Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Olivia Laing

By posted at 6:00 pm on December 16, 2013 0

coverAs far as I’m concerned, this has been the year of David Wojnarowicz, the artist and AIDS activist who died at the age of thirty-seven in 1992. Wojnarowicz is one of the central characters of my new book, which means I’ve been immersed in both his visual and printed works. The best of these, my desert island book by a million miles, is Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. It’s a collection of personal, searing, apocalyptic, and beautiful essays that deal headlong with the issues of Wojnarowicz’s uncommon life.

He writes explicitly about sex, about cruising the Hudson river piers in the pre-plague years of the early 1980s. He writes about his violent upbringing in New Jersey and in particular he writes about the AIDS crisis, sometimes as polemic and sometimes as agonizingly honest and angry memoir. His best friend and one-time lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, died of the disease in 1987 and the essay on his final months stands as the best elegy I’ve ever read, bar none. Wojnarowicz’s voice is absolutely distinct, and his talent as a writer is matched only by his astonishing courage in takings on topics considered at the time absolutely taboo. Staggering and strange, Close to the Knives is a book of a lifetime, let alone a year.

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