Monday, January 7, 2013

STL#102: The Year in Reading, 2011

Note: This is the one post I actually composed in 2012, and it sat in draft form for the entire year. I was waiting to supplement it with some notes in a notebook I couldn't find, and then forgot about it, and apparently forgot about my blog altogether. I found it today as I logged in to start my Year in Reading, 2012. 

I'll skip the usual grousing about not posting regularly and jump into it.

1.) A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I mentioned my enthusiasm for the first book, how I pumped my fist in the air as I was reading its multifold finale. There was a moment in the third book where that entire world was crashing down and I couldn't do anything about it but sit silently on an airplane, not letting my wife (a book behind me at the time) in on it. That was hard. The fourth book and latest book were somewhat less satisfying-- they are threads of a single massive volume split apart for the contingencies of material publishing. But at the end of the fifth volume I was emotionally drained, and just shoved the big brick aside and pulled the covers up over my head. To fill the gap as I wait for the next book I picked up Martin's big two volume short story retrospective. The stories are enjoyable, but the introductory essays make a lucid autobiography of a working genre writer.

2.) Tom Jones. The big book for the first of the year. How I love these early novels stuffed with plot like chesnuts in a goose. I sketched out an ambitious novel-reading program at the start of the year, going from Fielding to James but it fell by the wayside. I did get as far as Tristram Shandy, which I did not enjoy as much as I should (a failing on my part, I feel.)

3.)Nox. Anne Carson's book--or cabinet--of wonders. New Directions continues to be one of the few publisher's imprints which signifies quality, the last giant of modernism.

4.) A Visit From the Goon Squad. The punk rock milieu is not completely convincing--by Egan's admission it is a more or less researched (not directly experienced) context. I enjoyed puzzling out the chronology that I wrote in a notebook that I think is at the office. Makes an interesting pair with Tom Rachman's more predictable The Imperfectionists, another recent story collection marketed as a novel. (Genre writers often shoe horn related stories into what's called a 'fix up' novel, but these literary types wouldn't do that (would they).) While for years it's been the conventional wisdom that novels sell while collections don't, I wonder if there might be a switch. The episodic progress of a suite of linked stories seems a better match for the on and off attention of today's culture.

5.) The Nick Hornby reviews from The Believer.  I can't explain why I enjoy these snapshots of Hornby's reading life so much. He's a clear and reasonably clever writer, but not compelling stylist or a particularly insightful critic. Yet the frank, sometimes plodding nature of his ongoing reading, subject to real contingencies, whim, prejudice, strikes me as real reading, more than the acting of either conventional literary journalism (reviews) or criticism.

6.) The New Yorker. Over the course of time, I built up a backlog of these magazines. From time to time, I would take a stab at killing the backlog, and over Xmas break I finally did. Although I had a selection of unread magazine going back to the 2010 summer fiction issue, as of right now I have no unread New Yorkers  in the house. This magazine is my idea of fine style. Some highlights include a number of stories by Alice Munro, the art critic Peter Schjeldahl on a notorious forger, a review essay on Simenon, and the list goes on. 

7.)Fun Home. The rest of the list in comics, which means it was a pretty good year for comics even as I felt I've been drifted away. The allusiveness of this book by Alison Bechdel is perhaps a bit overdone, but an admirable work nevertheless.

8.) All Star Superman. I finally finished a series I was reading as it was coming out. The first page is a textbook example of visual myth-making that I would recommend to anyone unfamiliar with the character, if such an individual should actually exist.

9.) The Spirit The first several months of the Sunday color supplement series, reprinted in some mid 90's pamphlets published by Kitchen Sink Press. These stories exude the energy of a young man experimenting with and discovering his art.

10.)X-Men #149-201. Not quite that entire run, but the library sale did let me fill out much of that chunk. I read and reread the run, and was quite struck by how indelibly the characters are drawn in my mind, give the relatively little time they are given individually. (Kind of a lot for comics, but comics is not a particularly dense medium.)

So what's next? Right now I'm about a third of the way through the Complete Poems of Emily Dickison, 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.