Tuesday, March 3, 2015

STL #117: The Year in Reading (2014)

They say the good is the enemy of the great; given that it’s now March and I haven’t done my last year-in-books retrospective, I’d say the okay is the enemy of the done! As usual I had a lot of trouble narrowing down to 10—it seems the best I can do is to get down to 10 reading “regions.” So here’s a map of my 2014 reading:

1    I started the year with my sister’s big red anthology of Romantic writers (mostly canonical poets). It took six months to work through, but I renewed my appreciation of many old acquaintances and met many new friends to admire (note: that’s a horrible sentence I just wrote). Among those that stood out were Wordsworth (who I read just after and curiously preferred to my old favorite Blake), Byron’s Don Juan, and Hazlitt’s essays (especially the first piece of sports reporting ever, “The Fancy”).
2.    Philip K Dick: The other big book I started at the beginning of the year was The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick put together by Jonathan Lethem and ….,. Hardly light reading, I spent a lot of time flipping from PKD’s journal entries to the notes on the various gnostic mystics and philosophers he evokes. The insight into his thinking change the way I read Androids (which I taught for the last time for the foreseeable future) and sent me to reread The Man in the High Castle and read a pair of his later novels:  A Scanner Darkly and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Dick himself proposes a reading list of his own works that I plan on gradually getting to.  Reading PKD also led me to slight detour through some dystopias (The Slynx, The Circle, 1984, Brave New World, V for Vendetta and Divergent), to LeGuin’s PKD homage Lathe of Heaven, and to the cyberpunk classic Altered Carbon (heavy PKD influence).
3.    China Mievielle’s The City and the City also bears a PKD influence. It stands out enough to get its own entry though. I don’t know why I don’t read more Mievielle.
4.    Wolf in White Van also gets its own spot, though I can’t really think of what else I’d relate it to. Darnielle’s writing style leaves a little to be desired, but his tone is Judas Priest’s “United” from the other side of the worm hole.
5.    Not a big year for graphic narrative, but Derf’s My Friend Dahmer stood out, as did volume 2 of Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye, Little Hits.
6.    Jack Kerouac. Hiking in the Cascades reminded me that you can’t fall off a mountain, so I reread Dharma Bums The classic beat novel retains some charm, though the casual sexism is unsettling. Yu could say the same thing about On the Road, which I also reread. I toyed with the idea of systematically reading the Kerouac canon this year, which I might yet do.
7.    Lots of horror this October as usual (thought I did coin the hashtag #spookytimesallthetime).  There’s a John Updike novel about small town upstate New York inside of Peter Straub’s smart mass market Ghost Story. There’s an alien worm race inside of everything in Laird Barron’s The Croning. I realized reading it that the unity I missed stitching together the stories of Barron’s semi-related stories is in fact there—only it’s emerging as part of a much larger, longer game. I also read widely in various Ellen Daltow anthologies—one new discovery being John Langan. There’s also one about a guy who goes to a movie that I haven’t tracked down that I’d like to read again.
8.    I typically want more from fantasy than I get. But I enjoyed the secondary world heist stories in The Lies of Locke Lamorra and its sequels and Kij Johnson’s novella “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” about a bridge builder, ferryboat captain, and cultural change.
9.    But the best fantasy novel I read last year was Watership Down. It has all of the traditional attributes of a fantasy novel: seers and warriors, a quest, a completely realized language and folklore. It’s a deeply weird book in its ordinariness.

10. I resumed my tour through the Richard Stark Parker books after learning I could request purchases from my library online. As a representative  I’d chooseThe Rare Coin Score: the great title, the memorably swishy foil, the introduction of Claire. But my favorite moment is a car driving by with it’s windows rolled down, rock music spilling out. The world is changing out there around them, but Parker is still planning the perfect heist.

Last to go: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher