That New New In Lit: A Year In Review

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A compilation of 2013 greats and future points of interest, all to be found between the binding.

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Jacob Kaplan | December 20, 2013

gigantic

Courtsey of Gigantic Magazine

1. Discounting profit margins, 2013 was a good year for print, and, especially for that willful fringe-dweller, the literary magazine. Some of the most exciting fiction and poetry happened offline, then, in the pages of publications of varying formats, moods, and legacies. And why shouldn't lit mags be chugging along at their own ink-and-wood-pulp pace? Screens hurt your eyes, and if that weren't reason enough to close your laptop and open something perfect bound, kids prefer the printed page, and kids know what's hot.

2. But with the abundance of literary magazines to choose from, where does one begin? Gigantic, founded in 2008 by Ann DeWitt, Rozalia Jovanovic, Lincoln Michel, and James Yeh, consistently publishes exciting talent, and their latest issue, the fifth, “Gigantic Talk,” is the coolest yet. It's satisfying both to hold and behold, large with a soothing color scheme, and the phone number on the back connects you to the “perhaps… unprecedented” “Gigantic phone feature”—it's an “answering machine”/”soundboard,” which plays pre-recorded messages from the contributors and editors. Lit mag begets answering machine—it doesn't get much more pre-web than that.

The best part of “Gigantic Talk,” of course, is the writing, and particularly the works of contributors Thomas Pierce and Ottessa Moshfegh. Pierce's piece, “Time To Get Radical,” is a guy giving himself a pep talk through a funny and sad series of reinventions and resolutions; standouts include “Time to feel alive—for the first time?” and “Time to feel embarrassed when my son comes to visit at the Econo Lodge.” Check out his New Yorker story from a year ago, which features a dwarf mammoth. Moshfegh, an enigma of an up-and-comer, wrote a short short called “The Cellist,” which is unflashy and masterful. Seek out the work of Ottessa Moshfegh.

3. You can start seeking it out with the Fall 2013 issue of The Paris Review, issue number 206, a knockout on just about every level. Moshfegh's story, “The Weirdos,” stands out among the greatness; her prose is clear-eyed with flashes of poetic dazzle and pitch-perfect absurdity. Other notable pieces in the issue include Benjamin Nugent's frat fiction masterpiece “God,” Andrew Martin's “Cool for America,” and an interview with revered French author Emmanuel Carrère.

4. Another winner in print from 2013 is the “Summer Reading” issue of Tin House, which features an interview with Margaret Atwood, Liz Moore's “Shy-Shy,” a story written in the second person about the sometimes-hell of sleepaway camp, and a new piece by Stephen King (!).

5. If you want to read about sex (you do), check out L.A.-based mag Black Clock, issue number 17, available in print and super-affordable PDF. This is high-brow eroticism, top-shelf stuff, featuring a mix of talents known and unknown; Aimee Bender, Henry Bean, Dana Spiotta, and Tom McCarthy contributed, to name a few.

6. 2013 saw the publication of books, too, a lot of books, and there have been numerous online efforts at sizing them up against each other. There's a lot to be said for year-end lists (heck, this is basically one!), and many are thorough and thoughtful, especially those over at literary treasure trove The Millions. For good reason, George Saunders's new collection, Tenth of December: Stories, found itself at or near the top of many. It makes sense: Saunders is one of the best living fiction writers today, and his new stuff is best. Stories like “Escape From Spiderhead” and “The Semplica Girl Diaries” are at once fun, plucky, and devastating; his emotional breadth is consistently impressive.

7. West Virginian writer/performance artist/homeowner Scott McClanahan wrote not one but two novels this year, both episodic, highly readable, and full of moments that might be funny if they weren't so fucked up. The novels are Crapalachia: A Biography of Place and Hill William. Jim Gavin wrote a really strong debut collection called Middle Men, and Roxane Gay interviewed him. Sam Lipsyte wrote The Fun Parts, a collection that includes “The Dungeon Master,” which you can read all of online; you should, as it's one of the best stories written this year. Lore Segal's new novel Half The Kingdom is charming and witty but will, in the end, like so much in this life, crush you. Tao Lin wrote Taipei, which is a fast read about being young/the internet/drugs, and if that sounds abhorrent to you, read it anyway, because it's a genuinely good novel.

8. Printed books are artifacts, and their physicality informs your reading experience, at the very least on a sensory level; here are some books that are exceptionally designed.

9. But enough about print! There's still plenty of merit to online literature, and in fact some of the most exciting stuff is available right now on the browser of your choice. I've gushed about Electric Literature project Recommended Reading before, and I'll do it again: the blog really outdid themselves in 2013. Standouts include “It Doesn't Have to Be a Big Deal,” by Rebecca Schiff, and “Pearl,” by Mary Miller, who also wrote a collection called Big World. Donate to Recommended Reading!

10. The impeccably curated Joyland Magazine churns out consistently powerful fiction from authors you've probably never heard of. Virginia Konchan is one of those authors; her Joyland story “Welcome to My Harem” wins two prizes (prizes are purely imaginary): best title, and best ending. What an ending! Read it for the ending.

11. And here's a really fun drug trip by Sean H. Doyle.

12. Mellow Pages was the local literary success story of 2013, and continues to be. Keep going there to find the new good stuff.

13. Dutch Author Arnon Grunberg is writing with electrodes stuck to his skull so that researchers might discover “the nature of creativity itself.”

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