Reading (when I should be writing)

Some of this is cross-posted at my other (secret) (that I already told you about) blog.

Every year I have a reading goal (could I be a bigger nerd?) and keep track of what I read (yes). I’ve found that keeping track is the only way to judge how much reading I do. While I was in my graduate program, I would have guessed that I’d read a lot less than I did, but the list told me the truth, that I had to quit whining because I was reading plenty.

My goal for 2009 wasn’t quantity, it was quality. My official reading list was 57 books I was ashamed I’d never read, things like Animal Farm and East of Eden. 57 books! I read 80 last year, right? No problem! Except that these weren’t quick reads. One of them is Moby Dick.

So my goal is to read as many of them as I can. But I’ve been reading other things as well, so it’s going really slowly.

To date I’ve read these books off the list (numbered by their place in the year’s list):

1. Sense and Sensibility– Jane Austen
2. Mansfield Park– Jane Austen
3. Emma– Jane Austen
4. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning– Alan Sillitoe
15. One Hundred Years of Solitude– Gabriel Garcia Marquez
30. The Great Gatsby– F. Scott Fitzgerald (actually a re-read)
31. Treasure Island– Robert Louis Stevenson

So six books out of 57 and it’s almost July. Not good.

Out of these, I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility and The Great Gatsby the most. Gatsby is just a fantastic book, something I wasn’t mature enough to understand the first time I read it, many years ago. So glad I re-read it. One Hundred Years was a triumph (for me to have read it), but I almost think I should read it again. But not for a long, long while because I am not that stupid.

The rest of the books I’ve read this far in 2009:
5. The Adventures of Diet Girl– Shauna Reid
Blog book. Her voice is very sweet and cute, so it was enjoyable. I do not mind an enjoyable book. In fact, I hope to write some.

6. We Agreed to Meet Just Here– Scott Blackwood
My friend/program director. Great great writing, beautiful language. Award-winning and it’s not hard to figure out why.

7. The Good Thief– Hannah Tinti
Rollicking historical fiction. Could be classified young adult. Having just read Treasure Island, I feel like the two are of a sort, although I don’t think there are any pirates in this one.

8. Flight– Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie could write anything and I’d want to read it. This one is a little sci fi, a little young adult, a little Columbine, a little of everything. Liked it a lot.

9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indiana– Sherman Alexie
Even better than the one above. Also young adult, but not sci fi.

10. The Tenderness of Wolves– Stef Penney
Historical fiction mystery, which is apparently one of my favorite things. You find these things out about yourself when you keep track of what you read. My only complaint is that there’s a “twist” that you’re not supposed to see coming that I saw coming from, literally, the first chapter. So watching the author try to dangle the twist out in front of me was  annoying. Still, very well done.

11. The Last Lecture– Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow
Oh, I know. I’m going Oprah on you here. The book is OK. Not great, but OK. I still prefer the actual lecture to the story of how the lecture came to be. But if my buying the little book gave Pausch’s kids a few more dollars for college, that’s cool. You can watch the entire lecture for free here. Look for the full download (for free) on iTunesU.

12. Maps and Legends– Michael Chabon
I love Michael Chabon. Although I’d really rather hear less about his sex life, past and present, than I already have. This “manifesto” is about the worth of genre writing. I don’t argue that point at all. My problem with this collection is that it seems really disjointed. Most of the pieces were written for other uses and then smashed together here. It feels like that when you read it, although certain individual pieces are really great.

13. The Half-Known World– Robert Boswell
Oh, look. Another writing book that puts a bunch of essays from other uses into a cover together. This book does it better, in my opinion. A couple of these essays were really life-changing, from a writing point of view. Highly recommended for fiction writers.

14. Music Through the Floor– Eric Puchner
Great stories. One of the stories is a short-short (“Neon Tetra”), and one of the best short-shorts I’ve ever read.

15. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Or, as I came to call it: One Hundred Guys named Jose. I think it’s the kind of book that makes more sense the second time through. I’m worried that I’ll have to prove that.

16. Tunneling Through the Earth– Kevin Wilson
There’s an online book club through Facebook called Andrew’s Book Club. This was recommended there, but I can’t recommend it. I don’t know. I just get tired of quirk. Doesn’t anyone else get tired of quirk? I like the blending of scifi and literary, I do. I lovelovelove people like Karen Russell, Kelly Link, and Kevin Brockmeier.

17. Listening Is an Act of Love– ed. Dave Isay
Lots of sad stories. Good for crying. Gave this to my best friend, because she likes to read and cry. Is anyone old enough to remember the band Driving and Crying? Her band would be called Reading and Crying.

18. The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard– Erin McGraw
Recommended by David McGlynn (his book is coming up soon) and well worth a read. Loved the characters, rode the roller coaster of ups and downs with the protagonist. This is the way it’s supposed to be done. Historical literary fiction, totally fun.

