Monday, December 24, 2012

year's end

Yes, as I always say, I hate year-end "best of" lists, whether of books or records or movies or whatever. Especially of books. On the one hand, there's the implicit "check out how much I read factor." Now I read a lot, but I'm not particularly proud of it. Indeed, I feel there's something slightly pathological about how much I read. I get something close to a panic attack when I realize I'm going to be somewhere where I might have a couple of hours on my hands, and I don't have something to read.

And then there's the whole "cool kid" quotient. Astonishingly enough, I was not one of the cool kids back in high school, and things really haven't improved. So no, I probably haven't gotten around to reading the latest super-snazzy book of poetry or theory or whatever. But I feel bad about not having done so every time I see that title pop up on the year-end "best of" lists.

Any way, here's some highlights from this year's reading, sorted roughly by genre. Stuff that's stuck in my mind enough to note or recommend:

Odi Barbare, by Geoffrey Hill, is a bit of a return to form after the disappointments of Oracles/Oraclau and Clavics; he's still writing too much in the home stretch, if you ask me.
•With Aerodrome Orion & Starry Messenger, Susan Gevirtz continues to demonstrate that she's one of the poets you really ought to read, even if you haven't.
Terra Lucida, by Joseph Donahue and Gnostic Frequencies, by Patrick Pritchett, are two very different explorations in the fascinating province of "new gnosticism."
•John Peck's I Came, I Saw: Eight Poems is typical Peck – and by "typical" I mean dense, musical, and impactedly beautiful.
•I'd read Jill Magi's earlier books, but with SLOT she seems to really be coming into her own as an important contemporary voice; solid, moving.
•Jena Osman's Public Figures continues her exploration of "documentary" poetics; this outing revolves around statues & monuments in Philadelphia.
Gravesend, by Cole Swensen, does nifty things with ghosts, graves, and the town of Gravesend in England; I like it because it's so obviously about something, and because Swensen has a really dead-on lyric ear.
•I contributed a blurb sight unseen to Alan Halsey's Even if only out of, saying nice things about his work as a whole; this one doesn't disappoint, either; epigrams like Martial on speed and shrooms.
•Matthew Cooperman's Still: Of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move initially impressed me as yet another "here's the unremitting barrage of data we're subjected to every day" books, but as it progressed, it moved me more and more, until it became almost overwhelming.
•Stacy Doris's Knot: Doris was one of the poets we lost recently, and I bitterly regret not getting to know her work, which plays wonderful games with tenses and verbs, earlier.
•Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: ouch.

•China MiĆ©ville, The City and the City: deserved every prize it got – tho for my taste, it went a little genre-y at the end (noir, rather than sf, though)

•And of course, maybe the high point of the year's reading, the umpteenth read-thru of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse; I love that book!
•Joan Evans's 1950s John Ruskin is very good indeed; a good deal less carefully rendered detail than Derrick Leon's magnificent 1949 John Ruskin, The Great Victorian, but perhaps more smartly judgmental. Peter Quennell's John Ruskin: The Portrait of a Prophet was published the same year as Leon's biography, which is unfortunate, as the density of Leon's research overshadows the liveliness and grace of Quennell's style.
•Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde: yes, it took me a long time to get around to this one, so long that I suppose it's been largely superseded (but when was I ever up to date?); but it was worth the wait. 
•Lisa Jarnot, Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus, which I've already written about a bit; an important book.
Sui generis:
•Keith Tuma, On Leave: A Book of Anecdotes: what's to say? great anecdotes, wonderful theorizing about the genre of the anecdotes, and a tremendous emotional wallop to the whole.
I read some really splendid books of criticism and correspondence, but most of them were on Ruskin, & I think I'll save a bit of that for my big long-awaited (by me) post on finishing the Library Edition. Which I did, this year, and which puts me in an exclusive club of about 200 members, I'd guess. Almost like winning the shit-eating contest.

1 comment:

Elise said...

I feel inspired to make 2013 the year of actually reading more and watching reality tv less. Those damn housewives of everywhere are ruining my mind!