Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Five of 2012

In addition to the round-up of book reviews I wrote during 2012, I thought I'd devote a post to my top five books of the year. I didn't write formal reviews of everything I read this year, so this might shine some light on some previously unmentioned books. Once again, I followed the Booker Prize in the UK but tried to keep my distance as a collector. I'm very happy I dipped into the shortlist this year, despite my hesitations to do so--if I sat this year out, I wouldn't have discovered Deborah Levy's outstanding Swimming Home or the wonderful press that put that book out: And Other Stories. They might be my favorite find of the year; I'm currently reading their sixth book, The Islands, and absolutely adore it.

On to the Top Five, in no particular order.

1. Edward St. Aubyn, At Last
(Sure, this may have come out in the UK in 2011 but was published here in the US in 2012.)

With At Last, Edward St. Aubyn concludes a five-part series of exceptional novels about the life of Patrick Melrose, an ex-junkie and survivor of a childhood of sexual abuse. The Patrick Melrose novels are almost familiar, feeling at times like the usual upper-class British society novel, but St. Aubyn writes with such an aggressive upheaval of those standards that he consistently wows his readers with bitter, violent truth. At Last is set during the funeral of Melrose's mother, and with a conflicted heart I began to understand the overwhelming relief Patrick must feel to be finally rid of both his parents.

With the publication of At Last, Picador in the UK re-released the first four Melrose novels (Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk) in handsome little paperbacks. Opting against the Melrose omnibus that is stateside, I picked up the first three novels online (I have a hardcover of Mother's Milk somewhere...).

2. Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango

I featured Satantango and Animalinside in a previous post, so I'll leave the synopsis there. Instead, a tangential aside: recently I went to see Zadie Smith and Chris Ware in conversation and Smith said something about how important it is for readers to seek out challenging novels and not simply the ones that can be consumed quickly and easily. She says she grew up a freakishly good reader (reminding me of Serena Frome in Ian McEwan's new novel), one that could scan an entire page and not have to deal with each specific word in a sentence. She thought this was a good thing, but as an older reader she realized it wasn't: readers should find the books that make them re-negotiate how to read, hone their skills and not just do what comes easiest. Satantango is the best example of this concept I can come up with: it's an astonishing book, full of serpentine sentences, chain after chain of clauses and ideas. And, underneath that unorthodox structure, there's a fantastic, snarling tale of a small town believing in a fate that's not meant to be.

3. Chris Ware, Building Stories

Speaking of Chris Ware, you absolutely must read his comic Building Stories. Inside this giant cardboard box, there's a collection of independently bound books and pamphlets that each provide a glimpse into the life story of a nameless, one-legged narrator. Zadie Smith was actually talking about Building Stories in that tangent I mentioned above: Ware is a master at creating new pathways for his readers to work through his frames. Comics inherently have a frame-by-frame quality to them, but Ware completely transcends that restraint and creates these staggeringly gorgeous, full-page spreads that meander down the page, focusing in on minutae, all while capturing the most complicated of human emotions.

4. Colm Toibin, New Ways To Kill Your Mother

Colm Toibin's collection of essays on writers and their families single-handedly opened up the world of literary criticism to me this year. New Ways To Kill Your Mother does require a substantial amount of literary knowledge, but Toibin exposes in his subjects a wildly relatable amount of family angst, awkwardness and competition. You don't need to be a Yeats scholar to be enthralled by his tense relationship with his father, or know anything about Thomas Mann, Tennessee Williams, or John Cheever to fall deep into these essays. Toibin's amount of knowledge and research is nothing short of inspiring; I wish there were more books out there like this.

I was lucky enough to meet Toibin during his tour for The Testament of Mary and got my copy of New Ways To Kill Your Mother signed:


5. Deborah Levy, Swimming Home

Lastly is Deborah Levy's outstanding novel Swimming Home. A short, taut work about a writer and his family on holiday, Swimming Home derails with calculated finesse in just over 150 pages. Levy develops a difficult family in a remarkably short amount of time, and captures many scenes of emotional complexity in simple, unassuming passages. The story of a family unraveling on vacation is certainly not a new one, but it's rarely done with such grace.

