2022 in reading

As I find myself at the end of the year thinking back on what I read in 2022, sadly only a few books spring immediately to mind. For some time now I have felt a growing distance between me—the reader—and the book in hand. I am still not sure why. I’ve been reading fewer books per year, which might suggest that I am reading slower and absorbing more. However, that has not proven to be the case. When comparing this reading year to last year, I see a similar pattern: a smattering of new discoveries bolstered by the works of long-time favorite writers. Reading these latter writers is always a bittersweet experience, as many of them are dead and I have either read all or most of their works by now. So it is with a somewhat heavy heart that I find myself reading the final few titles of writers such as Thomas Bernhard, of whom this year I closed out my reading of all his available prose translated into English. Although rereading books is a practice I rarely engage in, I find myself more drawn to the idea as I reflect on whether it would be more rewarding to rediscover and/or find new layers of appreciation in books I’ve already read than to continue casting about for new gems that I never seem able to unearth. It may soon be that I stop seeking the new altogether and retreat to my reading cave with a stack of favorites. But for now, here are my top reads for this year, in chronological order, with a few notes and links to my reviews. All books were either rated 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads and tagged with my ‘somewhere else’ tag, which denotes a book that has truly taken me somewhere else.

Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg: I have a special fondness for Polish literature—I wouldn’t say I’ve read a lot of Polish writers, but all the ones I have read stand out in my mind, head and shoulders above many other writers. Unfortunately, Greg’s linked follow-up to this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel did not measure up to the poetic magic found in these pages.

The Orchid Stories by Kenward Elmslie: One of the strangest books I’ve ever read. I can’t say the experience was consistently enjoyable, per se, but it certainly was worthwhile.

The Death of Conrad Unger by Gary J. Shipley: As you can see, I didn’t actually write anything about this book, only pulled a few quotes that struck me. Discovering Shipley’s writing was a reading highlight this year, though as with the fiction of writers such as Maurice Blanchot, I sometimes find it hard to write about it. But Shipley’s unique style of philosophical horror fiction is an important strand of literature needling its way forward into the future of our doomed planet.

Terminal Park by Gary J. Shipley: Relevant reading for dark times.

Failure to Thrive by Meghan Lamb: Meghan Lamb continues to impress me and remains one of the most interesting younger American writers I’ve come across. So much of the contemporary American literary fiction landscape is dominated by craft-oriented writers whose fiction leaves me cold. Lamb is one of the few I’ve discovered who is clearly dedicated to her craft yet still writes compelling stories with real emotion woven into them.

Frances Johnson by Stacey Levine: I’d read Levine’s novel Dra– a few years ago and really enjoyed it but hadn’t gotten to any of her other books until this year. I liked this darkly whimsical tale of a woman approaching middle age so much that I also read Levine’s two story collections this year.

The Lighted Burrow by Max Blecher: Blecher’s novel Adventures in Immediate Irreality is a favorite of mine, and so I was thrilled to see that Sublunary Editions was publishing this one in English translation by the talented writer-translator Christina Tudor-Sideri. While not as irreal as Adventures, this is still a powerful book of autofiction drawn from Blecher’s time in sanatoriums across Europe.

Scarred Hearts by Max Blecher: Craving more Blecher after consuming The Lighted Burrow, I turned to his only other work of fiction, which offers a much more straightforward story than his other books. Still centered on illness and convalescence, this one is a little more distanced in the telling, in part due to the third-person viewpoint. All of Blecher’s work is essential in my view, though. I’ve only sampled his poetry but expect to delve into it at a deeper level soon.

The Edge of the Object by Daniel Williams: I’ve been reading and enjoying Daniel Williams’s writing (mostly) online for a long time so was happy to find that his debut novel was being published. The craftsmanship that went into the production of this book is as much on display as Williams’s deftness with the English language. Truly a one-of-a-kind book.

Beyond the Curve by Kōbō Abe: This is a ‘best of’ type collection of Abe’s short fiction and while not every story is a knockout, many of them are very good. I find Abe to be consistently interesting and his recurring themes of alienation, isolation, social ineptitude, anxiety, and paranoia always resonate with me.

New and Selected Stories by Cristina Rivera Garza: I read this one in a group discussion forum on Goodreads. Rivera Garza is always thought-provoking, though overall I think I prefer her novels to her short stories. The stories that held the most appeal for me in this collection were those that shared common thematic and stylistic ground with her two excellent novels The Iliac Crest and The Taiga Syndrome.

