Category Archives: lists

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

I read 63 books last year, which doesn’t sound that “bad” to me, but it definitely felt like a slow year in reading for me. This was mainly due to how busy I was, which unfortunately resulted in significantly less time for both reading and blogging. So I need to figure out what I want to do with this blog, moving forward – it seems a shame to let it go to pot a bit during its 10th-year anniversary. Maybe I’ll experiment with posting more frequently, but with much shorter entries. Vamos a ver.

If I had to choose my favorite books of the year, they would be the following:

Affections (Rodrigo Hasbún) – People will be discussing this book decades to come. Calling it now!

Necropolis, Return to the Dark Valley, Night Prayers (Santiago Gamboa) – yes I know I’m cheating by including three at once!

Before by Carmen Boullousa – This is one of the most incredible books about childhood I’ve ever read, and I really regret not writing a full post about it. I read it when I was in Colombia, in August. It reminded me of Sisters By the River by Barbara Comyns, another one of my favs.

An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It (Jessie Greengrass) – Just to be completely forthcoming, I met Jessie at a short story festival in October, and she was the NICEST person. One of her aunts gave me some extremely strong flu medication, which seriously saved my life. Her short story collection is one of the best I’ve read in recent years – I’m kind of glad I didn’t read it before meeting her or else I would have been extremely starstruck. Her writing reminds me of Anna Metcalfe’s in Blind Water Pass – very simple, readabe, but almost fable-esque. Lots of strange stories about lonely, isolated people. Check it out. I’m also very excited to read her novel, which I believe comes out soon.

Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World (Nell Stevens) – A lot has been written about this book online, so I won’t say too much about it, except that I really enjoyed reading it while on a writing retreat of my own (though definitely not one as intense as the author’s!). It’s one of those very funny, warm books about writing that makes you feel less alone.

How to Murder Your Life (Cat Marnell) – Honestly? This was probably the best book I read this year. Whenever I was stuck somewhere with no book and the battery on my kindle dead, I’d take out my phone and read this on my kindle app (for the longest time  all I had downloaded on my phone was this book and MR James – ha!). I must have reread it four or five times at this point, and it doesn’t get old. I find her voice so singular and engaging, and yeah, I also like the message in this book that there “is” no perfect, there is no clean.

The Book of Emma Reyes (Emma Reyes) – Another book I highly regret not reviewing! Along with Before, one of the best books about childhood I’ve ever read. A lazy way to describe this book would be a Colombian Angela’s Ashes, due to its depiction of extreme poverty- but yeah, that’s a SUPER lazy blurb. I’ve never read anything quite like it – perhaps the fact that it comes in the form of letters she wrote to a close friend has something to do with it. The strangeness of her memories! And of course, reading about early 20th-century Colombia was very enjoyable for me. Another regret I had was that I was sent this book to blurb and I DIDN’T READ IT IN TIME, WAAAH. Oho well!

Outline and Transit (Rachel Cusk) – Rachel Cusk was one of those authors I kept hearing people talk about but who I never actually had time to sit down and read. Well, I find her writing absolutely fascinating, namely in the way she eschews plot so bluntly and focuses primarily on dialogue and interactions between people. There’s something I find quite inspiring about it. The third novel in her trilogy comes out this year and I’ll definitely be hitting the ‘reserve’ button in my library account for that.

The Book of Strange New Things (Michel Faber) – a good book to have read in a year when it felt like the world was falling down, all around us. I love sci-fi! Though is it more accurate to say what I like is ‘literary’ sci-fi? Lol… genres…. hooooo caaaarrreeesss

The Force (Don Winslow) – This was definitely my ‘guilty pleasure’ read…. I read this on a single sitting on the train (one of my many, MANY train rides this year) so that is definitely a testament to something. It reminded me of The Wire, in the way it tackles such ambitious, contemporary themes about the U.S.: police violence, drugs, corruption. And I really liked the muddled morality of the hero – it’s definitely a testament to the effectiveness of Winslow’s writing, that I felt so twisted up and anxious inside about what would happen to him, and what he would do.

I also loved Exist West, the last book I read that year. Sometimes (u know how it goes) you read a book that’s gotten lots of good reviews and been nominated for lots of prizes and a tiny little part of your brain is like “what if it’s overrated” … but I must say, Exist West deserves all of the praise it’s gotten and more. Incredibly empathetic and relevant. It’s very successful at putting you in the shoes of people who might otherwise just be considered faceless in news stories. It’s narrated very simply, almost like a fairy tale, but the themes are extremely contemporary (technology, surveillance, migration, what makes a nation). Major respect to the author for tackling such important themes in such an ambitious way. I think it helps that rather than “tell” a message, the book simply tells the story, in an almost detached way. A great book to read at the end of a shit year (in terms of world politics).

Books that I just didn’t “get” were Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders – I really liked the ending though) and First Love (Gwendoline Riley). The latter, especially, seems to have really struck a chord with people. I really want someone who loved it to “explain” it to me!

In terms of reading goals this year, I’m traveling to Japan this spring, so I’m hoping to read more books by Japanese writers before I go, and throughout the year.

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Books of 2017

These are the books I read in 2017. I put an asterisk (*) next to the ones I enjoyed the most. I read 63 books.

