Russell Bennetts’s Top 3 Animated Gifs of Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Over there: A queer anthology of joy (Pilot Press)
Over thirty contributors consider queer joy, including Eileen Myles, Wayne Koestenbaum, Hilton Als, AA Bronson, Timothy Thornton, Sophie Robinson, Eley Williams, Honey Dijon, and Tarryn Williams.
Bad Harvest (Carnegie Mellon University Press)
Come out we have a doll for you
Never open the door
All You Can Ever Know (Catapult Books)
If adopting a certain child is fated, ordained, it is easier to gloss over real loss and inequity, to justify the separation of a parent and a child.
Camp Marmalade (Nightboat Books)
The second volume, after The Pink Trance Notebooks, in Koestenbaum’s trilogy of “trance writing.”
my mother’s draught
of raw egg, raw beef blood
and onion—to ease
the ache of being
a girl in that household
Vaping Not Smoking
Russell Bennetts, Judson Hamilton, Colin Raff
[*: Like heaven parting before your eyes.]
“Cyprus Pride” (Bellingham Review)
It is impossible to tell which of the people are the Greek Cypriots, which are the Turkish Cypriots, which are the gay and which are the thousands of straight allies who have driven from all over the island for this parade.
“Pretty Girl” (New Flash Fiction Review)
She remembers another story, that old film “The Red Shoes” she watched on TV with her mom, where a girl with red shoes danced herself to death, feet on fire, she can’t remember why, and she thinks of home, and wishes she’d never left.
Annka Kultys Gallery, London, UK
A series of five solo shows with energy-laden work by #young #hot recent art school graduates: Aaron Scheer, Marton Nemes, Johanna Flato, Rui Lin, and Daria Blum.
Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland
A curatorial coup juxtaposing the oeuvre of two friends, both giants of last century’s art scene: Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti. Bonus points earned for the full-scale multimedia projections that reconstructed the artists’ studios.
Catherine Michele Adams
When the Ukrainian government allowed tours of the ghost town of Pripyat, it opened the gates to an avalanche of mediocre images featuring artfully arranged props from the decaying Chernobyl Zone. In this eloquent and sensitive record, the photographer leads the eye away from the superficiality of disaster tourism, while rejecting the thoughtlessness of cultural appropriation in all its forms.
It’s no longer comedy when it makes you cry this much. Please watch and listen.
Insults hurled, footwear thrown. Nicki stepped on Cardi’s red dress, Cardi took off a red shoe and threw it at Nicki. Get out the popcorn and replay on loop on YouTube.
“Triple S Sneakers” (Balenciaga)
Heavy enough to double as gym weights, their gigantic soles added inches to my height; with my feet encased in these massive sneaker-plinths, I’m impossible to topple.
“Cocoa Fruit Natural” (Max Chocolatier, Lucerne, Switzerland)
Handmade Swiss chocolate, 280 grams of heaven, a 20-centimeter-long, life-sized replica of a cocoa fruit soothed my nerves in 2018.
Bollywood: Vicky Kaushal
Hollywood: Michiel Huisman, Joaquin Phoenix
TV: Brooklyn99, Luther, Modern Family, Masterchef Australia, This is Us
Adaptations: The Help, The Trial, Rebecca, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Joyluck Club, Notes on a scandal, Call me by your name, The Vanishing (1988)
Movies: Another Earth, I-Origins, The Master, You were never really here, Age of Adaline, Nightcrawler, The Purge, Hindi Medium, Udta Punjab, October
Booktuber: Jen Campbell
Indian Poetry: We live in the newness of small differences by Sohini Basak, Jonahwhale by Ranjit Hoskote, Painting that red circle white by Mihir Vatsa
Indian Short Fiction: “Diwali in Muzaffarnagar” by Tanuj Solanki, “Sunita DeSouza goes to Sydney” by Roanna Gonsalves
Indian Novels: Leila by Prayaag Akbar, Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar, Serious Men by Manu Joseph, English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee
Mind-Blowing Novel: The Trial by Franz Kafka
Really Good Novels: Notes On a Scandal by Zoe Heller, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Medical Thrillers: Robin Cook
Story: As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort Of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Poetry Stuff: The Alipore Post, ‘Dissect-a-poem’ series by Jen Campbell
“Cardi B Tells Me about Myself” by Eboni Hogan
“The Romantics” by Nandini Dhar
“They have more to say” by Sohini Basak
Poetry news: Rohan Chhetri wins the 2018 Kundiman Poetry Prize
Inspiration: Esme Wang, Helen Oyeyemi, Jen Campbell
Nadia de Vries
Book: Fondue by A.K. Blakemore (Offord Road Books)
Poem: “The Silence Will Be Sudden Then Last” by Deborah Landau
Movie: Sight is overrated
Song: Audio is too
Exhibition: Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings at Tate St.Ives et al. (special s/o to Penny Goring’s Shitfoot)
Meme: Moth in want of its lämp
Food: Double espresso with honey (not exclusive to 2018 but I only discovered it this year so it goes on the list)
Phrase: “The event of a thread”
In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer
Catherine Vidler’s Lost Sonnets, a fascinating geometric engagement with the sonnet. (Timglaset Editions, 2018)
“Refuse: CanLit in Ruins”, Hannah McGregor, Julie Rak & Erin Wunker, eds. A collection of essays that gives readers a critical and historical context about issues within what has been referred to as the CanLit community in which we are invited to ask questions about what exactly a community is if it is misogynistic, racist and patriarchal. There is hope in the book with a section on how we might improve CanLit by breaking away from the same old white heterosexual male power hierarchy to form a new more inclusive CanLit. (Book*hug Press)
Sandra Ridley’s Quell is an achingly beautiful long poem suite that will resonate for anyone who has experienced near-death themselves or that of a loved one. (Baseline Press)
Susannah M. Smith’s The Fairy Tale Museum is referred to as an “alchemical curiosity-cabinet-as- novel” by the publisher and I have to mostly agree. It is an alluring engagement with the fairy tale, in a series of short pieces that resonate as poetry. (Invisible Publishing)
Natalia Hero’s Hum is a tale about a woman who is abused and gives birth to a humming bird. (Metatron Press, 2018)
Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing – ok, I’m really stretching it here, because this book came out in 2013, but I read it this year, so there. I found this book to be impossible to put down and read it in less than 24 hours. The main character is fucked up and fascinating. This is the heartbreaking story of love, death, violence, sex and a damaged girl. (Coffee House Press, 2013)
Dane Swan’s He Doesn’t Hurt People Anymore came out in 2017, but I read it in 2018. The portrait offered in the stories is cynical but there’s also (sardonic) humour and, yes, even a little bit of hope. (Dumagrad Books, 2017)
Frances Boyle’s Tower is a charming fast-paced tale of the relationship between a mother and a daughter, also fairy-tale like. The characters are eccentric people I want to know and be friends with. (FishGottaSwim Editions)
I must mention four novels here, all of which were engrossing reads, contained characters I felt compassion for and often had a music soundtrack that I adored:
Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed about a two-spirit Indigiqueer young man and glitter princess, his friends and the women who have inspired his life, including his wonderful kookum. Also read Joshua’s amazing poetry book, Full Metal Indigiqueer (Arsenal Pulp Press).
Amber Dawn’s Sodom Road Exit, a lesbian ghost story about a young woman who has returned to her family home and must deal with the trauma she experienced there. This is a fun book of roller coasters, sassy femmes and friendship. I am a huge fan of Amber Dawn’s and have read all of her work. (Arsenal Pulp Press).
Casey Plett’s Little Fish is about a trans women in Winnipeg, Manitoba who learns that her grandfather may have also been trans. She returns to the small Mennonite town he came from for his funeral. In the meantime we meet her network of quirky, kind and caring friends, her chosen family and learn of the heartbreak and tragedy they support each other through when faced with transphobia. This is a novel that centers trans characters. I also recommend her short story collection from Topside Press, A Safe Girl to Love (Arsenal Pulp Press).
Claudia Dey’s Heartbreaker is about a missing woman named Billie Jean, her daughter Pony Darlene, her husband, the Heavy, a dog named Gena and a series of eccentric characters in a small town on the outskirts of the city. It is an other worldly glimpse of the dark and of wildness. (Penguin RandomHouse)
Lydia Kwa’s Oracle Bone came out in 2017, but I read it in 2018, so it counts. It’s a page turning exotic tale, a speculative historical tale set in 7th Century China that centers women and gives them power. (Arsenal Pulp)
Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back, eds Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka & Daniel Sluman, came out in 2017, but it is worth mentioning here. There are poets in this anthology I have never encountered before, their words are striking and original. The essays were fascinating and relevant to poetic practice in general as well as causing me to think about the role of various disabilities in poetic practice, the role of constant distraction from the body or the mind. And yes, there were poems that dealt directly with the writers’ disabilities and abilities in surprising and eye-opening/heart-opening/mind-opening ways. There were films in BSL with captions and without. Thoughts on consideration of language. Soundcloud files where the poems are read aloud by the poets in the anthology. Quite simply, this was the most versatile and thoughtful anthology I’ve ever experienced. I also appreciated the notes written by the poets about their poems. (Nine Arches Press)
Teva Harrison’s In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer came out in 2016 but I read it in 2018, so it counts. I was moved when I heard the author read from this book and do an interview at the Ottawa International Writers Festival and I have finally gotten around to reading the book. I continue to be moved and am grateful to Teva Harrison for sharing her story, her life, her fears and vulnerabilities and her joys. I can do nothing to help, but I find myself rooting for her and all others who are dealing with health issues, especially incurable cancer. I am glad she has good people in her life, such as her darling husband, David and family and friends. I would recommend this book to anyone with cancer and to family and friends. Also to those who wish to be reminded that life is short and it’s important to celebrate it and not to waste time.
Life After Rugby by Eileen G’Sell (poetry collection, Gold Wake Press)
The Neighborhood by Kelly Magee (short story collection, also Gold Wake)
Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life by Chelsea Martin (essay collection)
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (novel)
Chemistry by Weike Wang (novel)
The Scars That Write Us
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, Her Name Upon the Strand
Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo
Carissa Foo, If it were up to Mrs Dada
Gabriela Golder & Mariela Yeregui, El territorio es la casa
Teo You Yenn, This is What Inequality Looks Like
Eduardo Galeano, Football in Sun and Shadow
Eddie Tay, Anything You Can Get Away With: Creative Practices, edited by Lim Lee Ching
Michelle Chiang, Beckett’s Intuitive Spectator: Me to Play
Yanyun Chen, The Scars That Write Us, 8Q at the Singapore Art Museum: The President’s Young Talent 2018 (4 October 2018 – 27 January 2019).
The Deepest Blue, curated by Racy Lim & Joella Qingyi Kiu
Responses to art:
The Deepest Blue: the exhibition publication, edited by Racy Lim & Joella Qingyi Kiu
Yanyun Chen, Flower Flights
Cannonball, directed by Lam Li Shuen & Mark Chua
Andre the Giant, directed by Jason Hehir
The Songs We Sang, directed by Eva Tang
Exercise Against Oblivion, directed by Lucia Sbardella
Music: I’ve been geeking out on Phillip Glass lately. Especially his symphonies which are marvelous. Also, Grażyna Bacewicz is a queen.
Books: Although it wasn’t published this year I read Kim Kyung Ju’s I am a season that does not exist in the world, and it was haunting and wholly original.
Movies: I have only watched kids’ films. Of those I’d have to say that Incredibles 2 was tops.
TV shows: Homecoming is both pertinent and entertaining.
Comics: If you haven’t read Black Hammer or East of West you’re gonna want to rectify that with the quickness.
Visual Artist: Franciszek Orłowski is one of the most intriguing, talented and important artists working today.
Books: I finally got around to the existential western Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams whose use of language is unmatched and this strange western surpasses Stoner. I really got floored by the collected chapbooks by the publisher Amphetamine Sulphate, who specialize in a certain brand of nastiness and depravity that is perfect for the holiday season, highlights being Jason Williamson’s (of Sleaford Mods) “Slabs from Paradise” and “Stupid Baby” by New Juche whose prose was absolutely unmatched in both beauty and transgression. An excellent discovery in short fiction was a collection of short stories “A Life on Paper” by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud where each short piece bloomed curious ideas of speculative fiction that had me so pleased. Finally, I had just finished Dasa Drndic’s “Belladonna” when I found out of her passing and I admired her use of tragedy and comedy in this novel, the absolute absurdity made me realize she was a great talent that we lost.
Service Brewing “Grisette” – I was on a failed quest for employment and visited their taproom, in Savannah, the lowest ABV of the repertoire and their take on this Belgian style contained a lot of character, it’s a shame they don’t bottle or can it. After a palette exhausted by ridiculous juicy IPAs it was a nice break in the fall to try out Industrial Arts Brewing’s “Autumn Lager”, that had a lot of character to it for a lager. Pilsner is pretty uncool, but man 18th Street Brewery “Dozer” crafted a Pilsner style lager in a tall boy and it really hit the spot, almost champagne like consistency and a great taste.
OBITUARY was probably the happiest death metal guys I have ever seen, just super tight brutality spanning decades of horrific music. MY BLOODY VALENTINE: Yeah, the last 10 minutes were the best thing I heard all year. RUINS OF BEVERAST: At Maryland Deathfest most bands can get pretty silly but I went to the festival to watch RoB and they shifted the entire vibe of the day with beautiful and crushing doom with no banter or idiocy. FOTOCRIME: Really love this trio and their post-punk dark vibe, got to see their great live show twice this year.
Music in General:
Hissing “Permanent Destitution” LP / Moaning s/t LP / Straight Panic “Cycle” LP / YOU. “Bouquet” LP / Neil Young – Hitchhiker LP / Oppenheimer Analyses – New Mexico 2xLP / Mandy OST by Johann Johannsson LP / Tenebrae OST by Goblin 2xLP / Last House on Dead End Street OST by Roger Watkins LP / Burial Ground OST by Burt Rexon and Elsio Mancuso (ripped from VHS)
Dark (Netflix) – I do not get why no one is talking about this surreal dark time travelling, murder mystery show set in Germany in the 1980s (and other times). The Terror (AMC) the audio editing alone is enough of a reason to watch this horrifying, malice filled tale of man versus ice, versus nature, versus beast, versus man with an absolutely excellent cast. Mandy – gorgeous, sensual, surreal and moralizing, there was nothing this year quite like this.
