A Year of Favorites

Reading about science, economics, and history in order to get out of our bubble.

It became important for me in 2013 to read things that weren’t about Brooklyn, American literature, booze, grub, hair, or the fifty-five TV shows you just have to be watching.  I get through non-fiction quicker than novels, because I’m not tearing it apart while I read it.  So I took to the stars and the soil whenever possible.  Livescience, Orion, The New Yorker, Cosmos, Discover, Outside, Space, Nat Geo, Scientific American, Jacobin, The Economist, Hazlitt, Popular Science, and Wired delivered sweet relief, via the wooly mammoths of the Ice Age, rainforest romance, and bleeding edge physics.  String theory beats bling theory.

Biographies from John Ferling and Artemis Cooper made me care about eras about for which I previously didn’t give a toot.  Going to the Met and seeing the permanence of an eight thousand year old vase (and the Portlandia-style goats that decorate its rim) was as inspiring and moving as anything I read in 2013.

Wrestling social media to the ground.

Pain for the Humblebraggers, champagne for the haters.  This year cemented the queasy term “listicles”, and any story containing nuance, fact-checking, or more than five hundred words became a “longread” novelty.  Twitter remains a Silver Age Earth-2 of a) sincere poets embracing weirdness, and b) dishwater dull creeps who believe that talking endlessly about yourself is a thoughtful and expressive form of marketing.  That something called Twitter even matters is amazing.  For all of the time and money placed into it by so many of us – myself included – Twitter should be called FortunePit or The Chamber or Solipsism.gov.  2014 is the year I quit Facebook and give you my pager number.  Please continue to invite me to your parties.

Black and white clothing in cold weather.

I don’t know if it was The Flamethrowers, Kanye, a collective wake for Lou Reed, the cloak of winter, or a desire to take ourselves more seriously, but everywhere I go lately I see stern kids wearing goth colors.  Even in the summer, it was about army olive and dark denim.  We’re all frustrated gallery owners wearing rolled up blazers over smocks, exhaling big sighs to blow our bangs out of our eyes.  It’s wonderful.

A number of books that came out before September.

Best of the year lists, particularly book-centric ones, don’t show much love to the stuff that comes out prior to the fully engorged, salacious orgy of awards season.

To name just a few of the early ’13 beasts: Ali Smith’s Artful, for daring to be creepy-smart through the lens of accurate, haunting academia.  Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, for “Reeling for the Empire”, a story about larvae-secreting Japanese factory workers that channeled Shohei Imamura.  Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts, for “The Dungeon Master” and for illustrating how gross hot sex can be.  Jim Crace’s Harvest, which even without bowl cut Dustin Hoffman may be an improved version of Straw Dogs.  Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life for having the year’s best twists, and for being a great story about nostalgia and the act of rewinding that had nothing to do with modern technology.  Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident, for being a better Pynchon novel than the one that Pynchon put out.  And the second volume of Karl Ove Knausgård’s epic ballad memoir My Struggle, for its funny Jarmuschian touches within a deeply sad and humane breakup story.

Bushwick got a great used bookstore.

From the hairy fellers who brought you Book Thug Nation came Human Relations, a beacon of oddities on a desolate patch of Flushing Ave.  This afternoon-killer of a shop is doing admirable community outreach via the excellent collection of classics and experimental writers available in its Spanish language section.  Also, the owner’s daughter told me a story about pigeons that made me cry.  It takes a village, y’all.

Nick Curley is the Associate Editor of Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and Deputy Editor of the Barnes & Noble Review.  He is the author of a zine about China called I Must Seduce You: Dispatches from the Former Third World (Volatile Market Press).  His writing has appeared in Harper’s, The L Magazine, New York Press, and City Arts. In 2001 he received the National Book Award for Fiction for his novel The Corrections.

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