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David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2021

My two top books are both monuments of, and to, scholarship. The much-needed new edition of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy pays respects to a work that is close to my heart in its obsessive, searching, elephantine reach. Many years ago the writer John Crowley recommended two books to me: The Man Without Qualities and The Anatomy of Melancholy. He clearly saw me well. Mary Ann Lund’s book offers a good introduction to Burton if the monster tome itself seems unapproachable.

Susan Bernofsky’s biography of Robert Walser is simply the best literary biography I’ve read in some time, meticulously researched and beautifully written, the result of Bernofsky’s 30 years of deep engagement with Walser. The writing itself is exceptional, making it also the most literary literary biography I have read in many a year.

Otherwise, it was a good year for books, better than 2020 overall, with the exception of comics, where remarkable entries seemed quite thin (at least among established publishers). This possibly owes to the ongoing genteelification of the medium and the concomitant insecurities. But Brecht Evens’s long awaited new work is his greatest yet, beautiful and dense, with stunning use of color.

Keep reading, and happy new year, as happy a one as is feasible.


The Anatomy of Melancholy
Burton, Robert (Author)
Penguin Classics

Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser
Bernofsky, Susan (Author)
Yale University Press


Be as Children (Dedalus Europe Book 0)
Sharov, Vladimir (Author), Ready, Oliver (Translator)

The Wife Who Wasn't: A Novel
Ifland, Alta (Author)
New Europe Books

The Symphonies (Russian Library)
Bely, Andrei (Author), Stone, Jonathan (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Fetch Muse: Poems
Starks, Rebecca (Author)
Able Muse Press

Kapo (New York Review Books Classics)
Tisma, Aleksander (Author), Williams, Richard (Translator), Rieff, David (Afterword)
NYRB Classics

Everett, Percival (Author)

Impostures (Library of Arabic Literature, 65)
al-Ḥarīrī (Author), Cooperson, Michael (Translator), Kilito, Abdelfattah (Foreword)
NYU Press

At Night All Blood Is Black
Diop, David (Author)
Picador Paper

Here in Our Auschwitz and Other Stories (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Tadeusz Borowski (Author), Madeline G. Levine (Translator)
Yale University Press

Terminal Boredom: Stories
Suzuki, Izumi (Author), Barton, Polly (Translator), Bett, Sam (Translator), Boyd, David (Translator), Joseph, Daniel (Translator)
Verso Fiction

Chasing Homer
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Miklós, Szilveszter (Performer), Batki, John (Translator), Neumann, Max (Artist)
New Directions

The Notes: or On Non-premature Reconciliation (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Hohl, Ludwig (Author), Cohen, Joshua (Foreword), Lewis, Tess (Translator)
Yale University Press

Brief Lives of Idiots
Cavazzoni, Ermanno (Author), Richards, Jamie (Introduction)
Wakefield Press

Kalevala: The Epic of the Finnish People
Lönnrot, Elias (Editor), Korpela, Jukka (Introduction), Friberg, Eino (Translator)

The Book of All Skies
Egan, Greg (Author)
Greg Egan

We All Hear Stories in the Dark [Trade Paperback 3 Volume Set]
Robert Shearman (Author), Michael Marshall Smith (Author), Lisa Tuttle (Author), Angela Slatter (Author), Steven Moffat (Author), Reggie Oliver (Illustrator), Reggie Oliver (Illustrator)
PS Publishing

The Stone Face
Smith, William Gardner (Author), Shatz, Adam (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Stewart, George R. (Author), Rich, Nathaniel (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Good Behaviour (New York Review Books Classics)
Keane, Molly (Author), Gentry, Amy (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Rakes of the Old Court: A Novel (Northwestern World Classics)
Caragiale, Mateiu I. (Author), Cotter, Sean (Translator)
Northwestern University Press

McGrotty and Ludmilla (Canons)
Gray, Alasdair (Author)
Canongate Canons

PARADISE: Dante's Divine Trilogy Part Three. Englished in Prosaic Verse by Alasdair Gray
Gray, Alasdair (Author), Alighieri, Dante (Author)
Canongate Books