The Dark Bough by Henri Bosco: Bosco’s masterpiece Malicroix was a favorite of mine from 2020, and ever since then I’d been wringing my hands over whether to spring for a copy of this other novel of his. Malicroix had been a NYRB reissue, but this one was very old and out of print. Probably by most actual book collectors’ standards the prices for this online were not much to fret over, but I don’t buy a lot of books in general (diehard library user here), and rarely do I spend over US$20 for a book. However, after exhausting all efforts to find this through interlibrary loan I finally gave in and sprang for a used copy. Though the novel is not at the same level as Malicroix, it was still well worth the money spent. I hope that NYRB or another publisher decides to reissue this one, too.

Thomas Bernhard: 3 Days: Three days of Thomas Bernhard sitting on a park bench and talking about himself and other matters—what’s not to love? Pair this with Bernhard’s memoir Gathering Evidence and you will receive as comprehensive an image of Bernhard the person as he was willing to make public.

Prose by Thomas Bernhard: Bernhard is much more well-known for his novels than for his short stories, so I was a little wary approaching this one, but it ended up being very good and in a slightly different way than his novels, which was a pleasant surprise.

The Anniversary of Never by Joel Lane: Lane is a favorite ‘weird fiction’ writer of mine and this collection of his was recently reissued. His fictive milieu is not to be rivaled in its unique flavor: a dark gloomy West Midlands landscape peopled by lost souls struggling to connect.

Watchmen by Alan Moore: Yeah, I finally read it and it was good. Pretty much rendered any subsequent superhero comics irrelevant.

Three Novellas by Thomas Bernhard: Clearly I became gluttonous in my reading of Bernhard again, but it was worth it—his writing was a tangible flotation device to cling to when I felt like I was sinking.

Under the Sign of the Labyrinth by Christina Tudor-Sideri: This was the first of Tudor-Sideri’s two books that I read this year. She is a challenging writer to read—restless and relentlessly questioning in her prose, often retreating to ambiguity—but always rewarding.

Disembodied by Christina Tudor-Sideri: Tudor-Sideri’s first novel is a single paragraph of digressive and fragmented prose, delivered by a narrator in her final breath.

Chasm by Dorothea Tanning: The only novel by Surrealist artist and writer Dorothea Tanning. A rare single-day read for me that checked a lot of my personal reading boxes.

The Voice Imitator by Thomas Bernhard: I’d been avoiding this book for years because I couldn’t imagine Bernhard’s writing in such microscopic form, but I ended up really enjoying these early little fictions of his.

Private Property by Mary Ruefle: It had been quite a while since I’d read Mary Ruefle, but she’s always been a favorite of mine so I knew I’d get back to her sooner or later. This one is up there close to her best work in the form where I think she excels the most—short prose pieces that range from the poetic to the essayistic.

On the Mountain: Rescue Attempt, Nonsense by Thomas Bernhard: This was Bernhard’s earliest known prose work and the one he chose to have published last in his lifetime. It’s possible that only the most dedicated Bernhard readers would enjoy this, for it is very much an embryonic work for such a storied writer, but I found it to be fascinating and a fitting close to my reading of his prose works. (What now? Perhaps I will begin staging his plays as solo shows in my house…)

Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion: Finally got around to reading some Didion and it didn’t disappoint. This falls in line with other novels I’ve read from the same era by women writers such as Ann Quin, Renata Adler, and, to a lesser extent, Joy Williams. But Didion’s style is distilled to such a purity of focus that it perhaps encapsulates that particular zeitgeist of the late 1960s/early 1970s best of all.

The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Coleman: This novel based on Coleman’s own experience in a psychiatric hospital delivers a pitch-perfect blend of horror, outrage, pathos, and absurdity. To be filed alongside Ann Quin’s The Unmapped Country, Anna Kavan’s Asylum Piece, and Leonora Carrington’s Down Below as another exemplar of literature exposing the cruelty, hypocrisy, and inhumanity inherent in the forced institutionalization of women, in particular.

publications update

A Set of Lines front coverA Set of Lines is now available through the Ingram distribution network, so basically from anywhere that sells books. However, it will likely only be on the physical shelves of bookstores where I sell it on consignment. Currently that includes Quimby’s in Chicago and Atomic Books in Baltimore. If you’d like to support your local bookshop you can either ask them to special order it or you can order the book from Bookshop.org, where independent bookstores receive the full profit from each sale. You can designate which store you’d like to benefit, or it will go into an earnings pool that is distributed equally among independent bookstores.

