Monday, December 21, 2009

A Year in Reading

It's December again, time for another look back at my year in reading.

In my own memory, this year in reading will go down as the year of Cormac McCarthy. Having read
The Road and the Border Trilogy last year, I made a resolution to tackle Blood Meridian, widely considered McCarthy’s greatest work. I was expecting something brutal and difficult but was surprised by the humor of the novel as well as the pace at which I found myself reading, borne along swiftly by the joys of McCarthy’s language. There was plenty of brutality, to be sure, but overall the book was such a great experience that I couldn’t stop reading McCarthy. I picked up Suttree, another masterpiece, McCarthy’s vast episodic wonder of invention and verbal music. From there I went on to more minor parts of his oeuvre: Child of God, No Country for Old Men, The Orchard Keeper, The Stonemason, and The Sunset Limited. In the midst of all this, it was a treat to come across Scott Esposito’s essay about McCarthy’s novels.

I also read a fair amount of nonfiction this year, much of it having to do with the African American experience (fortuitous, perhaps, since I’ve recently been tapped to teach a course next year called African American Voices). I read David Remnick’s great book on Muhammad Ali,
King of the World; Harper Barnes’s gripping account of the 1917 East St. Louis riot, Never Been a Time; and Douglas A. Blackmon’s eye-opening book Slavery By Another Name. Jeffrey Toobin’s A Vast Conspiracy was not about African Americans (unless you take seriously the claim that Bill Clinton was our first black president), but it was a gripping account of the sex scandal that nearly brought Clinton down. Rose George’s The Big Necessity was an interesting set of journalistic pieces about sanitation—what humans around the world do with human waste.

For my big summer book, I read
Anna Karenina and loved it. I’m going to try to read War and Peace this year, as well as The Brothers Karamazov—though preparing for the African American Voices class may put a damper on some of this Russian reading. This past year, though, I also read Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, by Chekhov, who had long been a major gap in my short story reading. Speaking of short stories, I read a couple recently published collections, both of which were excellent: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout; and Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower. (The penultimate story in Tower’s book, incidentally, features a major allusion to Judge Holden in Blood Meridian.) I also read Ian Frazier’s Lamentations of the Father, a delightful collection of short humor pieces, one of which is among the funniest things I’ve ever read.

Some assorted novels: I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s
Never Let Me Go and am planning to teach it this coming semester in my Alienated Hero class. I read Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy, whom I’ve found to be a pleasant summer author in the past. It didn’t work out that way with this one, though. I finished up the year with two recent classics, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude—both epics, of sorts, both set largely in Brooklyn, both featuring comic books and superheroes, and both great reads, deserving of their reputations.

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