First, a shout-out to my boy Alexander Nemser, whose The Sacrifice of Abraham came out this year with Bookieman. Sacrifice is a relentless series of pseudo-midrashim about the tale of the binding of Isaac (that primal moment when Western civilization first sanctified its timeless urge to murder its own children). Nemser picks up the obsessive-compulsive, comic surrealism of the Talmudic commentary tradition (from whatever coffee shop where Cosmo Kramer and George Costanza had left it) and drags it up a hilarious, troubling mount Moriah.
Does anyone else like Jack London? Somehow I skipped over him when I was a boy (which is the ideal time for reading his by-your-bootstraps tales of American manhood). But I fortunately discovered him this fall. And I found London to be the perfect antidote to my over-education. London’s “South of the Slot” is a fascinating study about internalized class conflict, depicting a Jekyll/Hyde type (an economics professor who lives a double life as a foulmouthed, working class Joe). The Sea-Wolf is immensely readable, too, (even if the last third doesn’t live up to the potential of the premise). In these makeover stories, the bookworm transforms into a badass—an arc so necessary for today’s sexless literary culture!
Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess kicks The Canterbury Tales’s ass any day of the week. CT, if you ask me, is overrated (the only real drama comes when the Host rudely interrupts the Pardoner—otherwise, it’s just a bunch of Pilgrims telling harmless stories). Duchess, on the other hand, dwells uncomfortably close to the unconscious home of the death drive. Chaucer’s Morpheus, the God of sleep, even slips into the body of a dead guy and uses his corpse like a puppet—gross!
Also I would recommend, as ever, Jerk Poet, true terrorists of the mind and the soul.