Finishing 50 Books in a Year (2017)

My reading goal in 2017 started with a desire to finish a number of the books which I had started over the past three years for the purpose of getting them off my “Currently reading” list. On the list, those books which I started before 2017 are marked with an *. I’ve sorted the books into four categories: F (Fiction), NF (Non-fiction), E (Essays), and P (Poetry). Additional notes have been provided for distinctive experiences, or other informational tidbits.

Most interesting was the way the type of book I read evolved. In the last few years, I’ve displayed a propensity for non-fiction, particularly high theory and neo-Marxist economic treatises (lots of things published by Verso and Semiotext(e)). In the name of expediency, I turned to both poetry and fiction. Around the time I picked up Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia (an excellent alternate history where the short-lived Futurist state the Regency of Carnaro, does not fail), with its introduction by Warren Ellis, I determined that I should attempt to read more fiction. That path led me to The Ballad of Black Tom, the genius of Victor LaValle, and a taste of the recent spate of Tor Publications of new Lovecraftian stories focusing on the voices that H.P. himself would have overlooked.

Working with the Lovecraft Arts and Science Council opened up a wealth of opportunities to pick up more Weird fiction (contemporary and otherwise). My time with them began in earnest around October, which is reflected, somewhat, in the wealth of Weird fiction novels that make their way onto the list around that time.

  1. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco [01.09] *F
  2. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams [01.11] – F
  3. Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams [01.17] – F
  4. Governing by Debt by Mauricio Lazzarato [01.19] *NF
  5. Hellboy’s World, Monsters in the Margins by Scott Bukatman [02.11] – NF
  6. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine [????] – P
  7. Six Memos for the New Millenium by Italo Calvino [03.13] – E
  8. Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling [????] – F
  9. Patient by Bettina Judd [04.10] – P
  10. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle [04.17] – F
  11. The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle [04.27] – F
  12. The Agony of Eros by Byung Chul-Han [05.06] – NF
  13. Curious Visions of Modernity by David L. Martin [05.20] – NF
  14. Failure and I Bury the Body by Sasha West [05.26] *P
  15. No Accident by Aaron Anstett [????] – P
  16. The Panopticon Writing by Jeremy Bentham [06.03] *E (more @ this post)
  17. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion [06.11] – E
  18. Between Ghosts by Reno Dakota/SJ Lee [06.18] – P
  19. The White Album by Joan Didion [06.23] – E
  20. Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell [06.24] *E
  21. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery [06.29] – F (French)
  22. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White [07.05] – NF
  23. Frank Miller’s Daredevil and the End of Heroism by Paul Young [08.06] – NF
  24. Censorship Now!! by I.F. Svenonius [08.14] – NF
  25. A Short Guide to Writing About Film, 3rd Ed. by Timothy Corrigan [08.26] – NF
  26. Girls Omnibus by The Luna Bros. [08.30] – F (Graphic Novel)
  27. 13 Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod [09.09] – F
  28. Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti [09.10] – F
  29. On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder [09.21] – NF
  30. The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance by Franco “Bifo” Berardi [09.22] *NF
  31. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer [10.11] – F
  32. Authority by Jeff Vandermeer [10.13] – F
  33. Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer [10.14] – F
  34. Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling [10.28] – F
  35. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera [11.13] – F
  36. Looming Low Vol. 1 by Justin Steele and Sam Cowan, eds. [11.20?] – F
  37. Songs of Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti [11.25] * – F
  38. King Lear by William Shakespeare [12.01] – F
  39. War of the Foxes by Richard Siken [12.03] – P
  40. Agents of Dreamland by Caitlyn R. KIernan [12.05] – F
  41. Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw [12.05] – F
  42. Unnatural Creatures by Neil Gaiman, ed. [12.08] – F
  43. Parasite Life by Victoria Dalpe [12.09] – F
  44. Beta Decay #1 & 2 by Andrew Jackson King [12.15] – F
  45. The Dream Quest of Vellit Boe by Kij Johnson [12.19] – F
  46. A Guide to Undressing Your Monsters by Sam Sax [12.28] *P
  47. Beta Decay #3 & 4 by Andrew Jackson King [12.29] – F
  48. A User’s Guide to the Demanding Impossible by Gavin Grinden and John Jordan [12.30] – NF
  49. Kissing Dead Girls by Daphne Gottlieb [12.30] * P
  50. City, rediscovering the center by William Whyte [01.11.18] – NF

Obviously, I extended my deadline of “the end of 2017” by a little, but I needed to motivate myself to finish City by William Whyte, not because it was bad, but because the last few chapters deal almost exclusively with the issues facing zoning boards and their habits. Without underselling my enthusiasm for city planning, descriptions of zoning board decisions don’t even have the excitement of watching them come about as one is able to do in transcripts or in person.

