2017 Reading Year in Review

January 6, 2018

Ah, reading friends, here we are again. This year was weird. I didn’t read nearly as much as has been normal. But I did move and buy a house and there was plenty of life interrupting along the way. Still, here’s how it all went down, book-wise, in 2017.

Books Read: 52 (goal was 60)
Pages Read: 12,948 (goal was 15,000)
Average per Book: 249 pages
Pages per Day: 35.5

Very meh right there. I need to read more on a daily basis. There were some full weeks when I barely read at all.

Biggest Reading Month: October (when all moving nonsense was complete) – 7 books, 1604 pages
Smallest Reading Month: August (maximum moving nonsense) – 3 books, 501 pages

Five Longest Books:

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 923 pages
2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann – 712 pages
3. Collected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy – 558 pages
4. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris – 514 pages
5. The Complete Short Fiction by Herman Melville – 504 pages

I find it somewhat amusing that the two longest books I read were the first and last books I finished in 2017.

Five Shortest Books:

1. Ararat by Louise Glück – 40 pages
2. Fox by Adrienne Rich – 61 pages
3. Vita Nuova by Louise Glück – 64 pages
4. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück – 67 pages
5. Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino – 72 pages

Books I Read Again:

The City in which I Love you by Li-Young Lee
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

All the teaching books.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien – This wasn’t bad, but I wanted it to be much less scholarly and much more a coherent and unified narrative a la Children of Hurin. 

The 2017 Top 10:

Reminder – this only counts books I read for the first time in 2017.

Okaywere, here we go, starting from the bottom:

10. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich I very much have a thing for books that live in a place more than they live with their characters. It’s something that started for me with 100 Years of Solitude. Love Medicine belongs in that category and it is probably for that reason that I find this to be much better than the other Erdrich books I’ve read (which were still very good). It’s a different feeling to finish a book and feel as though you know a place instead of a few people.

9. Little Birds by Anaïs Nin There is, of course, the sex in this book, but there is also the feeling of post-WWI rule breaking that was such an important part of literature when this was being written. I’ve read some of her journals and generally found them a bit dry. The language here is much more lively and makes me think at least a little bit of the best Hemingway.

8. Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó – I read this because her novel The Door was so brilliant. This was similarly brilliant with a central character who – as we all are at times – manages to be both completely understandable and unlikable at the same time. A good illustration of how messy it is to be human.

7. Scott’s Last Expedition by Captain R.F. Scott – If you ever wonder what endurance is like, this will show you, I think. It is nonfiction and so, of course, real in the literal sense, but it also feels as real as good fiction often does. And the foreknowledge of the ending becomes more and more intense as your attachment to the narrator and his men grows.

6. A Zero Sum Game by Eduardo Rabasa – I feel like most years, there’s a book on my list that I didn’t initially give a 5 out of 5, and  this is it. This book is hard. And I don’t mean that it’s hard to read. The prose is excellent. It’s hard to face because it is both dark and uncomfortably honest. Like Black Mirror, it’s theoretically satirical but manages to hit much too close to home.

5. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück – This is her best known work for a reason, I think. Like Shakespeare, I feel like she had a run of absurd brilliance that made her lesser, but still excellent volumes seem less good somehow. Anyway, this is the high point int he fabulous run. Her Hamlet or whatever.

4. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews – Spent forever meaning to read this book and then not reading it. It is one of the few really excellent representations I’ve read of middle age and depressing monotony that can accompany it amidst the raising of children and aging parents and all that.

3. Melville by Jean Giono – One of the oddest books I read this year and why NYRB is a good source of literature. It’s a slim novel that was supposed to be an essay but turned into a story about a fictional Herman Melville and it manages to be a lot of fun while also working on several more complex levels.  I feel like it would appeal to just about everyone who reads, which isn’t something I say, well, ever.

2. The Vegetarian by Han Kang – This book is incredible. It is one of the best uses of multiple-perspective storytelling I have ever read. It’s dark as hell, but you should read it anyway. Dark books for dark times and all that.

1. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – Upon a strong recommendation, I finally knocked Calvino off my “need to read, but haven’t yet” list. And I can tell you right now this is going to be included whenever I next update my 100 favorite books list. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read except for maybe aspects of Borges. Like Melville, I also thing it’s a book a lot of people could enjoy, however. Anyway, it changed what I thought of as possible with fiction and that hasn’t happened in a long time.

Goals for 2018

I plan to get back to myself next year in terms of reading. I want to really read a lot and read some long books and also focus on works in translation more because I feel like I’ve gotten the most out of those in recent years (5 of the books on this year’s list are works in translation). My goals are as follows:

Read 70 books
Read one book longer than 400 pages every month (greater than 500 is ideal) because I like long books and there are many long things I tend to procrastinate on
Read two works in translation per month
Read 20,000 pages (this was my norm for a long time, but I drastically undershot it this year).
Tolkien re-read. This was a goal from last year that never got remotely off the ground. It’s just for fun and to be a nerd. Hopefully I manage it this time.

