Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read (pronounced "red") in 2014

I still think there should be a new spelling for the past tense of "read." Anyway, here's what I red this year. My total number is deceptively low, because for the past four months a great deal of my reading time has been taken up with Shelby Foote's The Civil War, which is around 3,000 pages long, in three volumes. After four months and roughly 1,600 pages, I'm still in volume two. Add those pages to my total page count for the year, and it's a new record, around 15,000. That's well over 300 pages per book, also a new record.

Category names are self-explanatory. Each list is alphabetical by author.

Number One Top Favorite

Americana — Don DeLillo

Best of the Year

Americana — Don DeLillo
Mao II — Don DeLillo
The Book of Strange New Things — Michel Faber
The Late Parade — Adam Fitzgerald
Neverhome — Laird Hunt
Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan — Phillip Lopate
After Claude — Iris Owens
Burning the Days: Recollection — James Salter
Light Years — James Salter
The American Future: A History — Simon Schama
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular 
          Fall of a Serial Impostor — Mark Seal
Travels with Charley: In Search of America — John Steinbeck
The Goldfinch — Donna Tartt
Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies
          James Wolcott

Honorable Mention

Quick Question — John Ashbery
Serenade — James M. Cain
Jamie Is My Heart's Desire — Alfred Chester
Underworld — Don DeLillo
Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud — Martin
Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a 
          Masquerade — Walter Kirn
Madame de Pompadour — Nancy Mitford
Netherland — Joseph O'Neill
Forgetting Elena — Edmund White

Pretty Good

Ancient Light — John Banville
The Stench of Honolulu — Jack Handey
girls: A Paean — Nic Kelman
10:04 — Ben Lerner
Wait for Me! — Deborah Mitford
Vile Bodies — Evelyn Waugh
Somebody Owes Me Money — Donald E. Westlake

Meh, Not Bad

Wolf in White Van — John Darnielle
Nude Men — Amanda Filipacchi
Nightmare Alley — William Lindsay Gresham
The Folded Leaf — William Maxwell
BUtterfield 8 — John O'Hara
Cabot Wright Begins — James Purdy
Sophie's Choice — William Styron
A Game of Hide and Seek — Elizabeth Taylor


One Pill Makes You Smaller — Lisa Dierbeck
The Expendable Man — Dorothy B. Hughes
The Unknowns — Gabriel Roth
Three Bedrooms in Manhattan — Georges Simenon

Severe Disappointments

The Natural — Bernard Malamud

In Progress, Currently Enjoying

Bleak House — Charles Dickens
The Civil War: A Narrative — Shelby Foote
Dancing in the Dark — Janet Hobhouse
Mating — Norman Rush
East of Eden — John Steinbeck

Monday, August 4, 2014

From a Distance, Faintly

Around the bend of a new day's expiration
All your palette's colors are held in abeyance
As they unlearn the dreams our sponsors
Couldn't foster forever, much less entertain
In light of new performance standards—

The thing is to fake it until you forget it.
Even before the merry-go-round starts up again,
Gathering your thoughts pursuant to
A circular logic most days are too troubled
With noise to make room for, you begin to see

The error of your ways as it crawls along
Ahead of a shy, stiff breeze bearing secrets
Relatable in their candor. No wonder it
Feels like home (or better yet, a hotel)
When in the course of a coy unraveling

You awaken the infinite in a sneak attack,
Poised to milk its magic to bridge the gap
Between good conscience and good riddance—
Only to find the approach impassable.
Passing anyway, you feel pure, like a mock trial.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Of Murky Origin

If not for my purely academic interest in the matter,
I might never have bothered to surveil the sunbeam
That fell across my schoolroom desk, but its attention
To detail was radically forgetful; I couldn't help admiring.