Poetry Book: Chris Tse’s “He’s So MASC”; Tony Hoagland’s “Recent Changes In The Vernacular” and “Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear Of God”; Nicole Sealey’s “Ordinary Beast”; Toshani Doshi’s “Girls Are Coming Out Of the Woods”
Essays: “Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety” edited by Naomi Arnold (totally not biased, totally don’t have an essay in this book…)
Venue: Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, New York
Literary Event: LitCrawl (Wellington, New Zealand)
Literary Victory: Team Palmerston North in “Hometown Glory: Lower Hutt vs Palmerston North” (LitCrawl 2018) (totally not biased, totally not a member of the winning team….)
Movie: Three Identical Strangers; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Crazy Rich Asians; Widows
TV Show: Wellington Paranormal; Subject: Dad
Album: Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Ventriloquism”; Neneh Cherry’s “Broken Politics”
Gig: Hopetoun Brown; Chris Dave & The Drumhedz
Dance Performance That Is Also An Art Gallery Tour: Immersive Movement Tours at Te Papa (Wellington, New Zealand) by Body Cartography Project/Footnote Dance
Photographic Work That Makes My Heart Fill With So Much Happy: Pati Tyrell (New Zealand); Aïda Muluneh (Ethiopia)
Thai Restaurant In New Plymouth, New Zealand (also Best Looking Women’s Toilets In A Restaurant Or Elsewhere): Siam Thai Fusion Cuisine
Word Used In A TV Show: “Monkey-dick” (Killing Eve)
Quote: Question: Is anything being lost in how young people absorb music? Erykah Badu: You can’t roll a joint on the cover of a digital download.
(Temporary) Fix For My Severe Depression: My lover, Rawiri (oxytocin is a delight); watching QI on youtube for hours; watching Taskmaster
Quote From My Hospital Psychologist, The Lovely Harry: “Anger and love are what makes us human. Our understanding of these is what helps us grow in our humanity.”
In the Desert of Mute Squares by M. Kitchell
logbook by hiromi suzuki
The Artifact by Germán Sierra
Destroy All Monsters by Jeff Jackson
Bosun by New Juche
Natural Complexions by D. Harlan Wilson
The Xenofeminist Manifesto by Laboria Cuboniks
Glass House by Louis Armand
All These Worlds Are Yours by HOLY
Co Intel PRO by S>>D
Rausch by Gas
Zebra by Arp
No Sounds Are Out of Bounds by The Orb
Theme for a Dream by Natureboy Flako
Collapse by Aphex Twin
Autobiography [Original Soundtrack] by Jlin
Like When You Ain’t by Odd Nosdam
Du Bist So Symmetrisch by Klaus Johann Grobe
Los Lagos by Thomas Fehlmann
Suspiria [Original Soundtrack] by Thom Yorke
Brainfeeder X (various)
Loma by Throwing Snow
Konoyo by Tim Hecker
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
The Other Side of the Wind
Books of Poems:
It seems to me that signal-boosting several books, rather than a simple ‘This is what I liked best this year’, is appropriate for 2018, a year which is ending with ugly poetry world plagiarism scandals. I feel like uniting, not dividing, this Christmas. So . . . commence signal-boosting! Who Is Mary Sue? (Faber), by Sophie Collins. The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem (Penguin Classics), ed. Jeremy Noel-Tod. Poūkahangatus (Victoria University Press), by Tayi Tibble. The Long Take (Picador), by Robin Robertson. The Carrying (Milkweed), by Ada Limón. Lies (Dedalus Press), by Doireann Ni Ghríofa. He’s So MASC (Auckland University Press), by Chris Tse.
Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside (Gill and Macmillan, 1976), by Pamela Horn. A surprisingly haunting portrait of deprivation and resistance in nineteenth-century rural England. Also quite enlightening for the kind of reader who asks questions like ‘How popular was arson as means of intimidating close-fisted landowners in mid-century East Anglia?’ (Fairly popular.) Cities at Dawn (Wave Books, 2016), by Geoffrey Nutter. His lush scenery, surreal anecdotes, and syntax with superior mouthfeel are all inimitable, but it might pay to at least try to imitate him. Crimea: The Great Crimean War, 1854–1856 (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), by Trevor Royle. Blimey, what a shitshow that war was. Christ on a cracker, what a nightmare that peninsula is living out again.
Ageing indie heroes Superchunk have rolled back the years and injected some much needed venom into the body politic with What a Time to Be Alive (Merge). Mac McCaughan has said that he was unable to sit by idly while Trumpists tear apart the fabric of society. This is a protest album from first to last. ‘The scum, / the shame, / the fucking lies, / oh, what a time to be alive.’ Meanwhile, London-via-Hull pop kids Night Flowers released Wild Notion (Dirty Bingo), which is the kind of crunchy, jangly, swoony, swelly music I seem to be destined to like until I die.
