This was the first year of nearly 29 years that I kept track of every book I read. Google doc spreadsheet style. I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, but this year I was inspired to keep more meticulous tabs on my habit due to two major influences.
One: productivity/creativity guru Austin Kleon. In a blog post I stumbled upon some point last year, he read about 75 books. I’m closing in at what will likely be 30-31 for the year, not including literary journals, long reads articles, etc. 30ish publishing house-published books. Not quite 75, but still a number I am comfortable with.
The second major influence really spurred my quest to continue on this path. I read a 500-page, 10-year compendium of Nick Hornby’s monthly column in The Believer Magazine. Said column covered deceptively simple ground: what he read each month. From when I finished in the beginning of March onward, I took his loose criteria as my guide. Don’t read anything you don’t like. If you don’t like it, don’t feel bad about putting it down.
I also love the philosophy of the Believer review system: only positive criticism. With that caveat shining brightly as my readerly North Star, I swam through the next few months eagerly swinging from one book to the next. Adding another title to the list was a therapeutic and motivating act, tiny and simple as it was.
So, a rundown of books by month, followed by a short reaction/description is the way I’m going to go about this. With the exception of The Best American Non-Required Reading series. I read 7 of the anthologies this year (the 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 editions, all edited by Dave Eggers). There’s so much to say about these books. These books solidified that I want to be a writer. They introduced me to new authors, a smattering of fabulous new ideas and theories, journals and publications containing some of the world’s best writing…the list goes on and on. This series opened up a new world for me, and I can’t wait to fall deeper into the rabbit hole.
I’m not the trendiest or most current reader, and that’s OK. That’s why it’s my year in books! One year I will be on top of it. #Goals.
The Best American Non-Required Reading 2006 + 2005 (See above)
The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002 (See above)
Windows on the World: 50 Writers, 50 Views Matteo Pericoli
A charming book detailing a host of famous writer’s view outside their desk window. A lovely meditation on how environment influences work (or in some cases, does not).
Ten Years in the Tub Nick Hornby
This. book. I am endeared to this book forever. I am endeared to Hornby forever. His reading philosophy, his down-to-earth quality, his connection with 826, his general affable style…I could go on and on.
I wish to read with the same skill, warmth and heart as he demonstrated with this fabulous collection of missives collected over the past 10 years. This book also inspired me to pick up the damn pace and read more books that I would fall in love with.
The Best American Non-Required Reading 2003 (See above)
High Fidelity Nick Hornby
Short, sweet and one of my favorites of the year. Hornby’s protagonist is a shaggy, mildly anti-social dude who can seem difficult to root for at times, but the story is just so engrossing and endearing. The movie is set in Wicker Park (aka my favorite neighborhood in Chicago). but it was great fun taking in the London setting of the book.
Hornby’s voice is the winner. I think, more than anything, I want this highly likeable, slightly curmudgeonly person to be my friend. This also challenged my inner music dork. I’m far beyond it’s league.
The Best American Non-Required Reading 2004
The Invisible Circus Jennifer Egan
Not my favorite book of the year. Admittedly, I favor non-fiction over fiction, but I think my expectations were set too high on account of my gushing adoration for her deserving critical and commercial hit, A Visit from the Goon Squad.
In my little writer mind, I tried to focus less on why I wasn’t enthralled by the story, but to notice the techniques carried over from an earlier effort in comparison to Goon Squad. Any I can remember at the moment? Probably not. In the end, I just wasn’t that into it.
Little Failure Gary Shteyngart
Oh my hearts and stars, did I eat this book up with a spoon. I was first introduced to Mr. Shteyngart by an essay included in a Best Non-Required Reading volume. He wrote a profile of the musician M.I.A. for Rolling Stone, punctuated by his unforgettable style.
I felt like I knew his story before reading. At one point in time, I dated a Russian emigrant to the US who experienced a very similar transition from the USSR to the suburbs of a major metropolitan city. Shteyngart’s ability to turn the tragic or the uncomfortable into something laugh-out-loud funny is miraculous. I sympathize deeply with his Jewish guilt and I’m in awe of his wit and intelligence.
The Best American Non-Required Reading 2007
Without You, There is No Us Suki Kim
I started off my non-fiction heavy summer with a riveting, disheartening dispatch from a writer embedded in an all-boys school in North Korea.
I came to the book a relatively blank slate, and the sad realities of the lack of freedoms available to the citizens of North Korea felt shocking and sad. Kim relayed her story with a great deal of empathy. You could feel her hurt, but her ultimate powerlessness to initiate any real change.
Further Joy John Brandon
Oh to be down and out in southern Florida. Brandon takes a trope that could be tired and makes it gripping. I found myself rooting for the low-lifes in the center of his stories, whether they got that way due to their own folly or by happenstance.
Children Playing Before A Statue of Hercules edited by David Sedaris
This was scrumptious. David Sedaris has been a favorite author of mine for a while now and I simply lapped up his choices for his favorite short stories of all time. This was a book I dog-eared all the way through with favorite quotes and superior sentences, but most notably, I remember this read for Lorrie Moore’s OUTSTANDING story, “The People Like that are the Only People Here”. Plus, proceeds from the book go to 826 National…can’t beat that!
