold, but I warmed to his spiritual Dutch cousin. This novella is reminiscent of Charlie Kaufman’s best work, where giddy experimentation gives way to serious inquiry into death and memory. Plus it’s funny.

Making Nice, Matt Sumell
Everyone who reads Jesus’ Son wants to write like Denis Johnson, and no one can. Except for Sumell.

Monastery, Eduardo Halfon
A globe-trotting Guatemalan Jew picks at the seams of modern identity. Our Latin American Geoff Dyer.

The Miraculous, Raphael Rubinstein
I can’t think of one person who wouldn’t enjoy this book. The only problem with these campfire tales about contemporary art is they don’t continue for a thousand pages.

B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal, J. C. Hallman
This comes practically swaddled in red flags: A book-length love letter to Nicholson Baker? Why? Really? Yes. And it’s great fun. Hallman charges ahead as the world tries to ruin his literary project, his relationships, and his life.

The Maintenance of Headway, Magnus Mills
The bus driver novel you didn’t know you needed. With a light touch Mills shows us the beauty and comedy of London’s transit system, while reminding us bureaucracy is, at the end of the day, socially acceptable derangement.

The “I’m Getting to It” Pile
I’m reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. It’s amazing, but I doubt I’ll finish it before 2016.

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See You at the Texas Book Festival

Every year friends return from Austin gushing about the great bbq and great programming at the Texas Book Festival. (I imagine every panel comes with ribs and wet-naps.)

You can imagine my excitement, then, about going to TBF this weekend. If you’re around, let’s clink Shiners. Here’s my agenda:

Saturday, 11:15am-12:15pm: Born on Tumblr panel with Maris Kreizman, Mary Laura Philpott, & Rachel Fershleiser (Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004)
I’ll be talking about Conversations Sparks‘ journey from blog to bookstore and high-fiving Maris on the publication of Slaughterhouse 90210.

Saturday, 8:30-9:30pm: Nerd Jeopardy with Sloane Crosley, Viet Thanh Nguyen, & Austin Grossman (North Door, 502 Brushy St.)
Literary trivia returns to LitCrawl Austin with a truly stellar lineup of authors. There will be heckling, audience prizes, and a considerable amount of beer drinking. Full details in the Facebook event.

Sunday, 12:00pm-1:00pm: Let’s Do the Genre Warp Again with Carola Dibbell & Colin Winnette (Capitol Extension Room E1.026)
I’m moderating two excellent authors from Two Dollar Radio on how they use, abuse, and redefine genre with their novels. Carola Dibbell is the author of The Only Ones, and Colin Winnette is the author of Haints Stay.

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My Favorite Longform Stories of 2014

best longform of 2014

Herewith a few of the best longform stories and journalism I read in 2014.

The Scourge of the Peloton: On Tim Krabbé’s The Rider” by Matt Seidel, The Millions
Krabbé’s slim novel of a French bicycle race is one of my favorite books, and Seidel’s exegesis makes for a handy companion.

Henry James and the Great Y.A. Debate” by Christopher Beha, The New Yorker’s Page-Turner
Beha expertly dissects the hectoring around the (incredibly stupid) debate about whether adults should read young adult books. He also articulates why I won’t be reading The Goldfinch anytime soon.

No Time to Think” by Kate Murphy, The New York Times
Most Times culture pieces are pretty terrible (with the exception of those by Teddy Wayne). Murphy’s essay stands out for hitting a nerve familiar to most New Yorkers and Type-A personalities: our tendency to make ourselves busy–as opposed to productive–distracts us from complex thought, self-examination, and establishing empathy with others.

The Prince Who Blew Through Billions” by Mark Seal, Vanity Fair
Every now and then VF acknowledges the insanity of life at the very top. This profile of the Prince of Brunei’s steroidal profligacy reads like two Goldman Sachs execs trading exaggerated fish stories. For example: the Prince paid Michael Jackson $17 million dollars to play his birthday party in a stadium custom-built for the concert. Continue reading

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A Few Favorites from 2014

karl_ove_knausgaardI’m a sucker for “Best of” lists, and count The Millions‘ Year in Reading among my favorite annual features. (I wish I could say the same for Pitchfork, whose writing has fallen off a cliff this year.)

