“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What I've Reviewed in 2010 (with a Digression on Sexism and the Avant-Garde)

Next week, I'll be going through a series of my favourite books from 2010 (grouped to some degree by genre or country). In preparation, I thought I'd list the books I've reviewed this year; of course, this isn't the totality of what I've read (not even close), but these are basically the books I'll be choosing from next week. Here they are:

1.)  Zone by Mathias Enard (coming next week)
2.)  Six Tenses by Ryan O’Neill
3.)  Aliss at the Fire by Jon Fosse
4.)  A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
5.)  The Philanthropist by John Tesarsch
6.)  The Empty Family by Colm Toibin
7.)  The Lost Scrapbook by Evan Dara
8.)  Leaving Home with Henry by Phillip Edmonds
9.)  The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira
10.)  The Mary Smokes Boys by Patrick Holland
11.) The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony
12.) C by Tom McCarthy
13.) Like Being a Wife by Catherine Harris
14.) Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino
15.) Other Stories by Wayne Macauley
16.) Richard Yates by Tao Lin
17.) Prose by Thomas Bernhard
18.) Kraken by China Mieville
19.) Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou
20.) Selected Short Stories by Janet Frame
21.) Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
22.) Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado de Assis
23.) Microscripts by Robert Walser
24.) How a Moth Becomes a Boat by Josephine Rowe
25.) Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya
26.) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
27.) Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives by Brad Watson
28.) Antwerp by Roberto Bolano
29.) The Norseman’s Song by Joel Deane
30.) Child of Twilight by Carmel Bird
31.) The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter
32.) Reality Hunger by David Shields
33.) Glissando by Dave Musgrave
34.) Running Away by Jean-Philipe Toussaint
35.) Best European Fiction 2010 edited by Aleksander Hemon
36.) Barley Patch by Gerald Murnane
37.) 2666 by Roberto Bolano
38.) The Supply Party by Martin Edmond
39.) Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

I'm pleased that I was able to review authors from many different countries around the world, including Austria, Australia, Brazil, Chile, The Congo, El Salvador, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, The Philippines, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (I'm not quite sure what happened to continental Asia, which is something to consider for next year.)

There is, however, also some bad news: I only reviewed books by five female authors (about 13% of my reviews). I didn't consciously intend to exclude women writers, but--in looking at this list--it's clear that I need to at least think about gender in relation to what I review next year.

One reason for this skewing--or so I suspect--is that my preference is very much towards work that is in an 'experimental' or avant-garde tradition; despite the importance of many women in this tradition (just off the top of my head: Djuana Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Mina Loy, H.D., Marianne Moore, Muriel Rukeyser, Kathy Acker, etc.), it still often seems--and this may well be due to media bias and coverage--that there's a lower percentage of women writing in the 'experimental' tradition than in other areas (although I'm not naive; I realise there is a larger bias against women authors in all areas, full stop). I do wonder about the reasons for this: are women writers in this tradition simply facing an uphill battle for exposure, or is this an area of writing that is, in fact, overwhelming male--and, if so, why? (N.B. I'm not sympathetic to the argument that formally experimental writing is inherently sexist, although I'd certainly be willing to agree that its current cultural formation is sexist). I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments about why women appear under-represented in this area of fiction...

If nothing else, this gives me a good reason to look at a few authors I've been meaning to read, like Herta Muller, Elfriede Jelinek and Ingeborg Bachmann. Who else am I missing? What other female writers in the aftermath of the avant-garde are out there that I need to read?

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