decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
Happy New Year, friends! Oh, my year is off to a lovely start. I have come down with a cold, it's true, and I would prefer if I hadn't. But other than that it is lovely. I am settling in to my residency; I am working; I am walking in the woods in the afternoons; I am reading Virginia Woolf; I am watching bluebirds outside the window of my studio. I will have more thoughts to share about the residency soon, but for now it is time to talk about books.

So. here is the list of what I read during the past year. Links go to the post that contains the closest thing to a review of each book that I wrote; my orderly reviewing habits got away from me a bit towards the end of the year, so there are some books without links. Oh well. Some of them I still intend to write about; others will just have to be passed over. Books marked with a "Q" are those that I deem to be, in some way, queer:

1. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet (Q)
2. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (Q)
3. The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (Q)
4. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
5. The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
6. As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann (Q)
7. Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf (Q)
8. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
9. Another Country by James Baldwin (Q)
10. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
11. Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
12. Am I Blue?, Marion Dane Bauer, ed. (Q)
13. H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
14. The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
15. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
16. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
17. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
18. Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood
19. The Gathering by Anne Enright
20. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
21. A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr
22. Now and Then by William Corlett (Q)
23. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
24. Lila by Marilynne Robinson
25. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
26. On the Edges of Vision by Helen McClory
27. The Women by T.C. Boyle
28. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
29. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
30. How Winter Began by Joy Castro
31. The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
32. Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
33. Watchers at the Pond by Franklin Russell
34. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (Q-ish)
35. Sunstroke by Tessa Hadley
36. So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ
37. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
38. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff (Q-ish)

Look at how many Qs there are in the first part of the year, and how few in the second! That's interesting. This is also the third year in a row in which I didn't re-read any books--I'm glad I set myself a goal of doing a bit of re-reading to remind myself that it has real value. Books by women made up 55% of my reading this year, so that's nice and balanced. I only read four works of nonfiction; while that may not be balanced, it is quite typical for me.

Because I always find this a bit interesting, here is the list broken up by nationality of author. )

Books that will stay with me:

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann: I had been searching for over a year for a book that would sweep me off my feet, and this was the one that did it. It is a flawed book, but it tells an all-consuming story. A muscular, immensely powerful, ferocious story. An indelible reading experience.

Another Country by James Baldwin: A big, messy, and stunningly ambitious book about race, sex, identity, and the way those things intersect and merge in New York in the late 1950s. It sprawls, and some parts of it are more successful than others, but it contains fearless metaphors and more than one scene that I know I won't forget.

Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris: This is the sequel to Harris's book The Southpaw, but it far surpasses it in quality. It's the best baseball book I've ever read. Harris touches on deep matters with a light hand, finds humor everywhere, and bundles it all up into a beautifully bittersweet package.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: I can't remember the last work of nonfiction that held my attention as effortlessly as this memoir. I love books that are in deep conversation with other books, as this one is with T.H. White's The Goshawk. Smart, thoughtful, and written in straightforwardly beautiful prose.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. This book is a tour de force. On the surface it is about four siblings who survive Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, but it is about so much more than that: family, memory, poverty, community, and so many different forms of love.

Other titles that I recommend include Jacob's Room, The Testament of Mary, The Gathering, A Month in the Country, Lila, The Blue Flower, and Sunstroke.

Happy reading to all in the coming year!
decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
Happy New Year, friends! I have to confess that I love this time of year on livejournal, as everyone posts their summaries and reflections, their resolutions and goals, their lists of books and movies and what have you... I've already shared my goals for the coming year, so now it's time for the annual reading list.

My reading seemed to go in phases this year: I had stretches of time where I loved every book I read, and other stretches where I spent ages slogging through two or three lackluster books in a row. In 2012, I narrowly missed my goal of reading 33 books so I set the same goal for 2013. I made it this time, but it was surprising to see that for the first half of the year I was on pace for a much higher total, and then slowed down significantly in the last three or four months. Interestingly, at the same time that my reading pace slowed, I decided I need to get a handle on my ever-growing pile of unread books and so forbade myself from checking anything out of the library. So that means I just couldn't get as excited about the books I own? Or I made the wrong choices from my shelf?

Enough talk! Here is the list (links go to the post that contains the closest thing to a review of each book that I wrote):

01. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
02. Toby's Room by Pat Barker
03. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
04. Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
05. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
06. Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
07. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
08. Art and Fear by Ted Orland & David Bayles
09. The Last of the Handmade Dams by Bob Steuding (never posted a review--oops!)
10. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
11. The Real and the Unreal: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin
12. Tenth of December by George Saunders
13. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
14. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
15. Plainwater by Anne Carson
16. The Charioteer by Mary Renault
17. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
18. Inscriptions for Headstones by Matthew Vollmer
19. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
20. Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack by John Warren
21. Ireland by William Trevor
22. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
23. Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser
24. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
25. A Humument by Tom Phillips
26. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
27. The King Must Die by Mary Renault
28. We the Animals by Justin Torres
29. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
30. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
31. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
32. Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag
33. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
34. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

Not a single re-read this year--how unusual! Only 12 of my 34 books were by women, which is also unusual--I usually come closer to a 50/50 split. Far more nonfiction than usual, and fewer short story collections. For my own interest, here is the list divided up a couple of different ways:

By genre )

By nationality of author )

My favorites this year:

Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood: Two closely linked novellas with narrators that are highly observant of others and intriguingly effaced themselves. Clever and compelling and full of beautiful prose. A pure pleasure to read!

