A year in reading: 2013

2013 was the second full year that I’ve written a monthly blog about my reading, and this time I’ve decided to put together a ‘year in reading’ summary that lists the books covered, which isn’t quite the same as the books read. As I tried to explain in a post that was supposed to be a similar summary this time last year, but failed to be so, how we read – how I read – is so much more than a list of books ‘read’.

It’s also worth repeating that the whole point of these blog entries was to take the opportunity to to write about books in way not really allowed in book reviews – with no summary, no context, not necessarily any judgement, but rather an interrogation of the reading experience, or what reading the books made me think.

They are generally written without a plan, but at a rush, and posted before I can think too carefully about what I’ve said. But, generally, the topic that emerges – if it does at all – is one that has been preying on my mind.

Links to ‘proper’ book reviews given where appropriate. Otherwise, click on the link at the end of an extract to delve into that particular set of digressions.


The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann2013 jan reading
The Woes of the True Policeman, by Roberto Bolano (Independent review)
First Novel, by Nicholas Royle
A Great Big Shining Star, by Niall Griffiths (Independent review)
plus a digression on physical vs digital books pursuing my graphic index of the mind obsession

I’ve had the Penguin Essays of George Orwell for decades. Perhaps I read it all when I got it, when I had time, but since then it’s come down from the shelves only on occasion, but each time it does, I flick through and remind myself what’s in there. Not deliberately, just as a part of the what the book operates. Click here to read the post


The Infatuations, by Javier MariasFebruary reading, aka my own personal Cloud Atlas - see below for exploded viewThe Mussel Feast, by Birgit Vanderbeke
Black Bread White Beer, by Niven Govinden (review on Fiction Uncovered)
A Man in Love, by Karl Ove Knausgaard (my instant response blog, ‘Why Knausgaard’)
plus a screed against David Mitchell and the structure of Cloud Atlas

If there is a Heaven, the complete works of Javier Marías will be waiting there for me to read, and so finally come to understand human nature, the appalling coincidence in one and the same biological organism at one moment in history and evolution of thought and desire.

Knausgaard will be there, too, but by then it will be too late. That can only save me if I read it now. Click here to read the post


Knausgaard and Marias again2013-march-reading
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
The Crane Wife, by Patrick Ness
The Heart Broke In, by James Meek
Leonardo da Vince, by Sigmund Freud,
but mostly Earthbound by Paul Morley and my (new) pockets of time theory of reading

Imagine me, sat in the pub, on my second pint, buffeted on all sides by the noise of Catford drunk and drinking on a Friday night, aged 40… and here comes Paul Morley to take me by the hand, like Virgil, or Satan, and show me how I’ve been living my life. And not just that, he’s showing me how it will end, with an extinction that might just feel like how I sometimes feel when a pop song ends (the littler, the littlest death). Click here to read the post


Knausgaard againapril 2013 reading
Sex is Forbidden, by Tim Parks
Nostalgia, by Jonathan Buckley (Independent review)
Kith, by Jay Griffiths
Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman
Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner
…but mostly: why I read so few women writers, and the beginning of three months of women-only reading

Where once the heroes of our books were existential anti-heroes, who through their doomed struggles with an aggressively absurd world gave new expression to the human condition, now they are small-time neurotic chauvinists, dredging up their most petty of offences and passing them through the car wash/particle accelerator of poised, dialectically minded prose until they come out shining. Click here to read the post

(and here’s the resulting ‘reading list for the myopic/misogynist‘)


From the Fatherland, With Love, by Ryu Murakami (Independent review)Deborah Levy's 'Things I Don't Want to Know' not shown as it was read in digital form. Ugh.
How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
Sidewalks and Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
Things I Don’t Want to Know and Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy (Independent review of the former)
The Appointment, by Herta Müller