Whoops. Hey, kids. Whoops.

Whoops whoops whoops.

I was EXTREMELY distracted during March and read very little and forgot my book log entirely. I was still distracted in April, but at least have it together enough to do this here little post about my reading.

  1. Little Birds by Anaïs Nin (5/5) – This is one of several recommendations I was given over the last couple of months and it was a good one. I hadn’t read any of Nin’s fiction, only her journals. The language was surprisingly spare and there was a wistfulness here that made me think of Sherwood Anderson but with sex.
  2. CivilwarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders (4/5) – Another recommendation and now I’ve finally gotten around to Saunders. I quite liked these stories and I was surprised by how dark they were. Saunders does what the best dystopian writers do. He uses it as a tool to make his point rather than allowing it to be the point on its own.
  3. World Enough and Time by Robert Penn Warren (3/5) – I love Robert Penn Warren and always will, but this book is imperfect. Much too long, especially at the beginning, and with characters who don’t really rise to the level of realness I’m accustomed to. The last 150 pages do really sing and Warren’s gorgeous prose is ever-present.
  4. The City in which I Love You by Li-Young Lee (5/5) – A long delayed re-read. Lee is one of my very favorite poets and it’s been ages since he put anything new out. I wish he’d get on it.
  5. Glimmer Train #98 (3/5) – The most uneven issue of Glimmer Train I’ve read. Some of these stories I’ll end up teaching. Some were so bad I’m confused about how they could possibly have been published. It closes with a novella that is superb, however.
  6. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (5/5) – Speaking of novellas. This was the last book on this list that was a recommendation and my goodness it is wonderful. Johnson takes a fabulously complex story and somehow wedges it into just over 100 pages. Shades of the best Jack London here as well. I’m going to have to go read everything he’s written now.
  7. What Are the Blind Men Dreaming by Noemi Jaffe (4.5/5) – I’ve pretty much fallen in love with Deep Vellum press now. This is a memoir in two parts. First, the journal of a holocaust survivor and second, her daughter’s reflections on it and upon visiting Auschwitz, where her mother was held. It feels like… I don’t know… Nabokov a little, maybe? I’ve never read anything like this before.
  8. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (4/5) – Reread this because I was teaching it. It’s been years. I didn’t like it as much as I once did, but it’s still an excellent novel.
  9. Before by Carmen Boullosa (4/5) – Another Deep Vellum book. This is novella-length and haunting. I still haven’t gotten it out of my head and may find myself rereading it and becoming more impressed with it as time passes. A sort of ghost story but also not a ghost story. Deep Vellum really does pick fabulous texts.

February Book Log

March 1, 2015

February was a good month, especially given that it’s the shortest month of the year. I’m in a weird strained place with reading right now. I’m teaching two different books and Simone has me reading The Hobbit to her again. It’s all well and good, but it makes it hard to finish anything very quickly and I do still want to read some other books. Anyway, eight books this month. Some I was less than thrilled with…

1. Seven-Star Bird by David Daniel (3.5/5) – This is a collection of poems. The latter half of the book is great, especially when he goes into prose poetry. The early parts I could do without, but that’s always the danger of collections. Still glad I read it.

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl (5/5) – Simone is back on chapter books with a vengeance. I loved reading this one to her. It’s so absurd and delightful. Dahl doesn’t pull punches. He also keeps from getting too preachy. My favorite of his that Simone and I have read together so far.

3. McSweeney’s 48 (5/5) – This is among the very best McSweeney’s issues I’ve ever read. Were there some stories I liked more than others? Of course, but they we re all at least very good and some were spectacular. I can actually imagine myself going back to this for things to teach to my writing classes. Great, great issue.

4. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (3.5/5) – I’ve read both of her books now. Each a slim volume. And while there are stretches of greatness, I never feel like she’s gone deep enough. The last 2/3 of this is great, but the first is rather lackluster and the whole thing could stand more character development.

5. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuine (3/5) – Meh. That’s what a three is for me. Meh. It was fine. Margaret Atwood called it a modern classic and I’m always on the lookout for good fantasy writing (because I have a hard time finding it), so I got it from the library. Didn’t do much for me. Too much plot. Not nearly enough character.

6. The BFG by Roald Dahl (3.5/5) – Can you tell Simone and I have been reading a lot lately? This was nice, but it had some poorly executed stretches, thus it didn’t rise to the level of Matilda.

7. Fire by Anaïs Nin (3/5) – I’d read snatches of Nin here and there and this had been on my to-read shelf for a long time. Mostly, I don’t think reading diaries is really for me. It’s too repetitive. There were moments of greatness, but I’d much rather read a novelization of all of this.

8. All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang (5/5) – Finally, a great novel to close out the month. This is a brisk 205 pages, but what pages. It is a campus novel, but it is up with Stoner among the best campus novels I have ever read. The characters are so full and rich and all of their mistakes are so understandable. It is a perfect little book. I don’t know that any writer could hope to do better. I can’t recommend it more strongly.