2017 Year in Review — The Books I Read
31. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
You know in the morning at work when your coworker starts to tell you about the crazy dream they had last night and, inside your head, you just go to some other place until they say ‘and then I woke up.’ That’s the way I felt about Invisible Cities.
30. Repair by CK Williams & The Singing by CK Williams
The first book of poetry I read by CK Williams, I really liked. I tried a few more though and could barely get through them. The ideas just didn’t penetrate for me.
29. A Guide for the Perplexed by EF Shumacher
I bought this book in an alley in Budapest but it’s heavier on trying to explain itself than it is on actual philosophy.
28. The Troop by Nick Cutter
If you’re into body horror you’d probably like this book. But I don’t understand why anyone is into body horror.
27. The Door by Magda Szabo
A good read until it just started to be the same chapter over and over.
26. Plain Water by Anne Carson
Sometimes Anne Carson is opaque in the most magical of ways. You can’t quite enter into her head and you’re swimming around in her words getting pummeled by thoughts. Other times it’s a little too obscure and your mind wanders off somewhere else, uninspired.
25. Wolf Mountain Presents: Erin Poettcker
My friend Cail Judy runs this poetry collective out of Vancouver and I found this chap book collecting another friend, Erin Poettcker, in the library and took it home. I had a lot to resonate with in this book by a friend.
24. Real Sofistikashun by Tony Hoagland
I really don’t like this title, but Tony Hoagland is one of my favourite poets and in this little anthology he talks about the craft, using a ton of amazing practical examples from other poets.
23. I’m thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
I can be pretty angsty but this story, told quickly and well, was a little too angsty for me.
22. I think You’re Totally Wrong by David Shields & Caleb Powell
David Shields is one of my favourite writers but he’s also, personally, really annoying. He inserts himself into all his work and you get to know him ‘warts and all.’ He’s devoted his life to his art (though he does have a family). He spends a weekend with a friend who’s chosen family over art and the two argue about which one of them made the right decision. It’s written in an interesting dialogue style and there are a ton of cool ideas but both of the guys are prototypical middle-aged, privileged white dudes so… ya, they get irritating.
21. God’ll Cut you Down by John Safran
A true crime story by an Australian investigative-satirist. Safran investigates the murder of a possible white supremacist and ends up trapped by his reporting in the backroads of a poor southern town. Safran is like Borat in the way he wriggles his way into closed-door situations.
20. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
Lerner is his own central character. He lies and uses drugs as he attempts to fulfill his grant fellowship in Madrid. He’s annoying but quasi-likeable. Lots of good meditations on creativity.
19. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Honestly, it was too depressing for me to get through. Powerful but, geez, just so dirty (not perverted, like squalor).
18. Invisible Dead by Sam Wiebe
Vancouver’s own Sam Wiebe actually came to our book club when we discussed his novel. It’s legit noir set in Vancouver. Though bar names are changed whenever he depicts them in a negative light, if you know the city well enough you can actually deduce the settings. That speaks favourably of his agile descriptions. A well-written detective story featuring a PI who is millennial-in-age but not tradition.
17. Nox by Anne Carson
A really interesting, quasi-obituary for Carson’s brother, who disappeared from the family for years, was presumed dead, reestablished contact, then actually died. She ties in her process of translating greek and latin epics to English and you feel like you’re reading through someone’s diary, so vulnerable that the only thing keeping the book from bleeding is the unencounterable, uncrossable bridge of language; so personal that it informs the rest of Carson’s canon and changes how she’s read.
16. 1984 by George Orwell
I mean, you know.
15. Zeroville by Steve Erickson
Literature for film nerds, Erickson’s most exciting trick is getting his character to explain and describe film classics of various obscurity without actually naming the title. So you, the reader, get to play trivia and try and figure out what movie he’s talking about as you read this story of a strange, possibly autistic, outsider who arrives in Hollywood during the era of the Manson murders and becomes embroiled in the biz as a screenwriter. A cool, stylish, different read.
14. A Grief Observed by CS Lewis
After CS Lewis lost his wife, he wrote this book to try and tackle his grief.
13. With Ignorance by CK Williams
This CK Williams collection of poetry resonated with me. It’s much more personal and raw than the other books I read by Williams.
12. Black Dog Red Dog by Stephen Dobyns
A lot of the books I read come from James Franco’s booklists. This poetry book is from it too. Often, James Franco makes under-promoted indie movies of these books. He made one of Black Dog Red Dog in 2015. It’s got Olivia Wilde and Chloe Sevigny in it. James Franco is in it too. I can’t find a trailer online and I feel like no one has ever heard of this movie. It’s crazy to me that that can happen, a book you really like has a, probably, interesting film made of it and you don’t even know it happens. Anyway, I like this poetry book.
11. 20 poems that could save America by Tony Hoagland
A sort of instructional book on how to ready poetry, written by my favourite poet. It’s got some amazing poems broken down in really interesting ways.
10. Curry by Naben Ruthnum
A long-form essay about the food, reading, and racial implications of the Indian diaspora narrative, as told through the interpretation of one of the most exoticized foods on earth, curry. It’s also a clever memoir of Naben’s experience of being a brown man in Canada.
9. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I listened to the first half on audio book (with an incredible cast) but soon found it too difficult to keep up with all the voices. I liked reading the second half much more. It’s mostly dialogue, set in a cemetery where Abraham Lincoln has just laid his dead son. A moving journey through purgatory.
8. A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
It was a little difficult getting into the story at first, but once the book got through its initial set-ups it began to move briskly and poignantly. Every time I read Lorrie Moore I want to look at life a little more like she does: seeking amusement at every anxiety.
7. Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
I pretty much fell in love with Lorrie Moore this year. She moves deftly through a lot of the themes that have become prominent in my life and approaches them with philosophies that echo cavernously through my body.
6. 10:04 by Ben Lerner
Contemporary Literature with tons of allusions to Back to the Future, an oncoming ‘storm of the century,’ and shifting chronological timeline. Sounds like it was written for me.
5. Application for Release From the Dream by Tony Hoagland
Tony Hoagland’s poetry is the poetry I wish I could write. He seems to be fixated on the same themes that I am: language, the cognitive dissonance of relationships, and the overwhelming beauty of tiny experiences being worth all the anxiety-inducing challenges that life throws your way.
4. Float by Anne Carson
There’s one essay in Float about Joan of Arc and the concept of the untranslatable word, the words of God itself, laid on human ears, forever unknowable that has shot this strange collection of 22 chapbooks straight to nearly the top of this list. If you can get your hands on that essay, you should read it. Also, this Guardian interview with Anne Carson might actually be my favourite thing I read this year: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/30/anne-carson-do-not-believe-art-therapy-interview-float
3. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
Every Mary Oliver poem is worth reading. I savour each one. I’ve never felt that about a poet before.
2. The White Album by Joan Didion
Joan Didion has this self-possessed way of putting together an essay that makes you feel like Quiksilver in that amazing scene from X-Men Days of Future-Past. You get to take your time and examine all these little sentences she’s put together to capture a moment stuck in time.
- Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
This collection of short stories is a masterpiece. It can break your heart, make it new again, make you cry, make you laugh, and change your perspective as you walk out the door and into the world.