An added bonus of Swimming Home is discovering its publisher And Other Stories. They're only a few years old and have a subscription service: by signing up for the next few novels, you can get numbered first editions and your name printed in the back of each book. I'm currently reading my second book from And Other Stories called The Islands by Carlos Gamerro and it's shockingly good--an amalgamation of so many authors I love. I see traces of Bolano, Pynchon, and Richard Powers buried inside a weird story about a hacker hired to solve a murder. And Other Stories is two-for-two as far as I can tell, and they'll certainly be getting more of my attention (and hopefully yours).

Honorable mentions:
Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity
Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies

These two didn't quite make my Top 5 but are still some exceptionally good novels (and curiously, polar opposites of each other). 2012 Booker Prize-winning Bring Up The Bodies is an amazing historical read, set soon after Henry VIII's historic annulment. A Naked Singularity is a sprawling post-modern novel about a Brooklyn attorney, somewhere between a legal thriller, American social history, and theoretical philosophy. Both are absolutely worth picking up.

It's been a great year in books! As always, thanks for reading. I wish you all happy holidays and I will see you next in 2013.

Currently reading:
The Islands by Carlos Gamerro

Currently listening to:
Mark Kozelek, White Christmas Live

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mark Z. Danielewski, "The Fifty Year Sword", signed deluxe editon

Around mid-September, a limited edition of Mark Z. Danielewski's The Fifty Year Sword was announced with nothing more than a photo of an orange case featuring five metal clasps around its edges. The book was planned at an expensive (but reasonable) price of $100.00, but there was very little information available online about where to purchase this Deluxe Edition. I found the book on Amazon--they were taking pre-orders (with a hefty discount) for a few weeks, and then the book kind of vanished. The Deluxe Edition stopped appearing on Amazon searches and any digital presence for the book kind of dried up. Still, Amazon had my pre-order--the booked was marked as "not yet shipped" for about four months, and suddenly arrived in Brooklyn last week.


It's quite a nice piece, and very nice to see a book's design mirror its plot. The novel's eponymous sword is kept in a box with five metal clasps, and is ceremoniously opened at the end of the novel by the book's five narrators. I can't help but feel a little sinister each time I unlatch my copy of The Fifty Year Sword.


Inside is a signed copy of the trade edition (jacket and all), except this version has an exposed-stitch "Nepalese" binding. Again, this design decision mirrors the book's content--threading is a major visual (and textual) motif throughout The Fifty Year Sword and it's cool to see the book's structural makeup hidden underneath the jacket.

One complaint, however: the trade edition of the book has a very well-executed "punctured" jacket. It's something I've never seen before, and pushes the book further into the realm of an art-object. However, the jacket of the Deluxe Edition is EXACTLY the same as the trade version, straight down to the $26.00 price printed on the flap. While I appreciate the subtle design motifs of the Deluxe Edition (and appreciate the bound-in signature... more on that later) some might look at this and feel like they spent $74.00 on a metal-latched box. I'm very pleased with the book, but glad I didn't have to pay full price.

Another wonderful spin on this edition is the signature. The book feels very autumnal and is colored in a range of harvest hues (each narrator has their own orange-brown quotation mark preceding their lines), and Danielewski seems to be having a blast with the color scheme. Check out this photo of him prepping his signatures:

Judging from here, there's a bit of a gamble at play in the Deluxe Edition: will you get one 'Z' in your book, or five? Here's mine:


In all, The Fifty Year Sword is a really fun book to get lost in--it's very slight and much of its strength comes from its format, but I wholly recommend it to fans of experimental fiction. My full review can be read here:

And, you collector's out there: you should try to pick one of these boxed editions up, and hope for five Z's......

Currently reading:
Pure by Julianna Baggott

Currently watching:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Year in Reviews

As we get closer to December, I thought it might be interesting to compile a "year in review" of sorts by listing all the reviews I've written for It's difficult to choose favorites from 2012--in addition to the below titles I've also enjoyed much of the Booker Prize list as well as the first three books in "A Song of Ice and Fire". Other highlights for my year of reading include Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose quintet, Amitav Ghosh's "River of Smoke", and the early novels of Ian McEwan.
Below is a list, by month, of all the reviews I've written this year. I'll pick a top five towards the end of December and features those titles individually, too. 


Michel Houllebecq, "The Map and the Territory"

Ben Marcus, "The Flame Alphabet"


Tom McCarthy, "Men in Space"


Geoff Dyer, "Zona"
László Krasznahorkai, "Satantango"
Edouard Levé, "Autoportrait"
Adam Levin, "Hot Pink"


Joe Brainard, "The Collected Writings"
Sergio De La Pava, "A Naked Singularity"
Jack Kerouac, "The Sea Is My Brother"
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, "Reticence"
Tor Ulven, "Replacement"


Alessandro Baricco, "Emmaus"
Roberto Bolaño, "The Secret of Evil"
Kojo Laing, "Search Sweet Country"
Noelle Revaz, "With The Animals"


Joe Sacco, "Journalism"
Colm Tóibín, "New Ways To Kill Your Mother"


John Brandon, "A Million Heavens"
Carlos Fuentes, "Vlad"


Danilo Kiš, "Psalm 44"


Kevin Powers, "The Yellow Birds"
Salman Rushdie, "Joseph Anton"
Zadie Smith, "NW"


Chris Ware, "Building Stories"
Mark Z. Danielewski, "The Fifty-Year Sword"


Colm Tóibín, "The Testament of Mary"
Roberto Bolaño, "Woes of the True Policeman"
Ian McEwan, "Sweet Tooth"
Carlos Gamerro, "The Islands"
Julianna Baggott, "Pure"

Currently reading:
Ian McEwan, "Sweet Tooth"

Currently listening to:
Chris Kiehne, "The Western Throne"  

Monday, October 29, 2012

John Updike, "From the Journal of a Leper", limited edition from Lord John Press

Here's another John Updike limited edition from the Lord John Press. Originally published in the New Yorker in 1976, this 1978 bound edition of "From the Journal of a Leper" is limited to 300 numbered copies and 26 lettered copies (that I believe were bound in some amount of leather).
"From the Journal of a Leper" is a strange little story about a man afflicted with "spots, plaques, and avalanches of excess skin, manufactured by the dermis through some trifling but persistent error in its metabolic instructions, expand and slowly migrate across the body like lichen on a tombstone." Not technically leprosy in the traditional sense, but a troubling bodily condition that Updike can use in all its metaphorical capacity. The narrator is a ceramicist, whose smooth, perfect vases provide the story with a well-toned balance to its otherwise epidermal focus.
The book is beautifully printed in red and black, with a delicate, ornate insignia on the title, limitation, and final page.
This is copy #2 of 300, signed by Updike. The limitation page with printing details is below:
This is the second book I've featured from the Lord John Press, and it will certainly not be the last. Lord John Press has produced limited editions like this from Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, and many other high-profile, collectible authors. I'm shocked that these are still floating around the used market--while they're not primary publications by these writers, many are deceased and the fact that you can still get these books for under $100 is pretty remarkable. I found From the Journal of a Leper on eBay a few weeks ago for about $40. Check them out!

Currently reading:
Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolano

Currently listening to:
"A Winged Victory for the Sullen" (and the winds of Hurricane Sandy)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hilary Mantel wins the 2012 Man Booker Prize

Hilary Mantel just won the 2012 Man Booker Prize with her outstanding Bring Up The Bodies. I'm so glad I didn't skip this one. I was originally inclined to pass on it due to my low enthusiasm for Wolf Hall, but Bring Up The Bodies is an entirely different novel. Taut, exciting, and relatively independent of its predecessor, I wholly recommend this and think it's a great pick for this year's prize.

Mantel is also the third novelist (and the first woman!) to have won the Booker Prize twice (Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee are the only others, I believe). She deserves all the praise she's bound to get with this win. Congratulations!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Around the World in Eighty Days, limited edition by David Adjaye

This is a limited edition of Jules Verne's wonderful adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days, designed by British architect David Adjaye for Penguin's "Puffin Designer Classics" series of novels for younger readers. I previously feature Lauren Child's outstanding edition of The Secret Garden, which can be seen here.

Limited to 1,000 numbered and slipcased copies, Penguin/Puffin's Around the World in Eighty Days is a finely designed and commendably modest rendition of the classic. Adjaye chose a matte gold color for the book's boards and shiny gilt edges for the exposed pages. Even the ink inside is a golden hue! His cover design is not simply for the front of the book but is fully rotational, and is actually carried around the entire book in a subtle and very clever manner.

Phileas Fogg's route around the world is very delicately drawn across the map on the front of the book and is carried across the book's spine. The book's title and Verne's name do not appear on the spine; simply the traveler's path through Europe is featured in the center.

What's exciting is that the route continues along the other side of the book and cuts through the edges of the boards and down through the pages.

And it's really only noticable when you fan the pages open (or look from the perspective of someone actually reading the book). Love the blue ribbon, as well..!

When the book is closed, it's hardly noticeable underneath the gilt edges.

Naysayers might just consider this a cool gimmick, but I think Adjaye's overall book design masterfully balances the excitement of the rotational motif. A really nice piece!

Below is a shot of the limitation page: this is copy 457 of 1000.

Currently reading:
Just finished Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton

Currently listening to:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

New fall books

Another "stack of books" post, this time on the amazing fall list of new literature. As a reviewer, I got early copies of a lot of these titles. And, lucky enough, the books I didn't get set up to review (Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon) had a major push with signed copies appearing in a lot of my local bookstores.

The image above features the following books:

Chris Ware, Building Stories
Mark Z. Danielewski, The Fifty-Year Sword (ARC)
Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (signed)
Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue (signed, limited edition)
Zadie Smith, NW
Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds
Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her (signed)

As you can imagine, this stack is keeping me very busy this month. I'll be getting back to some rare titles once all the contemporary fiction slows down...

Currently reading:
Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton

Currently listening to:
John Maus, "A Collection of Rarities..."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 Man Booker Prize shortlist announced

This morning, the Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced. Despite my earlier attempts at holding back from this season's prize, I did cave on three books which I'm excited to report made it to the shortlist. The Mantel and Levy books are both exceptional, and I'm reading The Garden of Evening Mists currently and enjoying it very much. The full list:

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
Umbrella by Will Self

Of these, I think I'll skip Narcopolis and The Lighthouse, but Umbrella sure sounds intriguing.

The winner will be announced on October 16th.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

William T. Vollmann, Rising Up and Rising Down, 7-volume set

Rising Up and Rising Down is William T. Vollmann's exceptionally good and unbelievably overwhelming seven-volume meditation on violence in the world. As usual with Vollmann's writing, Rising Up and Rising Down isn't so much verbose as it is impressively ambitious. You'd think seven volumes is too much, but when you begin to read Rising Up and Rising Down it becomes quickly apparent how well-thought and paced the book actually is. The set opens with a volume he calls the "Moral Calculus" and is followed by an introductory meditation. The subsequent five tomes methodically delve into "Justifications" of violence (Honor, Class, Race, Religion, War, etc.) and proceed into case studies of consequences of the previously discussed motives.

It's fascinating and difficult stuff, but Vollmann's more-gonzo-than-gonzo style of writing provides Rising Up and Rising Down with a surprising amount of readability. Rising Up and Rising Down was published by McSweeney's in 2003 in what I believe was a limited run of only 1500 copies. It's a really special book and if you ever have a chance to get your hands on a copy I'd highly recommend it.

What prompted me to showcase Rising Up and Rising Down is the newly minted "Limited Edition Goods" section of the McSweeney's store. If you like the publisher, you should begin lurking here and adding it to the cycle of website you check daily. Signed Chris Ware posters and signed new releases by authors like David Byrne and Beck have appeared there for a few hours in drastically limited copies, only to be snatched up by discerning collectors. A series of original portraits by Tony Millionaire is currently in the store, but who knows how long they'll be there. When the shop opened, they had five copies of Rising Up and Rising Down listed for $500.00 each, and I'm happy to report that they've all been sold. In 2003, when I first bought the set for a discounted $95, it was the most expensive new book I had ever bought. And how things have changed since then...

Currently listening to:
Sun Kil Moon, "Admiral Fell Promises"

Currently reading:
Psalm 44 by Danilo Kis

Friday, August 24, 2012

Forthcoming Limited Editions

Have you seen the monumental list of contemporary fiction coming out this fall season? New novels by Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan, John Banville, Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, Salman Rushdie, and so much more. It's really exciting, and frankly I'm worried I won't have enough shelf space to handle all these new novels.

But, instead of featuring a big list of new books, I'd like to tip you off on a handful of limited editions that will be released in the next couple months. If I had the money, I'd get on the waiting lists for all of these.

Neil Gaiman, Stardust Gift Edition (Deluxe, Signed)

Considering the many editions of Gaiman's Stardust that are already out there, this seems a bit like a cash-grab. However, Gaiman's limited edition novels tend to move really quickly onto the collector's market--I dare you to try to find a copy of The Graveyard Book limited edition that Bloomsbury put out in 2008 for under $150 now. That was limited to 1,000 copies and was widely available for purchase when it first came out--I've been trying to get my hands on a copy (or, even better, the Subterranean edition) for a decent price for a while now and have had very little luck.

Stardust is an outstandingly good fantasy story, in my opinion up there with the likes of The Princess Bride. This new edition comes in a slipcase, signed, and will include new artwork by the great Charles Vess. At $150, It's an obvious pick for any fan of Gaiman's, and looks to be a lovely piece. My only concern is that the limitation has not been set yet--I wouldn't be surprised if that number is influenced by the number of pre-orders (which you can do here.)

Mark Z. Danielewski, The Fifty-Year Sword

Danielewski, author of cult favorites House of Leaves and Only Revolutions will publish what I understand to be an expanded edition of 2005's limited edition of the same name. Originally published by a small Dutch press, The Fifty-Year Sword will be released with Pantheon this October. Danielewski's following makes him an extremely collectible author--I'm very proud of my signed "2nd edition" of House of Leaves--and a limited edition of The Fifty-Year Sword should be met with great fanfare. Details were announced on the Pantheon website: "The collector’s edition of Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Fifty Year Sword features a deluxe slipcase with five metal latches, Nepalese binding (an exposed, specially stitched spine), and a signed frontispiece. Limited to 1,000 copies." Get your order in (with a steep discount) now on amazon.

Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

I don't even know if this is still available: this is a signed, limited edition of Ian McEwan's new novel Sweet Tooth, printed in conjunction with the London Review Bookshop (Sweet Tooth will be published in the states this November). The edition will be only 100 copies, seventy-five of which will be quarter-bound in a wonderful yellowish leather. The book will be housed in a patterned slipcase and feature colored edges. These will be numbered 1-75, and an edition run of twenty-five roman-numeraled books will be bound in full leather, numbered i-xxv. The book is currently available at an early pre-order price, which will go up 30 GBP at the end of the month. The edition of 75 will cost you 150GBP, whereas the the 25 full-leather copies will start at 260GBP. An absolutely gorgeous book. The order page on says to email Claire Williams with all enquiries at

Chris Ware, Multi-Story Building Model

Chris Ware's Building Stories will be published in October--I can't wait to see how this comes out. The book is essentially a boxed set of many smaller bound comics--I don't think there will be any "instructions", so readers will be able to create their own path through Ware's beautiful, heartbreaking tales. In addition to this, Ware will be releasing (through Drawn and Quarterly) an $80.00 portfolio of supplemental prints called Multi-Story Building Model. From what I can tell, Ware intends for these prints to be cut down to various shapes, that when folded, will create a 3-dimensional structure. This will be signed and numbered and limited to 1,000 copies. Keep any eye on the Drawn & Quarterly website to place your pre-order.