The Life Written by Himself (Russian Library)
Petrov, Archpriest Avvakum (Author), Gluck, Michael (Editor), Brostrom, Kenneth (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Anthology of Tang and Song Tales: The Tang Song Chuanqi Ji of Lu Xun
Victor Mair (Author), Victor Mair (Editor), Zhenjun Zhang (Editor)
World Scientific Publishing Company

The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories
Jull Costa, Margaret (Editor), Jull Costa, Margaret (Translator), Bunstead, Thomas (Translator), Bush, Peter (Translator), Phillips-Miles, Kathryn (Translator), Deefholt, Simon (Translator), Maude, Kit (Translator)

The Spirit of Controversy: and Other Essays (Oxford World's Classics)
Hazlitt, William (Author), Mee, Jon (Editor), Grande, James (Editor)
Oxford University Press

Samuel Johnson: Selected Works
Johnson, Samuel (Author), DeMaria, Robert (Editor), Fix, Stephen (Editor), Weinbrot, Howard D (Editor)
Yale University Press


Philosophy and Religion in Plato's Dialogues
Nightingale, Andrea (Author)
Cambridge University Press

Lucian, True History: Introduction, Text, Translation, and Commentary
Clay, Diskin (Author), Brusuelas, James H. (Editor)
OUP Oxford

Expanding Horizons in the History of Science: The Comparative Approach
Lloyd, G. E. R. (Author)
Cambridge University Press

Inwardness: An Outsider's Guide (No Limits)
Ganeri, Jonardon (Author)
Columbia University Press

St. Matthew Passion (signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation)
Blumenberg, Hans (Author), Müller-Sievers, Helmut (Translator), Fleming, Paul (Translator)
Cornell University Press and Cornell University Library

Cassirer (The Routledge Philosophers)
Matherne, Samantha (Author)

Music, Math, and Mind: The Physics and Neuroscience of Music
Sulzer, David (Author)
Columbia University Press

The Philosophical Stage: Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens
Billings, Joshua (Author)
Princeton University Press

Uncountable: A Philosophical History of Number and Humanity from Antiquity to the Present
Nirenberg, David (Author), Nirenberg, Ricardo L. (Author)
University of Chicago Press

Plato's Sun-Like Good: Dialectic in the Republic
Broadie, Sarah (Author)
Cambridge University Press

A User's Guide to Melancholy
Lund, Mary Ann (Author)
Cambridge University Press


Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality
Wilczek, Frank (Author)
Penguin Books

The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness
Solms, Mark (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company


Outrageous Fortune: Gloomy Reflections on Luck and Life
Miller, William Ian (Author)
Oxford University Press

Information: A Historical Companion
Blair, Ann (Editor), Duguid, Paul (Editor), Goeing, Anja-Silvia (Editor), Grafton, Anthony (Editor)
Princeton University Press

Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing
Thompson, John B. (Author)

The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution Is Transforming Currencies and Finance
Prasad, Eswar S. (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

The Banks Did It: An Anatomy of the Financial Crisis
Fligstein, Neil (Author)
Harvard University Press


My Seven Lives: Jana Juráňová in Conversation with Agneša Kalinová
Juráňová, Jana (Author), Kalinová, Agneša (Author)
Purdue University Press

Law and the Party in China: Ideology and Organisation
Creemers, Rogier J. E. H. (Editor), Trevaskes, Susan (Editor)
Cambridge University Press

The World Turned Upside Down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
Yang, Jisheng (Author), Mosher, Stacy (Translator), Jian, Guo (Translator)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Plokhy, Serhii (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

Cicero: Political Philosophy (Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought)
Schofield, Malcolm (Author)
Oxford University Press

India and the World: A History of Connections, c. 1750–2000
Markovits, Claude (Author)
Cambridge University Press

China's Leaders: From Mao to Now
Shambaugh, David (Author)

Hobbes's Political Philosophy: Interpretation and Interpretations
Martinich, A.P. (Author)
Oxford University Press


The City of Belgium
Evens, Brecht (Author)
Drawn and Quarterly

Donjon Monsters T13: Réveille-toi et meurs (Donjon Monsters, 13) (French Edition)
David B. (Drawings), Sfar, Joann (Contributor), Trondheim, Lewis (Contributor)

Alberto Breccia's Dracula (The Alberto Breccia Library)
Breccia, Alberto (Author)

