This is my third year (at least) doing a reading recap. I like it. I don’t know if anyone else does, but that’s okay. I think it’s fun. Off we go…
Books Read: 51 (my goal was 50)
Total Pages: 15,248
Average Pages per Book: 299
Average Pages per Day: 42
Biggest Reading Month: June (6 books, 1832 pages)
Smallest Reading Month: November (3 books, 858 pages)
Five Longest Books Read:
- 2666 by Roberto Bolaño – 898 pages
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – 817 pages
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – 608 pages
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles (critical edition) by Thomas Hardy – 588 pages
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – 585 pages
Five Shortest Books Read:
- News of the World by Philip Levine – 63 pages
- A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen – 68 pages
- The City in Which I Love You by Li-Young Lee – 89 pages
- Behind My Eyes by Li-Young Lee – 106 pages
- The Unswept Room by Sharon Olds – 123 pages
Those are the numbers. I like numbers. Now, we’ll get all reflective and stuff…
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – I didn’t hate this book. It wasn’t terrible. But neither was it what I expected of someone often touted as the Greatest Living Writer from time to time. Lackluster presentation of women. Random and inconsistent attitude changes by characters. I probably should have started with The Corrections. Oh well.
Quiet by Susan Cain and My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart – I can’t imagine two more different nonfiction books (one a heavily-researched meditation on introversion, another a head-on-collision honest collection of essays about the life of a very flawed, but very likable and interesting man), but both of these were fantastic. I did a review of Quiet, which you can find here. And last month’s comments on My Heart Is an Idiot can be found here.
Five Favorite Books of the Year
(Note to first-time readers, these books probably didn’t come out this year, but I read them for the first time and that will have to be good enough.)
5. (Tie) Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta and The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee – I couldn’t bring myself to leave one of these books off the list. Initially, I rated Stone Arabia only a 4.5, which would normally disqualify it from this list, but I read it almost a year ago now and I still think about it. It’s only grown in my esteem and I think even the 4.5 was too hard. It’s a wonderful book. I need to read everything else Spiotta has written. The Surrendered might be Chang-rae Lee’s best book. It almost won the Pulitzer (I think it should have, in fact). It’s unendingly sad, but I love his prose and he gets everything just right.
4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – This is one of two books from Cate’s list for me that made it onto my year-end list. Wonderful, wonderful book. It reminded me of William Maxwell, who is absolutely one of my favorite writers. This is the kind of book that ought to be taught more than it is (which, as far as I can tell is never), but still seems to have a life getting handed down from one generation to the next. Sadly, I don’t know of any men who’ve read it. They ought to.
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – The top three on my list could really be presented in any order. They are all among the best books I’ve ever read. Anna is third because, I guess, it didn’t quite stick with me in the way of the two books that finished above it. Don’t let that seem like damning with faint praise. Whenever I think about it, I have a hard time imagining that anyone could write a better book than this, and Tolstoy left me believing that he understood the meaning of life, which is one hell of an accomplishment.
2. Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy – This is the second book from Cate’s list for me. I often find myself frustrated with story collections, but when one gets it right, it can really be a moving experience. I started teaching a story from this as soon as I finished the book. It’s impossible to tell where these stories are going, but in the end, they all wind up right where they belong. Not an off note in the whole, something very rare for a collection.
1. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – If Tolstoy had me believing he knew the meaning of life, Melville convinced me that no one does or ever could. That life, in fact, might be meaningless or it might be filled with deep meanings that we need only open ourselves to. In the end, I guess this tells you that I prefer questions to answers because Moby-Dick gives no answers. Given this book’s reputation as an arduous read, I found it rather easy and endlessly moving. I also think this is an example of my reading a book at exactly the right moment in my life. I don’t think I would have been ready for this five years ago. I know I wasn’t ready for it ten years ago. It is the definition of a masterpiece.