I’m not going to hit my annual goal of 100 books in 2012 and while that disappoints me, I am not disappointed in the books I chose to spend my time with this year. I read more nonfiction than ever and I tend to read that more slowly. Keep in mind that I also read much more than what I track in these reading reports – scripts as part of my film jobs, short stories and essays for Narrative, stuff that I am legally and professionally required not to discuss. Additionally, I often read essays and articles, work by Peauxdunque members and other writers. A lot of that undisclosed reading picked up this year, which meant a decline in just-for-pleasure and even for-review reading.
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield – This is the book that Mamma Mia! and I listened to on the return leg of The Grandma Road Trip, but didn’t get to finish. I checked out the audio from my library and Mamma Mia! and I set aside some time and both listened to the rest. I was obsessed with this story while we were listening to it, but something about having to wait a while to conclude the story and not being in the same situation (listening to it in the car, mostly at night, with Mamma Mia!) dulled the conclusion for me. Maybe the suspense couldn’t be sustained, either over the break between listens or over the 400+ pages worth of story. Maybe it would’ve felt different if I’d read the book itself over time, or if we’d listened to the whole thing in one go.
Three to Get Deadly and Four to Score, Janet Evanovich – These are silly and fun. I can read two books quickly, be absorbed in the world, and feel a sense of accomplishment. I like that Stephanie Plum has such a distinctive, specific voice.
The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones – I read about this one in Entertainment Weekly and was intrigued. The hostess whose house I stayed at during Isaac was reading it, too, but she wasn’t that impressed. I knew what she meant when I read it. The mystery was compelling, but it was hard to invest in any of the characters.
How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran – This book literally had me busting a gut quite frequently. It’s been a long time since a book has made my stomach hurt from laughing. It was thought-provoking, too. There were many genuine points about womanhood mixed in with the humorous delivery. Sometimes I disagreed and quite frequently, Moran’s feminism contradicted itself, but it was always smart and I was always invested. She has another book called Moranthology, I discovered when I went looking for the link. I’ll probably read that one, too.
Wild, Cheryl Strayed – I was not intrigued by the subject matter. It honestly sounded like it’d be the most boring and excruciatingly sad book, simultaneously. However, Entertainment Weekly wouldn’t stop talking about this book, nor would any of the other print or online media sources that I read. And then I read Tiny, Beautiful Things and I knew I had to read it. Even so, I was surprised by how quickly I got sucked in and how completely this book took over my life. I couldn’t think about anything else until I finished. If I can write with a fraction as much honesty and clarity, I will be incredibly pleased with myself.
Hive Five and Hot Six, Janet Evanovich – Have you noticed a trend? I tend to read something immense and/or devastating and then I read two of these books, and then I dive back into something consuming. I like books that know what they are and don’t pretend to be anything different. These are palate-cleansers for me. Light and easy between heavy courses.
Torch, Cheryl Strayed – I doubled down on the heavy courses here. It was fascinating to see how Strayed dealt with the same material in fiction and two different forms of nonfiction. Maybe more than anything else this year, reading these three books was instructive. The novel told a story that was very close to the stories relayed in the nonfiction books, if you’re looking at a bullet-point list of facts. Yet it was so different, the why behind the story and the how of its construction. Somehow, it touched me even more deeply than the nonfiction, though I think I admire the nonfiction more.
Reached, Ally Condie – I ate this book, the conclusion of the trilogy begun with Matched, consumed it as fast as I could. I had to know what happened and I barely blinked. If you just read the premise of Matched, you might think it was all hook and no substance, but it wasn’t very far into Matched that I realized I was reading something unique and fierce. The way the characters in this series respond to poetry and art, the way they use it to become themselves, pass messages between each other, and change the world, is a strong argument for literacy and art, why they are entirely vital.
Seven Up and Hard Eight, Janet Evanovich – I took four of these home with me for Christmas, figuring I deserved a nice long dessert after the hardy courses I’ve read this Quarter. There’s some heavy, dense stuff on this list and I wanted to be able to focus on my family and enjoy a nice story. That’s what I got.
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster – I somehow never read this growing up. I don’t know how I missed it. I think it would’ve meant the world to me if I’d read it when I was a kid and I have friends who still respond to it that way. I enjoyed it a lot, marveled at the word craft and the imagination of it. I’d like to read it several more times and I regret I didn’t read it earlier. I checked it out from the library months ago but, and I’m not sure why, it took me forever to pick it up and get into it. Probably because its reputation had preceded it. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to what I’d heard.
To the Nines and Ten Big Ones, Janet Evanovich – These two were particularly good, fast reads. They seem to be getting a bit darker, too.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami – I checked this book out of the library at the beginning of the year and I’ve been renewing it ever since, dipping in on occasion. This is a slim book, an extended meditation, but I’ve been reading it all year long, finding it dense, at times boring, at other times humorous, always enlightening. I read more than half of it yesterday and today, finally ready for it I think. “Still, when I finished,” Murakami says in the afterword, “I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted.” I feel that way too, now that I’ve finished reading it in the last hours of the old year. I’m not a runner and this book illustrated that more than ever. I don’t have the mentality for it, but it was fascinating to get inside a runner’s head for a while, especially one who is also a writer.]
I’ll be picking my favorite books of the year when I post my 2012 Best List later today. On the one hand, I read fewer books this year than I typically do, so that narrows the field and theoretically makes it easier. But on the other hand, because I read fewer books and more nonfiction, I usually lived with the books longer, letting them rattle around inside me. It’s going to be tough.