19. The Big Sleep– Raymond Chandler
One of my prize books from TimeOut Chicago, and also for class. Liked it a lot, so I’m glad to have a lot more Chandler ahead of me.

20. The End of the Straight and Narrow– David McGlynn
Really great collection of short stories, half of them linked, half not. I liked the non-linked ones better, even though many of them were about religion and that is not my thing. My favorite was probably “Seventeen One-Hundredths of a Second.”

21. 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists– ed. Andrew McAleer
I would argue the definition of “highly successful” here, but this was a good bit of train reading that kept my head in the game while I had too little brain for anything with more depth. The book is mostly quotes from authors of, as it turns out, genre fiction.

22. Life Sentences– Laura Lippman
Total brain candy. Really like her work.

23. Last Night at the Lobster– Stewart O’Nan
Recommended by my friend Beth, and she was right. I had no idea it was going to be a RED Lobster the protagonist was closing down. Great little novelette. Need to read more of him.

24. One Dog Happy- Molly McNett
Local (Illinois) writer I met on Facebook. This collection won the Iowa Award, no small potatoes, and I know why. Great stories, and fun, too. A good gift book, actually. Note to self: Christmas presents.

25. Ron Carlson Writes a Story– Ron Carlson
Re-read. Was just in the mood to hear someone tell me to stay in the room.

26. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie– Alan Bradley
I don’t really know if I like my young protagonists to be so precocious. Part of the fun of having a child protagonist is playing with what they can’t understand. Bradley does some of that here (Flavia, the child sleuth, makes some guesses that do not make sense except in a child’s world), but not as much as he shows us how freaking smart the kid is.

27. Deja Dead– Kathy Reichs
My friend Adam said my chapters reminded him of Kathy Reichs. I hope he wasn’t talking about this book. Not a very satisfying mystery. It’s more of a procedural. (I need to get my lingo down.)

28. The Great Perhaps– Joe Meno
Hmm, this one is tricky. I love Joe Meno’s short stories and The Boy Detective Fails, but I didn’t love this book. I wanted to. I finished it. I like a lot of what he does with it. The first round of chapters (all told in a different voice) are great, each one of them a short story by itself, but I didn’t like it as well as other things of his I’ve read.

29. I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down– William Gay
I loved this book of short stories. Dark things happening in out of the way places. Protagonists that do things you kinda wish they wouldn’t. Loved it. Recommended by Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff, and if you read both books, you’ll know why.

30. The Great Gatsby
31. Treasure Island

[End of repost.]32. The Little Stranger– Sarah Waters
Ooh. Gothic ghost novel set in England between the wars. You think you know what you’re going to get, right? But you don’t know, and even at the end, you’re doubting yourself just a little bit. I want someone else to read this so I can book club with them.

33. The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart– M. Glenn Taylor
Also recommended by Donald Ray Pollock. I liked this much less than the Gay stories above, but still liked it. I thought it could have been cut back a bit—it tries to cover so much ground, when the best parts are in the details. Sufficiently creepy and backwoods for people who are tired of the bright, samey-sameness sheen of everything being published these days. Also, this guy is a local writer. He works only a few miles from my house.

34. Dark Places– Gillian Flynn
Oh, my new book crush. Gillian Flynn lives in Chicago and writes these fast-paced thriller/suspense/mystery/literary books that make me hopeful (because it’s possible to write this stuff) and crazy (because how the hell does she do it?). If I met her, I might stammer.

35. Love Stories in this Town– Amanda Eyre Ward
I have to stop taking recommendations from places I can’t remember where I got the recommendations from. Didn’t like this one, myself.

36. Sharp Objects– Gillian Flynn
Had to read her other book, didn’t I? Loved Dark Places more, but this one was also very good, and I didn’t figure out the mystery (entirely) until the solution was on the page. I love that.

37. Dogs of Babel– Carolyn Parkhurst
Passed along from my best friend, but still, I doubted. I threw it in the car at the last minute before leaving for vacation, and was glad I did. Kinda couldn’t tell for a while if there was some scifi stuff going on or not, but that was all resolved in a way I liked.

38. Indian Killer– Sherman Alexie
Oh, Sherman. I thought we had a serious thing going on. If there could have been one white person, just one, who wasn’t an idiot or a bastard, I would have liked this a lot more. Also, solve your mysteries. I love all your other books, though, so we can work through this. We can.

39. Haunting Bombay– Shilpa Arawal
Had high hopes for this one, and did enjoy it. Not sure how to articulate why I didn’t, in the end, love it.

40. The Writing Class– Jincy Willett
Purchased on vacation, and it was totally the best choice. It’s a mystery set among a set of wannabe writers taught by a has-been writer. Beach reading for writers and, since it’s Jincy Willett, funny. It also finds a way to give writing advice in a way that isn’t overly textbooky. Good vacation purchase.

Whew. All caught up with 2009’s reading list. I’ll try to do this in smaller chunks from now on.

By Published On: June 28, 2009Categories: Reading