Inspired to think with my hands, I set to work renovating
Every uttered distance of my shadow self's design,
Putting the ideas down and circulating among them
Like a proctor at an exam that will likely determine

The thrust of history's artifice. Fortunately my stakes
Were never so high, just high enough for tuning out mistakes
Who rubbed my lighted way into the existing template
For living and found out later what that really meant:

Waking up in the morning, hitting the snooze, rising finally
Into the honking air, my hunger for its breath doing
Little to sweeten the deal with all those routine reversals
We make unwitting room for, though not unwisely.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Our Mutual Mission

Violence is a pithy contribution to the color in my vowels—
big band music gives me an urge to split the atom.

Penitentially I float down a river of New York minutiae,
restoring the city's faith in me. Out of the toxic hunger

for a performable psychodrama erupts
a fountain of missed connections, fragments of fate.

These are what decide the rate of death's progress
toward the gape of a raw mouth. More suspect, though,

is the idea that this will complete our mission, our sleeping
through the alarm that, once set, cannot be disarmed

except by consent of an imaginary author falling to earth
by way of Zeno's parachute, forever on the verge of opening . . .

Friday, July 25, 2014

Electric Parvenu

Some of my best friends are billionaire space-tourists . . .
Next up, we hear from a man who eats his own garbage!

Sandwich artists rarely have literally thousands of
good T-shirt slogan ideas. "It's chilly in here,"

said no one ever. "Is a window open somewhere?"
Every store in town is fresh out of context.

Ever think of offing yourself? Default to factory settings—
I prefer Perry Como to Bing Crosby . . . sometimes.

Armed to the teeth with old saws, the cutest among us
have all gone loco—who cares how we motivate our hair

when we have the means to employ
ancient astronauts in our entourage? I mean,

you could at least try to see my nut in a virtuous light—
it rewards us with rapture via 1080i clarity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Meant to See

Morning examines the room,
paradigmatically shifty.

Soon the sky of tomorrow
is devoted to doubting what

the business end of today's
would not hold up. At least

this transience lasts forever—
asleep, a careless rumor reads

into the silent machinery of
my collaboration with you,

an idea that speaks to itself the way
found objects are known to do.

As we've come to suspect,
alienation is its own reward.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Unwritten Song

A feeble echo trampled in the brush with fame
I was busy exorcising is lost to time; no sooner

did I jump aslant it than a higher function
mapped and catalogued the waft of cinders

defying my stubborn description of a vacuum
rubbed into a wound too true to occupy

more than a deftly broken hour I'd rather
not needle or hurdle over, the stain of which

alarmed the hills we deified in the spring
when our dreams had inflamed the barracks.

Sadness grew a universe then, soft enough
to connive by but insufficiently scouted out to maneuver

within its outgrowing, the surly index of which
I'll recite to my love in spite of a scrape with her anthem.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Night Sky Askew

My bedroom window went berserk: It saw right through me
to the naked ambivalence that was never an issue
but in fact was a laugh I lived and denied too strongly.

Turning to split the scene, I spy a rogue pixel
throw its hat into the party mix; the city of reticent miracles
is never the same. (I ask for nothing less.) The war
on television wants me, I don't know why. I have not yet begun to seep
into a pattern of thought better suited to lunar camouflage.

The coast is as clear as it's going to be. I pursue the worst of it
and have come to rely on phantoms I never knew—
proof that the buddy system has failed us once again.
Fooling myself on foot from here, I'm overrun with chemistry
I don't see a need to thank the stars for; the scope of
my search has outlasted their waste of time.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Telling Off

Telling off the great and fatuous unknown
after I catch it bulldozing,
I turn to my superior, a shadow whose face is a sentence
I might have been.
                                    Awake for long enough to know
the bent of my breath, it puts forth various theories
of sky and punishment. Nothing is water enough.