Trots and Bonnie
Flenniken, Shary (Author), Hathaway, Norman (Editor), Flake, Emily (Introduction), Hathaway, Norman (Designer)
New York Review Comics

Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise (New York Review Comics)
Panter, Gary (Author), Rudick, Nicole (Afterword), Ruscha, Ed (Foreword)
New York Review Comics

The Fly
Trondheim, Lewis (Author)

Dungeon: Zenith vol. 4: Outside the Ramparts (4)
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Sfar, Joann (Author), Boulet (Illustrator)
NBM Publishing

Nuft and the Last Dragons, Volume 1: The Great Technowhiz
Milton, Freddy (Author)

When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers
Krimstein, Ken (Author)
Bloomsbury Publishing


Myself and My Aims: Writings on Art and Criticism
Schwitters, Kurt (Author), Luke, Megan R. (Editor), Grundy, Timothy (Translator)
University of Chicago Press

Aby Warburg: Bilderatlas Mnemosyne: The Original
Warburg, Aby (Author), Heil, Axel (Contributor), Ohrt, Roberto (Contributor), Scherer, Bernd (Contributor), Sherman, Bill (Contributor), Wedepohl, Claudia (Contributor)
Hatje Cantz

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2020

In this chaotic, surreal, and trying year, books as always provided a source of steadiness and continuity, when there was enough time and space to give them full attention.

My two books of the year are both superior anthologies suffused with the editor/translators’ love and reverence for their authors–inspiring feats in themselves. The third volume of Musil translated by Genese Grill and published by Contra Mundum is a massive and masterful anthology of Musil’s plays and theater writings, the most substantial new Musil volume in years, expertly rendered and annotated. Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll collectively perform an even greater feat in drawing together Blumenberg’s essays across the breadth of his career and finally producing an approachable entry point to his work in English. The introductions to both volumes are superb. The works are old, but Grill, Bajohr, Fuchs, and Kroll are their animating spirits today.

The same goes for Steve G. Lofts’s new translation of Ernst Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, a massive undertaking of an underappreciated work by an underappreciated philosopher, the third Davos participant who saw more widely than Carnap and more humanely than Heidegger. A more affordable edition is warranted. And the long-awaited reissue of Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl’s Saturn and Melancholy, done with immense care and comprehensiveness, is a model example of cultural history at a level of depth and intimacy that has always been rare, and is perhaps becoming rarer.

Fantagraphics’s reissues of Alberto Breccia’s stunning work also deserve more attention. I read part of Perramus when Fantagraphics issued it 30 years ago and was blown away by Breccia’s singular style; its’ good to have the whole thing finally. His version of The Eternaut is also remarkable.

I hesitate to mention too many other books for fear of neglecting the others, but I will say that of the science and technology books, several deal with subjects that are currently inundated with popularizations. In my eye, those below are notably superior to the rest of their crowd, though the marketplace of ideas has apparently and frustratingly failed to raise these books above their brethren. To a lesser extent, the same applies to history and politics.

Jacob Burckhardt said that the 20th century would be the age of oversimplification. The 21st has so far been the age of increasingly desperate and defensive oversimplification, across all domains of knowledge. Here’s to the fight against it.

(Final note: for an anthology of short plague-related stories, please check out my little project The Enneadecameron, featuring worthy tales by John Crowley, Irina Dumitrescu, Genese Grill, Alta Ifland, and many more.)


Theater Symptoms: Plays and Writings on Drama
Musil, Robert (Author), Grill, Genese (Translator), Grill, Genese (Introduction)
Contra Mundum Press

History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader (signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation)
Blumenberg, Hans (Author), Bajohr, Hannes (Translator), Fuchs, Florian (Translator), Kroll, Joe Paul (Translator)
Cornell University Press and Cornell University Library


Eros, Unbroken
Kim, Annie (Author)
Word Works

The Long White Cloud of Unknowing
Samuels, Lisa (Author)
Chax Press

The Bern Book: A Record of a Voyage of the Mind (American Literature)
Carter, Vincent O. (Author), McCarthy, Jesse (Introduction)
Dalkey Archive Press

Peach Blossom Paradise (New York Review Books Classics)
Fei, Ge (Author), Morse, Canaan (Translator)
NYRB Classics

