Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Readings, 2013 Goals

My first post of 2012 was a documentation of the books I read in 2011, along with my goals for 2012. I'm doing the same thing to start this new year, and I'm curious to see if I met the goals I set for myself. Back then, I wrote:

"I read 21 books this year, which is down from my total of 31 in 2010. If I can bump my total up to 25 or so this year, I'll be pleased."

I read 56 books last year, more than double my perplexing, modest prediction. How/why did I do this? Well, there are quite a few reasons. The goal is always the quality of the readings, not just amassing a number. But, as I get more serious about where I take myself in a literary sense, I simply need to read more than I usually do. As one of the Fiction Editors of Longform.org, it's my job and expectation to be well-read, to make sure I'm familiar with trends, contemporary voices, and older classics. I'm also in the process of completing applications for potential MFA candidacies. If I'm serious about my own art and writing, I need to devote time to reading as much as I can. Also, I'll never forget a seemingly off-hand remark by my high school English teacher, the man who inspired me to major in English and unwittingly set me on the path I'm currently traveling. In a discussion on reading, he said, without any posturing or snobbery: "Smart people read." And obviously, writing is a community. How can I better myself if I'm not keeping up on the works and creations of others?

As I recap the books I read last year, I'm going to classify the works under the same headings: "Masterpiece," "Great," "Very Good, and "Good With Reservations." I'm also adding the category "Disappointment," since I read a handful of books I didn't like. But as I said last year, feelings change. Sometimes I'm too eager about titles, and after time, that eagerness fades. And since writings are so diverse, from fiction to non-fiction to styles, I know it's sometimes silly or pointless to lump books into rigid categories. I'm very active on Goodreads, and I give books star ratings, but I never take them seriously. Star ratings are gut reactions and should never, ever replace discussions, full reviews, or genuine insights. So while I'm categorizing my 2012 readings, I hope you'll take them with a grain of salt.

MASTERPIECE:

NW by Zadie Smith

You Were Never In Chicago by Neil Steinberg

Mao II by Don DeLillo

Chicago: City On the Make by Nelson Algren

Arguably by Christopher Hitchens

GREAT:

The Age Of Wire and String by Ben Marcus

Daddy's by Lindsay Hunter

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Cataclysm Baby and How They Were Found by Matt Bell

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Space Chronicles by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In Praise Of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Flower Cart by Lisa Fishman

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max

Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

Winter Journal by Paul Auster

VERY GOOD:

Pity the Billionaire by Thomas Frank

The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolano

Autoportrait by Edouard Leve

Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham Dixon

Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen

Conversations With Nelson Algren by H.E.F. Donohue

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Fire the Bastards! by Jack Green

Horoscopes For the Dead by Billy Collins

From the Back Of the Bus by Dick Gregory

My Father's House by Ben Tanzer

Dream Team by Jack McCallum

Tree Of Smoke by Denis Johnson

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

Free Will by Sam Harris

It Chooses You by Miranda July

No Doors, No Windows and Bugfuck by Harlan Ellison

Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram

The Lazarus Project by Alexsandar Hemon

The End Of the Story: Collected Fantasies, Volume One by Clark Ashton Smith

Sky Saw by Blake Butler

42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

GOOD WITH RESERVATIONS:

Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Two Novels by Robbe-Grillet: Jealousy and In the Labyrinth by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Open City by Teju Cole

Shoplifting From American Apparel by Tao Lin

The Selected Works Of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

Ascent Of the A-Word by Geoffrey Nunberg

DISAPPOINTMENT:

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

The Whore Of Akron by Scott Raab

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Straight Man by Richard Russo



I wrote this last year: "I also want to squeeze in more nonfiction, especially world history, contemporary politics, and writings by black and female artists." I feel like I did that fairly well. I may not have read as much history or political writings as I wanted, but I devoted a good portion of my reading time to black and female artists, and I'll continue to do so in 2013. What are my remaining goals? I'm going to shoot for 60-65 books. Again, it's a conservative increase, but maybe, just maybe, I'll look back and see myself near 70. As far as topics, I'm still deciding. I want to read more science fiction, classics, and graphic novels. And while I like to mix up what I read, I might spend a month or two devoted to a specific writer, to see how his/her books change through the years. But whatever I end up doing, the focus will be on quality.

And as I said last year: if you're a writer/reader, I'd love to know your goals and intentions for 2013. Best of luck going forward in whatever you do.

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