Here are a few of those books.
So begins another year, so begins another 365 days of vaguely intending to update this WordPress and probably not getting round to it much.
Well, 364 days. I meant to update yesterday and didn’t, so that’s a good start. Though to be fair I’m currently trying to get the end of LIMBO out of Caspar and my heads and onto your comic store’s shelves, while simultaneously polishing off a solid 8000 words of essay for the month; and that’s not to mention pitches. All together, this means that doing extra voluntary writing is beginning to feel a little bit like undergoing extra voluntary root-canal.
That said, I quite fancy an unedited word-vomit to cleanse my palate, so here I am on a wet and cold Saturday night in the glow of the monitor, bravely ignoring the mountain of Derrida and Nietzsche that I really should be tackling, thinking about how things have and haven’t changed this year. I don’t particularly want to bang on about myself, but realized I can probably track my year through ‘book highlights’. So without further ado I’ll vomit away, a list of the books that have really stood out and defined my 2015.
‘Book highlights’ is so very definitely not a term that people use.
OK sure, this one’s my own… but it has defined my year somewhat. My second graphic novel with Caspar Wijngaard (and the first we own) was picked up by Image. That’s a pretty big change I guess, though we’re only two issues in so it’s hard to gauge just yet. We’ll be making a lot more noise on this end as we move towards the summer, when the TPB will be released. Until then we’ll be doing the rounds, signing at as many comic stores and conventions as will have us, and generally having a grand ol’ time.
Read a lot of amazing stuff this year, but I finally ‘finished’ Finnegans Wake,
and I think that can safely be described as my mammoth undertaking of the year. At first I tried to make a go of it forsaking any kind of reader’s guide, before realizing that the text is far too rich with reference to things I’m never going to know about for that to really be a fruitful endeavor. So I put down my pride and picked up Tyndall’s guide, which made things slightly more transparent. Like a glass bottom on a boat sailing through oil. At night. It still helped though. I think.
The final of Samuel Beckett’s Three Novels trilogy, ending with what are in my opinion the most perfect couple of sentences ever written. Though I’ve long been a fan of his work, this is the year I decided to take Beckett really seriously academically, which could be only very slightly hindered by my French being atrocious (read non-existent). Beckett’s prose is so sparse and so pointed that it feels like he’s painstakingly carving words out of a vacuum, which marks a nice contrast to Joyce’s ‘maximalism’ which apparently was somewhat the point; Beckett allegedly found his writerly voice by aspiring to do the opposite of his countryman, realizing that there was no possible way to out-Joyce Joyce. Still, it’s nice to know that even the greats can suffer from anxiety of influence.
If between Beckett and Joyce there’s not a lot of ‘plot’ to talk about, Metamorphoses is perhaps a nice counter to that. A nest of stories within stories within stories, Ovid’s epic spans the length of history from the creation of the universe to Ovid’s own time during the reign of Caesar. I decided to tackle the book as I had a few scattered nuggets of ideas that seemed to be leaning in its direction, but it turns out that Metamorphoses doesn’t particularly need ‘tackled’; I was surprised at how wonderfully readable and gripping this work is (at least in the Penguin Classics translation I have; I do feel that Penguin are sometimes happy to sacrifice accuracy for readability). I was also surprised at how much the gods seem to enjoy turning people into birds: In mourning for a lost lover? We’ll turn you into a bird to cheer you up! Oops, in a bit of of a pickle? How about we turn you into a bird so you can escape! You have dishonored us, mortal? BIRD!
- IN THE DUST OF THIS PLANET/ STARRY SPECULATIVE CORPSE/ TENTACLES LONGER THAN NIGHT
I’m actually still chewing my way through Tentacles, but the last two of Eugene Thacker’s trilogy of books about philosophy-in-horror and horror-in-philosophy were released this year and have pushed my writing in directions that I’m really excited to explore in 2016. Especially enjoyed Corpse, with its pessimist takes on Kant and Descartes. A lot of writers and artists seem to be falling into the cosmic pessimism void recently, the first season of True Detective perhaps being exhibit A. We could be in for a rather horrifying cultural zeitgeist.
Varlam Shalamov’s account of life in the Gulag, structured as a series of short stories which gives a slightly fable-esque sense to these tales of needless human cruelty and suffering. Shalamov himself spent 17 years in Soviet labour camps, and yet he presents his account as emotionlessly as possible, neither passing judgement nor particularly pausing to empathize with his sufferers. There’s so much to say about the act of witnessing performed by this book that has been said by far better people than me. What I will say is that this book and Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man are definitely the most harrowing books I’ve read this year. When faced with the ultimate evils of mankind and the horrible things that we’ve actually done to each other, it’s difficult for everything else not to start to feel a bit arbitrary.
And on that horrendously depressing note, I think I’ll leave it there. There’s probably a whole load more books that should be on that list, but they aren’t at the front of my mind for now, this post is now over 1000 words and I really should get back to my Derrida. Here’s to 2016… here’s to many more books, and the many more shifts in perspective they bring with them.