The publication of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC by the IPCC represented a horrifying new scientific consensus, one sure (I thought) to kick all the world’s governments up the arse and make them work to urgently decarbonise. And yet as I write this, representatives of the world’s governments are at a climate conference in Katowice, Poland, and the consensus is being undermined, and the plan to put the Paris Agreement into action is unravelling. I despair when I consider that this report may be remembered by history (if there is anyone around to write and read it) for all the wrong reasons.
Goal for 2018:
To convince people that my manifesto of eco-socialist avant-garde poetics, delivered extemporaneously at a pub one Saturday afternoon, is a goer. In brief, it was a poetics that advocates collective literary responsibility and work written in an array of voices and registers—a kind of poet-by-poet polyphony (or many voices within one poet) to push back against rigid, damaging systems of patronage and recognition (capitalism and institutionalism). Like Language poetry but friendlier and greener.
Scott Manley Hadley
Poo-Related Folk Traditions I’ve Learned About:
2018, wow, what a year! Some incredible cultural moments, including Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again and Cher’s ABBA covers album, Dancing Queen. For me, though, what was most notable is my discovery of TWO scatological folk traditions in Catalunya.
Instead of Father Christmas, children in Catalunya receive presents from a giant log, known as Tió de Nadal. This log – usually a squat bit of wood with a face and front legs on one flat end – is the gift-giving mythical entity for children in Girona and Barcelona, and rather than sliding down the chimney and carrying presents in a big sack, the Tió de Nadal is urged (through the medium of song) to poo out gifts. Lovely!
The second pooey tradition of the region involves the Caganer, an essential part of every Catalan nativity scene. The caganer is a person in the act of defecating and can be found, throughout December, hiding amongst the donkeys, shepherds, wise kings, virgin mothers and cows that surrounded the newborn Baby Jesus™. As an amateur Bible scholar, I know there is zero scriptural justification for this figure’s appearance, but even the cleanest stable in the world has poo on its floor from time to time, doesn’t it, so why not make that symbolic poo human? For Christians, Baby Jesus™ is a significant deity because he was both human and god, both divine and base, and what is more base than pooing?
Christmas is the dark end of the year, when the days lengthen and, eventually, plants start growing again. What we poo out is consumed by bacteria and plants: it’s the circle of life. Our poo may not be useful for us, but it is useful for something. By acknowledging excreta during its celebrations, Catalunya is braver and more honest than the rest of us. Because everybody poos, even at Christmas.
Pamper Me To Hell & Back by Hera Lindsay Bird, closely followed by Bad Boy Poet by Scott Manley Hadley.
Still my cheeky little heartbreaker, Cubby:
The Death of Stalin
The King (Mit Elvis Durch Amerika) by Eugene Jarecki
This film charts the rise and fall of America as it charts the rise and fall (and rise…?) of its undead son, Elvis. Sounds like it might be a forced metaphor but I can reassure you that it totally works. And, it’s a great biography of Elvis.
Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson
Not “just” an animation! I mean, yes I’m a fan but not really of his previous animated foray — but I have to say that after watching this one, I had to see it again, right away. Best Wes, even? I don’t know, but an argument can be made…
The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci
How many times can you say “OMG” while also laughing in horror and catching your breath? See it and see. Iannucci’s “usual”; i.e., it’s brilliant. It’s satire. Or, wait..?
This series, set in Weimar-era 1920s Berlin, featuring detectives and the underworld and the nightclubs and the politics and The City Itself, is so delicious that you will happily immerse yourself in its underwaters and follow the subtitles all the way through the first two seasons. In a weekend. Yes.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
This exposé of the Potemkin-like biotech startup Theranos and its darling-of-Silicon-Valley CEO Elizabeth Holmes, is un-put-downable. The tale rivals “The Smartest Guys in the Room” for fast-paced corporate drama, outrageous shenanigans and pure, unadulterated hubris.
Live Soundtrack to Old Silent Movies:
Icelandic electronic group amiina has live-scored the French silent serial cliffhanger Fantômas to brilliant perfection, creating a 21c interpretation of early outlaw films that effortlessly blends Foley and diagetic sound effects, as well as original compositions.
The Hof, 30 Years Looking For Freedom Tour.
Let me just say right up front that it’s hard to beat Colin Hay, “…goats appear and fade away…” BUT, I saw David Hasselhoff this spring in Berlin WHERE THEY LOVE HIM and by god, they really do. It was charming, rockin’, involved significant audience cosplay, and ended at a reasonable hour. And YES he absolutely sang “Hooked on a Feeling” in front of a 3-screen blow-up of the actual video and it was everything and more.
Hilma af Klint.