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: Selected Stories of Nikolai Leskov (New York Review Books Classics)
Leskov, Nikolai (Author), Chandler, Robert (Translator), Rayfield, Donald (Translator), Edgerton, William (Translator), Rayfield, Donald (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Alexandria: A Novel
Kingsnorth, Paul (Author)
Graywolf Press

Impostures (Library of Arabic Literature, 65)
al-Ḥarīrī (Author), Cooperson, Michael (Translator), Kilito, Abdelfattah (Foreword)
NYU Press

Rogomelec (The Envelope-silence)
Fini, Leonor (Author), Skwersky, Serena Shanken (Translator), Kulik, William T. (Translator), Eburne, Jonathan P. (Introduction)
Wakefield Press

Meaning a Life: an Autobiography
Oppen, Mary (Author), Yang, Jeffrey (Introduction)
New Directions

The Lost Writings
Kafka, Franz (Author), Stach, Reiner (Editor), Hofmann, Michael (Translator)
New Directions

Collected Stories
Hazzard, Shirley (Author), Olubas, Brigitta (Editor), Heller, Zoë (Foreword)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Surviving: Stories, Essays, Interviews (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Yorke, Matthew (Editor), Updike, John (Introduction), Yorke, Sebastian (Afterword)
NYRB Classics

Lame Fate | Ugly Swans (36) (Rediscovered Classics)
Strugatsky, Arkady (Author), Strugatsky, Boris (Author), Strugatsky, Boris (Author), Vinokour, Maya (Author)
Chicago Review Press

The Third Walpurgis Night: The Complete Text (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Kraus, Karl (Author), Bridgham, Fred (Translator), Timms, Edward (Translator), Perloff, Marjorie (Foreword)
Yale University Press

Death in Her Hands: A Novel
Moshfegh, Ottessa (Author)
Penguin Press

I Live in the Slums: Stories (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Can Xue (Author), Gernant, Karen (Translator), Chen, Zeping (Translator)
Yale University Press

Other Moons: Vietnamese Short Stories of the American War and Its Aftermath
Ha, Quan Manh (Translator), Babcock, Joseph (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (Russian Library)
Radishchev, Alexander (Author), Reyfman, Irina (Translator), Kahn, Andrew (Translator)
Columbia University Press

A Lover's Discourse
Guo, Xiaolu (Author), Guo, Xiaolu (Author), Guo, Xiaolu (Author)
Grove Press

The Selected Poems of Tu Fu: Expanded and Newly Translated by David Hinton
Fu, Tu (Author), Hinton, David (Translator)
New Directions

Egan, Greg (Author)
Greg Egan

The Evidence
Priest, Christopher (Author)

Clarke, Susanna (Author)
Bloomsbury Publishing

Greg Egan (Author)

Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas: A Novel
de Assis, Joaquim Maria Machado (Author), Costa, Margaret Jull (Translator), Patterson, Robin (Translator)


Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art
Klibansky, Raymond (Author), Panofsky, Erwin (Author), Saxl, Fritz (Author), Despoix, Philippe (Editor), Leroux, Georges (Editor)
McGill-Queen's University Press

Michelangelo’s Design Principles, Particularly in Relation to Those of Raphael
Panofsky, Erwin (Author), Panofsky-Soergel, Gerda (Editor), Spooner, Joseph (Translator), Panofsky-Soergel, Gerda (Introduction)
Princeton University Press

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 1: Language
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword)

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 2: Mythical Thinking
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword)

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 3: Phenomenology of Cognition
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword)

Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe
Grafton, Anthony (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

A Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Music (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World)
Lynch, Tosca A. C. (Editor), Rocconi, Eleonora (Editor)

Wisdom as a Way of Life: Theravāda Buddhism Reimagined
Collins, Steven (Author), McDaniel, Justin (Editor), Hallisey, Charles (Introduction)
Columbia University Press

Time in Ancient Stories of Origin
Walter, Anke (Author)
OUP Oxford

Anger: The Conflicted History of an Emotion (Vices and Virtues)
Rosenwein, Barbara H. (Author)
Yale University Press

Who Needs a World View?
Geuss, Raymond (Author)
Harvard University Press

Comparing the Literatures: Literary Studies in a Global Age
Damrosch, David (Author)
Princeton University Press

Classical Indian Philosophy: A history of philosophy without any gaps, Volume 5
Adamson, Peter (Author), Ganeri, Jonardon (Author)
Oxford University Press

Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers
Misak, Cheryl (Author)
Oxford University Press

Early Modern German Philosophy (1690-1750)
Dyck, Corey W. (Author)
Oxford University Press

Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture
Harvey, Eleanor Jones (Author), Sues, Hans-Dieter (Preface)
Princeton University Press


The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science
Falk, Seb (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

Predict and Surveil: Data, Discretion, and the Future of Policing
Brayne, Sarah (Author)
Oxford University Press

How the Brain Makes Decisions
Boraud, Thomas (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Phantom Pattern Problem: The Mirage of Big Data
Smith, Gary (Author), Cordes, Jay (Author)
Oxford University Press

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind
Godfrey-Smith, Peter (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Darwin's Psychology: The Theatre of Agency
Bradley, Ben (Author)
OUP Oxford

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn
Richard W. Hamming (Author), Bret Victor (Foreword)
Stripe Press


Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy
Hankins, James (Author)
Harvard University Press

The Invention of China
Hayton, Bill (Author)
Yale University Press

China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism
Mitter, Rana (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe
Herrin, Judith (Author)
Princeton University Press

Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World
Schuman, Michael (Author)

Away from Chaos: The Middle East and the Challenge to the West
Kepel, Gilles (Author), Randolph, Henry (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades
Bailyn, Bernard (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy
Mahbubani, Kishore (Author)

The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History
Mikaberidze, Alexander (Author)
Oxford University Press


France before 1789: The Unraveling of an Absolutist Regime
Elster, Jon (Author)
Princeton University Press

The Blind Storyteller: How We Reason About Human Nature
Berent, Iris (Author)
Oxford University Press

What’s Wrong with Economics?: A Primer for the Perplexed
Skidelsky, Robert (Author)
Yale University Press


The Eternaut 1969 (The Alberto Breccia Library)
Oesterheld, Héctor Germán (Author), Breccia, Alberto (Author)

Perramus: The City and Oblivion (The Alberto Breccia Library)
Breccia, Alberto (Author), Sasturain, Juan (Author), Mena, Erica (Translator)

The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud
Tsurita, Kuniko (Author), Holmberg, Ryan (Translator)
Drawn and Quarterly

Marzocchi, Leila (Author), Richards, Jaime (Translator)

Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Chevillard, Hubert (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Infinity 8 Vol.7: All for Nothing
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Boulet (Author), Kennedy, Mike (Editor), Boulet (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Infinity 8 vol.8: Until the End (Infinity 8, 8)
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Killoffer (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Barnaby Volume Four
Johnson, Crockett (Author), Nel, Philip (Author), Robbins, Trina (Introduction)

Winter Warrior: A Vietnam Vet's Anti-War Odyssey
Gilbert, Eve (Author), Camil, Scott (Author)

The George Herriman Library: Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921
Herriman, George (Author), Blackbeard, Bill (Introduction)

The Daughters of Ys
Anderson, M. T. (Author), Rioux, Jo (Illustrator)
First Second

Philip Guston: A Life Spent Painting
Storr, Robert (Author)
Laurence King Publishing

Philip Guston Now
Guston, Philip (Artist), Cooper, Harry (Contributor), Godfrey, Mark (Contributor), Greene, Alison de Lima (Contributor), Nesin, Kate (Contributor), Fischli, Peter (Contributor), Hancock, Trenton Doyle (Contributor), Kentridge, William (Contributor), Dean, Tacita (Contributor), Ligon, Glenn (Contributor), Roberts, Jennifer (Contributor)
D.A.P./National Gallery of Art

Year of the Rabbit
Veasna, Tian (Author), Dascher, Helge (Translator)
Drawn and Quarterly

The Phantom Twin
Brown, Lisa (Author)
First Second

Solutions and Other Problems
Brosh, Allie (Author)
Gallery Books

Stuck Rubber Baby 25th Anniversary Edition
Cruse, Howard (Author), Bechdel, Alison (Introduction)
First Second

Paying the Land
Sacco, Joe (Author)
Metropolitan Books

Albrecht Dürer
Metzger, Christof (Editor)

Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës
Greenberg, Isabel (Author)
Harry N. Abrams