Currently reading:
The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan

Currently listening to:
O.M.D., "Dazzle Ships"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

No Hassles by Anne Waldman (Kulchur Foundation)

Here's a book I just got from eBay: No Hassles by Anne Waldman, illustrated by Joe Brainard, Donna Dennis and George Schneeman. This was published in 1971 by the Kulchur Foundation in New York City, which is a new-to-me old publisher who put out a lot of great poetry collections from the New York School scene (I bought this from a seller along with another out-of-print Kulchur book called Sung Sex by Kenward Elmslie and Joe Brainard). A "collaborative" book like this is a fun way to discover a new writer--I'm a fan of Brainard's art and am very pleased that my interest in his drawings has led me to a new poet.

I was surprised with the bulk of this book. I've got some other pieces that Brainard worked on and they've all been staple-bound and short on page count... I was expecting something of that general size, but this is bound quite nicely and has about 150 pages of poems, drawings and comics. Waldman calls it an "unhinged book in parts", which is a very apt (and quite lovely) description.

Here's a little poem:

And a wonderful sketch of Brainard's:

Currently reading:
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Currently listening to:
The Cure, "The Top"

Monday, July 30, 2012

Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy (first edition, numbered)

Although I intend to be less involved with the Booker Prize this year, I am still interested in following the "markets"--seeing which titles are selling out and difficult to find in their first impressions. This year, the Booker judges have introduced me to And Other Stories press, who published Deborah Levy's Swimming Home in 2011. The book has an introduction by Tom McCarthy, too! The press has a great design aesthetic and offers an exciting subscription service for interested readers. If you subscribe for a full year, your name will be printed in the book as a thank-you for your support.

Today I learned that first editions of Swimming Home were specifically those numbered copies distributed to subscribers. And Other Stories has a few extra copies which they are selling on the Amazon marketplace for the appropriate sum of 45GBP. Coincidentally, this is how much it costs for a US reader to subscribe for a year (and get four books). After much deliberation, I decided against the copy of Swimming Home, thinking I might enjoy subscribing more. But, this means there are still copies available for you! Take a look, and buy a copy if it's still available. Even if it doesn't take the prize, it'll be good to support these guys:

Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (numbered first edition)

Currently reading:
Purvis by Denis Johnson

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King (signed 1st edition)

In case you haven't already been stopped in your tracks by this at your local bookstore, I thought I'd share with you A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. This book is simply gorgeous--the detailing is all indented into a brown vinyl-like material, which is then further printed in gold to accentuate the design. It's the closest anyone will come to the tooled leather look with a mass-produced volume... I think it's astonishing how great this turned out.

A while ago, I found my interest in McSweeney's was waning, but they've pulled me back in with some really outstanding novels (and lots of great book design, too). I recently saw that Hologram found itself a spot on the bestseller list and couldn't be more happy for the publishing house.

Now, as for the novel...I wasn't a fan. Eggers tries to work this big Samuel Beckett thing into what could have been a very tight meditation on international economic relations, resulting in what I thought was a really empty read. The book is about an American businessman trying to pitch a holographic communication system to a Saudi king who seems to never honor his appointments. While he waits, Eggers brings us lightly through Alan's past and glosses over the state of independent business. Now, Hologram is getting a lot of great reviews by many people, so I'm sort of an outlier here. If you like Eggers and are intrigued by this one, please don't let me steer you away.

My copy is a signed first edition that I picked up at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene. As a collector, though, this is where things get a little weird. Sometimes "collector's" copies are available for purchase before the collector has time to decide if he or she actually likes the book. It's very difficult to let go of something like this, but I think it's important to remind oneself that it's okay to get rid of a book you don't like, no matter how beautiful it is. My copy of Hologram is on eBay right now--not to turn a profit, but to simply move on.

Currently reading:
Soul of a Whore and Purvis by Denis Johnson

Currently listening to:
Radiohead, "In Rainbows"