Since 2009, I have kept track of every book that I read. The file name on my computer is “Books Read in 2009,” which is kind of funny, since it actually covers books I’ve read in each of the last six years, but I can’t be bothered to name it something different. I started doing this many years ago when the writer Matt Bell started posting the books that he read. Now, if I remember right, Matt read a LOT of books, way more than I did, and I was a little jealous that he could get through so many books in one calendar year. I’ve since learned to let go of such jealous, but I have continued to maintain the annual reading list. Why? Not really sure. I like tracking stuff?
Here’s a few notes before I get to the list:
Since 2009, I have kept track of the books I’ve read. Like most readers, I have tried making lists of books I should read, or could read, or might read, or want to read, often only to abandon the plan halfway through it. In 2012, I tried to read all of Toni Morrison’s novels, and while I knocked out three of them (an awfully low number given that she’s written ten novels), I once again lost interest or got otherwise distracted and picked up something else.
This year I will once again come up with a plan, and this year, once again, I will wildly deviate from this plan. Hey, it happens. I haven’t entirely decided what that plan will be or look like, but I’m kicking around ideas.
What has been much better for me is to simply keep track of what I’ve read. Every time I finish a book, I add to the list which means, of course, that I see the list, and remember what I’ve recently read. This file on my laptop goes back to 2009, so I can see every book I’ve read for the past five years. Sorta interesting.
So here is my list of books that I read this past year. I’ve sprinkled in a little bit of commentary between the list, and added more extensive thoughts at the end.
In 2009, I started keeping a list of all the books I read in a given year. I was inspired to do this because of Matt Bell, a writer with an active, engaged website. One of the things Matt frequently does is post when he reads a book, and I was amazed at how much Matt reads and how widely. So I started keeping track, too, thinking this would help direct my reading.
It didn’t. I skip around. I get interested in one author for a month, then shift away. I want to read only classics … then I only want to read contemporary work. Etc. Looking back, there is always one brief moment where I think “What was that?” before remembering that, sometimes, a book is quite forgettable for good reason. On Twitter, I frequently will tweet about what I’m reading, and way too often, I got started on something, got sidetracked, and never finished. I hope not to do that nearly as much in 2013.
I am not a fast reader and I need to frequently remind myself that this is not a bad thing. Some people read faster than I do, and some people read slower. That’s okay. There will always be great books that I have not read, and I can’t beat myself up if I haven’t read, well, everything. I pick and choose what I can to the best of my ability, and listen, always, for new things to try out.
So, the following list is not an endorsement or condemnation of any of these titles. It’s just what I read. Here they are, in order from January 2012 to December 2012 (posted before the end of the first month of 2013!) with some occasional comments on the books.
Books Read in 2012
1. Look at Me by Jennifer Egan
This one I read fresh off reading A Visit From The Goon Squad. I’d also read The Keep two or three years ago, and was eager to read Egan’s debut. It’s a very good novel, albeit not great, but I don’t need every book I read to be The Greatest Thing Ever.
2. The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen
3. The Family: A New Way of Creating Self-Esteem by John Bradshaw
4. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
5. Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Sullivan’s collection of essays is one of the books I’ve talked about the most this past year. I found the essays mesmerizing and at times quite frustrating. Sullivan’s narrative voice changes from essay to essay, which is obviously useful when each piece was originally published as a stand-alone essay, but as a book makes him quite elusive, and some essays feel forced compared to what seems like a natural voice (the brilliant “Mr. Lytle” is my favorite from the collection).
6. A Drink Before The War by Dennis Lehane
7. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
8. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
10. Sula by Toni Morrison
I did my absolute best to keep up with Rebecca Schinsky’s Book Lady’s Blog and her idea to reread all of Toni Morrison’s novels prior to the release of Morrison’s newest book, Home. I managed to read three of them. That’s pretty pathetic. I’d read Beloved before, and The Bluest Eye, and I enjoyed her novels. One of the fascinating things about reading one author for several books in a row is seeing what she, as a writer, is trying to build on from her previous work. Or, veer far away from. It’s not a book example, but it’s kinda like David Lynch making a G-rated movie called The Straight Story—what could be more of an artistic shift after Lost Highway?
11. The Best American Short Stories 2011, ed. Geraldine Brooks
12. The Best American Essays 2011, ed. Edwidge Danticat
13. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
14. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
15. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A little of a modernism kick thanks to a recommendation from a friend. I had tried, and failed, to read Mrs. Dalloway several times: never got through it as an undergrad, in grad school, post-grad school. She insisted I try it again and, this time, it clicked. What a wonderful, wonderful book, and after, I couldn’t quite grasp how I hadn’t seen that before. It made me want to reread lots of books. Are the books I loved, in here and now, as good as I remember them? Are the books I disliked, in fact, quite good? Hot tip: Gatsby remains awesome, no matter how many times you read it.
16. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
17. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
18. Tinkers by Paul Harding
19. Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins
20. The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
21. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes by Christopher McDougall
22. The Sensualist by Daniel Torday
23. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
24. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I don’t remember why, but I went on a bit of an Ishiguro kick. Like my attempt at reading all of Toni Morrison, I couldn’t sustain an interest in reading the same author for the third time in a row. I’d like to read more by Ishiguro, just not all in one month.
25. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
26. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
27. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Read Middlesex, not The Marriage Plot. Just trust me on this one.
28. May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks
29. Pretty Tilt by Carrie Murphy
30. The Book of Freaks by Jamie Iredell
In November, I read with these three authors (and the wonderful Kate Sweeney’s, whose book isn’t out until later in 2013) so I got autographed copies and brought those suckers back with me to Missouri, then sat down and read ’em. Boom!
31. Donnybrook by Frank Bill
32. NW by Zadie Smith
My most anticipated read of 2012. I adored White Teeth—that’s a book that holds up upon multiple readings–and was up and down on her other two novels. NW is a challenge to read, but the kind of challenge that is wholly satisfying. Some books, and this is rare, force me to slow down and read carefully, and that’s something that NW accomplishes. One of my friends recently told me that he loves books that end in such a way that when you’re doing reading it for the first time, you must think back, all over again, on the entire experience of reading it. He knows last sentences by heart. He knows books that you have to carve your way back through the narrative, through the character. NW is one of those books.
33. The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day
34. Safe as Houses by Marie-Helene Betrino
35. A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Du Bois
36. Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert
Was this really the only poetry collection I finished last year? I was kind of surprised, then looked at all the collections I read pages or parts of and, yup, this is the only one I actually read all the way through. I’m a little embarrassed by this, actually. Oath: read more poetry collections!
37. The Best American Short Stories 2012, ed. Tom Perrotta
38. The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin
39. The Might Have Been by Joe Schuster
Can’t go wrong finishing up with a good baseball novel.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
In my latest post for Vouched Books, I briefly discuss poet Rachel Patterson’s chapbook IF I AM BURNING, which is available through Main Street Rag, a publishing company based in Charlotte. You can read the whole post here. Read it! (please?) It’s not that long. Encouraging people to read books, and specific books that I love and admire, should be really easy, and in discussion it is, but when writing out the Why is actually fairly challenging for me. I start thinking about the cohesion of my sentences, word choices, paragraphs, the What Am I Trying To Say that is a challenge in academic and creative writing, regardless of one’s experience.
I’ll keep it simple: read Rachel’s book. You won’t be disappointed.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye