My Year of Rest and Relaxation | Ottessa Moshfegh
My Year of Rest and Relaxation came out in 2018 but it might as well have predicted all our wishful futures for 2020, minus the cocktail of prescription drugs. When Ottesa Moshfegh’s unnamed protagonist, orphaned into financial independence in her early 20’s, realizes that all she feels is exhausted, she decides to sleep for a year in an attempt to reset. While she chose to medicate herself into unconsciousness, 2020 did it for us by grinding the world into a halt to an almost Sleeping Beauty-esque slumber. The novel is strangely captivating for a narrative that is entirely based around sleeping and being unconscious, but that’s what made it such a truthful read for 2020: life went on somehow, at a weird pace, without adhering to usual structures – and somehow a year passed.
Nox | Anne Carson
On a fine lockdown afternoon, as I was scrolling through yet another online shop while avoiding all of my academic responsibilities, I stumbled across this— Book? Scrapbook? Notebook? It was Nox, by Carson, whose books have definitely become my survival kit for 2020. “Night”, what a title; the perfect reading for my quarantined-insomniac-suddenly saddened by morning nights. In the form of a never ending leaflet inside of a box, Nox contains several definitions of concepts, scraps of poetry, photographs and other ramblings that reflect the author’s grief in relation to her brother’s death. I found a halo of mystery, regret and nostalgia to be heavily present throughout the reading and, while the themes of the book are quite specific, I couldn’t help but find myself having my own moments of introspection and ramblings about my own process of grief and loss during a year that has also felt like a never-ending leaflet of scraps, photographs, memories and an inexplicable feeling of fleetingness.
White Noise | Don DeLillo
21 January 1985. Reagan inaugurated for a second term. Plane crash kills 70 near Reno-Tahoe International. Don DeLillo deifies the gospel cube and the family shopping excursion in White Noise . At the core of this novel on numbed mass culture is concern. With consumerism? With the ramifications of a world drained of its spiritual essence? The volta, the long median chapter on the “airborne toxic event” (one of the funniest phrases in the English language), precedes a third act occupied with the small tablet which erases its user’s knowledge of their own inevitable death. What is done, what can be done, to satiate a world which would necessitate such an invention? DeLillo certainly offers no conclusion, but his fatalistic approach to the postmodern condition is imbued with pitch perfect send-ups of precocious adolescence, academic pontificating, and the media lenses which crises must seemingly pass through in order to register as real. Prescient, salient.
Things I Don’t Want to Know | Deborah Levy
Escalators as the ultimate crying place, a Majorcan village in the middle of the mountains, a brief romantic encounter with a Chinese shopkeeper in a snowed landscape—what else could I ask of a book while I drink my coffee sitting on my bedroom rug? In the first part of her living autobiography, Levy reflects on writing, womanhood and loneliness while recalling moments of her past such as the apartheid in South Africa, the incarceration of her father or her life in the UK after leaving her motherland. Being forced to stay inside the four walls of my room for such longs periods of time, I’ve done my own fair bit of reflection about writing, womanhood and loneliness myself and while my ramblings have only made it into actual words in a couple of messy notebooks, Levy’s insights have made a resounding impact in my own perspectives of writing and life. Levy herself stays inside a room in a remote Spanish village while contemplating her memories and her creative process Like many others, I have found these months of solitude and uncertainty to be quite inviting to self-contemplation, for which Levy’s words are the absolute perfect companion.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys | Viv Albertine
At some point the notion of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll even in its most gentle form seemed like a very distant history whilst staring at my ceiling. Enter: Viv Albertine, ex-lead guitarist of The Slits, the all-female punk band brought feminism into punk. The intensity of her complicated family life, confused demotivation and obsession with music is intensified by the present tense of the memoir, taking you right back to her time squatting with junkies in Amsterdam in crisp vividness. Albertine’s narrative is sharp, emotional – often hilarious – and increasingly self-aware as she matures. It’s rare to get such pure insight into people’s lives, especially not those growing up in London’s subversive and anti-establishment punk scene. Her plights and successes remind us of the ebb and flow of life, the pandemics amid years of revellous summers.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running | Haruki Murakami
Murakami is best known for his fiction, but it was this book in the midst of obsessively training to run a 10k while only having limited time outside that really spoke to me. The memoir is deeply personal to Murakami, encompassing “lessons I’ve learned through actually putting my own body in motion” and reflecting on the life of an author in a slightly unconventional way. Murakami teaches us that writing and running are entwined disciplines, subject to pacing and self-awareness. “To keep going, you have to keep the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects”. In this manner, I thought we could persist through the waves of lockdowns and tiers, trying to continue flowing along the beat of our internal drums – never asking too much, never too little.
Postcapitalist Desire | Mark Fisher
The clock ticks 00:00:00, 00:00:01, 00:00:02, a spatter of Roman candles erupts from beyond the neighbours’, and the stars haven’t moved. On a small, hollow planet, far, far away, we find ourselves at a culmination of identitarian rhetoric. And it’s difficult to see a future for alternatives at the minute. The year 2020 began with “counterculture” knocked flat on its arse. Now, our nation is in the throes of mi(/a)crocosmic schisms unto uncertain estuary waters. Whatever respite he may have had to offer, we should all wish that Mark Fisher were here. Matt Colquhoun (@xenogothic) collects Fisher’s final seminars at Goldsmiths in this volume, covering the high theoretical and pop culture texts and ideas which informed his insights into the “psychedelic”, the modern power of labour, and the pursuit of left accelerationism. These classroom dialogues, by virtue of their more fortuitous elements, distance Fisher from his prose and relocate him to a paradigm of reflection on the cusp of a new philosophy. Something precious.