A list of 50 books does pretty much no one any good, however, so instead, I will tease my list of Top 10 Books I recommend after 2017:

  1. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
  2. Failure and I Bury the Body by Sasha West
  3. The Elements of Style by Strunk and Whyte
  4. On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
  5. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
  6. Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan
  7. 13 Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod
  8. Beta Decay (whatever Issue you can find) by Andrew Jackson King
  9. Girls Omnibus by the Luna Brothers
  10. Kissing Dead Girls by Daphne Gottlieb

More on those ten books to follow.

2017.04.25 : black holes

At dinner, an unexpectedly personal affair, we were discussing the differences in our ages. The conversation took a turn on the phrase “I have a body, like Adonis.” (Consider the placement of the comma.) Which quickly shifted us to discussing the nameless quality which goes by “sex appeal” or “fire” or … And the term settled upon was gravity.

Women are like black holes, he says. If you have a group of women in the room, and you can see the social space spread out around them, some of them will have more gravity and will pull the space in towards themselves.

Suddenly, all I can imagine is the gravity wells; at which point have people traveled far enough that they cannot escape? How do you measure the gravity of human being?

We’re used to comparing people to stars: they light up a room, people revolve around them, they sit at the heart of entire systems.

Black holes rotate entire galaxies. All theories of time travel and universal travel are posited on black hole theory because they mark the place where gravity has ripped a hole in space-time itself. What kind of a person has enough weight to rend the very fabric of reality?

The metaphor pulls me in:

A good friendship, a pleasant evening with a potential partner, all exist with some form of quantum uncertainty or relativity analogies. Time passes in uncertain ways, the entire universe can re-orient beneath your feet, things exist in simultaneous and contradictory states, sometimes it seems like the very atoms between two people are mirrored images of each other, knowing and known––

But none of this matters. Physics is not the language of romance or poetry. The mathematics are too complicated, and the uncertainty of the observable is all too parallel between the two. The game is no fun when it is this obvious.

But how do you measure the gravity of a human being? Can you recognize the moment you become trapped in the gravity well of their presence? Is there any choice other than to be crushed under the weight of it, until you travel beyond the moment you left behind, and discover what exists beyond the unanswerable question?

2017.02.28 : hobbies: food.

8Sometimes we are Ouroboros; endlessly circling ourselves, unable to escape, trapped within the confines of our own thought-cycles.

Like a Lady in a Victorian novel, I’m lying in the dark, trying the calm the headache that has decided to take up residence between my temples. Exhaustion wars with boredom for the right to command my attention, and their bickering is, in itself, a trial. The trick is get them caught up in each other and to make one’s escape before either of them notice.

A surprise encounter with a friend became a pleasant extended lunch, an apology from serendipity for the absentminded abandonment of my homemade lunch. Instead of careful tupperware presentation—a single hardboiled egg cradled in a nest of salad leaves, waiting upon by squares of cheerful red pepper, on a pillow of baked sweet potato, resting on a bed of rice—I made do with the eco-recycled cardboard carry-out of a mass produced croque monsieur. The company was superior to the food, and allowed me to indulge in my distress at the unconcerned attitude towards digital privacy of a particular subset of my classmates and my favorite complaints about the election.

Today retraced old histories, starting sometime in the truly early hours of the morning, passed through a state of profound resolution, and is now slowly fading into the night in a state of ever increasing entropy.

But I met a cute dog named Luna, so not all is lost.

Currently reading: Six Memos for the New Millennium by Italo Calvino
Photo: Northampton, MA. 02.08.2017

2017.01.02 : the means are everything

My newfound love of lifestyle/organization bloggers/vloggers is taking as much getting used to as my stint getting into make up did; exactly like looking in the mirror and not entirely recognizing the face looking back at you. 

