Five Literary Loves from 2013

Everyone needs a year-end list. Instead of a Best Books-type arrangement, here are five things I loved in the literary world in 2013.

1) Text Publishing

Several years ago, I spent a couple of seasons in Australia. While there I picked up work by Andrew McGahan, Tim Winton and others. I didn’t come anywhere near getting to grips with the best of Australian writing. Melbourne-based Text Publishing is helping with that goal. Already they’ve introduced me to Elizabeth Harrower, David Ireland, Madeleine St. John and Kenneth (Seaforth) Mackenzie among others, as part of their Text Classics series. I’ve got a weakness for neglected books, and the people at Text are unusually good at bringing back lost classics. They’re also branching out, establishing a presence in the US and UK. The year’s top surprise, for me.

2) Music & Literature

Krasznahorkai, Max Neumann, Gerald Murnane – extended treatment of any of the three is reason enough to acknowledge Music & Literature as one of the few truly essential current publications. Of course, in the two issues I’ve been a subscriber, they’ve featured all three, prominently. Just last month they posted an index to Murnane’s complete personal archives. I’m leaving off here, because once you’ve clicked through to that, if you love Murnane, nothing I can add will measure up.

3) The novels of Alexander Maksik

I missed out on You Deserve Nothing when it was first released. Ditto the controversy surrounding the book. If I had read it then, I’d have been far less patient for the release of A Marker to Measure Drift. I caught up just ahead of A Marker and was genuinely impressed by the control and insight of Maksik’s debut. A Marker far exceeded that, I thought, and also established Maksik as a writer who embraces the possibilities associated with big risks.

4) A new James Salter novel

The only novel Salter released in my lifetime was Solo Faces, and that one just barely made it under the bar (I was born the previous year). All That Is contains a lot of what we’d think of as vintage Salter, though he made a concerted effort to curb his lyrical tendencies. I don’t rank it with A Sport and a Pastime or Light Years, but it is a book I look forward to rereading. Will it be his last? He’s nearing ninety, and he’s never been what we’d call prolific. When I saw him a few months ago, he’d just fractured his leg the previous day. The doctors said it would take 6-8 weeks to heal. He expected it to take about four. It doesn’t seem wise to bet against someone with that kind of heart.

5) Poetry

I found myself turning back to poetry this year, reading it that is, thanks in part to George Szirtes and the wonderful Child Helga and her Father sequence he shared on Twitter. That’s not to diminish the time I spent with poems between covers, work by Maurice Manning, Will Schutt’s debut Westerly, as well as revisiting Mary Oliver, Gordon Osing and Rachel Wetzsteon, for various reasons. Looking forward to more in 2014.

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