Exit West (Mohsin Hamid)
A Pale View of Hills (Kazuo Ishiguro)
The Girls (Emma Cline)
*Necropolis (Santiago Gamboa)

*The Force (Don Winslow)
La Belle Sauvage (Philip Pullman)
The Lauras (Sara Taylor)
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King)
More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (MR James)
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (MR James)
Demi-Gods (Eliza Robertson)

Daisy Miller (Henry James)
*Return to the Dark Valley (Santiago Gamboa)
First Love (Gwendoline Riley)
*An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It (Jessie Greengrass)

Return to Howliday Inn (James Howe)

An Artist of the Floating World (Kazuo Ishiguro)
*Night Prayers (Santiago Gamboa)
The Player of Games (Iain M. Banks)
*Before (Carmen Boullosa)
Flesh and Bone and Water (Luiza Sauma)
Bleaker House: Chasing my Novel to the End of the World (Nell Stevens)
Anything is Possible (Elizabeth Strout)
In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult (Rebecca Stott)
*Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Svetlana Alexievich)
Transit (Rachel Cusk)

The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson)
*The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir (Emma Reyes)
Eye in the Sky (Philip K. Dick)

The Book of Strange New Things (Michel Faber)
The Hot Zone: the Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus (Richard Preston)
The Transmigration of Bodies (Yuri Herrera)
Outline (Rachel Cusk)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
Sympathy (Olivia Sudjic)
The End We Start From (Megan Hunter)
Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

Earthly Possessions (Anne Tyler)
The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
*Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Yuval Noah Harari)
*Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)

*Affections (Rodrigo Hasbún)
Ways to Disappear (Idra Novey)
The Evening Road (Laird Hunt)

The Schooldays of Jesus (JM Coetzee)
On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan) [reread]
*Fever Dream (Samantha Schweblin)
Lincoln at the Bardo (George Saunders)
Sandman Vol. 1-2 (Neil Gaiman) [reread]
*Revulsion (Horacio Castellanos Moya)
*A Life of Adventure and Delight (Akhil Sharma)
Multiple Choice (Alejandro Zambra)
Our Friends From Frolix 8 (Philip K. Dick)
Going Solo (Roald Dahl)

The Stolen Child (Lisa Carey)
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider (Ishmael Beah)
Homesick for Another World (Otessa Moshfegh)
*How to Murder Your Life (Cat Marnell)

1984 (George Orwell) [reread]
*Swing Time (Zadie Smith)
Nineveh (Henriette Rose-Innes)
*The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro) [reread]

To see books read from 2009-2016, click here.

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Books of 2016

These are the books I read in 2016. I put an asterisk (*) next to the ones I loved a lot. I read 83 books.

*My Name is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout)
Killing Mr. Griffin (Lois Duncan) [reread; childhood favorite]
Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger (Louis Sachar) [reread; childhood favorite]
The Dark Portal (Robin Jarvis) [reread; childhood favorite]
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (J.K. Rowling)
Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut) [reread]
El Sicario: Confessions of a Cartel Hit Man (ed. Molly Molloy, Charles Bowden) [non-fiction]
Acceptance (Jeff VanderMeer)
ShallCross (C.D. Wright) [poetry]
Authority (Jeff VanderMeer)
*The Secret History of Costaguana (Juan Gabriel Vásquez)
Annihilation (Jeff VanderMeer)
Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life (Luis Alberto Urrea) [non-fiction]
I Hate the Internet (Jarett Kobek)
*Animal Farm (George Orwell) [reread]
*Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border (Luis Alberto Urrea) [reread; last read almost 10 years ago) [non-fiction]
The Friend Who Got Away (ed. Jenny Offill, Elissa Schappel) [non-fiction]
My Struggle: Some Rain Must Fall (Karl Ove Knausgård)
Autumn (Ali Smith)
Umami (Laia Jufresa)
The Power of the Dog (Don Winslow)
Harmless Like You (Rowan Hisayo Buchanan)
Conversations With Friends (Sally Rooney)
Beast (Paul Kingsnorth)
Everyone is Watching (Megan Bradbury)
*Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)
At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel (William C. Rempel) [non-fiction]
The Beach (Alex Garland)
The Bunker Diary (Kevin Brooks)
My Struggle: Dancing in the Dark (Karl Ove Knausgård)
*The Cartel (Don Winslow)
Feast of the Innocents (Evelio Rosero)
White Tiger on Snow Mountain (David Gordon)
***One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabo) [yet another reread]
The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson) [non-fiction]
My Struggle: Boyhood Island (Karl Ove Knausgård)
The Vet’s Daughter (Barbara Comyns)
The Frangipani Hotel (Violet Kupersmith)
***Pond (Claire-Louise Bennett)
The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juárez (Sandra Rodríguez Nieto) [non-fiction]
*Hot Little Hands (Abigail Ulman)
The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty)
Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin)
Lovers on All Saints’ Day (Juan Gabriel Vásquez)
Foxlowe (Eleanor Wasserberg)
The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley)
The Hollow of the Hand (PJ Harvey) [poetry]
Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) [non-fiction]
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths (Barbara Comyns)
Them: Adventures with Extremists (Jon Ronson) [non-fiction]
Not Working (Lisa Owens)
*How Should a Person Be? (Sheila Heti)
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (Neil Gaiman)
Citizen (Claudia Rankine) [poetry]
*Hot Milk (Deborah Levy)
Human Acts (Han Kang)
Blind Water Pass (Anna Metcalfe)
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (Jon Ronson) [non-fiction]
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks)
Coma (Alex Garland)
Dinosaurs on Other Planets (Danielle McLaughlin)
Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life (Roald Dahl)
Animals (Emma Jane Unsworth)
The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail (Óscar Martínez) [non-fiction]
*My Struggle: A Man in Love (Karl Ove Knausgård)
Bonsai (Alejandra Zambra)
Elizabeth is Missing (Emma Healy)
Chess Story (Stefan Zweig)
The Shore (Sara Taylor)
River of Ink (Paul M.M. Cooper)
Natural Histories (Guadalupe Nettel)
Aura (Carlos Fuentes)
Signs Preceding the End of the World (Yuri Herrera)
*Faces in the Crowd (Valeria Luiselli)
*Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Max Porter)
But You Did Not Come Back (Marceline Loridan-Ivens) [non-fiction]
Crow (Ted Hughes) [poetry]
My Documents
(Alejandro Zambra)
The Vegetarian (Han Kang)
A Wild Swan and Other Tales (Michael Cunningham)

To see books read from 2009-2016, click here.

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Books of 2015

These are the books I read in 2015, according to my Goodreads account. I put an asterisk (*) next to the ones I loved a lot. I read 82 books, including 10 poetry books.

