Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ghosts of my Life/My Alibis #11

"it was the fear that afflicts most citizens who, one fine (or dark) day, choose to make the practice of writing... an integral part of their lives. Fear of being no good. Also fear of being overlooked. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear that one's efforts and striving will have come to nothing. Fear of the step that leaves no trace. Fear of the forces of chance and nature that wipe away shallow prints. Fear of dining alone and unnoticed. Fear of going unrecognised. Fear of failure and making a spectacle of oneself. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear of forever dwelling in the hell of bad writers." - Roberto Bolaño, 2666

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010: Books

This'll be short.

In 2010 I read only two books that were published in that same year, and both for review: the Picador reissue of Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink and Lydia Davis' Collected Stories. I rather enjoy this fact: uncompelled to keep up with the ebb and flow of hype, guided only by the exigencies of my course and personal whims, it feels better to keep reading as a private pleasure (and, unfortunately, a matter of work) - which was, after all, what made me into a teenage bookworm in the first instance.

Picking modules that forced me to read fiction turned out to be a good idea: the whirlwind rush of Donald Barthelme's Sixty Stories, Margaret Atwood's inhuman horror-novel Surfacing, Anne Michaels' slow and wonderful Fugitive Pieces and The Winter Vault, Iain Sinclair's hardboiled and extravagant Downriver, Oblivion by David Foster Wallace, Tom McCarthy's funny, disturbing and perfectly pitched Remainder, the steely, frightening Berg by Ann Quin (which I first read about in Jonathan Coe's meta-biography of B.S. Johnson, an important book for me, and so a strange sort of homecoming), Julian Barnes' probably over-mannered but still intensely witty Flaubert's Parrot - and my first love, James Kelman, with Greyhound for Breakfast. Lydia Davis was (is) wonderful, but reading 700 pages of her in less than two weeks was a bit much.

Poetry was as slow going as ever, but I did manage to at least get from the beginning to the end of Geraldine Monk's astonishing Interregnum, her sequence about the Pendle witch-trials. Carol Watts' lovely pamphlet When Blue Light Falls, David Morley's Scientific Papers, Denise Levertov's mid-60s volume O Taste and See filled up the rest of my time, apart from the continual dipping in out of collections and anthologies - The Penguin Book of Socialist Verse was my charity-shop discovery of the year; it was read alongside Norton's enormous Postmodern American Poetry, The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, Barry Macsweeney, James Schuyler, Frank O'Hara, Geoffrey Hill and Shelley's collected poems. Hopkins and Keats, as always, never left.

Zero Books' windfall of titles in 2009 sustained me for another year: Mark Fisher's needle-sharp Capitalist Realism, Nina Power's brilliant and scabrous One Dimensional Woman and star turns by Ian Penman, Joshua Clover, Dominic Fox, Chris Roberts, Mark Sinker and Ken Hollings in The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson. Clover's compact 1989 raised the bar for books that take pop seriously, and Penman's Vital Signs, published more than a decade before, raised it even higher. I finally got round to reading Roland Barthes' utterly devastating Camera Lucida, in two afternoons. James Wood's How Fiction Works was suspicious and illuminating in equal measure. I got to read Shakespeare for the first time since A-Levels (excluding the sonnets, although I re-read those too, anyway), with new eyes. And I can't ask for more than that.