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Desiderata: Tin House Author Favorites of 2013
Matthew Spekctor, author of American Dream Machine:
Novel: I hate playing favorites, but Owen King’s Double Feature takes on the movies at once so persuasively and with such esprit. It’s hard to think of a new novel that gave me more sheer pleasure this year than this one.
Short Story Collection: Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, for being so ceaselessly and charmingly and sadly inventive. Plus, Karen Russell herself. I’ve built an effigy of her in Red Vines, which sits on the edge of my desk.
Film: American Hustle! This probably isn’t a great film –I know it’s not– but for sheer exuberance, a certain reckless and ridiculous energy, it’s unbeatable. It’s hard to find such joy in a theater these days.
Record: Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel was my jam of jams. Television, Richard Thompson, Sun Ra and Spacemen 3, all happening at once.
Jodi Angel, author of You Only Get Letters from Jail:
Novel: I loved every book that Tin House put out this year, and though I haven’t read them all yet, they are stacked in my “To Be Read” pile because every one of them sounds like something I MUST read. And they are beautiful books.
Short Story Collection: My favorite collection would have to be George Saunders’ Tenth of December because it pulled me in and held me there like a tight fist and I couldn’t do anything but read and then re-read, and then read it again because every word was like a small stone I wanted to carry in my mouth and suck the flavor out of.
Poetry Collection: I just started reading Mira Gonzalez’s I Will Never Be Beautiful Enough To Make Us Beautiful Together, and I am sort of in love with her poetry because it makes me laugh and feel uncomfortable and awake and flawed and better than some people and worse than most, but alive—completely and tragically alive.
Film: I saw the re-release of The Wizard of Oz in Imax 3-D on a Tuesday afternoon and that pretty much gave me brain damage for about two days, but I think Dallas Buyer’s Club was the best thing I have seen thus far. I’m really more excited about what is yet to come, since the Oscar contenders are still making their way to the gate, so I plan on spending my money for seats to see Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in IMAX 3-D because I want to spend about 4 hours watching 1/3 of one movie.
Record: This was a decent year of music, and a lot of good albums came out, and even though Motorhead came out with a new album, and so did Black Sabbath and Rob Zombie (c’mon, who can resist song titles like “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy”), I find myself returning to California X’s album, California X when the weather gets cold because it’s an album that feels like summer and driving with the windows down and not caring about where you end up or what time you get there. You might not even go.
Novel: It’s gigantic and serious and I’m only halfway through, but The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis is unbelievably good, absurdly ambitious and beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s not cool in a certain boring way, and I worry that people haven’t really been hearing about it as much as they should. Same thing happened with this book called Moby Dick, by this fella named Herman Melville. Consider yourself warned!
Short Story Collection: It’s been a crazy good year for collections of stories, so this is tough, but I’d have to say Laura Van Den Berg’s Isle of Our Youth. Her stories are so startling, so apt. They’re shockingly original, but they somehow manage to not come off as gimmicky.
Poetry Collection: The frowning barefoot kid on the cover of Ed Skoog’s Rough Day is his mother, circa 1939. She has her pet crow perched on her lap. In an interview, Skoog said, “The book is about a lot of things, and one is trying to reconstruct a sense of self after loss. For me that’s the passing of my mother almost 10 years ago. How to rebuild the world after rupture.”
Novel: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner: I devoured this book in a few days (no small feat for a mother of two small kids) and was blown away. In the months since, I’ve found myself circling back to it, arguing with it in my head. I’m less wowed by it now than I was at first, but the fact that it’s kept me engaged months later is perhaps a greater testament to its strengths than that initial awe it inspired.
Short Story Collection: You Only Get Letters from Jail by Jodi Angel: Angel renders the teenage boys at the heart of these stories with deep, clear-eyed empathy and an arresting quality of attention. An excellent collection, heartbreaking in all the right ways.
Poetry Collection: Monogamy Songs by Gregory Sherl: I’m going to call this a collection of prose poems, but it doesn’t really want to be pinned down that easily. Call it a memoir. Call it an autobiographical novel in snapshots. Read it, if at all possible, in a single sitting, with your phone far enough away that you won’t be tempted to text any ex-lovers when you’re done.
Novel: The Land Across by Gene Wolfe: Wolfe generally liked to bury things rather deeply, but it won’t take the savvy reader long to discern the double meaning in the title. A sometimes baffling but constantly magnetic blend of Kafka-esque Cold War thriller alchemically blended with supernatural vampire horror.
Grapic Novel: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg: Framed by an achingly sweet and improbably love story, this collection of myths and stories from a fantastical prehistory that may or may not be ours is deceptively simple and visually stunning.
Nonfiction: The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling by David Shoemaker: Finally, a book about wrestling that goes beyond the spectacle, acknowledges and moves past the idea of “fake,” and honestly yet smartly explores the place of wrestling in American pop culture as well the relationship its fans, many of whom are a great deal sharper than the unfortunate stereotypes convey, have with the sport.
Film: Upstream Color: Such a gorgeous, layered, beautiful, visual and hypnotic experience that words fail me. Finally, a contemporary film that is not simply driven by narcissism, snappy dialogue and concrete plot beats at all cost. Visionary.
Record: Romance Language by Majeure: Two side-long tracks of warm sci-fi synth rock occasionally buying drinks for dance beats. Like Miami Vice having sex with 2001: A Space Odyssey at the NASA building.
Novel: Burmese Days by George Orwell. I was in Thailand when I read this novel for the first time. If you ever need reminding that foreign empires are doomed to collapse from the inside this is a good book to turn to. Sublime descriptions of heat and rain and rampant vegetation.
Short Story: All of the stories in The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro because every sentence she writes calls up the whole life behind it.
Film: Frances Ha. I watched this film with a mixture of horror and delight. It convinced me that no-one should ever be nostalgic for their youth, not if they’re being truthful. It’s an agonizing time.