Dismissed for so long because of her spiritualist bent; oh and ALSO because she hid her work and demanded it not be shown until at least 20 years after her death (which was in 1944..) Hilma (not Hilda) af Klint (not Klimt, and no relation) has finally received her due. The blockbuster exhibition at the Guggenheim NYC deserves the hype, and finally gives af Klint an appropriate setting, and an actual public for her work. These paintings were ahead of their time at the time, and still kind of are. Walking into this exhibit and being surrounded with her spectacular canvases made me amazed, and happy.
OBVIOUSLY, because the Red Sox have won the World Series (again).
Ok the competition was fierce here, what with the polka-dot lobster, the bright orange hey-I-look-pre-cooked lobster, and the one that resembled iridescent blue cotton candy. But the BEST must go to the pothead lobsters, who were “smoked” in the tank of a Maine restaurant with medical marijuana, presumably to make them more amenable to being eaten by humans with the munchies.
Ominous Audiobook to Put Your Commute/Year/Life Choices in Perspective:
They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, read by Michael Page
In the mid-50s, this reporter, himself Jewish, embedded himself in postwar Germany and tried to figure out what made the local people tick. “My ten Nazi friends..” This is eye- and ear-opening, and read by a master. Oh, and (sadly) not irrelevant for today. I mean. Just go get it.
Billy Bragg, Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World
John Lennon started out in a skiffle band! This book excavates skiffle, DIY music-making, social spaces for the youths to hand-jive, the birth of rock’n’roll, what made Brit skiffle different from American rockabilly, and everything past, present, and in-between. Fascinating talk by an immersive guide who walks the walk, and even better, he talks the talk.
Return of the Obra Dinn
The Rules of Attraction by Brett Easton Ellis.
I reread this on a whim and upgraded it from 4 to 5 stars on my own special Goodreads rating list. It’s a remarkable nihilistic tale of vacuous, spoiled brats at an exclusive East Coast private college, and as such it’s the best kind of low-key escapism. Read it!
Shitstorm by Fernando Sdrigotti
It’s a sardonic dissection of social media outrage and that one dentist from Minnesota (Go Twins!) who killed a celebrity lion, Cedric or something, and it’s really good.
Big Mouth, Netflix
A comedy bildungsroman that is both utterly crude and also strangely touching. It really captures teenage hormones and angst.
I made it my business to finally get hold of a copy of this Cold War Armageddon bleak-fest, and holy shit, as promised, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a month. It starts bleakly (Sheffield), it middles bleakly (mushroom clouds), it ends incredibly bleakly (NO SPOILERS), all while having a sort of high-school amdram charm. Bleak AND good.
Return of the Obra Dinn
I marvelled at this historical, boat-based mystery, rendered in the finest Macintosh graphics circa 1990. I wasn’t very good at it and needed to cheat a couple of times, but the story is wonderful and the game mechanics are inspired, like the film Memento but, you know, better, and on an old boat. Buy it.
Football Manager 2019
I haven’t submitted any writing for months. Why? This is why. I’m addicted. Seriously. I spent three years playing this game when it was called “Championship Manager” back at University when I should have been going to classes and studying, and I left with a 2:2 in uh, something, and a Champions League win with Southend United. These are the triumphs you remember, and I’m not talking about the degree. I skipped my graduation ceremony because I didn’t feel like I’d worked for my degree. Sadly, I never got a job as a real football manager despite on paper being the absolute fucking football nuts genius Einstein crossed with Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola and, yes, a pinch of Harry Redknapp. Boo life!
Anyway, the FM19 iteration is very good.
This rogue-like castle-crawler is probably a decade old but I missed it then. I bought it a few months ago and it is superb. Just so much fun, 2D side-scrolling, hacky-slashing, perfect-difficulty-balancing. Look it up.
I’m strangely going hip-hop this year, with Cypress Hill’s Elephants on Acid and Eminem’s Kamikaze, both which blew my mind. These old fuckers can do it better than they ever could when they were young.
Non-hip-hop, Aphex Twin forever, of course. Also the second album, Something, by Chairlift (2012), which is wonderful.
Colin Raff’s Top 5 Lessons Learned in 2018
1/ You need to sacrifice the cause only to snatch the effect from the future and unbox it yesterday to create memorable content.
2/ The key to feeling the shortcomings of improvement at any moment is to threaten to expose your own toxic happiness over change.
3/ Don’t expect others to be loyal to determination over grace or purpose when all you needed was a bump in the road.
4/ Your most valuable asset is not what you lowkey think is a problem when you’re not surprised, but what you hold accountable when the baselines are different.
5/ Never assume responses, whether bound-and-out blated, when cometimes you put blaming people down the long rationsible lifeblook, eitherson — it’s that manipulationsibility talking. Sometimes you want fries with them, sometimes they live to stop the want the when to well-adjust the aboundariend. And that’s OK.
‘Black pony, full moon and olives in my saddlebag,’ says Lorca in a line somewhere. Books added, this sounds like perfection.