So I take a friendly book down from the shelf
and scrub my obscurity clean of the hostile self
I had mistaken for my own.
                                                     Now it's an open space
for the least I could say, though often the past comes
to collect me before I stop there; it likes to eye
the blind side of a day on its way to living me.
Safe to Say

Free to act in line with a twisting
Road's burden of proof, done for
In the way of conscious animals,
The stagger of the task may
Serve to incite a gravity
You could as well do without as apply
To any assumed identity.
A small wrath given birth
In the midst of a voiceless past is secure
Only in its tendency to wander,
Yet it works every time
You make it; nothing left in the dark
Is loved more or less.
                                         Another way to go
May swerve into light devised
To speak to a certain wariness
In the ongoing, the frank dissembling
That comes to pass through a starkly
Constructed malaise, even dread
In the mind that claims the unique
Intelligence a silent day sends
Along the wireless air. Left off there,
I begin dividing the drift of
All that suspends, losing but loose,
Aching for a walk to take
The place of the day's end.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Slip with me into a cloud
More worthy of theft—
Join this flown fume
Escaping loot-laden through
Heavy answers to when
I need more words to see what I
See, the cut of it all
Including us never enough
But some. Take this hurt
Clarity's oath of the unseen
And for all time be.

Monday, June 30, 2014


Abiding in a casual perfectionism
Obtuse in its leanings, these fraught dimensions
Try an interlocutor's rapt inattention
To the horizon's fixed belief as it advances and recedes,
Kisses and bleeds; the virtue here is a shout
That tumbles into a dance of ruin
High above alerted plains, where one may enact
No more precise a move than a drive to inspect
What sudden insight spares, smudged
Almost to the point of legibility
In a chromatic moment's cascade.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ducks and Drakes

Private and confidential, the river allegedly flows. I sit on it
almost attractively, on assignment from a shade of blue
no one has seen since the Goldilocks administration.

A perfect lonesomeness acts as its own attorney here,
where scraps of advice via nocturnal barns bend the wind
back to something of its former glory. You blow it when you see it . . .

And now you don't, erased from the face of the afternoon
as soon as you laughed through it. That's what the sun means
when it dances around the question, "Is a memory's vacancy

roomy enough when the future's full?" Still, some brazen sighs
moisten the graves they inhabit. I've heard their low-slung odes,
listened with ears of melting stone, and nodded off.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lemonade's Last Stand

Chillaxing on the border between morbid curiosity and lexicographical
Our intention is to create a mixed-use facility: in one corner, for kids, a little
          tooth-sharpening area;
In the solarium, a fountain of boiling butter (let your imagination wander). For
          the sake of historical accuracy,
History teachers have been fed to wild fauna. The president has been notified

And winterized. Seagulls are returning to the rodeos they'd abandoned. (Their
Are almost too funny.) Having lived for years under the shadow of this cryptic
Meant to convey something like "horny cops on lookout for runaway
          greenhouse effects,"
I find it helpful to imagine myself the curator of a vast, open-air museum of
          noble but discarded sentiments.

Less civic-minded folk will no doubt balk at my escutcheon of pretense, but
          that's where
You, the reader, come in, wearing your doomsday best. The fact you're reading
          this at all is proof
I'm alive and going about the dark hebdomadal business of facial-hair care, quite
          against my will.
If you've ever occupied an ounce of daylight, you know what I mean, and why.
          Scary times, and yet

The rain is wet and making do with much élan, in spite of growing doubts about
          its motives.
Dare we contemplate another Muscatine misadventure, or shall we disgruntle
          the lullaby of spring
We used to know by heart and challenge all comers? I'm not your maid, nor your
But I could use some shut-eye before the next exquisite summer decides to

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Five Best Books I've Finished So Far This Year

The five best books I've finished so far this year:

The Goldfinch  Donna Tartt

Burning the Days: Recollection  James Salter

Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies  James Wolcott

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor  Mark Seal

The American Future: A History  Simon Schama

My reading list of late is colon-happy. I've always wanted to read more non-fiction, but for some reason I keep putting it off. Which is funny, because I tear through non-fiction books many times faster than I read novels. Knowing that a story really took place (or that something as close to the story as the writer is willing and/or able to put into words took place) motivates me to keep turning the pages in a way that fiction can never quite do (though some, like my favorite book so far this year, come pretty close).

