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    the year in reading: 2011

    New Year's Day! Time for list-making fun!

    One of the things I like to do each year is make a list reflecting back on my reading log, which I maintain through LibraryThing. (Previous years: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.)

    So! This year I read 40 books, my best run since 2008. The big shift of the year was that I read novels in full force, clocking in with what looks like 23 novels. (I haven't read 23 novels in a single year since I started keeping this book log!) I think part of my revivified interest in fiction came from working on a novel myself—when you're deeply concentrated on the million little problem-sets of a novel, everybody else's novels begin to look like different approaches to the same challenges, and thus are not only entertaining, but also pedagogically instructive. One other thing that helped: working on Instafiction.org, a "fiction curation" project which forced me to pay attention to good fiction from both the past and the present.

    Anyway, here are the novels, and here's what I thought.


    Beloved, by Toni Morrison

    This book really belongs in a class by itself. It is a novel that is so good that I can't really even begin to conceptualize how one might begin to write a novel better than it. Wish I hadn't waited this long to read it for the first time; it was clearly the best thing I read all year.


    Light In August by William Faulkner

    Zero History by William Gibson

    Remainder by Tom McCarthy

    Zone One by Colson Whitehead

    Very Good

    We Don't Live Here Anymore: Novellas by Andre Dubus

    Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris

    Spook Country by William Gibson

    How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

    Good With Reservations

    The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

    Parable of The Sower by Octavia Butler

    Open City by Teju Cole

    Point Omega by Don DeLillo

    The Magicians by Lev Grossman

    The Friends Of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

    Pym by Mat Johnson

    The Trial by Franz Kafka

    Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin

    The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

    Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

    Freedomland by Richard Price

    The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

    What else did I read in 2011? Nine works of nonfiction, including memoirs and polemics. Two of those were books about gaming—Jane McGonigal's Reality Is Broken and Tom Bissell's Extra Lives (which I also taught to my WR 150 students). Both are worth reading, although McGonigal's contained more food for thought. Two were chef memoirs—Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter—neither one is a masterpiece for the ages, but both were fun to read. Gertrude Stein's Narration: Four Lectures and Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind both warrant mention here as well.

    Two books of poems: Juliana Spahr's Well Then There Now and Sawako Nakayasu's Texture Notes, both recommended.

    I also read five graphic novels or books of comics, of which Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant was the clear standout.

    And finally, unclassifiable elsewhere is Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists, which made me chuckle here and there but is noteworthy mainly as an example of how a bad book design can kill good content.

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    Sunday, January 01, 2012
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