Anselm Kiefer in Conversation with Klaus Dermutz (The German List)
Kiefer, Anselm (Author), Dermutz, Klaus (Author), Lewis, Tess (Translator)
Seagull Books

Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science, and the Spiritual – Revised and Expanded Edition
Gamwell, Lynn (Author), Tyson, Neil deGrasse (Foreword)
Princeton University Press

Books of the Moment

The George Herriman Library: Krazy & Ignatz 1916-1918

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Cane (Penguin Classics)

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Invisible Man

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Mojo Hand: An Orphic Tale

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Plan B

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Hue and Cry: Stories (Art of the Story)

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Bloodchild and Other Stories

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Stuck Rubber Baby 25th Anniversary Edition

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44 used & new available from $3.29

The Known World

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156 used & new available from $1.49

Erasure: A Novel

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63 used & new available from $3.83

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2018

To be a true reader or writer today is to exist primarily in a state of longing and loneliness (sehnsucht, in the German term), because the vast majority of one’s closest associates are dead. Over the course of the 20th century the world of letters separated rather violently from the world of consequence, and so loving writing as writing requires either myopic self-delusion or an absurd appreciation for the spiritual residue of artistic impact. I don’t have the former in me, so it is the latter that drives me.

A remarkable amount of excellent archival issues came out this year, particularly in fiction and literature. The two placed in the pole position are not necessarily more deserving than many others. Rather, I chose them because they seemed to be most resonant with this year, despite being written decades ago. Both are very unorthodox Cold War retrospectives, both vaguely “documentary”-like, and yet animated by almost opposite sensibilities.

Ironically, I found Anniversaries to be a gloomier tale than Kolyma Stories, in the same way that gray is a gloomier color than black, or Faith is more enervating than Closer. Likewise, Johnson’s self-appearance in Anniversaries is more despairing than Shalamov’s varied appearances in Kolyma, because there is a certain abdication of moral authority Johnson took on in writing Anniversaries that is either disingenuous or terrifying. I think it’s the latter.

Continue reading

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2017

While the world went mad this year, I retreated a bit and did more reading than I had in some time. I have seen the pendulum of public sentiment cycle from complacency to hysteria and back twice now, and I am more fatalistic than ever about such cycles having to take their course. (My description of Thomas Pynchon’s “decoherence events” applies just as well to the Trump presidency as it does to September 11, 2001.) Being part of the collective public discourse this year was unhealthier than in any time I have ever seen.

I believe all the titles below deserve attention. The top books have been chosen based on personal significance and relevance. Appiah’s As If is a plea for a cosmopolitan pluralism (of provisional viewpoints, not of truths) based on a reading of the great Hans Vaihinger. It is a theoretical work that has far more relevance to technology than it first appears, as I try to explain in my forthcoming Bitwise: A Life in Code. Földényi’s Melancholy is a Burton-inspired chronicle that bests a thousand other intellectual histories of its kind. It spoke to me of what it is to be the sort of person who feels the need and drive to read all these books in the first place, and of the intangible benefits I gain from them. And the purportedly final version of Tom Phillips’ A Humument is a thing of beauty, drastically different from its previous editions in many regards, and one of the deepest texts of our time, fifty years after its first publication.

The greatest novel I read this year was Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, the right novel for the right moment, but not one published in 2017.

In an attempt to provide a bit more apparent order, I have created a few subcategories for nonfiction. These are quite approximate; some books could have easily gone under a different heading. They are there to break the lists down into more manageable chunks.

When it comes to books, my eyes are bigger than my…eyes. Books under “Of Interest” are there either because (1) they are too out of my areas of knowledge for me to feel comfortable recommending them, (2) I have sufficient reservations about their content but feel they are too significant to ignore, or (3) I just haven’t read enough of them. I would feel terrible not noting Slezkine’s The House of Government, but I did not have time to read most of its 1100 pages.

Be well, read much, take care.


As If: Idealization and Ideals

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6 used & new available from $7.39

Melancholy (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)

Price: $35.00

15 used & new available from $20.96

A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel

Price: $23.16

33 used & new available from $10.51



Into the Cyclorama

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9 used & new available from $8.25

Symphony for Human Transport

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8 used & new available from $16.77

The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings

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58 used & new available from $4.22

Homesick for Another World: Stories

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