Hatred of Writing, Bunker Diaries, and Inner Harbor Field Reports have also been restocked at Quimby’s Bookstore and Atomic Books. There are order links at the bottom of both of those pages. These are the last copies, so when they sell out these titles will be out of print.

No new publications on the horizon at the moment, but maybe that will change soon. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to collaborate on writing for Ghost Paper Archives.

2021 in reading

Better late than never with this, I guess. 2021 was even more of a chronological smear than 2020. When I look back at everything that went down—both in my personal life and in the world at large—I can’t comprehend how all of it happened in a mere 365 days, especially when the last few years leading up to this one seem in retrospect to have been so (relatively) uneventful (uh…no, scratch that…and hindsight in general). At times I felt like I was living in a horrorscape this year—partly of my own making and partly sculpted by forces outside my control. The second half of the year was much worse than the first, and now that it’s over I feel depleted. Normally I’d bury my head in the sand and try to read my way through these brutal periods, but that wasn’t working this year. I ended up reading just barely over half of my total for 2020. At a certain point I gave up on writing reviews for the most part, as well—there was simply no time for writing. Unfortunately this lead to a further feeling of disconnection from what I had read.

In looking at what I did manage to read, unsurprisingly I see a lot of aimless casting about for distraction. I ricocheted from new-to-me writers (for example, trying to find my footing with Marie NDiaye; finally reading Stoner after first shelving it seven years ago [not worth the long wait]; diving headfirst into Blake Butler’s work with Scorch Atlas, the experience of which by contrast actually made the last couple of years seem festive) to unread titles by old favorites (Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Denton Welch, Joy Williams). In between—when pages of prose alone felt too weighty—I gorged on a passel of graphic novels (highlights: Chris Reynolds’ The New World: Comics from Mauretania, Charles Burns’ Last Look trilogy, and several books by Martin Vaughn-James).

A few other stand-outs:

Best book out of left field: Negative Space by B. R. Yeager
Best book I wish I’d read a long time ago: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark (read in omnibus edition)
Best book to suit my mood at the time I read it: The Moment by Peter Holm Jensen
Best book that is also a great movie: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders by Vítězslav Nezval

The most important reading lesson I (re)learned this year is that I can’t ignore the need to read for comfort. This year was a reminder that reading is not always about expanding my thinking, broadening my view of the world, or whatever other pseudo-lofty b.s. qualities I might in my weaker moments ascribe to it. Sometimes I need to experience the pleasure of reading solely for its own sake—unfortunately my ability (and willingness) to do that has declined in recent years. When I look back over what I read in 2021, I realize that I took the most comfort in reading Joy Williams and Denton Welch—two very different writers, but both masters of their craft whose skill at fitting words together facilitates a transcendent experience for me. In general I want more of that.

Looking ahead to 2022…I have no concrete reading goals, but I think I will probably read less and hopefully enjoy more of the books I’m able to finish. Writing more reviews again would also be nice.

Happy New Year!

‘caught between writing and life’: peter holm jensen’s the moment

The first psithuristic wisp of autumn arrived this week. Early August and the heat retreated with a whimper in the presence of the death season’s harbinger. Odd to experience this with all the news of raging fires out west. It has been dry here, though, it has been that. Will we too one day be engulfed in flames? More likely floods.

I have been occupied with and preoccupied by disruptions and transitions in my quotidian existence. This has led to feeling disconnected from the written word, excepting my dealings with it for which I receive monetary compensation. However, I did finish reading a book—The Moment by Peter Holm Jensen. A subdued but riveting read, it was calling to me from a special box I’d packed of most-likely-to-be-read-next books. So I answered its call.

Per its publisher Splice, The Moment is a novel but it reads like a journal of its author. Is this an important consideration? Probably not, at least not to me. Frankly I long ago grew tired of the inevitable questions around the mingling of autobiography and fiction. I like works that resist being genrefied. Even the term autofiction seems absurd to me—as if any fiction exists that does not contain parts of its author. What exactly those parts are and what percentage of a book they represent should not matter when it comes to evaluating and appreciating the finished work.

These days I find it far easier to filter my reflections through others’ written words (or music) rather than document them using my own words. It actually feels like it has been this way for far too long. And this is a significant part of what resonated so deeply with me in Holm Jensen’s book: the struggle of living with the paradox of a simultaneous passion for and distrust of language, and in particular the written word.

