January 5th, 2010

diller + scofidio

Books I read in 2009

I managed to read a few more books than last year, but still fell way short of my goal of 52, which is pretty embarassing given that I've had a nearly three-hour commute several days a week since September. Better luck next year, I guess?

For this list, I only counted books I read straight through, cover to cover. I counted a few things are only novellas or long essays as long as they were properly bound as individual publications. I decided not to count art catalogues even though I read a few that were more or less book-length. Thanks to my classes, I also read a lot of stuff by and about Jeff Wall and Geoffrey Farmer, along with a lot of history-of-art-history and museology-type stuff.

1. Pierre Louys, Trois Filles et Leur Mere, 1926
French erotica. One of the filthiest things I've ever read.

2. Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice, 1980
I thought it would be a useful refresher and it wasn't bad. From the same New Accents series as Dick Hebdige's famous Subculture.

3. Roberto Bolano, The Romantic Dogs, 2008
Poetry. It was okay but not nearly as enjoyable as his prose. Of course, I'm the wrong guy to ask -- I virtually never read poetry, though all this Bolano I've been reading definitely makes me want to start.

4. J.M. Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg, 1994
Probably would have enjoyed this excellent book even more if I'd read The Devils beforehand.

5. Diederich Deiderichsen, On Surplus Value in Art, 2008
A short text, bought after hearing him speak at the Fillip conference on criticism and judgment. "Drawing on fresh readings of Marxist and post-modern thought, renowned German cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen compares the abstract and climbing values of artworks with the plunging value of music—a traditionally immaterial art—in order to formulate a broad reflection on the current “crisis of value in the arts.” I'd probably have to re-read it to offer any intelligent evaluation of his ideas.

6. Pauline Reage, The Story of O, 1954
Unexpectedly depressing.

7. Nicholson Baker, The Fermata, 1994 (re-read)
I wasn't reading with a lot of direction at this point in the year. Bored and horny, I re-read one of my favourite dirty books.


Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Devils, 1872 (aborted)
Tried to read this for a better appreciation of Coetzee's Master of Petersburg, but I was reading too slow and kept losing track of all the characters. After a month of slogging away, I gave up.


8. Roberto Bolano, 2666, 2008
Took me a little over a month. I savoured every page of this fantastic book. It did even more to revitalize my faith in literature than The Savage Detectives. Certainly, one of the best books I've ever read that was written in my own lifetime. As an adult reader, few (if any) novels have given me more pleasure.

9. Richard Brautigan, Rommel Drives On Deep Into Egypt, 1970
10. Richard Brautigan, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, 1969

Read these after Jen and I started dating because I felt happy and romantic.

11. Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard and Pecuchet, 1881
I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a superb illustration of how knowledge moves through society, and a hilarious send-up of the incurable idiocy of humanity.

12. Tove Jansson, The Summer Book, 1972
A gift from a friend, and a beautiful little gem of a novel by the author of the Moomin books. Quiet, simple, and deep.

13. Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World, 2008
Gossipy but fun. Not as insightful as I'd hoped, but still worth the time. I'd like to read her earlier books on club culture.

14. Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, 1962
I'd never read a PKD novel before this, only stories, and I was totally blown away.

15. Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, 1974
Not quite as good as The Man in the High Castle, but still excellent. This was the first book I finished in Toronto.

16. David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp, 2009
Copped for half-price while cruising every bookstore in Toronto for a job (no luck). A beautifully sweet and nuanced graphic novel with a spectacular graphic sensibility.

17. Roberto Bolano, By Night in Chile, 2003
A friend told me he thought it was Bolano's best, which I still don't quite understand. I liked it, but found it to be the most opaque of his books that I've read. I wasn't sure what to take away from it.

18. Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman, 1967
A brilliant, hilarious black comic romp. Enjoyed immensely.

19. Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber, 1979
I bought this because I'd paged through some of Angela Carter's critical writing and liked it, and she comes fairly highly recommended for those who like the fantastical, but I thought this collection of revisionist feminist fairy tales was full of half-baked ideas and weak style.

20. Flann O'Brien, The Dalkey Archive, 1964
More folksy and less pyrotechnically brilliant as The Third Policeman. Didn't quite live up to expectations, especially given that it focuses on the awesome character of De Selby, the wonderfully crackpot mad scientist/philosopher, who didn't really get the story he deserved. I want more De Selby and it's a bummer that this is all O'Brien wrote.

21. Knut Hamsun, Victoria, 1898
My grandmother was named after this book because my great-grandfather used to correspond with Knut Hamsun. I read this immediately after finding that out. It's a simple, ill-fated love story told in a deliriously poetic style that feels almost-but-not-quite modernist. Illustrations in the style of Edvard Munch or the Vienna Secession would be highly appropriate.

22. J.M. Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K., 1983
Coetzee in his high mode of human moral struggle stripped of all ornament and rendered with painful clarity.