A Little Lumpen Novelita (Bolaño)
Martian Time-Slip (Philip K. Dick)
***The Wonder Spot (Melissa Bank) [re-read; an all-time fave]
*Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut) [re-read; an absolute classic]
*Family Life (Akhil Sharma)
 (Jonathan Franzen)
Public library and other stories (Ali Smith)
A Death in the Family (Karl Ove Knausgård)
Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy)
Under the Net (Iris Murdoch)
Slade House (David Mitchell)
The End of the Affair (Graham Greene)
*Sisters by a River (Barbara Comyns)
*The Story of the Lost Child (Elena Ferrante)
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (John Le Carré)
*****The Accidental (Ali Smith) [reread]
*We Don’t Know What We’re Doing (Thomas Morris)
*The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (Iván Repila)
Night Train (Martin Amis)
Summer Will Show (Sylvia Townsend Warner)
The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)
A View of the Harbor (Elizabeth Taylor)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain)
Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)
A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara)
*A Place of Greater Safety (Hilary Mantel)
*Pnin (Nabokov)
Ban en Banlieue (Bhanu Kapil)
*All My Puny Sorrows (Miriam Toews)
The Lost Daughter (Elena Ferrante)
Troubling Love (Elena Ferrante)
The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro)
*10:04 (Ben Lerner)
The Wallcreeper (Nell Zink)
When Mystical Creatures Attack! (Kathleen Founds)
*The First Bad Man (Miranda July)
Bobcat (Rebecca Lee)
Devotion (Dani Shapiro)
*The End of the Story (Lydia Davis)
Shantytown (César Aira)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Karen Joy Fowler)
Zone (Mathias Énard)
The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)
Conversations (Cesar Aira)
Señor Que No Conoce La Luna (Evelio Rosero)
*The Days of Abandonment (Elena Ferrante)
Bloodlines (Marcello Fois)
*Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Elena Ferrante)
*The Story of a New Name (Elena Ferrante)
*The Musical Brain (César Aira)
A Spool of Blue Thread (Anne Tyler)
Reasons to Stay Alive (Matt Haig)
Look Who’s Back (Timur Vermes)
Tiger Milk (Stefanie De Velasco)
While the Gods Were Sleeping (Erwin Mortier)
F (Daniel Kehlmann)
The Last Lover (Can Xue)
By Night the Mountain Burns (Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel)
The Ravens (Tomas Bannerhed)
In the Beginning Was the Sea
(Tomás González)
The Dead Lake (Hamid Ismailov)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami)
The Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris) [reread]
*My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante)
The Devil Underground (Nadja Drost)
*The Serialist (David Gordon)
The Scatter Here Is Too Great (Bilal Tanweer)
Young Skins (Colin Barrett)
*The End of Days (Jenny Erpenbeck)
Wallflowers (Eliza Robertson) [beautiful & bad-ass writing!]
Dept of Speculation (Jenny Offil)
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Hilary Mantel) [especially “Comma“]

The Book of Joshua (Zachary Schomburg)
*The Art of Falling (Kim Moore)
Alien vs. Predator (Michael Robbins)
Come On All Ye Ghosts (Matthew Zapruder)
Trances of the Blast (Mary Ruefle)
*Fjords vol. 1 (Zachary Schomburg)
Scary, No Scary (Zachary Schomburg)
*Sorrow Arrow (Emily Kendal Frey)
Stag’s Leap (Sharon Olds)
Lunch Poems (Frank O’Hara)

[RE]READ FOR FUN: Men at Arms, Feet of Clay (Terry Pratchett), Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead (Orson Scott Card), A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons (George R.R. Martin)

I didn’t keep good track of books I started but didn’t finish this year, but off the top of my head I can say I read significant amounts of  Middlemarch (George Eliot), Story of My Teeth (Valeria Luiselli), My Documents (Alejandro Zambra), Blue Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson), The Unknown University (Roberto Bolaño) and God Help the Child (Toni Morrison). These are all books I enjoyed and would be interested in eventually completing. I wonder if I’m getting stricter in my reading–I’m less likely to abandon books mid-way through than I used to be, simply because if it doesn’t hold my interest early on, I don’t bother.

To see books read from 2009-2015, click here.

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Books of 2014

These are the books I’ve read in 2014, according to my Goodreads account. I put an asterisk (*) next to the ones I liked a lot. The total number of books I read was 101 (!!), thus meeting my goal of reading 100.