Girl in the Dark Anna Lyndsey
Ms. Lyndsey chronicled her frightening condition under a pseudonym in this thoughtful book. She carefully guides the reader on a journey from thriving professional to completely home bound in a room that seals out all light due an extremely severe allergy. I felt so frustrated that there wasn’t a cure. This book broke my heart. I hope there are developments or that she is in another period of remission.
Lucky Alan and Other Stories Jonathan Lethem
I read this book at a time when life stuff was moving at a blurry clip, but I remember his jaw-dropping, utterly delicious use of language. So much so that I wrote him a letter, thanking him for allowing me to laugh out loud and be witness to his particular form of mastery. His characters are so peculiar. Each story was a morsel of wonder.
Meaty Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby is ridiculous. She’s funny. She’s especially funny when she’s telling the saddest of stories. Her book of essays is so relatable, and the ferocious energy she brings to her writing is just stunning. I saw Ms. Irby at her live lit show Guts & Glory, and she is a FORCE. She is so talented and her words blaze off the page. Her blog is amazing.
Seeing Voices Oliver Sacks
Ever since reading An Anthropologist on Mars for psychology class book report my senior year of high school, Mr. Sack’s large volume of work has captivated my attention. His research on deaf culture is no different. His ability to write about science in both a lyrical way and in a manner that the lay person can understand is outstanding. He is so dearly missed.
By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review a Edited by Pamela Paul
I flew through this collection, eager to discover the favorite books of celebrated authors and celebrities. A few books that everyone loved across the board were Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. The best part? When I visited Unabridged Bookstore, most of the books brought up again and again by this collective of treasured writers were available on sale. Shop local, folks. It’s worth it.
Inside this Place, Not Of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons Edited Ayelet Waldman and Robin Levi
The Voice of Witness series of books is vital. Everyone, read these books. It will shed light into the darkest corners of society. That’s all I’ve got.
The Best American Non-Required Reading, 2009
Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste Carl Wilson
I read this book for CHIRP Book Club and adored it. It’s part of the 33 1/3 series, which takes one album and dissects it’s cultural impact through personal essay. Wilson is a Canadian dude who breaks down the rise and popularity of the one and only Miss Celine Dion. Be warned: this book has significant snob factor. However, I would highly recommend it if you like learning about the history of Canadian music and kitsch and the background of what makes pop culture so gosh darn popular.
On The Move: A Life Oliver Sacks
I finished this book a few weeks before Dr. Sacks passed away. His typical style makes for a riveting tale of a life filled with triumphs and disappointments. His self-doubt, his early mistakes should give everyone a little hope to keep going and striving to find their place in the world.
The Best American Non-Required Reading, 2010
Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life Anne Lamott
Game. Changer. If you love to write, READ THIS BOOK. It’s almost beyond words how much I love this.
Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon
My labor of love. Clocking in around 900 pages with research notes, this mammoth work of the relationships between parents and children with vastly different identities is breathtaking. It is rigorously researched yet never crosses the line into using jargon. It is a work of continuous poignant observation. Endlessly fascinating. It took me a few months to read, but a few months of paying careful attention were worth it.
The Book of My Lives Aleksandar Hemon
Hemon is brilliant, and local by way of Sarajevo. This book of essays detailing his lives here and abroad bound with a kinetic energy and a likability that warmed my winter commute. This is also the only book I read that made me cry. Sob.
Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated ed. Dave Eggers
However you feel about Making a Murderer, this book covers what happens to exonerated criminals. It is fascinating, devastating, clearly communicated, and infuriating. It demonstrates true failures of the system that were corrected too little, too late.
The Late Interiors Marjorie Sandor
What a delightful book. This is a memoir written by a professor at a grad school program I’ve been thinking about. It’s such a lovely testament to all of the little (and big) moments that sewn together make a life. The imagery of her garden and the mountains of the Pacific Northwest didn’t hurt my enjoyment either.
Fates and Furies Lauren Groff
This is Obama’s favorite book of the year, and it’s insanely easy to see why. Lauren Groff spins a yarn that seems so complex, and it’s overwhelmingly beautiful to discover just how well she understands the motives and actions of her characters. Nothing seems out of place. Lauren Groff just seems like a wonderful person to meet in real life. This was a few years ago, but on the Other PPL podcast (another blog post coming about this soon) she said, “The novel to me is the most powerful instrument we as humans have to sort of be able to peer into other people’s hearts”. I love that.
Birds of America Lorrie Moore
This was an exquisite book to close out the year. Ms. Moore is an English professor at UW Madison and I not-so-secretly would love to audit her class. In France, I took a class discussed the concept of creating a unique space in literature. As I made my way through, it astounded me how Moore has created the feeling of a space all her own. I could pick up a nameless story and know it was her work. How do you DO that? Thoughts to ponder for 2016 and beyond.
If you you made it all this way, you are either my parents or you are super awesome. Well, my parents are super awesome. ANYWAY. Thank you for your kind attention, and leave a comment with your favorite book of 2015 or a great rec for 2016, or just about anything at all!