A Bang and a Scream: Books 2013

books13Best books read in 2013. Not all published in 2013. The Anatomy of Fascism (2004) is by Robert O. Paxton, sticker obscures name in pic. His passages on how the Fascist party in Italy and the Nazis used “parallel structures” to duplicate “every level of public authority with a public agency” to win over the masses are superb. Cynthia Cruz’s poetry collection The Glimmering Room (2012) contains these lines: “On weekends we sit in the Rec Room / Halting the inevitable.” Robert Montgomery Bird’s descent-into-and-ascension-from hell novel Sheppard Lee, published in 1836, contains a sentence that goes: “I saw, stretched on the grass, just on the verge of the pit, the dead body of a man; but what was my horror, when, perusing the ashy features in light of the moon, I perceived my own countenance!” Deborah Levy’s Booker-nominated novel Swimming Home, from 2011, has lines of such beauty: “Nina opened the door of her parents’ bedroom and skated in her socks across the tiled floor. She was wearing socks despite the heat because her left foot was swollen from a bee sting.” There is a real and terrible darkness in King of the Flies, (published as Hallorave in 2005, and by Fantagraphics in 2010). In Jeff Jackson’s novel Mira Corpora, there are so may Polanskian, Lynchian lines: “There’s movement in one of the upper windows. The systematic blinking of a curtain, maybe.” Karen Halttuten’s book Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination (Harvard UP) is something I return to every year: “Nineteenth-century readers of popular murder literature avidly sought pleasure in pain, and beauty in horror.” Death Sentences, by Kawamata Chiaki was first published in Japan in 1984, and then by the University of Minnesota Press in 2012. It’s a very blank book. Here is one line: “What I am trying to write is not an illusion of time. It is time itself. I can put into words time itself, duplicating the time that binds this world. I can produce another time with words.” In 2006, Laura Mulvey published a book I wish I had written (and sort of did), called Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. And in 2012 Julia Kristeva published The Severed Head: “I begin by exposing the violence directed at me and I take the liberty of saying so. You made the choice to be a minimalist, to say as little as possible about it? You will inevitably come to maximum grief one day.” Geez, the screenplay for Synecdoche, New York, is even sadder than the movie as I remember it: “Good for you with your grant!” In Keith Ridgeway’s book Hawthorn & Child (2012) you feel yourself falling down, and then rising up, through a dark tunnel. There are sentences like this: “She imagined walking from school one day and hearing  a bang and a scream, and another scream, and seeing something happening at the crossing. She imagined running up, and as she got closer her friends trying to hold her back. She imagined seeing Stuart lying on the ground, pale, a trickle of blood coming out of his mouth.” In 1970, Joan Didion published a novel entitled Play it As it Lays: “She found a bench near Box 674 and sat down. At noon the last window slammed shut. Maria drank from the water cooler, smoked cigarettes, read the F.B.I. posters. Wandering the country somewhere were Negro Females Armed with Lye, Caucasian Males posing as Baby Furniture Representatives, Radio Station Employees traveling out of Texas with wives and children and embezzled cash and Schemes for Getting Money and Never Delivering on Piecework, an inchoate army on the move.” From Submergence, by J. M. Ledgard (2011): “She stood on the steps. The sign spelling Hotel Atlantic looked suddenly clownish. She was a stranger to him. He did not know her.” There is a play, called Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks, about a black man (and about other things) who is paid to play Abraham Lincoln as he is assassinated: “I like the job. This is sit down, you know, easy work. I just gotta sit there all day. Folks come in kill phony Honest Abe with the phony pistol. I can sit there and let my mind travel.” Brian Evenson’s sentences come back at you like the interiors of a plague. From Immobility (2012): “He circled around the circle but did not enter it.” Never sure what to make of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990) in our era, but I still find great value in it. From footnote #32: “Kristeva’s reading of melancholy in this latter text is based in part on the writings of Melanie Klein. Melancholy is the matricidal impulse turned against the female subject and hence is linked with the problem of masochism.” Back to Swimming Home: “There was something else under the bed too but she did not have time to find out what it was.” The Lebowski book. What can I say? A gift from my most excellent son, Niko: “BURNS: We loved you in Logjammin’. Did the cable ever get fixed? TR: No, the cable did not get fixed. He was a little too busy fixing other things. BURNS: Do people ever recognize you as Bunny Lebowski?” Cynthia Cruz’s The Glimmering Room, again: “Your sisters are witches. / I race the staircase as they chase me / With their knives. They hide / The money in the mouths of car seats. / In the backyard, the fresh cut graves / Wait, greedy and gaping.”

About Nicholas

Writer. Professor.
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