Behind the Attic Wall (Sylvia Cassedy) [childhood fave re-read]
*Distant Star (Bolaño) [re-read]
Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview and Other Conversations
A Change of Light (Julio Cortázar)
*Visitation (Jenny Erpenbeck)
Green Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson)
The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)
*We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson)
*The Emigrants (W.G. Sebald) [re-read]
Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations (Mónica Maristain)
Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe (Chris Andrews)
School for Patriots (Martín Kohan)
Things to Make and Break (May-Lan Tan)
The Humans (Matt Haig)
*Dear Boy (Emily Berry)
*Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee)
Dubliners (James Joyce)
Nightwood (Djuna Barnes) [LOVED the last three pages!]
Randall (Jonathan Gibbs)
The Inland Sea (K.J. Orr)
Lolita (Nabokov) [re-read]
*Under the Skin (Michel Faber)
The Trial (Kafka) [re-read]
*Ulysses (James Joyce)
The Beggar’s Knife (Rodrigo Rey Rosa)
A Tale of the Dispossessed (Laura Restrepo)
*Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Mary Ruefle)
*The Delicate Prey (Paul Bowles) [particularly “The Echo”–what a story!!]
*How To Be Both (Ali Smith)
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned’ (Lena Dunham)
Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
(David Bayles & Ted Orland)
*We Love Glenda So Much and Other Tales (Julio Cortázar)
*Delirium (Laura Restrepo)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)
Ideas of Heaven (Joan Silber)
I Remember (Joe Brainard)
Good Offices (Evelio Rosero)
Law in a Lawless Land: Diary of a Limpieza in Colombia (Michael T. Taussig)
Leaving the Sea (Ben Marcus)
No One Writes to the Colonel (Gabriel García Márquez)
An Evil Cradling (Brian Keenan)
Leaving the Atocha Station (Ben Lerner)
Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
When the Emperor Was Divine (Julie Otsuka)
Absalom, Absalom! (William Faulkner) [re-read]
*Still Writing: the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (Dani Shapiro)
*The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner) [re-read]
*Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Leaves of Grass: the First Edition (Walt Whitman)
Friendship (Emily Gould)
Congo (Michael Crichton) [re-read]
The Lost World (Michael Crichton) [re-read]
*Selected Poems (Mary Ruefle)
Speedboat (Renata Adler)
Severina (Rodrigo Rey Rosa)
***As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner) [re-read]
Personae (Sergio de la Pava)
And the Heart Says Whatever (Emily Gould)
The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
*The Buddha in the Attic (Julie Otsuka)
*The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler) [re-read]
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (ZZ Packer)
Taipei (Tao Lin)
Death and the Maiden (Ariel Dorfman)
Once You Break A Knuckle (D.W. Wilson)
One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses (Lucy Corin)
The Good Cripple (Rodrigo Rey Rosa)
*Bark (Lorrie Moore)
The Pelcari Project (Rodrigo Rey Rosa)
Ways of Going Home (Alejandro Zamba)
*Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (David Shields)
*The African Shore (Rodrigo Rey Rosa)
Another Country (Anjali Joseph)
Ubik (Philip K. Dick) [re-read]
Collected Stories (Lydia Davis)
Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)
The Wise Man’s Fear (Patrick Rothfuss)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
War By Candlelight (Daniel Alarcón)
Our Lady of the Assassins (Fernando Vallejo)
*The Informers (Juan Gabriel Vásquez)
******Saint Maybe (Anne Tyler) [reread]
Oblivion (Hector Abad)
Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)
*Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (D.T. Max)
Hey Yeah Right Get A Life (Helen Simpson)
Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers (Anne Lamott)
Austerlitz (W.G. Sebald)
Clever Girl (Tessa Hadley)
Operation Massacre
(Rodolfo Walsh)
Wilderness Tips (Margaret Atwood)
All the Fires the Fire (Julio Cortázar)
Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel García Márquez) [re-read]
Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked (James Lasdun)
***2666 (Roberto Bolaño) [reread]
If This Is A Man (Primo Levi)
The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia (Michael Jacobs)
*The Rings of Saturn (W.G. Sebald)
The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton)
How to Stay Sane (Phillipa Perry)
The Color Master (Aimee Bender)

Books I started, read a significant amount of (i.e. +50 pages) but didn’t finish: Underworld (Don DeLilo), The Secret History of Costaguana (Juan Gabriel Vásquez), Giving Up the Ghost (Hilary Mantel), Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha (Tara Brach), The General in His Labyrinth (Gabriel García Márquez). These are definitely all books I would love to finish in the future!

I also read ten Redwall books.


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Short Story FUN!

Every time I go away for the summer (whether “away” is England, Colombia, the U.S. or all three), this blog dies a quiet little death. I am behind on everything. I injured my foot three weeks ago but I THINK (hope…?) that I’ve mostly recovered. Unrelated to said foot injury, while running in D.C. three weeks ago I tripped and landed on top of a tree root and got an IMPRESSIVELY humungous purple bruise on my leg that is still there (albeit faded), but I guess I won’t deal with it until I get back to England & free health care in September. I am also like seven books behind in my reading schedule. BUT! I am learning a lot here in Amish-country, observing lots of different teaching styles and teaching classes of my own (one popular lesson: I had the students read Anne Lammott’s “Shitty First Drafts” and then write their own versions of The Worst Story Ever. Several parents told me at the semester-end conferences that many of the students called it their favorite activity : ) #teachinghumblebrag). Will I ever be a teacher myself one day? Will I have a quiet little house on the hill in the country, as in this wonderful poem? Will I do this, will I do that? Will I have that, be that, go there, stay here? Questions, questions. At least fuckass Mercury Retrograde is finally over. (It’s times like this, when I type a sentence like the former, that I pause, stare into space and ask myself questions like Wait… did I really just sincerely write that?) Let’s… not go there.

One of the fun things about teaching is getting to daydream about my own Ideal Fancy Future Teacher Syllabus. As in, what I would love to have on my dream syllabus. The works I would love to share with others, discuss in class, and basically freak everybody out by getting EXTREMELY OVEREXCITED. Such a syllabus would primarily consist of short stories, since that’s what I’ve spent most of my time thinking about for the past two years. So what are the Dream Short Stories that I would include on my Dream Ideal Best Teacher 4-Eva Syllabus?

Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”

Probably one of my favorite short stories ever. What an example of characterization. What brilliant plot execution. The location is limited, there aren’t that many characters, and yet, and yet, and yet. Is the ending happy, ambiguous or tragic? Is Arnold Friend a liberator or abuser? What to make of Connie’s character? It was especially fascinating teaching this story here in Pennsylvania, where so many of the students related to it SO MUCH, especially the parts about Connie’s relationship to music. It was also great getting to play them Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and hearing them ask in incredulous voices, What’s wrong with his voice?

Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

Wait, okay–this is definitely one of my favorite short stories ever, if not the top pick. The peculiarity of the ending!  I think this is what I love most about the short story form–how the endings can just feel so LIFE-CHANGING and EARTH-SHATTERING. Like, everything we think we know about the Grandma and the Misfit is completely turned upside down, inside out and battered to death by the story’s end. Who’s good? Who’s bad? IDK. But this story is pretty much perfect.

Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain”

A story that is SO SHORT and yet SO EFFECTIVE and tells us SO MUCH in so few words (see all the capitalizations I just used there? That means I am being EMPHATIC…!). The beauty of the ending, in which the main character’s love of poetry and rhythm and language is summed up in one final American Beauty-like dream passage: They is, they is, they is. This would also be fun to read aloud in class.

