Here are some of the books I enjoyed reading last year. It’s not a “ten best list” because, hell…who’s counting?
by Jim Nisbet
PM Press / Green Arcade Series
The Miata jumped the curb and sheared off a light pole.
That’s the opening sucker punch and this contemporary noir masterpiece just keeps getting better. Nisbet’s old school con men confront high tech San Francisco. It’s a shadowy, unforgettable ride through Fog City.
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German Women on the Nazi Killing Fields
by Wendy Lower
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
You might assume that with the countless books written about the holocaust, there would be nothing new to report. Well Wendy Lower has uncovered a fascinating bit of history that has been ignored or glossed over: how average German women played a significant supporting role on the Nazi eastern front . She traces the path of ordinary young women—volunteer nurses, teachers, secretaries—whose efforts made the atrocities possible. The book is chilling and illuminating.
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Grove Press, the Evergreen Review, and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde
by Loren Glass
Stanford University Press
Everything you ever want to know about America’s most influential publishing house. (Reviewed in the previous post here.)
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BRASSAÏ – PARIS NOCTURNE
by Sylvie Aubenas & Quentin Bajac
Thames & Hudson
Here is definitive proof that the night belongs to the Hungarian-born photographer Brassaï. In particular, he was a master at capturing the essence of Paris after dark, and when one thinks of night photography in general, one thinks of him. This extraordinary collection contains nearly 300 illustrations—including previously unpublished photographs.
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by Boris Vian
Translated from the French by Paul Knobloch
Tam Tam Books
It might be hard to imagine a novel that seamlessly blends absurdism, ‘pataphysics, punk-surrealism, and science fiction, but fans of Boris Vian (1920-1959) won’t have a problem. The text has the strains of nihilism one would expect from the author of I Spit On Your Graves, but romantic echoes as well. This sad, funny, and quite mad little book is experimental in the best sense of the word, i.e., surprises arise on nearly every page.
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LAZINESS IN THE FERTILE VALLEY
by Albert Cossery
Translated by William Goyen
Foreword by Henry Miller
Afterword by Anna Della Subin
I first discovered the name Albery Cossery in 1969 in Henry Miller’s The Books in My Life —published by (who else?) New Directions. I was compelled to track down two, long out of print editions from the same publisher: Cossery’s novels The House of Certain Death (1944) and The Lazy Ones (1948) . Both were as addictive as the hashish that permeated their Egyptian milieu. As a teenager, I found these bitterly satiric works eye-opening and unforgettable. The author depicted a surreal world where despair and hopelessness were as relentless as the sun god Ra. However, it was Miller’s introduction that alerted me to the fact that Cossery’s characters reflected real life in the very real Middle East.
A new generation may now discover The Lazy Ones (reissued under the title Laziness in the Fertile Valley)—complete with Miller’s memorable foreword. In light of the present turmoil in Egypt, the novel has even greater relevance today.
Cossery’s words live on.
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ESSENTIAL POEMS AND WRITINGS OF JOYCE MANSOUR
Translated with an introduction by Serge Gavronsky
Black Widow Press
Although the Surrealist movement was dominated by ego-driven males, a few visionary women writers managed to transcend the political quicksand and establish themselves as important voices in avant-garde French literature. Two names in particular stand out: Gisèle Prassinos and Joyce Mansour.
Mansour (1928-1986) created voluptuous texts and poems that tore apart rationalism and gave flesh to violent surreal visions. In his fascinating overview of her work, Serge Gavronsky shows how the poet’s language is an attack on realism and bourgeois conventions. Indeed, these “adventures in the language of the body” are savage, erotic and profane.
This massive collection is a thrill.
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BOOKS TO DIE FOR
The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels
Edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke
Emily Bestler Books / Simon & Schuster
This gem of an anthology was published in 2012 and is destined to remain in print for many years. Editors Connolly & Burke have managed to assemble 119 contemporary novelists from around the world to choose their favorite mystery. The essays here prove to be both revealing and inspiring, i.e., you not only gain insights into the personal tastes of the contributors—(Michael Connolly, Elmore Leonard, Jo Nesbø, Laura Lippman, Kelli Stanley, Bill Pronzini, Jeffrey Deaver, John Banville, on and on…)—but will be driven to explore unknown writers, as well as classic authors you’ve been meaning to read.
Not a bad way to jump-start 2014.
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Stay tuned for more.