about me

recent thought / activity




    See the full list at LibraryThing




    100 book challenge: part four: essays and cultural criticism

    Moving on with the 100 Book Challenge, we come to the "essays" area. I don't have a huge selection here, but these would be my picks:

    • I Remember, by Joe Brainard
      [Perhaps the simplest organizing principle for a memoir ever: a sequence of sentences, each of which begin with the words "I remember." Yet somehow it works.]

    • The Size of Thoughts, by Nicholson Baker
      [This book is full of great pieces, including Baker's hilarious review of the Dictionary of American Slang and his lament on the disappearance of the card catalog.]

    • A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace
      [Not quite as good as the exemplary Consider the Lobster, but I don't have a copy of Lobster—I read the library's copy—and this one is also great.]

    • I'd also probably bring the giant anthology Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate, which has key selections by people like George Orwell, Joan Didion, M.F.K. Fisher, etc., and thus eliminates the need for a lot of individual volumes.

    Essays slide nicely into the critical writing section of my library, so let's head there....

    • Illuminations, by Walter Benjamin
      [This book is full of interesting ideas and key essays, but it also has deep sentimental value for me.]

    • America, by Jean Baudrillard
      [I find the central argument here to be incomprehensible, but in a provocative, distinctly "Baudrillardian" fashion. Like a piece of heady SF in its way. See also his The Gulf War Did Not Happen, which I could part with but which holds similar pleasures.]

    • Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault
      [Probably the key Foucault to hang onto.]

    • Mythologies, by Roland Barthes
      [And this the key Barthes.]

    • The Postmodern Condition, by Jean-Francois Lyotard
      [...and this the key Lyotard.]

    • Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, by Donna Haraway
      [Contains the great Cyborg Manifesto and a number of excellent critiques of the ideological biases inherent to the sciences.]

    • A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, by Manuel Delanda
      [Between this and Patrik Ourednik's Europeana, one doesn't need any other history books.]

    • Temporary Autonomous Zone, by Hakim Bey
      [Does this belong in fringe ideas or cultural criticism? It's a little of both, but totally freakin' brilliant. Life-altering.]

    Moving on into some more straightforward literary and media criticism...

    • Literary Theory, by Terry Eagleton
      [An overview of the main literary theory movements of the last hundred years, written in a style that's clear enough that a bright undergraduate could grasp every word of it.]

    • Postmodernist Fiction, by Brian McHale
      [A good argument about what postmodernist fiction is, what it does, and why it's doing it. I'd also include Marjorie Perloff's Radical Artifice here, a similar argument about experimental poetics, but I don't own a copy.]

    • Half-Real, by Jesper Juul
      [The best piece of video-game criticism I've read to date.]

    • Rules of Play, by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
      [Not exactly a piece of video-game criticism, more a design handbook, but a key text for "game studies" anyway.]

    • Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
      [Yet, oddly, I might pass on McLuhan's Understanding Media, which has not dated especialy well and in some ways is a model for everything cultural criticsm does poorly.]

    That's seventeen—and since I'm trying to stick to round numbers for this project I'll include three pieces of fiction I overlooked this first time around: the bizarre Sixty Stories, by Donald Barthelme, the classic Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and a piece of fun, dense SF, Accelerando by Charles Stross (which I reviewed here.) That brings us to twenty for today, and the running total for the project overall to seventy. I'll move on from the McCloud into the "comics" shelf next.

    Labels: , ,


    Friday, July 04, 2008
    12:07 PM


    I need to explore Brainard some more, the bits and pieces of his comics and visual arts I've seen seem fascinating. I'd really love to get The Nancy Book, but $40 for a slim volume of his art seems a bit much. I hope someone takes it upon themselves to republish his complete C Comics someday.

    My "critical" shelf would have to include John Cage's Silence, Derek Bailey's Improvisation, and Jacques Attali's Noise, three of the defining texts in my thinking about sound and experimental music.

    Nice call on the McCloud book, too. A lot of people criticize it, not entirely without reason, but it remains the key text on the formal properties of comics as well as the pleasures to be derived from them. His follow-up books haven't been nearly as good, but this one is as important as ever.
    Those look like good books on the topic of sound. I've read tons of Cage's writings, and he's a key figure for me, but the stuff I've read has all come from the library—I don't own any.

    A key text for the development of my thinking about sound and experimental music is David Toop's Ocean of Sound, and the accompanying CDs, but it's not quite of the caliber of the other books on this list.
    Post a Comment



    2011 archive >>

    2010 >>

    2009 >>

    2008 >>

    2007 >>

    2006 >>

    2005 >>

    2004 >>

    2003 >>

    2002 >>

    rss (xml)