Monday, January 7, 2013

STL #103: The Year in Reading, 2012

The only post I completed (though forgot to publish) in 2012 ended with the following paragraph*:

So what's next? Right now I'm about a third of the way through the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, want to start Michael Lewis's Blind Side (for my football season that starts with the play offs), a hard boiled novel with the wonderful title When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, a handful of graphic novels ( a curious number written for teen girls it seems), the rest of GRRM's short fiction, Sorrentino's Blue Pastoral, Tufte's Envisioning Information, the odd ball art book  Mingering Mike, Greenblatt's Shakepeare biography I broke off reading a year ago-- this list goes on.

A number of those titles you'll see on the following list, a number turned out to be unremarkable, and a few I never got around to reading. This paragraph, combined with the long break from writing, suggested to me a new approach for this year. This week you get the top 10 list (again, I've clearly abused the idea of "10"), a few words on the first entry, and perhaps some further topical ramblings; and for the next 9 weeks (I swear it!) you will get a post on each of the other list items. That will get the list done and should (will! I swear it!) break me out of the writing doldrums. I will try to replicate the rough order of reading in the following list, which is not a ranking.

  1. Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems
  2. Michael Lewis, The Blind Side and Money Ball
  3. Lawrence Block, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes 
  4. The Short Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, with a note on other early horror (weird) fiction including The King in Yellow and The Great God Pan 
  5. Burnt Offerings, with a note on The Green Man 
  6. Heart-Shaped Box, with a note on It 
  7. Supergods, with a note on 1234 
  8. Pulphead 
  9.  The Art of Fielding, with a note on The Original of Laura 
  10. The Boys, representing a whole mess of other comics, such as the Thomas/Adams X-Men and The Seduction of the Innocents.

Emily Dickinson once said something along the lines of "if I feel like the top of my head is one fire, then I know I am in the presence of poetry." One of my dirty secrets is that I don't feel like that when I'm reading Dickinson. This makes me feel inadequate, since so many poets and readers love her and it seems I should too. I like her poem, "My Life has stood--A loaded gun," but I don't see nearly as much in it as Susan Howe, the great poet and scholar who wrote an entire book on that book, entitled My Emily Dickinson. (Howe's book, at times, does make my head feel as if on fire.)  I read Dickinson therefore out of sense of obligation, because I felt I should have grappled with her work more thoroughly than in the anthology piece everyone knows. The thick volume of her life's work sits on my shelf, and I look at it with little emotion, really little memory of the poems I dutifully worked through less than a year ago. So why does this book rank atop my year's reading list? The answer is, that's part of my reading experience. Sometimes my head is on fire, sometimes I'm just working through. My Emily Dickinson, at the moment then, is my commitment to reading.

I begin every year reading some "big book" that I feel I should have read but haven't. There have been some exceptions to this basic rule--in the case of poets and dramatists, I have read some of their work but commit to reading all or a significant portion of it, and I have at times reread books either after a long break, or as part of a larger undertaking, or for some other compelling reason.Since I haven't updated the list in quite a while, here it is, including my current reading for 2013:

1995 Ulysses
1996 Swann's Way
1997 Poetry of William Carlos Williams
1998 In Search of Lost Time
1999 Don Quixote
2000 The Divine Comedy
2001 The Cantos
2002 Middlemarch
2003 Bleak House
2004 Paradise Lost
2005 The Recognitions
2006 The Odyssey
2007 "A"
2008 Anna Karenina
2009 Shakespeare's Comedies and Romances
2010 Shakespeare's Histories and Tragedies
2011 Tom Jones
2012 Emily Dickinson, Complete Poetry
2013 Complete Fiction and Selected Non-Fiction, Jorge Luis Borges

You'll noticed I've added this year's entry, Borges. Borges is my anti-Dickinson: I do feel that my head is on fire when I'm reading him. But I'll save that for later. The reading list breaks down like this: nine novels, five long poems, two lyric poets, one sui generis short fiction/essays, and one significant body of drama. Eight works are from the twentieth century, four are from the nineteenth, four from the sixteenth/seventeenth, one from the middle ages, and one from ancient times. 2014 will mark the 20th year of this project. I have only stuck with one other thing for 20 years.

*I do realize that there are (or will be) readers for whom this paragraph is the last they have read. You may skip it, as it is exactly the same.