Fascinating me right now is Nascimento, el editor de los chilenos by Felipe Reyes Flores (Ediciones Ventana Abierta). A Portuguese immigrant to Chile, Carlos George Nascimento almost single-handedly published all of the writers famous in the country today, from Gabriela Mistral to Marta Brunet to Pablo Neruda to María Luisa Bombal. He took a chance on experimental novels and poetry, and his covers were beautifully well-designed. Lively anecdotes about the ins-and-outs of publishing are both delightful to read and a reminder of just how contingent it all is — things often happen in the world of books because at some point, someone has the crazy idea of biting the bullet and forging ahead. Most people here are involved with an independent project, so this is heartening.
Sometimes older writers can jolt you out of your stylistic rut. This year I discovered the Indian poet Kamala Das and the Chilean poet Teresa Wilms Montt. Their writing is intense, and reading them wakes up the senses and the mind. The work of Raja Rao is also showing me new paths for the imagination, as it weaves between registers of fluid lyricism and crackling phrasing, an Indian English enriched by the author’s time in France. It wakes you up.
Letters offer a very particular and intimate form of reading. The correspondence between Seepersad and V.S. Naipaul (father-son), and between Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell (friends and fellow writers) moved me in their human dimension. I’d like to read a good mother-daughter collection too, if anyone can recommend one.
My favourite poetry books were A Season on the Earth: Selected Poems of Nirala (trans. David Rubin), Twenty-One Love Poems by Adrienne Rich, and Obras desconocidas escritas en Chile by Rubén Darío. The first two are not new, but a note on the third, recently published by Ediciones Tácitas: People know Darío in English for his terribly romantic (or kitsch, depending on your POV) poems in Azul, but he wrote a great deal more and this book succulently offers up additional prose from stashed-away manuscripts. These texts by Rubén Darío written in Chile have not been previously published, and there are some gems.
The complete stories of Roberto Bolaño, Cuentos completos, were published in a single edition by Alfaguara in September, and it is wonderful to read them again in one volume. Bolaño makes you think about the anecdote and its limits, the point at which the anecdote dissolves. History books that merely present facts in context often seem superficial, as do memoirs about life that don’t dare to shatter them into a more mythical plane. What makes Bolaño so special? A Chilean headline about this book read ‘Youth, love, failure’, but it could just as well have read ‘Age, heartbreak, success’. As we navigate these crags of experience, Bolaño’s stories offer not consolation, but a kind of warped time able to encompass everything.
My own novel A Furious Oyster came out this year with Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and if it is not out of place, I would like to recommend it along with the entire DW catalogue. The literary risk-taking, curiosity, and passion of the editors are absolutely marvellous.
Merlí (Netflix) still captures my heart. Let’s see what next year will bring.
This year I’ve completely upped my book review game, thankful for new gigs as both a staff writer at The Millions and as an editor at Berfrois. Writing book reviews is a helpful way to force myself to actually read, and to ween myself from smart phone social media addiction, so that in a certain sense It feels like I haven’t read a book till I’ve reviewed it. That’s all well and good, but consequently I’ve a dearth of what to write about in this 2018 year-end roundup, because I’ve already written about most of what I’ve read this year elsewhere, holding to David Foster Wallace’s question concerning John Updike of whether “the son of a bitch ever had any unpublished thought?” Believing it’s crucial to publish pretty much every errant thought that you might have, and letting everyone else sort out whether it’s any good or not on their own time has worked for me so far, but when it comes to this list the question becomes what should I actually write about, since professional ethics precludes me from simply cutting-and-pasting from some previously published piece? So, I’ve decided to fudge a bit on some entries, and to write about books that I’ve yet to read but that I am looking forward to read.
The non-fiction most prominently placed on my Christmas wish list is Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States. Publicists are promoting These Truths as the first massive, single volume history of the United States written entirely by a woman, a sort of civics version of Emily Wilson’s Odyssey. No clue as to whether that is true or not, but I am waiting in anticipation to see how Lepore structures a narrative of American teleology from Plymouth Rock to Trump. A model of what it means to be a publicly engaged intellectual, Lepore has somehow managed to write readable prose for mass market publications like The New Yorker while still keeping the accolades of her scholarly colleagues. We can write ad nauseum about how myopia and jealousy keep many academics from acknowledging not just the utility but the inherent dignity of popular writing, but Lepore has somehow managed to hold the esteem of other historians while also getting to write a book about Wonder Woman. In part I imagine this is because as a writer she’s just so good, able to incorporate the actual complexities of scholarship into engaging writing while avoiding the great man reductionisms of a Doris Kearns Goodwin or a Jon Meacham. I’m fascinated to see how These Truths is able to generate any narrative of American exceptionality in the fascistic aftershocks of 2016. If anyone can do it, it would be Lepore.