23. Dan Adler, Hanne Darboven: Cultural History 1880-1983, 2009
A book by my thesis advisor about a fairly obscure conceptual artist, nicely printed by Afterall.

24. Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry: an introduction to Lacan through popular culture, 1991
25. Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity, 2004

Both of these were for a class I took on public sculpture. I'd started the Zizek before and never finished it, and it was nice to come back to it now that I'm much better able to grasp what he's talking about. The Kwon book was great, too. It's the book on site-specific art, and I've had to consult it before.

26. Ernst Junger, The Glass Bees, 1957
I bought this after Ernst Junger was mentioned in a Bolano book. Its impressions of living in a country after a war and its insight into the machinery of political power are interesting. The protagonist is an ex-military man who's a curious blend of the reactionary and the progressive: he's an anti-authoritarian who detests the debasement of the state under technological capitalism, but he looks backwards towards a bucolic, patriotic idea of the traditional fatherland. I think Junger shared his protagonist's sympathies, but the character's contradictions are rendered with a great deal of pathos. A very good book.

27. Roberto Bolano, The Skating Rink, 2009
Bolano tries his hand at a relatively straightforward crime novel, though the setting and characters are entirely his own, full of typical autobiographical detail. Excellent, as usual.

28. Slavoj Zizek, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, 2009
Another highly readable, highly topical book from Zizek. Ranty as ever, he throws out some questionable points, contradicts himself a few times, and doesn't finish all of his ideas, but that doesn't mean he's not in top form.

29. Roberto Bolano, Distant Star, 2004
A continuation of a part from Nazi Literature in the Americas, which I haven't read yet. More tales of rebel poets under military governments in Chile.

30. Horacio Castellanos Moya, Senselessness, 2008
An El Salvadorean endorsed by Bolano. This gripping, breakneck novel centers around a horny, paranoid alchoholic transcribing records of atrocities committed against indigenous peoples. I read it straight through on a bus from Montreal to Toronto.

31. Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, 2009
K-punk's long-awaited first book! Not as definitive as I'd hoped, but still incisive.

32. Roberto Bolano, Last Evenings on Earth, 2008
A collection of haunting, highly personal stories.

33. Adolfo Bioy Casares, Asleep in the Sun, 1978
A black-comic story of a man whose wife turns into a dog by this compatriot of Borges. I would have read Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel (the basis for Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad) first, but it was temporarily out of stock at Amazon. On the list for next year.

34. Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography, 1978
Not really about pornography in general, more about de Sade. Reads like a Master's thesis, but not uninteresting.

35. Cesar Aira, How I Became A Nun, 2007
A short, vivid, quirky, and extremely interior novel about a childhood that starts with arsenic poisoning and ends with ice cream. Recommended by Bolano.

36. Franz Kafka, The Castle, 1926
Somehow I hadn't read this yet.

37. Nina Power, One-Dimensional Woman, 2009
From the same Zer0 books series as Capitalist Realism. Nina Power is a translator of Badiou and a prolific firebrand of a writer on the cutting edge of continental philosophy. She's extremely readable, and this excellent book about the sorry state of contemporary feminism is a must-read. I like her style enormously (young, drunk, angry, sexy) and want to read more.

38. Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brains?, 2009
I started this early in the year and didn't finish until the end, in spite of its extremely brief length. Malabou is a Marxist/Hegelian philosopher writing about neuroscience. From the blurb: "Looking carefully at contemporary neuroscience, it is hard not to notice that the new way of talking about the brain mirrors the management discourse of the neo-liberal capitalist world in which we now live, with its talk of decentralization, networks, and flexibility. Consciously or unconsciously, science cannot but echo the world in which it takes place.In the neo-liberal world, "plasticity" can be equated with "flexibility"--a term that has become a buzzword in economics and management theory. The plastic brain would thus represent just another style of power, which, although less centralized, is still a means of control. In this book, Catherine Malabou develops a second, more radical meaning for plasticity. Not only does plasticity allow our brains to adapt to existing circumstances, it opens a margin of freedom to intervene, to change those very circumstances. Such an understanding opens up a newly transformative aspect of the neurosciences.In insisting on this proximity between the neurosciences and the social sciences, Malabou applies to the brain Marx's well-known phrase about history: people make their own brains, but they do not know it. This book is a summons to such knowledge." By asking science to question the ideological bases of its operations, she opens up a space that I hadn't considered between anti-reductionism ("Science can't answer these questions") and reductionism ("there is a rational, scientific explanation for everything.') Extremely provocative stuff. I imagine this book will turn out to be quite important. Endorsed by Zizek.

39. Thomas Bernhard, Frost, 1963 (still in progress)
I've been meaning to read Bernhard for quite a while. So far, his style is a little more stream-of-consciousness than I really like, but it's a fine specimen of visceral, heavy, Euro-modernist misanthropy. Very German, a bit Kafkaesque. I like it.


EDIT: I also read Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint in the summer, but I can't be bothered to go back and insert it in the right place. I'd have to change all the numbers.