Lorrie Moore’s “How to be a Writer”

A classic. Would be a good segue-way into a 2nd-person exercise. Not to mention a good way to prepare for the experience of being workshopped, heheh.

Denis Johnson’s “Emergency”

I’d love to use this in a lesson about unreliable narrators. Or to talk about the effect that short stories can have on us–how more than anything else, you know that a short story has done its job when a) you want to keep reading and b) it’s created some kind of FEELING in you. Any emotion, period. Not to mention the way the narration is full of constant twists and turns, to the man with the knife in his eye to the angels in the movie theatre to the hitchhiker at the end–Johnson creates a wonderful sense of absurdity and unexpectedness, in which we never know what is going to happen next. Another reason to teach this: I love it. Also: it is hilarious. Also: I could show the film clip of the bunnies getting squashed, which I believe I have already posted on this blog, but whatever, here it is again.

David Foster Wallace’s “Forever Overhead,” ZZ Packer’s “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” Aleksander Hemon’s “Islands”

These three stories I have stolen directly from the syllabus of the short story class I took in graduate school, because a) I loved them and b) do I need another reason other than that? I guess I feel like they are masterful texts, and (in the case of Packer and Hemon especially), hilarious. The Wallace and Packer pieces would feel especially relevant to the age group I am currently working with, while Hemon I find simply hysterical in the darkest of Herzogian senses (I swear to God if I ever have a fulltime job teaching literature/writing one day my students will ALL be converts to the Church of Herzog by the semester’s end, srsly).

KAFKA, Cortázar & Borges

Oh my goodness, three of my all-time favorites–how to even begin? “The Metamorphosis”? (Too long?) “The Judgement”? (Too out of context?) “The Hunger Artist”? (Too… weird of an introduction?) What about Cortázar–would I go with “House Taken Over” and “Bestiary,” my current favorites, or the more commonly taught “Axolotl” and “Continuity of Parks“? And how on EARTH would you introduce Borges? (Perhaps this hilarious article would work best.)

Raymond Carver’s “Beginners” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

We used these two stories in one of the most memorable classes I’ve had as a graduate student–after reading them, we had an interesting discussion about the role of the editor (how would we personally feel if an editor COMPLETELY CHANGED the majority of the story, even if it made it better? What about the editor WRITING HIS OWN PARAGRAPHS and inserting them into the text?). Then we passed out pieces we’d written ourselves and had classmates edit them by slashing them in half, i.e. cutting 50% of the words, Gordon Lish-style. It was an interesting exercise and its primary lesson lingered with me to this day: when in doubt, cut cut cut.

Flash fiction!

Lydia Davis! Amy Hempel! More Kafka! I’d love to use this as way to talk about expectations & satisfaction: is a short story meant to provide some sense of satisfaction or completion to the reader? If not, what then? And I’d especially love to use this book, leftover from my own youthful student days!

Poetry- Richard Siken, Jeffrey McDaniel, Tony Hoagland — ahh, who am I kidding, I know nothing about poetry apart from my own gut instinct about what I like vs what I don’t : )

Ali Smith would have to go on there somewhere too, but with what story? The tree one? The meeting-Death-on-the-tube one? The awkward dinner party surrounded by dead River Phoenix photos one? What about Alice Munro? Aimee Bender? Judy Budnitz? Junot Díaz? Sherman Alexie’s “The Toughest Indian in the World”? Isn’t J.D. Salinger a must-have? Would I have to include Edgar Allan Poe in order to have something “old” represented? Will I ever appreciate Chekhov? Should I include Helen Simpson? Deborah Levy? Do I need to include Barthelme in order to have the white male postmodernists represented (if I did include him, I’d use this story)? What about Sebald? Can I include a stand-alone chapter from Buddha in the Attic, one of the best novels I’ve read recently, as an example of innovative historical fiction? Am I a bad person for “not getting” Karen Russell? How about Ben Marcus, another recently discovered favorite? What about someone like David Means, whom I’ve never even read? Is there a way I could sneak the short film “Plastic Bag” onto the syllabus, if only to have Werner Herzog’s voice boom throughout the classroom at top volume?

Aaaaah! These will all be such good in-the-future problems to have!

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Books of 2013

These are the books I’ve read in 2013, according to my Goodreads account. I put an asterisk (*) next to the ones I liked a lot. The total number of books I read was 86, the best year I’ve had since 2009, when I first started keeping track.