Here’s a book that I did actually read this year! Less need to engage my cheating conceit of writing about aspirational goals when it comes to contemporary poetry, as though I do write a lot about verse, almost all of the authors who I profile would require a Ouija Board and smelling salts to contact. But first, I still need to read the brilliant Terrance Hayes’ new American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. He is one of the greatest American poets working today, and I feel like I have a slight connection to him since I occasionally saw him walking around Baker Hall when I got my masters at Carnegie Mellon, and he still had the mohawk while I still had a goatee. For this entry however, I’d like to spin a few words for Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf. The Iranian-American’s collection, which incorporates his earlier poems from Portrait of an Alcoholic, was one of the most breathlessly luminescent anthologies I read this year. We’re supposedly living in a golden age of poetry, initiated in part by our social media slowed attention spans and to the ways in which our technology facilitates epigraphs better than massive novels. Some truth to this, and yet the verse in Akbar is so portable not just because it reads well on a phone, but because in content and rhetoric it reminds me of reading a dog-eared, red underlined Gideon bible shoved into my jacket pocket. A recovering alcoholic, Akbar honestly interrogates the nature of this affliction and its connection to the divine, drawing equally from Bill W.’s Big Book and the Sufi masters of his Islamic faith who would dye their prayer rugs red with spilled shiraz. He writes with an admirable syncretism, understanding that cracked wisdom which knows that addiction is the physical embodiment of a spiritual condition, for “What I was building was a church. /You were the preacher and I the congregation, /and I the stage and I the cross and I the choir. /I drank all the wine and we sang until morning.”
Returning to things-that-I-haven’t-read-but-which-I-hopefully-will, I’m incredibly excited for Imogen Hermes Gowar’s first novel, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock. The novel follows the aftermath of a late eighteenth-century London merchant named Jonah Hancock, who has come to be the guardian of an actual mermaid. Less historical fiction than magical realism, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock appears to be (at least on the few pages I browsed in the Harvard Coop) written in imitation of the opulent, baroque style of the great prose writers of the century in which the novel is set; writers as varied as Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne who weren’t afraid of dropping a comma or several now and again. There is a tendency, as seen in books like Francis Spufford’s incredible Golden-Hill, for novelists to use historical fiction as a means to resuscitate those labyrinthine old prose styles that were summarily executed by men like Strunk and White. It’s a gorgeous thing to read, this writing that’s in love with language and its perambulations, and that doesn’t pretend that minimalism has any claim to “Truth.”
Coming up on its sixth season, Netflix’s BoJack Horseman remains the best animated sitcom about an alcoholic, bipedal talking horse who is also a washed up Hollywoo star that turns everything he touches into pure shit. Critically, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit late to BoJack Horseman, since the brilliant Will Arnett-voiced cartoon has been analyzed to death at all the predictable publications as being one of the most genuine character studies about personal damage produced in our third golden age of television. But I’ve loved the show from the start, in a depressive funk binge watching it as I ate Papa Johns’ pizza, so I feel more than qualified to say that it remains the best TV show of 2018. As has been said elsewhere, what makes BoJack the character so brilliant, especially as voiced in Arnett’s characteristic baritone of self-loathing, is that it so completely interrogates the anti-hero to the point where any desire an audience might have at being him dissipates. You might want to be Tony Soprano, Walter White, or Don Draper, but nobody would credibly want to be BoJack Horseman. The series captures a particular type of self-destruction: the unrelenting narcissism of somebody whose-smarter-than-others-but-not-as-smart-as-they-think-they-are and who can thus justify all manner of bad behavior while feeling sorry for themselves. Episodes such as when BoJack looks for contrition with the producer dying of cancer whose career he ruined (and receiving no absolution) or the hallucinogenic bender arc that results in the overdoes of the childhood star of BoJack’s shitty Full House inspired sitcom. A show of profound psychological death, where BoJack’s stoner couch surfer roommate Todd can say “You are all the things that are wrong with you. It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened to you in your career, or when you were a kid, it’s you. Alright? It’s you,” and we can instantly understand that this is a series worth more than the sum of its parts. These are episodes of almost preternatural beauty, that if they weren’t in a sitcom about talking animals that continually traded in lame (but great) puns you might think you reading a John Cheever short story.
2018 were the lost few cold months before the thawing of the American Spring. It might not feel that way right now, in our seasons of unrelenting violence, propaganda, and nascent totalitarianism, but there is profound reason for hope in the 40 (possibly more) seats that the Democrats took in the House, in some cases in deeply red districts, and despite the worst intentioned efforts of Republicans to rat-fuck the shit out of democracy. Much more importantly is the left-ward tilt of the freshman class of Democrats, whereby a bit of socialist energy as embodied by the flat-out super-star of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez indicates that the party may have been broken a bit of the stranglehold of centrist, Clintonian triangulated third-way neo-liberalism. That these new, left-leaning representatives are able to formulate a language that goes beyond those tired and deadly internecine debates from the ’16 primaries is crucial, and even more so that there is for the first time since goddamn Eugene Debs a genuine possibility to imagine socialistic alternatives in American politics.