Best of 2015: Mark

Article by mark

Nightstand, holding place of our ambitions. For me, it carries the books I plan to read as well as the-books-I-want-to-read-next-if-it-wasn’t-for-the-other-books/galleys-I-have/need/want-to read-next and, yes, it also shoulders the burden of books I was dying to read for months that now seem kind of, well, at a glance, mundane. The nightstand, endlessly morphing and changing shape, its only resemblance at any moment the fact that upon it rests stacks and stacks of books. For me, literally stacks.

Lest we forget, moods are precarious and precocious beasts; what seems life-changing on Tuesday seems bland on Wednesday. There’s the books whose first pages I visit but never return to: passing nods, pleasantries exchanged, strangers on the bus of whom we ask the time.

We make lists to fend off mortality, to proclaim, This year, these were the things that I enjoyed most—attempting, in a sense, to give shape to the ineffable, to give some organization to a chaotic pursuit. These end-of-year lists enjoy nothing more than gazing at our accomplishments, taking pleasure in our top tens or twenties, relishing in the communal nature of sharing what we love, since what we love reflects us, each of us. But I’ve spent the past year talking about my favorites (they’re my favorites, after all), so to escape redundancy (or to be contrary), I will share a list of what I haven’t read because, in a larger sense, the books I’ve read in my life will be but a grain of sand beside the books I haven’t. After all, what we know is oh-so-trivial to what we don’t.

These are the books I planned to read but couldn’t find the time. Perhaps they’re books I passed by despite their enticing covers, groaning at the approaching hoofs of fate, cursing the clicking hands of Father Time, whose hands tend to go faster and faster and never slower. This is not a list of failures but a statement about excess: too many novels, too many writers and essays and memoirs, too many short story collections and online articles; blogs about the thing you MUST read (“Put down the book you love for the book you’ll love MORE!’”); trilogies, quartets, debuts, contemporary—and classics too, since there’s the old books (which never go away)—plus the new ones continually arriving like ants to a picnic, in lines then droves then small armies until finally an ant colony of unread books glares at you in condemnation for how long now? Time is a monster and devours everything. My list is not an accusation nor criticism; we’re just people after all, single entities, and there is just so much of everything else.

Lovers on All Saints' Day: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594634260
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Riverhead Books - July 21st, 2015

A few years back, THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING was one of my favorite novels. This new collection of short stories sat on my nightstand for months. I actually read the first story and it was incredible. However, life happened, as they say, and I just didn’t make it back to this collection. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a phenomenal writer and I would suggest anything by him, sight unseen.

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Fortune Smiles: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812997477
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Random House - August 18th, 2015

I loved THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON. Johnson even read at our store a couple years back—super gracious, brilliant, and obviously a fantastic writer. This collection has been mocking me for months.

M Train Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101875100
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Knopf - October 6th, 2015

I’m not a fan of Patti Smith’s music or the NY punk scene of the 70’s and 80’s; it’s simply not a subject of interest. However, Smith is a brilliant writer and loves all the same things that I love. She’s a big fan of Roberto Bolaño and Cesar Aira, and I hear the book discusses her travels in Mexico City too.

The Book of Aron Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101874318
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - May 12th, 2015

This book is SO getting read in 2016. End of story.

Gold Fame Citrus: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594634239
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Riverhead Books - September 29th, 2015

I’ve wanted to read this book so badly! Flip to any page and the writing is just jaw-droppingly good. I just haven’t found the time. Next year, next year.

'I' (The German List) Cover Image
By Wolfgang Hilbig, Isabel Fargo Cole (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780857422347
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Seagull Books - August 15th, 2015

I read Wolfgang Hilbig’s short story collection THE SLEEP OF THE RIGHTEOUS this past year and was knocked sideways. It was a brilliant collection that introduced a master writer to the English-reading public. His novel ‘I’ is large and filled with Communist paranoia

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The Wake: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977177
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - September 1st, 2015

To invent a new language in your novel is novel in itself. This book looks amazing.

The Boatmaker Cover Image
ISBN: 9781935639985
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Tin House Books - March 3rd, 2015

This book has attracted me all year—part parable, part fable, about a carpenter who wakes from a dream with the intention to build a ship and go towards the mainland. Looks amazing.

Between the World and Me Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812993547
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: One World - July 14th, 2015

Timely. Brilliant. Important. And a whole bunch of other adjectives have been used to describe this book, a memoir in the form of a letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ adolescent son following the death of close friend.

AN IMPERFECT BROOM by Jacek Bogusławski : Last on my list is Polish master Jacek Bogusławski’s only novel AN IMPERFECT BROOM. Supposed to be published this past April, the book was pushed back indefinitely. Said to be a precursor to Borges and Bruno Schulz, this labyrinthine opus takes the reader from China’s Qin Dynasty to the heart of the opium trade prior to the Chinese Revolution. It follows the misadventures of an unnamed Wood Nymph, or “spirit,” of the Hainian Forest attempting to establish not only a sovereign Chinese state but a single living humanity.

What follows is a dense, almost claustrophobic tale involving oriental metaphysics, animal husbandry, Gulag prison breaks, explicit orgies with gods and goddesses and a sequence of fever dreams lasting one thousand years. Strangely, it foretells the future of the graphic novel, complete with vivid reproductions of the novel’s original illustrations by Turkish surrealist Emirhan Burakgazi. Coming in at just over 1,000 pages, every bookseller I know was excited for its release.

Perverse, fecund, endlessly grotesque, with dense chapters meandering into sparse valleys of Haiku-like stanzas, including chapter introductions in Tibetan script, invented languages, and even braille, AN IMPERFECT BROOM is a seminal text, devoid of punctuation and singular in its fan base. Haruki Murakami insists he reads a page every night before going to sleep to remind him of the purpose of literature. Umberto Eco has claimed he owes his calling to a two-day binge-reading of BROOM while on holiday in the Lesser Antilles. Critic James Wood calls the book “more universal than Quixote.” I’ve heard rumors of this book for over fifteen years and only hope its English publication will be not be delayed much longer.

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