My Favorite Books of 2013

Read a lot of great books in 2013. My three favorites, which I read in the last few weeks, won’t be released officially until early 2014: Willy Vlautin’s The Free; Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California; and Dave Newman’s Two Small Birds.

From this year, I loved:
Sara Gran, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway
Owen King, Double Feature
Richard Lange, Angel Baby
Dave Newman, The Slaughterhouse Poems
Daniel Woodrell, The Maid’s Version
Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Joe Hill, NOS4A2
J. David Osborne, Low Down Death Right Easy
Lori Jakiela, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious
Dan Fante, Point Doom
Scott McClanahan, Crapalachia and Hill William
Derrick Harriell, Ropes
Poe Ballantine, Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere
William Todd Schultz, Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith
Hosho McCreesh, A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst
Scott Phillips, Rake
Ace Atkins, The Broken Places
Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World
George Saunders, Tenth of December
Shawn Vestal, Godforsaken Idaho
Michael Kimball, Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)
Noah Cicero, The Collected Works and Go to Work…
Jamie Quatro, I Want to Show You More
Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Mike Tyson, Undisputed Truth
George Pelecanos, The Double
Stephen Graham Jones, The Least of My Scars
Jedidiah Ayres, Peckerwood
Pearce Hansen, Street Raised
Red Hammond, XXX Shamus
David James Keaton, Fish Bites Cop!
Jamie Iredell, I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac
Stephanie Barber, Night Moves
Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal

My to-read pile includes some of the best of 2013 I haven’t gotten to yet: Mary Ruefle, Trances of the Blast; James Sallis, Others of My Kind; Barry Gifford, The Roy Stories; Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers; Ivy Pochoda, Visitation Street; Kelly Braffet, Save Yourself; Alissa Nutting, Tampa; Vicki Hendricks, Fur People; Tom Perrotta, Nine Inches; Marisha Pessl, Night Film; Lindsay Hunter, Don’t Kiss Me; Steve Weddle, Country Hardball; John Langan, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies; Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch; Matt Bell, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods; Tom Piccirilli, The Last Whisper in the Dark; Laird Barron, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All; Matthew Revert, Basal Ganglia; Kevin Sampsell, This is Between Us; Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped; Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane; Steve Lowe, You Are Sloth!; Morrissey, Autobiography; David Shoemaker, The Squared Circle; David Gilbert, And Sons; Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens; Paul Auster, Report from the Interior; Dan Fante, Point Doom; so many more I’m forgetting right now.

Links to my reviews of some of my favorites here.

My Favorite Movies of 2013

Still a lot of movies I want to see from this year that I haven’t had a chance to see yet, especially HerBlue is the Warmest Color, The Wolf of Wall Street, Go For Sisters, Nebraska, The Counselor, A Single Shot, Dallas Buyers Club

Based on what I’ve seen so far, these are my favorites of the year:
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Spring Breakers
3. Before Midnight
4. The Spectacular Now
5. Mud
6. The Place Beyond the Pines
7. Enough Said
8. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
9. Frances Ha
10. Only God Forgives
11. American Hustle
12. Prisoners
13. The Way, Way Back
14. Gravity
15. The Motel Life

Others I really liked: To the Wonder; StokerPacific Rim; Prince Avalanche; The Conjuring; Passion; Shadow Dancer; Room 237; The World’s End; Drinking Buddies; Don Jon; Blue Jasmine

My Favorite Music of 2013

Albums:
1. Water Liars, Wyoming
2. Jason Isbell, Southeastern
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away
4. Phosphorescent, Muchacho
5. Bill Callahan, Dream River
6. Volcano Choir, Repave
7. Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium
8. Bonnie Prince Billy, s/t
9. Hiss Golden Messenger, Haw
10. Mutual Benefit, Love’s Crushing Diamond
11. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
12. The Hunt, The Hunt Begins
13. Chris Forsyth, Solar Motel
14. William Tyler, Impossible Truth
15. Yo La Tengo, Fade
16. Run the Jewels, s/t
17. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
18. Alela Diane, About Farewell
19. Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze
20. Little Wings, Last

Reissues/Live Albums/Etc.:
1. Songs: Ohia, The Magnolia Electric Co.
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Live from KCRW
3. Bob Dylan, Another Self-Portrait
4. Human Expression, Love at a Psychedelic Velocity
5. Nirvana, In Utero
6. Sorrow Come Pass Me Around: A Survey of Rural Black Religious Music
7. Roky Erickson, The Evil One; Don’t Slander MeGremlins Have Pictures
8. Irma Thomas, In Between Tears
9. The Birthday Party, Live 81-82
10. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, In Cambridge

Best Discoveries: Bill Fox, Shelter from the Smoke (Thanks, David); Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

