A simple one, what it says on the tin. I round them up on my masto account as well, but wanted a way to list them all together and make some broader observations about what I've been reading!
- Max Haiven - Revenge Capitalism
- Jenny Hval - Paradise Rot
- Jenny Hval - Girls Against God
- Hiroko Oyamada - The Factory
- Chris Kraus - Summer of Hate
- Elif Batuman - The Idiot
- Gregory Sholette - Dark Matter
- Thomas Thwaites - The Toaster Project
- Thomas Mann - The Magic Mountain
- Mike Phillips - The Dancing Face
- Izumi Suzuki - Terminal Boredom
- Hildegard of Bingen and Huw Lemmey - Unknown Language
- Chris Kraus - Where Art Belongs
- Byung-Chul Han - Shanzhai
- eds. Catherine Grant and Kate Random Love - Fandom As Methodology
- Ian GR Shaw and Marv Waterstone - Wageless Life
- BS Johnson - Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry
- Ali Smith - The Accidental
- Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer - Towards a New Manifesto
- Graciela S Daichman - Wayward Nuns in Medieval Literature
- Dave Beech - Art and Postcapitalism
- Clarice Lispector - The Hour of the Star
- Clarice Lispector - The Passion According to GH
- Kathy Acker - Great Expectations
- Tom McCarthy - The Making of Incarnation
This year I kept up with reading some theory and nonfiction, but I feel like I have shifted over to reading a lot more fiction as well. Part of this is probably from throwing in the towel after 2 years of trying to find something to do in the miserable pandemic arts/academic job market, so I feel less pressure to be pursuing new stuff and staying sharp in this area. Getting a "regular day job" from July onwards has occasionally been annoying or frustrating, but it also is a lot less leaky, in that I know what hours of the day I'll generally be free to pursue my own ends (and can even snatch a bit of time during the day sometimes, as I'm doing now). In those cases, I've mostly been making games or writing fiction rather than any academic-adjacent writing, and I feel like if I'm writing fiction I also should be reading it, to keep my ear for voice and style active (honestly that is one of the things I struggle with the most, just getting into a sort of mental mire where I'm not sure if my own writing "sounds good").
The Good: Max Haiven's theoretical contributions are still something I will read "just for fun" because they are so current and creative/generative, the main theory books I disliked that I read this year (Wageless Life and Art and Postcapitalism) mainly were underwhelming because they did not have a good technical or structural understanding of the current situation in art or technology, and/or relied on the sort of "everything is exactly the same" prescriptive application of Marx's original writings precisely to shut down additional analysis, rather than to inform their investigation, while also drawing on the actual context.
I love love loved Jenny Hval's work, and it was exactly what my dark mood needed going into the new year: a rousing dose of introversion and negativity in a crowd of contemporary novels where characters seem to be obsessed with self-improvement narratives and being a normatively "good person" (dull!). Summer of Hate will also really stick with me as a novel highly attuned to the consequences of ambiguous or fluctuating social/economic status that pulls off this devastating analysis like a thriller. And The Idiot was also great, full of subtle surrealism, unspoken horniness, and white-knuckle email correspondence, basically a book made for me.
This was the year I read The Magic Mountain and also had a really great time! My partner sold it to me as a sort of dating sim, in the sense that Hans Castorp is a sort of sympathetic everyman who ends up getting isekai'd (by a lung infection) into isolated and special circumstances, where a variety of character "types" essentially try to seduce him to their own ideological commitments. Described like this, there's the risk that it could come off a little stiff, but it's still very emotionally rich, full of surrealism and irony, and I'm surprised how much it's stuck with me and informed my work already. I have to be less afraid of the huge tomes going forward, I think, as will reflect in my forthcoming reading plans.
My partner also gave me his Clarice Lispector books after reading the first few chapters of my novel draft, and I basically zoomed through them. The Passion According to GH especially made an impression on me, not only for its elaborate and borderline erotic regard of cockroaches but also in terms of representing a character's thoughts or internal monologue in a way that doesn't become self-indulgent and annoying lol. I was really excited reading reviews of Tom McCarthy's The Making of Incarnation; it's a bit of an espionage thriller but in the context of industrial design, simulation and movement studies, following employees of a CGI company currently working on a big-budget sci-fi film (complete with overly complicated zero g sex scenes) who become entangled with how these industries inform surveillance, drone warfare, and so on. While the ways some of the characters' stories were wrapped up were disappointingly quick or overly pat, I did really like the thought and technical expertise that went into describing the technology, making it feel very real and full of thought provoking stuff to someone adjacent to that type of work...
Anyways, the rest of the books were pretty good/enjoyable in a "does what it says on the tin" way (aka I don't have a ton of thoughts about them but would reccomend them) unless I mention them in the section below, lol.
The Bad: Like I mentioned above, Wageless Life and Art and Postcapitalism both sounded like, conceptually and in terms of the targets of their critiques, right up my alley, but their argumentation was really harmed by either a total misunderstanding of the relationship between labor and automation in the case of Wageless Life or in the case of Art and Postcapitalism a sort of paranoid prescriptiveness against reproduction theory as a supposed rival trying to overwrite what already (maybe, in a fragmentary and overly naive good-faith reading) exists in Marx, rather than something that I find is often building on and enhancing Marxism. And the author also seems kind of clueless about the nature of work in the arts as well, ie presuming that public arts funding bodies are not "capitalist" institutions even though they usually operate as and/or favor charities/nonprofits and artists who shore up a neoliberal sense of national identity, a critique Claire Bishop made over 10 years ago now, etc. Just really drab, easily avoidable errors that unfortunately kind of dominate the structure and argumentation of the book in both cases.
Unknown Language really underwhelmed me unfortunately. I really enjoyed the early parts that took place in the city, and the depictions of weird angels and religious visions, but it just became a bit overwhelmingly twee once the character gets out into the countryside, especially encountering a very grating, mostly non-speaking Noble Primitive type she travels with. Like it just seemed over the top given that the "apocalypse" only happened a few months ago and she was only out of the city a few days by foot, to expect me to like, accept this would be a reasonable character to encounter rather than something on the level of like, contrived moral thermometer Love Actually moppet child.
I also found myself wanting more from Shanzhai, like, the philosophical justification for work breaking with traditional ideas of "originality" or intellectual property regimes was good, but there was very little about the actual tech manufacturing culture the title was taken from, and overall the book just felt like a padded-out single essay than a full volume. The fandom based research anthology was similarly really uneven and some of the arts practices discussed were a bit cringy in the sense that they seemed to be putting most of their effort into "elevating" the idea of fandom individually rather than exploring or understanding the concept. Though, despite all this pain and disappointment I have to say the quotations that leaked into reviews and discussions of the new Sally Rooney novel were probably the most dire sentences experienced this year, lol.
The Forthcoming???: I am starting the new year with a reread of Vladimir Nabokov's Ada, because a friend finished it recently and is desperate for someone to talk about it with. This'll be my third go, lol. Lately I've been feeling the need to revisit books I really enjoyed in my early 20s, when usually I didn't see myself going back to re-read (or re-watch etc) stuff I already knew I liked. I wonder what I'll get out of it this time! I also have a handbook to monastic life and architecture that seems fun, and Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge, as well as another Chris Kraus novel, Torpor which I was kind of on the fence about based on the back blurb, but I have loved them all so far, so thought why not? And of course, I'm reading these alongside revising my own novel for the next few months, which will naturally color what I get out of them as well. Basically, I'm excited to have more time to read in general!