Mircobrew will return in its usual form in early February with 2017’s first batch of new books. For now, here are my ten favorites from 2016, in no particular order, along with a favorite chosen by each of the authors I selected.

I have to admit, looking at this list gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I read a lot of great books in 2016, many of which I wasn’t able to include in this top 10. More than that, I’m amazed at the variety of contemporary American fiction, a range I think is well represented in this list.

Though some people suggest American fiction is cookie-cutter–especially that produced by MFA programs–I just don’t see it. From the experimental to the starkly realistic, from ornate prose to the sparest of minimalism, from comedy to drama, this list is a representation of what I wanted to do with this column. I wanted Microbrew to demonstrate the incredible range of contemporary American literature, and I like to think the column and this list both serve that end.

 

“To be without a feeling for art is no disgrace. A person can live in peace without reading [novels] or listening to [music]. But the misomusist does not live in peace. He feels humiliated by the existence of something that is beyond him, and he hates it. There is a popular misomusy… The fascists and Communist regimes made use of it… But there is an intellectual, sophisticated misomusy as well: it takes revenge on art by forcing it to a purpose beyond the aesthetic… The apocalypse of art: the misomusists will themselves take on the making of art; thus will their historic vengeance be done.”

–Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel

 

“Misomusist: n. rare A person who hates learning (also, in recent use: art).”    

–Dictionary

 

With Kundera’s strong opinions and talent for rhetoric come a penchant for overstatement, even hyperbole; an inclination that causes him to contradict himself from time to time. This is the problem with broad pronouncements—statements of absolutes, even from a master like Kundera—there is almost always an exception to the rule, whatever the rule. In this instance, Kundera’s work, and its focus on the political, provides the exception.

Kundera’s concept of the novelist as someone who poses questions (rather than answering them) is a notion I return to often, and his idea on the misomusist’s hatred of learning and art seems linked to that, even though it might not initially appear so. When Kundera speaks of misomusy, he’s speaking metaphorically, not issuing a metal-clad prohibition against “any vestige of the political in art,” even though it sounds as though he’s suggesting just that—that if we want to save poor, little Art from the encroaching idiot hordes we’d better stuff it in a covered wagon and get the fuck out of Dodge.

If we peel back Kundera’s hyperbole, he’s speaking of a problem of degrees, the way too much focus on politics, religion, or commerce (as examples) might negatively impact art. Though Kundera almost certainly wouldn’t approve, you might even extend the point to include too much “artistry,” suggesting that if you are too concerned with pursuing beauty as you see it, whether out of some overly idiosyncratic aesthetic or a lack of more visceral narrative elements like plot and story, you could damage your own art, create something unrecognizable to anyone but yourself.

Set deep in literature’s make-up—perhaps essential enough even to qualify as its DNA—are the ideas of knowledge and progress as identifiable, worthy concepts. We read not only for aesthetics and entertainment, but to expand the scope of our worlds. We read to engage with other cultures and people, to live other lives. And, to some extent, what I want from a writer is their unvarnished perspective on the world. If that view is heavily informed by politics (whether they be governmental or those of race or gender), so be it.

Several of the books I’m covering this month could be considered political, though some are certainly more overt in their politics than others. As someone who writes about politics at times, who has his own strong opinions, I’d say the challenge is (as Kundera has suggested elsewhere) to avoid absolute certainty in your fiction, to maintain some level of impartiality, even though as human beings demanding perfect political neutrality of ourselves is a doomed proposition. Ultimately, you must do what makes sense to you, regardless of what the great Milan Kundera or little, old me say. The only test of success is the reader’s response, the impartial (though always partial) answer to the question, “Does it work?”


A round-up of high quality tweets from people in the world of literature…

Laurie Penny:

 

Attention, NYC-area peeps:

Jonathan Evison, executive editor of this fine literary magazine and New York Times best selling author, brings his book tour to the Big Apple next week.

Sunday evening, March 6, he joins the great Caroline Leavitt — both of Algonquin, the TNB Book Club, and the aforementioned Times best seller list — at KGB’s famed Sunday Night Reading Series.

And on Monday, March 7, Evison holds court with two of my favorite writers in all the land, James P. Othmer and Marcy Dermansky, at Book Court in Brooklyn.

After that, the tour goes, um, west of here (eventually).