Would you have read it if it didn’t say ‘Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature’ on front? (Well, that probably had something to do with it.) Would talking about it help? (Um…) What, you only read books so you can talk about them to people afterwards? (I…) Are you worried they won’t find you interesting? Or that you won’t have anything to say to them otherwise? (Look…) You do like people, don’t you? (Of course I like people. Some people.) I’m not sure you even like books. You deride books that are merely escapist, but all reading is escapist. You’re just escaping into a fantasy where the kinds of books you read make you smarter, deeper, a better person. Click here to read the post

June and July

All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld2013 june july reading
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride
Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante
After Claude, by Iris Owens
Armed With Madness, by Mary Butts

The writing is throat-grabbingly fervid and feverish – I remember reading it and thinking, This is what I wanted when I said I wanted a book to show me the female mind in action, as I love books that show me the male mind in action. There is a sex scene in it that felt, in all its clarity and candour and muckiness, like the truest possible expression of what I feel (what I fear) must be going on in that other mind, during sex, that point when we like to think our minds are most empty, we are most animal. Click here to read the post


The Luminaries, by Eleanor Cattonaugust 2013
The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
Anagrams, by Lorris Moore
Gilead, by Mary Robinson

Without enforced breaks the like of which intrude into normal, home reading, you work through the book as you would a bag of sweets, each paragraph merely the pretext for the next, the pleasure of each one lost the moment it touches your tongue, pages devoured rather than savoured. You gorge yourself on words. The sense of pacing slips and is lost. What is gone, too, with holiday reading, is the pleasure of coming back to a book, when you’ve had to put it down to go to work, or parent the kids, or whatever. Click here to read the post


The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushnerseptember 2013 reading
The Unknowns, by Gabriel Roth
The Magic Mountain again
The Kills, by Richard House (Independent review)
The Testament of Mary, by Colm Tóibín
Yeah Yeah Yeah, by Bob Stanley (Independent review)

I just couldn’t get on with the prose. It is American prose, made in America. It swaggers, but with a limp, or drag, affected to distract from the swagger. It looks at the world obliquely, drawlingly, always focused on the thing half glimpsed over the shoulder of the thing it’s looking at. It is like a man in a bar, spieling drunk wisdom, while he fingers patterns in a puddle of spilled beer on the counter. But it wants you to know the man, and wisdom, through the doodles. Click here to read the post


Harvest, by Jim Craceoctober reading 2013
The Vain Art of the Fugue, by Dumitru Tsepeneag (full blog post on strange loops in narratives here)
Sandokan, by Nanni Balestrini
… but mostly a morning after brain dump about A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing winning the Goldsmiths Prize, and about the Booker and prizes in general

What was this ‘Commonwealth’ thing anyway? In what other part of my life does the idea of the Commonwealth have any meaning to me? None. It is the sad rump of a dead and largely despicable historical process that, thank god, is over, closed. What are we, the British, doing claiming  Arundhati Roy, Michael Ondaatje, and JM Coetzee as somehow ‘ours’? It makes no sense, and I don’t like it. Click here to read the post


S.  by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorstnovember 2013
Three, by Ann Quin
Dark Lies The Island, by Kevin Barry
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (full blog, called The Goldfinch, why, in the end, yes, here)

You dig and dig, but the bones you find do not come to be where they are by honest means, but are like those that naughty Creationist  God placed in the earth to fool palaeontologists. Click here to read the post


The Magic Mountain againdecember 2013
more Hannah Arendt
The Story of the Eye, by Georges Bataille
The Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler
The New English Landscape, by Ken Worpole and Jason Orton

The luxuriousness of the mud; the wading birds stuck into the expanse of it like pins in a pinboard; the ineffable beauty of the lines taken by the miniature streams that curl and wend their way through the flats, all the more beautiful for being, half the time, hidden under water. Click here to read the post

One comment

  1. Enrique Vila Matas

    In recent years, the work of Enrique Vila Matas has experienced exponential growth in terms of literary quality. I think winning the Rómulo Gallegos Prize a decade marked a before and after for this writer.

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