Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 Readings, 2014 Goals

And it's time for my first post of 2014. I'm kicking things off in the same way I started 2013: by recapping my book readings for the year and setting some new goals. My MFA candidacy has been a necessary, delightful impediment to this blog, hence my not having posted anything for almost two months. I'm not going to apologize or make any grand promises. I'm updating when necessary. But on the bright side, some of my long overdue book reviews might be appearing on other literary magazine websites; I'll immediately update when they go live, if they do (this isn't false modesty: I've been doing a lot of inquiries, with one review scheduled and another possibly forthcoming).

In 2012, I read 56 books, which was my highest total in quite some time. Even with graduate school taking up a good chunk of my year, I managed to beat that total in 2013, finishing with 65 total titles completed. I was very happy with this, and for the most part, I highly enjoyed the books I chose. I was careful with my readings. I wouldn't go into any book expecting to dislike it, but a lot of my choices were based on recommendations from writers and readers whom I trust and admire. Therefore, I was rarely disappointed, if at all. Last year, I took a page from my friend/mentor Jeremy P. Bushnell and ranked my readings under the headers of "Masterpiece," "Great," "Very Good," "Good with Reservations," and "Disappointments." I'm modifying this list for 2013. Ranking or tallying vastly different books is futile and begs a lot more discussion than I'll give. Therefore, I'm giving two vague rankings: "Very good" and "good." That's not to say that my opinions are set in stone. I might have given glowing reviews to books that are ranked in the "merely" good category, and vice versa. It's akin to giving star ratings on Goodreads. What does it mean, really, to give two, three, four, or five stars? How does that take into account a slim poetry collection vs. a long, epic novel? I'm not concerned with distinctions right now. Here my list, and after, I'll recap what my goals were, and what my goals will be for this new year.

VERY GOOD

Winter Hours by Mary Oliver

AM/PM by Amelia Gray

Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace

May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Tenth of December by George Saunders

The Diegesis by Chase Hoppe and Joshua Young

To the Chapel of Light by Joshua Young

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrisson

I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro

Indiana, Indiana by Laird Hunt

Leaving Saturn by Major Jackson

Suicide by Edouard Leve

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

JR by William Gaddis

A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

Spectacle by Susan Steinberg

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Angry Candy by Harlan Ellison

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

The Awful Possibilities by Christian TeBordo

The Avian Gospels by Adam Novy

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

In the Devil's Territory by Kyle Minor

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

Going Clear: Hollywood, Scientology, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor

The Slide by Kyle Beachy

I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman

How To Predict the Weather by Aaron Burch

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

High Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing Edited by Audrey Petty

The People Of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson

Vanishing Point by David Markson

No Man's Land by Eula Biss

Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Hill William by Scott McClanahan

Don't Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter

Even Though I Don't Miss You by Chelsea Martin

Short Takes: Brief Encounters With Contemporary Nonfiction Edited by Judith Kitchen

The Desert Places by Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss; illustrations by Matt Kish

Friend.Follow.Text: Stories From Living Online Edited by Shawn Syms

Hush Hushby Steven Barthelme

Gentleman Junkie by Harlan Ellison


GOOD

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Under the Jaguar Sun by Italo Calvino

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt

The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart

Detroit City Is the Place To Be by Mark Binelli

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields

Merchants Of Culture by John B. Thompson

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends Of Sleep by Jonathan Crary

OKAY, FINE, THERE'S ONE UTTER DISAPPOINTMENT. HOW IN THE HELL IS THIS SO REVERED?

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Whew. Okay, here's what I wrote in early 2013 for my goals:

"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."

I read multiple books by Flannery O'Connor (and fell in love with her writing after being ambivalent in high school) and two by Harlan Ellison. That's not exactly burning up a given canon. I did reach my original goal for book totals, which was a pleasant surprise. I'm taking a literature course this spring that will have a heavy reading list, so I hope to keep pace and maintain the same reading schedule. So I'll be conservative in my number goals: in 2014, I want to read 65-70 books. I'm currently halfway through Ben Tanzer's Orphans (a science fiction novel, something I didn't touch upon last year, depending on one's definition) and I'm starting NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names, which starts me off on an ongoing goal to read more minority and women writers. So yeah, I'm pleased. My focus is more on writing, but reading is essential to that balance.

As I said before and I'll continue to say: I love hearing other people's reading summaries and goals. Send 'em my way. Please! Happy 2014 to all.

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