I shared some of my favorite books and records with BOMB and B&N Review. Here’s what I wrote.

My favorite reading experience in 2014 was Roth Unbound by Claudia Roth Pierpont. This survey of Philip Roth was my sole companion during a week in upstate New York, and the physical idyll was quickly superseded by Pierpont’s literary one. Ever finish a book and wish it were an entire series?

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The books and albums I enjoyed most in 2014 reflect my growing interest in the impostor syndrome of adulthood. You know the feeling: The wind of youth at your back has softened to an anxious nip. But not to worry! You’ve somehow amassed an impressive collection of cardigans to warm up with.

Speaking of the cold (and awkwardly extended metaphors), Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle Vol. 1 upheld the communion between writer and reader like few novels can, which I suppose makes it grade-A literature.

Cyrille Martinez’s The Sleepworker and Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker are both great New York books, but different in every way. Sleepworker is a satirical novella-in-translation about the art world, and a left-field love letter to Andy Warhol and John Giorno. Its first page is also flat-out brilliant. The Power Broker, currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, doesn’t need much introduction. I’ll add that after reading it in March I now see Robert Moses everywhere like some jowly bureaucratic ghost.

As for music, four albums stand out. Joyce Manor’s Never Hungover Again, a paean to late adolescence, doubles down on nostalgia for friendships that are barely over. On the other side of the coin, Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love investigates whether nostalgia is even possible. (Welcome to your twenties.) Alvvays’ debut record is pure sunny shoegaze about marriage and drinking too much. And finally Spoon, the cool older brothers of indie rock, released They Want My Soul, embracing weirdness over dolefulness and romance over despair. Not a bad way to go.

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And why not, here’s a Spotify playlist of those records and a few other favorites:

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Exploring the New Yorker’s Archives

The New Yorker‘s archives are open to all for the next couple months. After that, the metered paywall goes up. So for those of you who haven’t subscribed, here are a few recommended gems:

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Reviewing Craig Davidson’s “Cataract City”

Cataract City

 

The good folks at the B&N Review published my writeup of Craig Davidson’s new novel Cataract City.

Craig Davidson might be Canadian, but his novel has the defiantly beating heart of a Bruce Springsteen song. Cataract City, the local nickname for Niagara Falls, Ontario, is a dying industry town with a Nabisco factory (“the Bisk”), pervasive alcoholism, and a foreboding proximity to the only national landmark with a reputation for stunt suicides. Over the course of the novel, two lifelong friends, Owen Stuckey and Duncan Diggs, will taste a little glory and a lot more defeat. They’ll warm bar stools at their regular dive. They’ll even fight over the same woman. You might as well accompany it with a spin of Born to Run.

Read on…

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Favorite Longreads of 2013

Here are the most memorable longform articles I read this year. Enjoy!

Children of the Drone” by Andrew Blum, Vanity Fair
James Bridle and his cohorts are creating era-defining art on what it means to live in the NSA’s 2013.

Trial by Twitter” by Ariel Levy, The New Yorker
There have been thousands of posts and articles on the Steubenville rape case. This is the definitive account by a master journalist.

The Cultural Genetics of César Aira” by Alex Estes, Trop
This is longform literary criticism at its best. Estes dives deep into Aira’s life, work, and process, providing some much-needed context for the Argentinean novelist.  

Coronado High” by Joshuah Bearman, The Atavist
Sun, surf, and a drug-smuggling kingpin/high school teacher. What more do you need? My favorite tidbit from this cinematic tale: the feds initially dismissed the scope of the Coronado Company’s $100M operation because there were no laws on the books to even prosecute such a far-reaching network. The smugglers had that much imagination and ambition. Continue reading

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