The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood)
***A Naked Singularity (Sergio de la Pava)
Black Vodka (Deborah Levy)
Tenth of December (George Saunders)
*All Dogs Are Blue (Rodrigo De Souza Leao)
MaddAddam (Margaret Atwood)
White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin (Michael W. Clune)
The Childhood of Jesus (JM Coetzee)
Open City (Teju Cole)
By the Sea (Abdulrazak Gurnah)
The Castle (Kafka) – read back in high school
*May We Be Forgiven (A.M. Homes)
Micro (Michael Crichton)
The Periodic Table (Primo Levi)
Summer Blonde (Adrian Tomine)
Shoplifting from American Apparel (Tao Lin)
*Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)
The Illustrated Man (Ray Bradbury)
***Runaway (Alice Munro)
*NW (Zadie Smith)
Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson)
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (Zadie Smith)
Anagrams (Lorrie Moore)
The Book of My Lives (Aleksander Hemon)
Other Stories and Other Stories (Ali Smith) – “The hanging girl” is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read!
More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America’s War in Colombia(Robin Kirk)
The Emigrants (W.G. Sebald)
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Philip Pullman)
The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira (Cesar Aira)
***Hawthorn & Child (Keith Ridgway)
I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
A Winter Book (Tove Jansson)
Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
*Oblivion (David Foster Wallace)
Feed (M.T. Anderson)
V for Vendetta (Alan Moore)
*What I Talk About When I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Haruki Murakami)
Herland (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
In Persuasion Nation (George Saunders)
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (George Saunders)
The War of the End of the World (Mario Vargas Llosa)
*Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel)
*Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel)
*The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)
*The She-Devil in the Mirror (Horacio Moya Castellanos)
The Father Thing: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick #3 (Philip K. Dick)
Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Garry Leech)
In Evil Hour (Gabriel García Márquez)
Memories of my Melancholy Whores
 (Gabriel García Márquez)
***Hypothermia (Alvaro Enrigue)
Beyond Lies the Wub: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick #1 (Philip K. Dick)
Down By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family (Charles Bowden)
*The Armies (Evelio Rosero)
The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)
***One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez) [re-read]
Amy’s Eyes (Richard Kennedy) [re-read] (children’s book)
Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingallas Wilder) [re-read]
My Colombian War: A Journey Through the Country I Left Behind (Silvana Paternostro)
*Artful (Ali Smith)
The Secret of Evil (Roberto Bolaño)
Free Love and Other Stories (Ali Smith)
Heliopolis (James Scudamore)
The Art of Subtext (Charles Baxter)
*Ghostwritten (David Mitchell)
News of a Kidnapping (Garcia Marquez) [reread]
What I Know (Andrew Cowan)
*Jacob’s Room (Virginia Woolf)
*Balancing Heaven and Earth: A Memoir of Visions, Dreams and Realizations(Robert A. Johnson)
The Voyage Out (Virginia Woolf)
After the Quake (Murakami)
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence (Geoff Dyer)
There But For The (Ali Smith)
Empire of the Sun (J.G. Ballard)
Law of the Jungle: the Hunt for Colombian Guerrillas, American Hostages, and Buried Treasure (John Otis)
*The Question of Bruno (Aleksander Hemon)
Elizabeth Costello (JM Coetzee) [reread]
*The Art of Political Murder (Francisco Goldman)
***The Sound of Things Falling (Juan Gabriel Vásquez)
*Death of a Suicide (David Vann)
Child of God (Cormac McCarthy)
The Master (Colm Tóibín)
The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
*Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson)
Woes of the True Policeman (Bolaño)
Summertime (JM Coetze)

Books I read a significant portion of but for whatever reason (time, laziness, losing it on the bus) never technically finished (i.e. read every page): Family Ties (Clarice Lispector), Tomorrow in the Battle Think of Me (Javier Marias), The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume 5- Little Black Box (Philip K. Dick), The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume 4: The Days of Perky Pat (Dick), Tyrant Memory (Horacio Castellanos Moya), The diaries of Franz Kafka, 1914-1923 (Kafka), Montano by Enrique Villa-Matas, Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction (edited by Alvaro Enrigue), Love and Other Obstacles (Aleksander Hemon–this was the bus victim ):)

Children’s books I reread (a favorite treat of mine!): Five Children and It, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Tripods trilogy, Beyond the Burning Lands trilogy, The Boy in the Dress (can’t remember the author but a really cute book!), a ton of Tintin books, a ton of Momintroll books.

To see books of 2012 click here.
To see books of 2011 click here.
To see books of 2010 click here.
To see books of 2009 click here.

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Books of 2012

These are the books I read in 2012, according to my Goodreads account. I put an asterisk (*) next to the ones I liked a lot.

The Imperfectionists (Tom Rachman)
*The Killer Angels (Michael Shaara) [reread]
*Dance With Snakes (Horacio Castellanos Moya)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
*Swimming Home (Deborah Levy)
No Country For Old Men (Cormac McCarthy) [reread]
Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
Adrian Mole: the Prostate Years (Sue Townsend)
Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)
Leaf Storm 
(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
*We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families 
(Philip Gourevitch)
Number9dream (David Mitchell)
*Pedro Paramo 
(Juan Rulfo) [reread]
The Massacre at El Mozote 
(Mark Danner)
(Horacio Castellanos Moya)
The Final Solution 
(Michael Chabon)
A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller Jr.)
Andean Cocaine: the Making of a Global Drug (Paul Gootenberg)
Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography (Dominic Streatfield)
Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields (Charles Bowden) 
*Soldiers of Salamis 
(Javier Cercas)
The Dark Is Rising sequence (Susan Cooper)
Watership Down (Richard Adams)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien)
*This Is How You Lose Her 
(Junot Diaz)
The Wasp Factory 
(Iain Banks)
The Year of the Flood
 (Margaret Atwood)
Down the Rabbit Hole (Juan Pablo Villalobos)
*Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) [reread]
*New York Trilogy (Paul Auster
The Third Reich (Roberto Bolaño)
Snowdrops (A.D. Miller)
*Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood) [re-read]
Bartleby & Co. (Enrique Vila-Matas)
*The Hour of the Star (Clarice Lispector)
*Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg)
The Bhagavad Gita (Penguin classics edition)
No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories (Miranda July)
The Art of Happiness: A Book for Living (His Holiness the Dalai Lama)
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Jared Diamond)
The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation (S.N. Goenka)
*Man’s Search for Meaning (Victor E. Frankl)
The Varieties of Religious Experience (William James)
My Stroke of Insight (Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor)
The Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac)
Out of Captivity (Ingrid Bentacourt)
Captive: 2,147 Days of Terror in the Colombian Jungle (Clara Rojas)
Citizens of the Dream (Cary Tennis)
Now Wait for Last Year (Philip K. Dick)
*The Insufferable Gaucho (Roberto Bolaño)
The Gnostic Gospels 
(Elaine Pagels)
The World’s Religions (Huston Smith)
Buddha: An Autobiography (Karen Armstrong)
Snuff (Terry Pratchett)
Suddenly a Knock at the Door 
(Etgar Keret)
***Jesus’ Son 
(Denis Johnson) [re-read]
Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man (Bill Clegg)
Lit (Mary Karr)
The Night of the Gun (David Carr)
1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
*The Case for God 
(Karen Armstrong)
The Stand (Stephen King)
*Everything That Rises Must Converge (Flannery O’Connor)
(Cesar Aira)
Letters to a Young Poet (Rilke)
Los cachorros 
(Mario Vargas Llosa) [sort of a re-read; read it in high school]
The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World (Pema Chodron)
Game Change 
(John Heilemann)
*Just Kids 
(Patti Smith)
I, Robot 
(Isaac Asimov)
*Drown (Junot Diaz)
Carpe Jugulum
 (Terry Pratchett)
*The Pale King 
(David Foster Wallace)
The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
The Marriage Plot 
(Jeffrey Eugenides)
Obama’s Wars 
(Bob Woodward)
The Waves 
(Virginia Woolf) – started in 2011