My big project this year is to reduce my "currently reading" pile from dozens to maybe three or five. My new rule is: I won't start a new book until I've finished two that I'm currently reading. My total at the moment is 59. So I finish two and it's down to 57. I start one and it's up to 58, but then I finish two and it's down to 56, and so on. Already this process has helped me stop making so many impulse purchases and borrowings. And I'm starting to feel less cluttered mentally.

The Goldfinch was one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I've had in a long time. According to my records, it's the longest book I've ever finished. (I am, however, currently reading two that are even longer: Bleak House and Underworld.) In January, just as I was getting near the end of the book, I got to see the actual Goldfinch painting during its brief stay at the Frick. I also saw Girl with a Pearl Earring. It's weird seeing a famous painting in person. You keep having to remind yourself you're not looking at a dorm poster, but at the real thing.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The 60 Books I Finished in 2013

Happy New Year. Here are my ten favorite books from 2013. Nine of them were published in years other than 2013. I'm still reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It would be #1 if I had finished it by midnight on January 1. Instead it will be on next year's list.

1) Moby-Dick — Herman Melville
2) The Enchantment of Lily Dahl — Siri Hustvedt
3) The Flamethrowers — Rachel Kushner
4) Shadow Train — John Ashbery
5) The French Lieutenant's Woman — John Fowles
6) Turtle Diary — Russell Hoban
7) The Art of Fielding — Chad Harbach
8) The Lichtenberg Figures — Ben Lerner
9) Lightning Field — Dana Spiotta
10) A Long and Happy Life — Reynolds Price

Here are all the books I finished reading in 2013, in the order in which I finished them. Favorites in bold.

Lightning Field — Dana Spiotta
The Lichtenberg Figures — Ben Lerner
The Enchantment of Lily Dahl — Siri Hustvedt
Nervous Device — Catherine Wagner
A Little White Shadow — Mary Ruefle
Stranger in Town — Cedar Sigo
Dayglo — James Meetze
The Mountain Lion — Jean Stafford
Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast — Hannah Gamble
Dear Jenny, We Are All Find — Jenny Zhang
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh — Michael Chabon
Legs Get Led Astray — Chloe Caldwell
And the Heart Says Whatever — Emily Gould
Invisible — Paul Auster
Million Poems Journal — Jordan Davis
Tenth of December — George Saunders
Shadow Train — John Ashbery
Veronica — Mary Gaitskill
Red Lights — Georges Simenon
Alexander's Bridge — Willa Cather
Journey into the Past — Stefan Zweig
The Ballad of the Sad Café — Carson McCullers
The Pumpkin Eater — Penelope Mortimer
How Should a Person Be? — Sheila Heti
The Art of Fielding — Chad Harbach
Wild — Cheryl Strayed
what purpose did i serve in your life — Marie Calloway
Rock Crystal — Adalbert Stifter
Cassandra at the Wedding — Dorothy Baker
Drinking with Men — Rosie Schaap
The Angel Esmeralda — Don DeLillo
Fatale — Jean-Patrick Manchette
Seven Days in the Art World — Sarah Thornton
Taipei — Tao Lin
Here and Now: Letters (2008-2011) — Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee
A Hologram for the King — Dave Eggers
Tampa — Alissa Nutting
Unmastered — Katherine Angel
Life Itself — Roger Ebert
The Constant Heart — Craig Nova
The Pornographer's Poem — Michael Turner
Moby-Dick — Herman Melville
Balloon Pop Outlaw Black — Patricia Lockwood
Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov
The House of Mirth — Edith Wharton
Leviathan — Paul Auster
Meat Heart —Melissa Broder
The Deep Whatsis — Peter Mattei
Waiting to Be Heard — Amanda Knox
The Flamethrowers — Rachel Kushner
The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
All That Is — James Salter
The French Lieutenant's Woman — John Fowles
A Long and Happy Life — Reynolds Price
Last Night — James Salter
Turtle Diary — Russell Hoban
The Cement Garden — Ian McEwan
Deliverance — James Dickey
The Seamstress and the Wind — César Aira
Fun Home — Alison Bechdel