As the narrator grapples with this paradox, he is also documenting a blurring of the intentional and unintentional experience of living in ‘the moment’—of finding over time that opening into greater awareness, from which more insight may flow. And because the transition to moment living is continuing to happen as the narrator is writing about it, there is a sense of gradual unfolding, with attendant periods of uncertainty and confusion. But what accumulates through the narrator’s journal is evidence that each moment is indeed unique, provided one is open to noticing it.

I was reminded of how all the books I’ve read by Buddhist teachers seem to repeat the same simple ideas over and over until it eventually becomes clear that what at first appear to be the simplest concepts are actually the most complex when it comes to putting them into practice. While Holm Jensen’s book is not overtly Buddhist in nature, it does touch on ideas and questions common to Buddhist practice. But it also entwines these with questions around the act of writing and its significance, leaving those questions—as they can only ever remain—unanswered.

The Moment is a book I think best read without much foreknowledge of its contents, which is why I’ve not delved into any of its narrative specifics here. However, I did write a brief review on Goodreads that offers just a skeletal overview. I hope you consider seeking out the book.

The moment lurks inside everyday time; always new, always the same. It waits to give you back your life, like an event long prepared without your knowledge, like an act of fate. It needs you: your ragged past, your timid present, your whirl of thoughts, your hoard of words. It waits for you to step into the light of day, where it can find you and let you come into your own.

—Peter Holm Jensen

A Set of Lines review

The writer Rebecca Gransden posted an incisive review of A Set of Lines on Goodreads. Excerpt below:

There is a shorthand inherent in tackling dystopian themes, and Stewart moulds a knowing backdrop, using that shorthand to create a scaffolding which amplifies the atmosphere of benumbed melancholy. Throughout, there is an overwhelming sense of longing underneath the surface, a longing obfuscated and perhaps suppressed for so long, that its very function is being forgotten. The unconscious mind and its rebellion against passivity in the face of the denial of human wants and dignities is very present in this novel.

2020 in books and music

The less said about this year the better (at the moment and in this space, at least).

My current total of books read for the year stands at 136 and I’m sure I’ll finish a few more before year’s end, though they probably won’t make this list, so I’m posting it earlier than usual. I will update later if this changes. As it turns out I read more books last year, but I suspect I spent more actual hours reading this year due to the circumstances. I think I read more longer books this year, which probably accounts for the difference. Once Goodreads provides my year-end stats I can compare number of pages read and see if this is the case (Update: turns out my suspicions were off the markso far I’ve read about 10,000 less pages this year than my total for last year. Definitely not going to make up that difference in the next couple of weeks).

Concentration was definitely a problem this year. As a result I found myself switching between books, starting and stopping books, and completely abandoning books more than usual. But reading remained my top leisure activity and provided a safe refuge from the chaos and negative energy in the world.

If you’re a Goodreads user you can view my entire list of books read here.

Top reads (in order within each genre by date read):

Note: in most cases links are to my Goodreads reviews, not all of which are actual reviews)


The Box Man / Kōbō Abe (review)
Wide Sargasso Sea / Jean Rhys (review)
The Atrocity Exhibition / J. G. Ballard (review)
The Doll / Lukas Tomin (review)
Dézafi / Frankétienne (review)
The Golden Cut / Merl Fluin (review)
The Diary of Mr. Pinke / Ewald Murrer (review)
Mount Analogue / René Daumal (review)
Rogomelec / Leonor Fini (review)
Mangled Hands / Johnny Stanton (review)
The Model / Robert Aickman (review)
The Narrator / Michael Cisco (review)
The Undying Present / Syd Staiti (review)
The Warren / Brian Evenson (review)
Yesterday / Ágota Kristóf (review)
Such Small Hands / Andrés Barba (review)
The Bridges / Tarjei Vesaas (review)
Malicroix / Henri Bosco (review)
The Left Hand of Darkness / Ursula K. Le Guin

Short Stories:

All of Your Most Private Places / Meghan Lamb (review)
Secret Hours / Michael Cisco (review)
The Sleep of the Righteous / Wolfgang Hilbig (review)
Waystations of the Deep Night / Marcel Brion (review)
Unreasonable Hours / Julio Cortázar (review)
The Delicate Prey and Other Stories / Paul Bowles (review)
Morbid Tales / Quentin S. Crisp (review)
The Doll Maker and Other Tales of the Uncanny / Sarban (review)
The Sea-Rabbit; Or, the Artist of Life / Wendy Walker (review)
The Unsettled Dust / Robert Aickman (review)
The Earth Wire / Joel Lane (review)


Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems / Georg Trakl (review)
A Certain Plume / Henri Michaux (review)
Coma Crossing: Collected Poems / Roger Gilbert-Lecomte (review)
The Last Gold of Expired Stars: Complete Poems 1908–1914 / Georg Trakl (review)


Complete Plays / Sarah Kane (review)


The House of Illnesses / Unica Zürn (review)
Nights as Day, Days as Night / Michel Leiris (review)
The Star Opens Slowly / Casi Cline (review)
Desire for a Beginning Dread of One Single End / Edmond Jabès (review)
Wasteland / New Juche (review)

Literary Anthologies:

Man in the Black Coat: Russia’s Literature of the Absurd / Oberiuty (review)


The Trouble With Being Born / E. M. Cioran (review)
Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk / Sam McPheeters (review)


The Portable Frank / Jim Woodring (review)
Nijigahara Holograph / Inio Asano
Gast / Carol Swain (review)
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters: Vol. 1 / Emil Ferris (review)



I listened to a lot of mixes this year, as opposed to full albums, so I’m keeping the list short, tailored mostly to bands whose songs I keep replaying. I will note that not much has changed with my favorites over the past few years. Occasionally a new band gets added to the heavy rotation roster, but it’s often within an existing favored genre. Nearly everything Justin Broadrick touches continues to floor me. The drone doom and wider post-metal genres in general are popular zones, supplemented with frequent forays into ambient, post-punk, industrial, and retro trips to hardcore, punk, and 80s alternative rock. Much like with my reading tastes, a solidification seems to have occurred. I blame middle age.

The (very) abridged list of what got me through 2020, in no particular order (links in most cases direct to artist Bandcamp pages):

True Widow
Emma Ruth Rundle
Helms Alee
Dead Can Dance

A Set of Lines review

A perceptive review of A Set of Lines comes by way of Daniel Williams, author of The Edge of the Object.

The novel’s terrain lies somewhere between the surreal, labyrinthine hell of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and the apocalyptic imagery of Anna Kavan’s Ice, and the end result is worthy of being filed on your bookshelves alongside those two immersive, unsettling fables.

ahoy chicagoans

To those readers living in the Chicago area: if you’ve reached the point where you feel you can leave your quarantine unit without enduring heart palpitations in order to do some socially distant browsing at one of your local bookshops, my novel A Set of Lines is now available at that fine Chicago institution known as Quimby’s. New stock of Bunker Diaries and Inner Harbor Field Reports has also arrived at the store. Just a heads up that the supply of these two publications is dwindling, and there are no plans for a second printing. As always, thanks for reading and be well.

the return of gil orlovitz

Rick Schober at Tough Poets Press continues his admirable efforts to introduce the work of Gil Orlovitz to a new contemporary audience. He previously raised funds via Kickstarter to publish a collection of Orlovitz’s stories, poems, and essays. With this latest campaign, he hopes to raise enough capital to reprint Orlovitz’s long out-of-print novel Ice Never F. As of this writing the project is over a third of the way funded, but it still needs support. [Update: Now fully backed and then some!] This book is virtually impossible to find on the used market, so Tough Poets Press is doing a valuable service to the many readers who in recent years have become interested in Orlovitz’s contributions to avant-garde writing in the 1960s. Now is your chance to be part of experimental literary history! Help fund the book’s publication and your name will appear in the Acknowledgments. More important than that, though, you will be assisting in the resurrection of a true American original writer.

the excavation of gil orlovitz

Recently I received the good news that a new volume of buried writer Gil Orlovitz’s poetry and prose is soon to be published. I’ve previously bemoaned Orlovitz’s fate on this site, as well as posting, at the time, the only known review of his experimental novel Ice Never F to be found on the internet. Now, champion of forgotten poets Rick Schober will be publishing a collection of Orlovitz’s early stories, poems, and essays through his one-man operation, Tough Poets Press. Rick needs our help, though! He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to cover the initial costs associated with getting this important anthology out into the world. Rick has done these campaigns before and he knows what he’s doing. All donations go straight into production. Take a look, read Rick’s biography of Orlovitz, and if you feel so inclined please give what you can! The book will be published June 7, 2018, the 100th anniversary of Orlovitz’s birth.

  • Recent Posts

  • Navigation Station

    The links along the top of the page are rudimentary attempts at trail markers. Otherwise, see below for more search and browse options.

  • In Search of Lost Time

  • Personal Taxonomy

  • Common Ground

  • Resources