[photo by Kerry McCombs]

Sex (I’m a…)

By Greg Olear

The Feed

Attention, New Yorkers,

On Thursday evening, September 16 — one week from today — I will be appearing at the famed “In the Flesh” erotic reading series, hosted by the inimitable Rachel Kramer Bussel.

The theme is “Virgin Night,” but I’ve been assured that Frank N. Furter lookalikes will not be pelting toast at newbies in attendance, nor will anyone be sacrificed to the dark gods.

Here are a few reasons to show up:

1.  The reading series, a mainstay on the Lower East Side, is winding down.  Because all good things must come.  To an end.  Must come to an end.  There are only four of these left.  So if you ever plan to indulge your deepest desires, now is the time.

2.  Past TNB readers at this event include Gina Frangello and Jillian Lauren. This makes me the first unsexy TNBer to appear.

3.  Joining me on the docket will be Marcy Dermansky, author of the fantastic Bad Marie (I read it. It really is fantastic.  I’m not saying that just because Gina liked it).

4. I will be reading a post that will never grace the pages of TNB.  Not something I want on the Internet. Nor will there be a recording. So if you want to hear my sort-of-sexy, sort-of-funny, sort-of-true tale, you have to show up at Happy Ending Lounge on Thursday.

5.  Free admission.

6.  Free cupcakes.

Here are the deets:

IN THE FLESH EROTIC READING SERIES
VIRGIN NIGHT
September 16, 2010, 7:30 pm – 10 pm
AT HAPPY ENDING LOUNGE, 302 BROOME STREET, NYC
(B/D to Grand, J/M/Z to Bowery, F to Delancey or F/V to 2nd Avenue, )
Between Forsyth & Eldridge. Look for the hot pink awning that says “XIE HE Health Club.”
Admission: Free
Happy Ending Lounge: 212-334-9676

Featuring Logan Belle, author of a forthcoming burlesque romance series, erotica writer Megan Butcher (contributor, Best Bondage Erotica 2011), novelist Marcy Dermansky (Bad Marie), novelist Lee Houck (Yield), Greg Olear (Totally Killer), Moshe Shulman (“The Wise One”) and Can’t Help the Way That I Feel: Sultry Stories of African American Love, Lust and Fantasy editor Lori Bryant-Woolridge and contributors Sasha James and Erika J. Kendrick (Appetites, Confessions of a Rookie Cheerleader). Hosted by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Fast Girls, Please, Sir, Please, Ma’am). 100 free copies of Sexis Magazine will be distributed. Free Baked by Melissa cupcakes, candy and chips will be served. This is the countdown to the final In The Flesh December 16th so don’t miss a very special night!


The escargot did not disappoint.

They were served six to a plate at the restaurant inside the Famous Palace Hotel, each snail swimming in a pool of melted butter and garlic.

They had been seated, Marie and Caitlin and her movie star, beneath a chandelier in the center of the dining room. Marie wore the new clothes the movie star had bought her, a black halter top from Chanel, new jeans without holes in the knees, a pair of high heeled sandals. Marie hadn’t felt the specific need for new clothes, but he had made the offer when they were shopping for Caitlin, and Marie accepted.

Marcy, why did you write a book about an unsympathetic character?

Is she? I love Marie. I did not not love her for a second. Yes, I am well aware of all the bad things she does. Passing out, drunk, in a bathtub with the two-year-old girl she is supposedly taking care of. Having sex with the girl’s father. Running off to Paris with him and little girl, subsequently trashing the life of her former best friend — mother of said girl, wife of the philandering French novelist husband. Marie does bad things.

These days, it can be hard to believe in corporate publishing.The proliferation of pink-covered chick-lit beach reads, of C-list celebrity memoirs, of “literary fiction” seeming to have morphed into “morally inspirational books that appeal to middle-aged-lady book clubs”—well, it’s enough to all but make a girl give up on the galleys she receives from the Big Boys of New York publishing.I mean, sure, the occasional intimidatingly-smart, ultra-hip book by a twenty-or-thirtysomething white boy with shaggy hair still slips in among the drivel now and again to give us all a thrill; sure every year or so one or two foreign-born writers get championed as that season’s exotic thrill . . . but these moments can seem not only fewer and further between, but somewhat repetitive in and of themselves.Is there, for god’s sake, anything new and daring happening at the big conglomerates these days?