As I’ve said before, my many commuting hours and lack of small children have enabled my most productive reading year in recent memory. This year I discovered Stegner and tried out Berry and exhausted Jason’s more accessible political science books. I joined the library and ward book club. During my five-week stint of unemployment, I read my first electronic book (Mockingjay) and loathed the experience; there’s something about the weight of a book in my hands that I love, but maybe I’d be more inclined to like ebooks if I traveled more. I’ve read on planes, trains, automobiles, buses, benches, beaches, balconies, and best of all, on the couch nestled in Jason’s arm crook. It’s been a good year.
This year I finished sixty books: 23 non-fiction and 37 fiction. This comes out to over 23,000 pages and comprises far more total titles than I read in either 2010 or 2011 (which is as far back as I have accurate records). Interestingly, the ratio of fiction to non-fiction remains about the same from year to year: my reading list was 60.7% fiction in 2010, and 68.7% fiction in 2011. This year: 61.6%.
Where I get my book recommendations can be categorized into four sources: me, which includes any book I’ve discovered from a non-friend source (i.e. NPR), Jason, my dad, and other, which encompasses all other friend-recommended titles including book club.
Perhaps next year I’ll break out the “other” category more. I’m not at all surprised that Jason is still my top non-me source for new material.
I also looked at authors by gender and was kind of shocked by how few women writers I read this year. Barbara Kingsolver is counted twice, and four of the thirteen female authors are Hispanic. Of the fourteen books I read written by women, only three were non-fiction; of those three, one was a memoir, and the other two were biographical sketches of women: Henrietta Lacks and Hadley Richardson Hemingway. Not one of the nine political science books I read this year was written by a woman.
Goal: read more books by women (not necessarly for women) next year.
Barbara Kingsolver isn’t the only author I repeated. The most common writer was Wallace Stegner, of whose titles I read four. I read three each from Wendell Berry and Ernest Hemingway and two each from Barbara Kingsolver, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Steve Martin.
This next chart took too long to make, but I loved doing it. I marked the geographic setting of each title I read in 2012; blue dots are fiction and green dots are non-fiction. The first book I read this year of each genre is marked by the lightest colored dot of each color. Each successive title (chronologically) is marked with a slightly darker monochromatic dot. Thus, the last books I read in 2012 are denoted by almost black dots. I didn’t happen to read a bunch of books set in the southish Pacific; that area west of Peru was a dumping ground for books that did not require a primary setting.
As you can see, I skipped around Europe for the first part of the year, which I blame on three Hemingway and some Camus. In the latter portion of 2012, I returned to some of Jason’s books (D.C.-based non-fiction) and migrated back to the U.S. with a raft of “regional” authors. There’s some Hispanic literature sprinkled in there as well. I cut off the map to make it fit a little better, as I only had to go as far east as Pyongyang.
A quick breakdown. This is by no means an unqualified recommendation of any of the following titles. Read at your own risk.
Books that made me cry: Every Stegner, That Distant Land and Hannah Coulter (Berry), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Smith).
Books I loved: All the ones that made me cry. Also, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez), The War of the End of the World (Llosa), Just My Type (Garfield).
Books I expected to like but really didn’t: The Fountainhead (Rand) which I used to love and now can’t stand; Life of Pi (Martel) of which the first half was awesome and the second half didn’t do it for me; and The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have The Money (Cohen and DeLong) was poorly written.
Books I was surprised to love: Henderson the Rain King (Bellows), Rough Stone Rolling (Bushman), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Le Carre). Interestingly these were all recommendations from my dad. I guess I should give him a little more credit.
Strangest book I read this year: The Unconsoled (Ishiguro). I expected it to be like Never Let Me Go or Remains of the Day and it was not even close. 500+ pages of existential surrealism…I think.
Books that made me think: The North American Idea (Pastor), The Very Best Men: The Daring Early Years of the CIA (Thomas), Lincoln’s Virtues (Miller), and What Are People For? (Berry).
One I’ll reread: All the Little Live Things (Stegner).
Biggest victory: Finally finishing Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader!
Favorite scene: Okay, I can’t choose a single scene, but Angle of Repose and All the Little Live Things each feature one perfect scene near the conclusion. If we take all of Stegner and Berry and Hemingway out of the equation, I loved the feel of House of the Spirits (Allende) and Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife (Dilberto), especially when Hadley leaves all of Ernest’s manuscripts on the train. So painful.
A good book quote from Wendell Berry:
Works of art participate in our lives; we are not just distant observers of their lives. They are in conversation among themselves and with us. This is a part of the description of human life; we do the way we do partly because of things that have been said to us by works of art, and because of things that we have said in reply.
And one from Wallace Stegner:
There is another physical law that teases me, too: the Doppler Effect. The sound of anything coming at you- a train, say, or the future- has a higher pitch than the sound of the same thing going away. If you have perfect pitch and a head for mathematics you can compute the speed of the object by the interval between its arriving and departing sounds. I have neither perfect pitch nor a head for mathematics, and anyway who wants to compute the speed of history? Like all falling bodies, it constantly accelerates. But I would like to hear your life as you heard it, coming at you, instead of hearing it as I do, a somber sound of expectations reduced, desires blunted, hopes deferred or abandoned, chances lost, defeats accepted, griefs borne
I’m putting together my To Read in 2013 list and need some help. Let me know (in person or message or comment or text) your favorite book ever and I’ll add it to my list. I’m interested to try some new authors that are important to my family and friends. Happy reading!
Oh, and in case you’re super curious, here’s the full list from 2012 (in reverse chronological order):
The Book of Mormon
What Are People For? (Berry)
So Brave, Young, and Handsome (Enger)
A Room With A View (Forster)
That Distant Land (Berry)
I Still Dream About You (Flagg)
The Very Best Men: The Daring Early Years of the CIA (Thomas)
Life of Pi (Martel)
In the Time of the Butterflies (Alvarez)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer)
The Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver)
The Night Circus (Morgenstern)
All the King’s Men (Warren)
To Have and Have Not (Hemingway)
Gardens of Water (Drew)
Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Marquez)
Crossing to Safety (Stegner)
The Cult of the Presidency (Healy)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Smith)
The Lacuna (Kingsolver)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Le Carre)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez)
Like Water for Chocolate (Esquievel)
An Object of Beauty (Martin)
Lincoln’s Virtues (Miller)
Republic, Lost (Lessig)
Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs (Stegner)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot)
The Fountainhead (Rand)
Hannah Coulter (Berry)
Rough Stone Rolling (Bushman)
All the Little Live Things (Stegner)
The Beautiful and Damned (Fitzgerald)
The Hot Zone (Preston)
The House of the Spirits (Allende)
Henderson the Rain King (Bellows)
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (Stearns)
The North American Idea (Pastor)
Martin Luther (Martin E. Marty)
A Moveable Feast (Hemingway)
Angle of Repose (Stegner)
The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better (Cowen)
The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have The Money (Cohen and DeLong)
North and South (Gaskell)
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Riordan)
The War of the End of the World (Vargas Llosa)
First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the 21st Century (Lida)
A Homemade Life (Wizenberg)
Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife (Dilberto)
The Stranger (Camus)
The Unconsoled (Ishiguro)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway)
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman (Wasson)
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader (Martin)
Just My Type (Garfield)