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. A brilliant example of the novel-in-stories, this book provides a complicated portrait of two families over several generations. I loved Erdrich's variety of narrators and the way she subtly traced the long ripples of history through her characters' lives. Erdrich's use of language is so rich it feels decadent.

Tenth of December by George Saunders. Brilliant, brutal, heartbreaking, funny. This is on everybody's "Best Books of 2013" lists, and it belongs on all of them.

The Charioteer by Mary Renault. Fun, fun, fun. A soap opera, sure, but it grabbed hold of my emotions and made me feel like a teenager. It's a flawed book, but I loved it anyway.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I hated the first hundred pages, but now I'm ready to call it the best book I read all year. This book is so smart, so sharp, so gripping. It's full of fantastic characterizations and sly humor. I can't remember the last time I was so engrossed in a book.

Other titles I would recommend include Every Man Dies Alone, The Real and the Unreal, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and Bring Up the Bodies.

The biggest disappointments were Steppenwolf and A Gesture Life, which were just plain boring, and Gone Girl which was utterly, inexcusably moronic.

Here's to great reading to 2014 for all of us!
decemberthirty: (Default)
Happy New Year, folks! As usual, I find myself with the typical backlog of New Year's posts waiting to be written: a book post, a post in which I think about goals and plans for the coming year, a post in which I tell you about the fascinating and strange museum that Ms. E and I visited on my birthday... But I'll start with the books.

This was a rather lackluster year for me in terms of reading. I'm not exactly sure why--I read plenty of books that I wanted to love, books I thought I would love, books by authors whose other works I've loved... And I admired quite a number of them, but very few ignited any sort of real passion in me. I also did not quite meet my goal for the year; I had decided that I wanted to read 33 books, and I only made it through 32 and a half. I considered putting on a push in these last few days in order to make the number, but decided against it. Trying to rush through a book under the pressure of a deadline (and a rather arbitrary one at that) rarely helps me get the most out of what I'm reading.

With no further ado, here's the list (links go to the post that contains the closest thing to a review of each book that I wrote):

1. Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer
2. The Cows by Lydia Davis
3. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
4. Life Times by Nadine Gordimer
5. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
6. Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken
7. The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. Le Guin (Re-read)
8. Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson
9. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
10. Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame
11. Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston
12. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
13. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
14. Atonement by Ian McEwan
15. A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley
16. Ransom by David Malouf
17. The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
18. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
19. The Longest Journey by E.M. Forster
20. Bluets by Maggie Nelson
21. The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
22. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (Re-read)
23. Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
24. The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín
25. Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
26. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
27. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
28. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
29. The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
30. The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
31. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
32. Death in Venice and Other Tales by Thomas Mann (trans. Joachim Neugroschel)

It's very rare for me to read according to any sort of plan or program, so it's often a bit of a surprise to see the patterns that emerge when I put together this year-end reading list. Only two re-reads this year, for instance--I think I often have more than that. And so many short story collections! I wouldn't have said I was focusing on short stories specifically, yet they make up a large portion of the list. For my own interest, then, here is the list divided up a few different ways:

By genre )

By nationality of author )

My favorites this year:
Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter: With these three stories, Porter proves that the novella can be just as rich and powerful as the novel. Haunting and deeply felt explorations of memory, family history, and mortality. A wonderful book.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel: I know that a lot people were not in love with this book, but I was. I read it immediately after hearing Bechdel read from it and talk about it, and I'm sure that influenced my feelings about it, but the book gripped me and resonated with a lot of my own personal history. It's thorny and sort of messy and at least a little bit self-indulgent, but I loved wrestling with it.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray: Sprawling, ambitious, and definitely flawed. The ending was disappointing and Murray allowed it to drag on for way too long, but the first two thirds of this book were as fun, inventive, and devastating.

Death in Venice and Other Tales by Thomas Mann: I liked Mann's novellas better than his short stories, but the novellas alone are good enough to earn him a spot in the favorites list. "Death in Venice" is the famous one, and it certainly is brilliant, but my sentimental favorite was "Tonio Kröger."

Other titles that I recommend include Tree of Codes, Life Times, The Birthday of the World, The Waves, Ransom, The Fixer, and The Empty Family.

By far the worst books on this list are Winter's Tale (sloppy, incoherent, way too long, utter nonsense!) and A Fan's Notes (misogynistic, manipulative, unpleasant from start to finish). Stay away from those two!

Here's to lots of great reading in 2013, both for me and for all of you!
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