I write against things, I suppose, and the thing that doesn’t interest me is gathering a cabal of people exactly like yourself to read what you write. The thing which I like about my writing—I don’t know if it’s a symptom of its generalness or whatever—but I have old ladies e-mail me, or write to me, more likely, who are age eighty-five and then I have very young people: sixteen, seventeen. I like the idea that the writing has no precise identity. It doesn’t block people, it doesn’t force them to think, ‘Oh, this is me in a very precise way.’
My favorite book this year — at least it’s the one I’ve picked out of the stack beside my bed the most often — is Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton (Blue Rider Press), a memoir of competitive swimming and a meditation on the swimming pool that defies any attempt to sum it up in a single line.
Benjamin Anastas’ Year in Reading.
I began my literary life as a fanboy of Dave Barry, so in some ways it makes sense, I suppose, that around my 25th birthday I picked up The Best of Myles. The book collects the Irish Times columns of the novelist Flann O’Brien, who depicts the absurd minutiae of mid-century life in Dublin. Included amongst its nuclear riffs are dialogues with the Plain People of Ireland, who plainly (and reliably) disapprove; a report on a gang of rogue ventriloquists who terrorize people at operas; and a breathless description of a purplish liquid, ‘the opposite of drink,’ that gives the imbiber a ‘hangunder.’ Ever since the beginning of the holidays, I’ve been sad that last one is fiction.
Our own Thomas Beckwith’s Year in Reading.
For a season, Dom Moraes (1938-2004) was one of the most famous poets in Britain. He was 19 when he won the Hawthornden Prize. He is still the youngest poet to have won the prize, as well as the only non-Englishman. But the early fame may have been his undoing.
Jeet Thayil’s Year in Reading.
My favorite book of 2012 was Chris Ware’s Building Stories…I found myself reconsidering some of my basic assumptions about what constituted bookishness: was a book defined by its composition? By an expectation of narrative? By a currency of pages? By its singular thingness?
Reif Larsen’s Year in Reading.
…Sometimes, very good books make me nervous. Usually I feel all of the things one should: invigorated, my faith in literature (and even life!) restored to such a degree that all of the frustrations of fiction writing feel worth it. But there are also times when a book is too good, when I begin think, what’s the point? No matter how hard I work I’ll never be able to do this.
Nick Dybek’s Year in Reading.
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Richard Perlstein: Written with novelistic verve and more deadpan humor than you might expect from a book about Richard Nixon, Perlstein’s account of the 37th president’s political rise casts modern American politics in an illuminating, and often frightening, context. With a cameo by a young Karl Rove as a puckish operative who lures hippies to opponents’ rallies with promises of free food and girls.
Jennifer duBois’ Year in Reading.
Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, which I first read in college — doesn’t everyone? — and reread this year piecemeal, in five-minute snatches between bouts of chasing my children, did more concrete good for my way of reading than many other books. I realized, reading it again, how it had changed me; I saw at age 43 what it had done to me at age 19.
Lydia Millet’s Year in Reading.
There is something terrifying about meeting writers and liking them — drinking with them, realizing you come from the same part of the world, realizing you are interested in similar things, and that you probably like the same books — and then having to go home, get their book, read it, and hope to fuck you enjoy it.
Patrick Somerville’s Year in Reading.
This past summer I fell into the dream of reading as on a train; I was disembodied and purely receptive to Sepharad by Antonio Munoz Molina. His is a narrative ‘that pretend(s) to be stories told during a journey.’
Christine Schutt’s Year in Reading.
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