Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Year in Books 2011
So as we masticate the last few orts from the turdburger platter that was 2011, I'll finish this year here as I started it: with a list of books I read. Maybe it's an appropriate indicator of incremental progress that I had the 2010 list on the first day of 2011, but present the 2011 list on the last day of this same year.

Not that this is about raw counts, but I seem to have read, or at least completed, significantly fewer books this year than last--22 compared to 26. The difference might reside in books I got fairly far into this year before abandoning, a group that includes Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, a lengthy comprehensive survey of early 19th century American history that I got maybe 350 pages into before deciding I'd had enough, and River of Gods, a high-concept sci-fi novel of maybe 800 pages that I got a quarter through and concluded that it just wasn't coming together for me. I read, and loved, about half of David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, a book of non-fiction essays; no doubt, I'll read the rest over the next few years. (With DFW, sadly, there's all too much motivation to stretch it out.) I also had a stretch this summer where I was reading quite a bit on my iPhone; a couple of the shorter selections noted below came through that format, as did a bunch I didn't finish: Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Thus Spake Zarathustra, The Devil's Dictionary, and The Prince, among probably others.

What's cool about the e-books is that you can download many of these classics for the low, low price of "free," making it even easier (at least psychologically) to start something you've always been curious about but never quite wanted to pay for or even haul out of the library, and go as far with it as you'd like. Thus I have, among others, Siddhartha and Paradise Lost sitting on my iPhone, against the day I might decide to give either a spin.

The novel I read this year that most strongly resonated with me was the first one I finished: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. The best non-fiction was the first volume of Robert Caro's LBJ biography, The Path to Power. (I'm about 340 pages into volume three now.)

The list, in rough order and as I recall or can reconstruct. Starred items are particularly recommended...

Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel)*
Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart)
Freedom (Jonathan Franzen)*
Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary (Steven Weisman, editor)*
1960 (David Pietrusza)
Old Man’s War (John Scalzi)*
The City and the City (China Mieville)
American Pastoral (Philip Roth)*
Notes from the Underground (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)*
The Mysterious Stranger (Mark Twain)
Losers (Michael Lewis)
The Fall of Paris (Alistair Horne)
The Wind-Up Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi)
A Place of Greater Safety (Hilary Mantel)
See a Little Light (Bob Mould with Michael Azzerad)*
The Path to Power (Robert Caro)*
Means of Ascent (Robert Caro)*
Man in the Dark (Paul Auster)
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
The Enchantress of Florence (Salman Rushdie)*
Chronic City (Jonathan Lethem)

1 comment:

The Navigator said...

Dag. I plead dad-ness, but even so I've read embarrassingly few books recently. This post should spur me to do more. (In addition to the exercise that I need to start doing more of.)

I suppose an ipad or Kindle might make a difference here. I'm still hesitant, partly because I get a little queasy trying to read on my 15-minute train ride - very mild motion sickness I guess - and partly because I think of that woman manning the Cleveland airport terminal bookstore last week who said that she was selling about three books a day; everyone else, she says, comes in and browses, then leaves and downloads the book on their e-readers. Much more of that and there will no longer be airport terminal bookstores. (I picked up Positively 4th Street by David Hadju, and I'm going to start it after The Constant Gardner; also I read The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan over New Year's but The Omnivore's Dilemna makes similiar points better.)