I count 77 books. A couple of these are books I didn’t read EVERY single page of (mainly the non-fiction ones about drugs & religion) but I still spent enough time reading and skimming them that I feel like they count as being read… >:D Here are books I read a bit of but didn’t finish a significant amount: Nature and the Human Soul (Bill Plotkin); Feast of the Goat (Mario Vargas Llosa); Exegesis (Philip K. Dick); Tweak (Nick Sheff); The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire); Moby Dick (Herman Melville) [SO CLOSE!!]

To see books of 2011 click here.
To see books of 2010 click here.
To see books of 2009 click here.

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Soundtrack for 2011

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains” (The Arcade Fire)

I’ll always associate this song with when I first heard it, covered by my friend’s band in that greenly lit Thai restaurant, in the cold dark days of early January.

Changing” (Airborne Toxic Event)

The song that got me really into listening to and singing along earnestly car radio. I also liked their follow up single, “All I Ever Wanted.” It’s funny to hear that the second song has strings in it, because thanks to the Volvo’s broken left speaker I’ve never heard them before.

Lost in the World” (Kanye West)

The song I always choose at the Side Street bar jukebox when I’m there with my friends. Haha. Who will survive in America?

In the Dark Places” (PJ Harvey)

I’m kind of like the main character in Howard’s End, in the sense that I hate war, but I love soldiers. Particularly works of art about them and their struggles. I like how the phrase “in the dark places” can be expanded to mean many other things, not just World War I trenches or Iraqi hideout holes.

Born This Way” (Lady Gaga)

Haha. Maybe the best theme song for my year? I feel like I spent a lot of this time thinking about building self-esteem, cultivating positive self-image, self-care and practicing that good ol’ compassion muscle. And this song seems to be a good theme song for all that. I’m on the right track baby…

Float” (Flogging Molly)

An oh so famous songs that I’m kind of surprised that I never heard before until this year (thanks car radio). Anyway, I feel like it has another good, positive, relevant message. Plus I really like the moral of the muñequito in the video.

Just A Dream” (Nelly)

A little embarrassed by how much I like this song. Haha, whatever. I just like the mixture of both melancholy and melody. But why is it Nelly of all freaking people who sings such a good relationship song?! “But hey, I guess that love wasn’t enough” sounds like a self-platitude or mantra straight out of my Dr. Barbara relationship self-help book.

Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac)

Another song I can’t believe I’d never heard before until this year. Another gift thanks to car radio.

The King of Carrot Flowers-Part I” (Neutral Milk Hotel)

This song will always make me think of summer at Sauvie’s Island, playing it on my friend Jennifer’s ipod, feeling like the entirety of my August trip to Colombia lay before me.

Calamity Song” (The Decemberists)

My Infinite Jest theme song. Haha. I love its apocalyptic sensibilities. If I had to make this track list into a mix CD, I would probably call it “In the Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab.”

You and I” (Lady Gaga)

Oh god, another song that got me through some rough times, specifically this gender-bending live version. I can’t even explain why I like this song so much. Its country vibe, for one. And I like how in the radio edit, “Nebraska” is replaced with “Oregon,” so that the lyric becomes the following: There’s only three things Imma worship my whole life / It’s my daddy, Oregon and Jesus Christ. Hehe! Basically my face looks is the same as  David Grohl’s (see minute 3:00), throughout this video.

Star Whisperer” (Tori Amos)

Tori’s grand opus from her latest album. I expect to expand in personal impact and meaning for me after I get to see her LIVE this WEDNESDAY in SEATTLE!

Down in the Valley” (The Head and the Heart)

A great Pacific Northwest band that my friend A introduced me to; mellow guitars and strings and lovely tinkling piano will always put me in a fall loving mood.

Hair” (Lady Gaga)

Her Bruce Springsteen moment: I just wanna be myself and I want you to love me for who I am…

Cough Syrup” (Young the Giant)

This song always plays right when I’m leaving work. ALWAYS! It’s CREEPY. It also makes me think of Infinite Jest. I also like howling along with the singer’s oh so earnest vocals.

I Fought the Law” (The Clash)

Ahh, my revolutionary song. I honestly don’t feel like it’s an understatement to say that the Clash literally saved my life in November. They were all I listened to on my ipod. All. Day. Long. There was just something about their mouth frothing energy that I really love, and that I really needed. Big Country’s “The Crossing” album was also a lifesaver, and what I listened to on endless replay walking down the Morro Bay beaches of Thanksgiving.

Somebody That I Used To Know” (Goyte)

I hesitate including this song, namely because I don’t really enjoy listening to it?! Those lyrics are just HARSH! But the part when the girl starts singing is pretty genius; when I first heard it on the radio my jaw dropped that we were getting to hear “her side of the story,” so to speak.

Running to Stand Still” (U2)

I’ve been listening to this song a lot lately. I dunno, maybe because Tori covered it in New York. Maybe because it reminds me of all the sad addict stories in Infinite Jest. Maybe because it’s just a nice, mellow, powerful song to close the year with.

Other artists I liked listening to this year but who were a bit overplayed: “Sail” by AWOL Nation, “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, Coldplay’s “Paradise,” and Adele (of course). I also liked Florence + the Machine’s “What the Water Gave Me“–I’ll probably buy the album/see her live. I also listened a lot to this song and probably should have included it on the list above:

Everything passes
Everything changes
Just do what you think you should do

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Homage to R.E.M.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from my sister that just said “damn” and included a link to the R.E.M. website. Oh oh, I thought.

I charged up my ipod and have been wandering around the house ever since wearing my bulky black airport headphones, listening to “Little America,” “Begin the Begin,” “Good Advices,” “Pilgrimage.” All of my favorite songs. I spent hours yesterday writing up a list of my favorites, watching videos, and I finally just had to physically restrain myself from adding anymore because it was getting ridiculous, out of control. In the end what I was left feeling was a terrible kind of genuine grief. It was felt like the kind of grief you get at a loss, that this was it, that this body of work on my ipod was complete. That the story was over, that there would be no new additions to the oeuvre.

And yes, there was also a terrible kind of grief for myself, too, that I’ve lived long enough to now be at the point for my favorite bands from my childhood to grow old and drift apart. Krist Novoselic is shockingly bald and pudgy. It will happen to everyone. Tori Amos, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen–everyone. As in:



As in:

“I will grow old. I will grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”

I mean, on one hand there is still a kind of gladness, to hear Tori Amos’ daughter’s Adele-like voice on the new record, see the pictures of how she is growing up, and feel like wow, so this is what the passage of time has given us, but on the other hand there is still this very freaked out I can’t believe this feeling. I remember being in the computer lab at school, the day after my birthday in 2000, checked (Tori Amos news and setlist website of ye days of olde) and reading that she had given birth and just feeling totally shocked, and yeah, happy even.

Mother and daughter. Is what I feel when I see these photos, or the ones of Frances Bean Cobain, similar to what my parents feel when they flip through any old moth-eaten dried-up glue photo album of our own?!

It is a strange kind of intense worship that we give to singers and songwriters in our youth: R.E.M., Tori, Bruce and Bob. My sister and I wrote their lyrics all over our hands and notebooks and agendas and trapper keepers (remember those?!). And they in turn help us mark the passage of time: albums of the 90’s, 2000’s, and onwards. Crazy to think that 1991 is the same distance away from today as 1971 one was from 1991. Does 1991 seem as old and far-away to the kids I work with, as 1971 did to me?

They were interviewing the lead singer from Wilco on NPR the other day, and he said that music helped him cope with his severe anxiety disorder because it helped him focus on the present, not on projections into the past and future, but rather right here right now, this song, music, and lyrics. Anxiety disorder or not, I think that is about a great explanation as any of how music (and reading!) is a bridge, a gateway, a form of transcending your puny, trembling w/fear at your own insecurities self.

What I will most appreciate about R.E.M. (and Tori, for that matter) is that I feel like they took the notion of making art, storytelling, narrative and characterization to an intensely higher level for me. Yeah, I totally went through my shitty cassette tape phase of Backstreet Boys, Hansen and the Titanic soundtrack (all hail the glory of being 12). But then one day we bought the Grammy’s nominee 1998 tape and everything changed. It had all these female singers on it, their names vaguely familiar from the pages of 17 and Rolling Stone that we would read sitting on the cool tile floor at the back of the library, hiding from Sports Day and swimming lesson P.E. class behind the bookshelves. Names like Fiona Apple, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow. You know, all those so-called “Lilith Fair” types.

So one thing led to another and in a year’s time we got To Venus and Back and NIN’s The Fragile for Christmas. I let my sister choose which one she wanted to listen to first and she chose Tori, much to my envy–I tried to listen to the sounds of the piano tinkling through the thick bedroom walls to no avail; we only had one discman between us and she was using that shitty stereo with the one broken speaker that always made the Beatles songs sound Satanic, missing an essential guitar or vocal.

The first R.E.M. album I ever bought was Out of Time and I honestly don’t remember why. I don’t remember the next one I bought, either. I just remember at some point during summer Nerd camp on the east coast, I realized that I owned pretty much half their albums, and there was hardly a weak song on any of them.

Anyway. The bigger point I am trying to make is that Tori and R.E.M. took the notion of ART to a whole ‘nother level for me. Art didn’t have to be well-liked, hip, cool, popular or big-selling. Art could be mysterious and enigmatic. Art could give you FEELINGS even if you weren’t sure what they were and what was going on, what was happening to you–what was being DONE to you. Art could have a kind of integrity, in the sense that you honored yourself and what you were making: the work came first, not anyone or anything else. My thesis advisor in college once told me not to listen to anyone else’s opinions or judgements on what was a success or what was a failure, what was good or what was bad. “Lo que vale es el trabajo,” he told me. The work is what counts. That’s how I feel about R.E.M. and Tori: for them, the work was (is) what counted.

And I guess that is my little homage mini-essay of Why I Like R.E.M. Here are some of the songs I came up with from my list and for my ipod playlist (it’s a numbered list for convenience, but the numbers really don’t mean anything):

  1. Hope” (from 1998’s Up)
  2. Try Not to Breath” (from 1992’s Automatic For the People)
  3. Maps and Legends” (from 1985’s Fables of the Reconstruction)
  4. Supernatural Superserious” (from 2008’s Accelerate)
  5. World Leader Pretend” (from 1988’s Green)
  6. “I Believe” (from 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant, my personal favorite R.E.M. album)
  7. Sitting Still” (from 1983’s Murmurs)
  8. Strange Currencies” (from 1994’s Monster)
  9. Country Feedback” (from 1991’s Out of Time)
  10. Green Grow the Rushes” (from 1985’s Fables)
  11. Monty Got A Raw Deal” (from 1992’s Automatic)
  12. Drive” (from 1992’s Automatic)
  13. The Lifting” (from 2001’s Reveal)
  14. ALL of 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, their best album, especially “New Test Leper,” “E-Bow the Letter,” “Bittersweet Me,” “Be Mine,” “So Fast So Numb” and “Low Desert.”
  15. The Great Beyond” (from 2003’s In Time: Greatest Hits)
  16. “The Wrong Child” (from 1988’s Green)
  17. King of Birds” (from 1987’s Document)
  18. Life and How To Live It” (from 1985’s Fables)
  19. Around the Sun” (from 2004’s Around the Sun)
  20. I’ll put “Nightswimming” here so that I can show me some CTY love…

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