Other stuff I really liked: Cian Nugent & The Cosmos, Born with the Caul; Nathan Salsburg, Hard For to Win and Can’t Be Won; Charles Bradley, Victim of Love; The National, Trouble Will Find Me; T. Hardy Morris, Audition Tapes; Oblivians, Desperation; Arcade Fire, Reflektor; Cannibal Ox, Gotham; Overseas, s/t; Dirty Beaches, Drifters/Love is the Devil; Richard Buckner, Surrounded; Cass McCombs, Big Wheel and Others; Chastity Belt, No Regerts (sic); Mick Turner, Don’t Tell the Driver; Hayden, Us Alone; Low, The Invisible Way; The Handsome Family, Wilderness; Willis Earl Beal, Nobody Knows; Steve Gunn, Time Off; The Gunshy, Silent Songs; Dead Gaze, Brain Holiday; Mazzy Star, Seasons of the Day; Patty Griffin, Silver Bell; Kanye West, Yeezus; Bass Drum of Death, s/t; Ugly Heroes, s/t; Josh Ritter, The Beast in Its Tracks; Anna von Hausswolff, Ceremony; Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle, Perils from the Sea; David Bowie, The Next Day; Tindersticks, Across Six Leap Years, Joanna Gruesome, Weird Sister; Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady; Camera Obscura, Desire Lines; Laura Marling, Once I Was An Eagle; Bombino, Nomad; William Onyeabor, Who Is William Onyeabor?; Dent May, Warm Blanket; Elephant Micah, Globe Rush Progressions; Duquette Johnson, Rabbit Runs a Destiny; The Paranoid Style, The Purposes of Music in General.

The City

1. I’m reading in Brooklyn on Friday, January 3rd. 5 PM at Boulevard Books & Café in Dyker Heights. If you’re around, come on out. Here’s the Facebook page for the event.

reading

2. Gravesend is now available on Kindle.

3. Orhan Pamuk wrote this great piece on C.P. Cavafy in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Cavafy’s “The City,” included in full here, is one of my favorite poems – the last few lines serve as the epigraph to Gravesend.

“The City” by C. P. Cavafy

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
From C. P. Cavafy’s Collected Poems (Princeton University, 1992).

4. Here’s my soundtrack for the holidays (off one of my favorite records of the year):

“Pornography’s Pupil”

A few years ago, when I was reading for the Yalobusha Review, I got lucky one afternoon when I picked a story out of the stack called “Between Pissworth and Papich.” I was used to putting stories down after two or three pages, getting bored by them or losing track of what was going on, but this one took hold immediately. When I was done, I knew it was not only the best story I’d seen as a reader for the journal but the best story I’d read in recent memory. I was excited to pass it to my friends Burke and Anya (who was Fiction Editor at the time). They read it and had the same reaction. I think Anya accepted it for publication the same day or maybe the day after.

The writer of the story was a guy named Patrick Michael Finn. I tracked down his novella A Martyr for Suzy Kosasovich and loved it. A while after the story appeared in the YR, Patrick and I got to exchanging messages via Facebook. He sent me a copy of his newest book, the story collection From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet (a book you should go get now, if you don’t have it) and thanked me for rescuing “Between Pissworth and Papich” from six years of rejection. I couldn’t believe there were journals and magazines that had passed on such a perfect story. Patrick and I talked about other things: Catholicism, Barry Hannah, X, Hüsker Dü, Willy Vlautin. We had a hell of a lot in common.

Anyhow, all this to say: Patrick’s one of my favorite writers, and he’s got a beautiful personal essay, “Pornography’s Pupil,” up at Trop. Check it out here.

“Because hope, it’s better than having nothing at all.”

Willy Vlautin’s one of my favorite writers, and The Motel Life is one of my favorite books. I’ve been looking forward to this. I was also worried that they’d run it off the rails somehow.

I’m happy to report that the Polskys did a solid job with it. It’s a very good movie, almost great, and while it doesn’t live up to the book, it’s faithful as hell and doesn’t misfire in any major ways.

A few things I didn’t like/wasn’t sure about:
1. The score. It was intrusive, and I didn’t like the way it worked so heavily in the background like someone breathing all over the movie. It especially bothered me in the flashback scene between Earl and Frank. They just should’ve had Vlautin & Paul Brainard do something instead.

2. The music overall was problematic. Even great songs from Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan felt a little out of place. Music is so key in the book, and I feel like that’s totally missing from the film. They had a ready-made soundtrack with Richmond Fontaine’s The Fitzgerald – it would’ve been great to see that used. And we needed some Willie Nelson.

3. I don’t know why they switched Tyson-Holyfield to Tyson-Douglas. Having just read Tyson’s memoir, that stood out as being particularly problematic. I just don’t see anyone betting against an undefeated Tyson – it doesn’t make sense to bet Douglas in the way that betting Holyfield makes sense. It also switches the action from 1996 to 1990, which doesn’t seem right.

4. The place stuff was good but could’ve been better. I didn’t feel Reno as much as I do in the book.

5. The ending is missing something – I’m not sure what, but it doesn’t FEEL like the ending of the book. I won’t be specific in the interest of avoiding spoilers, but if you love the book you’ll know what I mean.

A few things I really liked:
1. Dakota Fanning as Annie James. This surprised me most of all. I thought she was perfect. She had down the feel of the character as Vlautin made her and was exactly what I pictured. And the Polskys handled Annie and Frank’s backstory effectively.

2. Kris Kristofferson as Earl Hurley. Goddamnit, he’s the best.

3. Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff are damn good as the Flannigan Brothers. Dorff is a little old for Jerry Lee, but that’s a minor thing. Hirsch is one of the most consistent young actors around – between this and Prince Avalanche, my opinion of him is even higher.

4. The animation worked. I wondered how they could possibly get that part of the book down – Frank telling stories to Jerry Lee – and I thought that animation was a smart route to go. Reminded me a little of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.

Overall, the film was way more than I thought it’d be. There’s a certain tension that comes with seeing a book you love adapted. I’m relieved that the Polskys approached it as an act of love – it shouldn’t be lost on us that this sad and hopeful story about brothers was directed by brothers. It’s not a Hollywood whorehouse movie. It’s dark and true and real. Most importantly, it taps into the tone and spirit of the book.