2014: The Mid-Year Report

on Monday, June 30, 2014
Chalk it up to a crippling case of blog burn-out following 2013's ridiculous "Review Every Book I Read" challenge. Or it might have been the all-consuming insanity of the Melbourne Jewish Writers' Festival. Or maybe it's just that I've had to slow down a bit on the reading to make time for my own writing. Yep, for those of you who don't already know, I've jumped out of the frying pan of literary criticism (and, hopefully, witticism) and into the fire. I'm writing a novel. What's more, I've signed with my absolutely favourite publisher, Text Publishing who, assuming I can meet a deadline, will be throwing my labour of love to the wolf pit of arseholes like me (aka readers/reviewers/bloggers/firestarters) some time next year. Whatever the cause, it's been a slow year on Bait For Bookworms. I know. But I haven't forgotten you, my dear fellow LitNerds. There's plenty I want to say. Heck, I've still managed 92 books in the first six months. And though I only reviewed a fraction of them, some were pretty excellent. Viz:

Books Of The Year
What can I say? Jesse Ball just keeps getting better and his latest novel, Silence Once Begun, was the first, and remains the best, thing I have had the joy of reading in 2014. That's not to say there weren't some pretty close contenders. And the fact that David Grossman was the only other familiar name in my list makes it all the more exciting. His novel in dramatic/poetic form, Falling Out Of Time, was a masterpiece of grief, introspection, rage and regeneration. Then there's An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alammedine which bowled me over with its humour, wisdom and litnerd appeal. Jenny Offill renewed my belief in the beauty of ordinary love with her masterpiece in miniature, The Dept. of Speculation, while Hanya Yanagihara shocked me to my moral core with her dense, harrowing and intellectually challenging debut The People Of The Trees. Michel Laub's multi-layered meditation on memory, Diary of the Fall was another highlight, as was the best prison novel I've read in years, The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. And mad props to the batshit crazy Look Who's Back, in which German daredevil Timur Vermes imagine Hitler's return to modern Germany with hilarious (and rather frightening) results.

Books of Previous Years
Five months after reading it, I'm still haunted by Hubert Mingarelli's fantastic little book A Meal In Winter, in which a couple of Nazi soldiers sent from their remote outpost to hunt Jews in the forest are faced with an impossible moral choice. Equally complex and powerful was Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation which could well have been written by one of the European greats in the middle of the twentieth century. I got my first taste of Korean literature with Hwang Sun-Mi's superb Orwellian fable, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly while cult Belgian writer Dmitri Verhulst struck again with his excoriating Christ Comes To Brussels, an hilarious collision of religious obsession, delusion and high comedy. And, in my ever growing attempt to expand my literary horizons, graphic fiction has had a strong showing with Rutu Modan's The Property and Jeff Lamire's Underwater Welder both ending high on my list of favourites.

A Brief Message From My Speakers
I don't usually include music in my mid-year reports but I can't in good conscience ignore the album that has single-handedly got me excited about music again. Canadian abrasive melodic punkers PUP's self-titled album is about as incredible as a debut could ever hope to be. In fact I loved it so much that I didn't download a free torrent but actually dragged my lazy arse to the record store and bought a physical copy. I know. That's crazy talk!

Well, I can't say I know what the rest of this year will bring. I suspect I won't be reading quite as much as I race towards my own deadline, but there's still a bunch of books that have me excited including new ones by Javier Cercas, Aharon Appelfeld, Will Wiles, Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Samuel Beckett (ok, so a newly unearthed SB) as well as the rest of Jeff VanderMeer's thus far brilliant Southern Reach Trilogy. I'm also a little late off the mark but hope to get to Pig's Foot by Carlos Acosta, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon and Glow by Ned Beauman. Ah, who am I kidding? I'll be reading just as much. I just won't be sleeping.


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