Regardless, Kalyn Nicholson said something in a recent video that struck me as possibly the most crucial application of a philosophical conclusion I have recently been examining. 

We try and convince ourselves that the new year, or the new month, or the new apartment, whatever new “beginning” we can identify will be the one that changes everything. This time we will change our ways and we will do the things that will make us into the person we have always wanted to be. 

But that’s end-goal thinking. That’s the kind of thinking that is motivated purely by ideological purity. It’s philosophical and emotional perfectionism. It’s exactly the kind of toxic thinking that has been ruining lives and countries and politics and relationships and futures. 

Instead, process based thinking is a much more effective and healthy approach. We cannot control the circumstances that arise, or the events that transpire, or what other people do or choose, but we can choose how we’re going to react to those things, what habits we’re going to build, what kind of work we’re willing to do, what hardships we’re willing to endure to try and build towards that “end goal” – ideological purity is important for determining the overall course of action and what things require attention, but the work needs to be procedural, constant, and evolutionary. 

We cannot build a perfect world and hold it in stasis forever. That is impossible. Equally, we cannot build a perfect self and live that way forever. We do not live forever, and change is inevitable. But we can direct that change and build systems and processes and reactions that are more whole, more kind, more progressive, more inspired, more strong, more open, more accepting. 

The personal is political, and not simply because politics ends at the door to the home. But also because the kind of people we make ourselves into and the choices and actions we take, and the philosophies we choose to enact in our personal lives are part of what builds the societies we live in and the politics we live under. 

So we should extend to ourselves the kindnesses and the constant improvement we expect from others and for others. 

2016.11.14 : a heavy weight on the tongue

What I thought would be a quick poetry reading last night, ended up being a triple bill concert, with a number of other poets featured in addition to the friend I had come to see. 

The unexpected is asserting itself as the new normal. 

Meanwhile, I find myself having an old argument with a new person because all the people in my life think they understand the advising system of the University I attend that none of them knows anything about. I understand what other university systems are like, and I understand that what I’m describing sounds obviously flawed. But I have tried a number of variations in my approach to academic advising, from among a variety of resources available to me. 

The result is the same: the graduation rubric is on the academic management system, and your transcript fills the advising report in neatly as you take classes. All academic advisors use the same system I have access to, with a limited number of advanced privileges and print out the same report that I printed out this September. Their explanations have always felt muddled and uninspired. Furthermore, each advisor is firmly ensconced in their own little corner of the university, each department can advise nothing beyond their own department, and any interdisciplinary impulse on the part of the student is within the realm of their own initiative. 

The thing that has gotten me into the most amount of trouble with academic institutions since they started letting me make my own choices is that I am loathe to follow a linear course of study. Everything is relevant, and translation is the only thing that has ever really interested me. All I want is to ensure that the economists and the journalists and the political scientists and the biologists and the social theorists and the carpenters and teachers and the historians can speak to one another. I have failed to cultivate sustained attention.

So for each thing I have attempted to achieve, I have spread myself thin, and gone from room to room, speaking to each individual who might maybe be able to tell me what I need to know. No one sits me down and asks me, What do you want to do?

I’m left to my own devices and make do with what I find. 

Ravenous desperation has done the rest of the damage. 

I have picked the things that look like they would make me happy rather than those that would check the right little box, because I don’t want to do things because someone told me to, when I could do something that will change my world. Every scheduling conflict and external demand that has disrupted my intellectual gluttony has destroyed entire years of schooling. 

There is bitterness, year by year, for the things that had to be sacrificed in the name of progress, in the name of requirement, in the name of bigger and better things. 

It would be nice, if, now and again, people took me on faith. If they, those people whose time and energy and opinion I value, would put aside their worldly knowledge for the span of time it takes to ask me a question, or even let out a thoughtful hum, rather than instantly telling me that I must be doing something wrong. 

Right now, charity is hard to come by. Bitterness is all too accessible, and the weight of the expectations of past and future is heavy on all our shoulders. I’m trying to be open. I’m trying to be kind. But systems are always an uphill battle, and resentment will always be my weakness.