Thursday, December 30, 2010

STL #96: The Year in Reading (2010)

This was a disappointing year. What I most like to do is read and write, and as I look back, I see I didn't do much of either. A scant few posts to the blog after last year in reading post. In my reading log, pitiful few choices to winnow down for this year in reading. Oh, I write quite a bit. Comments on papers that are unread or ignored. A novel and a screenplay, both unfinished. I read a fair amount too. Horrible wretched prose by teenagers who likely will never improve. Distractions of modest length skimmed online. Even so, my list below is pretty decent, and shows that my mind isn't quite dead yet.

  1. Shakespeare's Histories and Tragedies. This, despite my grousing above, is a pretty impressive mark. I finally got done with the most obvious hole in my reading, Romeo and Juliet along with the rest  of Shakespeare's ten tragedies and ten history plays. I'm not done with them, as I'm reading Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World and plan to go back to my play-by-play (heh) revisitation. The reading was sometimes frustrating and confusion, and sometimes illuminating. As I went along, I watched many of the film versions too. One of the worst movies I watched last year was O, based on "Othello." One of the best of the Russian King Lear, a black metal diadem of a film. 
  2. Salinger. Works. Salinger is one of the easiest writers to read the complete works of, barring any posthumous deluge. I reread and enjoyed all his books. The "Franny" story was probably my favorite, along with a few of the nine stories. "Seymour: An Introduction" was probably my least favorite because of it's too devoted reporting of the details of Seymour's life and death. 
  3. Scott Pilgrim. So lightweight it doesn't seem to belong here. But the thick books are delightful and quick. My favorite moment is the awkward shift about halfway through the first book where O'Malley finally figures out what kind of book he's writing and prepares for the first exhibition of Scott's heretofore unmentioned kung fu with a chorus line number.  
  4. I'll balance it out with the heavier Skim  by the Tamaki sister and Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. The graphic elements of these books are far more accomplished than the previous and more essential to the works than the following.
  5. While I'm at it, I'll throw in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel by Azarello and Bremejo. While I don't like the heavily rendered style of art, the writer Azarello absolutely won me over to Luthor's side of the conflict.
  6. Blackswan Green. David Mitchell. I listened to the audio book on my iPod. I was totally enveloped by the technique even so.
  7. Rabbit, Run. While theoretically I turn my nose up at and the pedestrian realism that Updike represents, it was well-written and a legitimate stab at the Great American Novel.
  8. Dancing in the Dark. Morris Dickstein's book could have been more comprehensive (why ignore comics, bub?), but tells the cultural story of the Great Depression in readable prose. 
  9. Hunger Games. Came across this shortly after watching the Japanese film Battle Royal (best movie I saw this year) that begins with the same premise more or less.  Read the rest of the trilogy, of course, though they couldn't live up to the first one.
  10. The Comics Journal 1987-2004. I scored a big stack of these for a dime apiece at the annual library sale. Watching the magazine change over the years was very interesting. It represented a critical industry without an object. Early issues would talk about issue of X-Men or Asterix and mostly complain about the medium's untapped potential. That general stance continued over the years, but at least a more respectable body of work grew up around them. I  also read a lot of New Yorkers which proved a more satisfying option to the Sunday paper. I work down a big stack every few months, and it's time to make another move on a building stack.
  11. Even as I complain that it was a bad year, I'm going to put in two extra slots. If you prefer, imagine 4-5-6 all packed into one slot. In any case, I realized after completing the ten that I overlooked Cory Doctorow's Makers. While I have some complaints about Doctorow as a stylist, he does represent an important ethos that this book attests too. Also, I selected it for my first ever winter reading group, so I'll be reading it again in order to discuss it with my students. 
  12. My records weren't the best this year, so I could be wrong about Makers and Skim.  I know that I read E.M. Forester's Aspects of the Novel, not for the first time, because I finished it yesterday. It formed the basis for a year of novel reading for the wife and I next year. We'll start big with Tom Jones (maybe Moll Flanders if there's time), then move on to Tristam Shandy (Sentimental Journey too), Mill on the Floss (maybe Silas Marner or Daniel Deronda), Sons and Lovers (and The Rainbow and Women in Love), and Ulysses (plus Portrait). We'll then read James Wood's How Fiction Works and make another list for then second half of the year, starting with Henry James. 
 Other books in my stack include a book on Highway 61 Revisited, Jonathan Lethem's latest novel, Elephantmen, and two volumes of Nick Hornby's Believer columns, which, in the way they chronicle one man's reading life, will be good inspiration for this blog in 2011.