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    the year in reading: 2009

    A new year means it's time, once again, to crunch the numbers on the reading log.

    This year I only completed 23 books, which represents a shocking dip, about half my usual average (last year I read 51, and the year before that I read 58).

    What's responsible for the dip? I think I can blame a couple of factors.

    1. The New Yorker. I enjoyed a New Yorker subscription this year, and read nearly every issue from cover to cover, all the way down to the art listings and the reviews of restaurants that I don't ever intend to patronize. This ate up an enormous amount of reading time that might otherwise have gone to books.

    2. Marvel Comics. I called last spring the "season of comics," but last fall is when I created a pull-file at a comic book store (Cambridge's fine Million Year Picnic) for the first time in my adult life. The amount of reading represented by a weekly handful of comics is small compared to a weekly New Yorker, but they did occupy a non-trivial segment of my reading time.

    3. Dissatisfaction with contemporary literature or perhaps just a feeling of being out of touch. Ten years ago, I could have listed at least ten living fiction writers who were producing interesting, rewarding work. Today I could make a similar list, but it would contain almost the exact same ten writers. (Take off David Foster Wallace (RIP) and add Zadie Smith?) It's likely that sometime in the past decade a new class of world-class fiction writers has begun to emerge, but I'm a bit bewildered as to who, exactly, they might be, and I haven't read an exciting debut novel from anyone in a long time. (I'm all ears if anyone wants to shoot a suggestion my way.)

    Trends and highlights: most of the eleven novels I read this year were science fiction novels. One could perhaps argue that this is indicative of some escapist impulse, although novels like Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Richard Morgan's Thirteen, Ian McDonald's River of Gods, and Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis Trilogy deal with at least as many thorny contemporary questions as anything mainstream lit is producing. Max Brooks' World War Z, on the other hand, doesn't really deal with much in the way of contemporary issues, but is a shockingly detailed and well-realized feat of the imagination, and ended up surprising me by being one of my favorite books of the year.

    I also read a lot of stuff dealing with games and game design, including Raph Koster's clever and accessible Theory of Fun. More interesting, however, was Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's monumental Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, a near-comprehensive overview of what games are and how they work. Clocking in at close to 700 pages, this is a book I'd been dipping into since its publication in 2003, but this year was the year I decided to complete it. (A rather dense selection of my notes can be examined here.) This was easily the best book I read all year.

    The following authors wrote books I read for the first time in 2009, and also wrote books that I read prior to 2009: Warren Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, and... that may be it.



    Sunday, January 03, 2010
    11:31 AM


    I used to be diligent about reading The New Yorker cover to cover, but lately, it's been sporadic at best. I've got about ten issues on my nightstand and at my desk that are full of articles that I need to read.

    I'm currently reading Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City...that's the best suggestion I have for right now. It's taken awhile to shape into a compelling narrative, and I'm enjoying Lethem's metaphors/phrase turns more than anything. But 2009 was definitely a rough year, fiction-wise. But then again, I devoted most of the year to previously published works, so I'm sure there are more than a handful of titles that fell under my nose.
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