Sunday, December 28, 2008

Books I read in 2008

See my post from 12/07 first to understand the weird OCD thing I do about writing down the books I read. Short version, I "count" a book if I read it cover-to-cover. Books that I give up on part-way through, which are numerous, don't get written down.

Anthologies, as a consequence rarely get counted because it's too easy to take shortcuts. Same for reference works of course. Nevertheless, you'll see a couple of each on my list this year. A few times a year I get 500 pages into an 800 page book before giving up, and I don't count that, and dozens of times a year I give up on a regular 250-page novel after about 150 pages.

To compensate (i.e. bulk up my list) I do count most short books like books of poems. Recently I read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home--a graphic novel--in about the fifth of the time it would take to read a novel of that number of pages, and I'm counting that. I allow myself this strategy by promising not to abuse it--I don't read a lot of shorter books for the sake of the list and try to read what I'm genuinely interested in.

I count the book when I finish it. There's one book on this list that was been on my nightstand with a bookmark in it for more than two-and-half years.

I've had the goal of reading of finishing two books per week over the course of the year for the last few years, but I've never come close. I got to about 67 books this year, about the same as last year. I'd have to force myself to finish a lot more of the books that I start and get bored with and I would have to not have the periods where I get burned out and don't read anything for a few weeks. And I'd have to give up all magazines, including The New Yorker, where I get all my current affairs reading and most of the short fiction that I read.

I'm already putting myself in the hole for next year's list. I started War and Peace the other day, which is the equivalent of about 5 regular novels, and I don't expect to finish for a couple weeks.

The list below is everything I finished. The asterik indicates books that I read specifically to help me work out or think about my own writing problems.

Plainsong--Kent Haruf*
Atlas of the Difficult World--Adrienne Rich
The Good Times Are Killing Me--Linda Barry*
Lolita--Vladamir Nabakov
Cheating At Canasta--William Trevor
When We Get There--Shawna Seliy*
The History of Love--Nicole Krauss*
Fugitive Pieces--Anne Michaels
After This--Alice McDermott*
This Boy's Life--Tobias Wolff*
The Human Factor--Graham Greene
TheDeep Green Sea--Robert Olen Butler
Breathing The Water--Denise Levertov
Adrienne Rich's Poetry: Norton Critical Edition
The Unofficial Guide to New Orleans
Sense and Sensibility--Jane Austen
A Kiss In Space--mary Jo Salter
The Blackwater Lightship--Colm Toibin
Morpho Eugenia--A.S. Byatt
The New Granta Book of the American Short Story--ed. by Richard Ford*
The Wellspring: Poems--Sharon Olds
Old School--Tobias Wolff*
The Writing of Fiction--Edith Wharton*
Galatea 2.2--Richard Powers
Great Beginnings and Endings: Opening and Closing Lines of Great Novels*
The Inheritance of Loss--Kiran Desai*
Howard's End--E.M. Forster*
The Lover--Marguerite Duras
Persuasion--Jane Austen
A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain--Robert Olen Butler
To Kill A Mockingbird--Harper Lee*
Jane Eyre--Charlotte Bronte
The Quiet American--Graham Greene
In Retrospect--Robert McNamara
The Oxford Book of American Short Stories--ed. by Joyce Carol Oates*
The Sea Wall--Marguerite Duras
Vietnam: An Illustrated History--Shelton Woods
How Fiction Works--James Wood*
The Emporor's Children--Claire Messud
How Fiction Works--James Wood* (I read it twice. I'm counting it twice.)
Dreams For My Father--Barack Obama
The Hunter: A Simple Tale--Claire Messud
A Gesture Life--Chang-rae Lee*
The Last Life--Claire Messud
The Unswept Room--Sharon Olds
What Moves At the Margin: Selected Nonfiction--Toni Morrison*
Off the Page: Write Talk About . . . : ed. by Carol Burns*
Mark Twain: A Life--Ron Powers
Building Fiction: How To Develop Plot and Structure--Jesse Lee Kercheval*
The Book of Imaginary Beings--Jorge Luis Borges
Brutal Imagination--Cornelius Eady
White Teeth--Zadie Smith*
Middlesex--Jeffrey Eugenides*
A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court--Mark Twain*
Charles Dickens--Jane Smiley
Everything Is Illuminated--Jonathan Safran Foer*
A Mercy--Toni Morrison
Fun Home--Alison Bechdel
How Novels Work--John Mullan*
The Charterhouse of Parma--Stendahl
Unpacking the Boxes: A Life In Poetry--Donald Hall
Then We Came To the End--Joshua Ferris

Hmm. No Shakespeare this year and no novels prior to Jane Austen. (There were a few that I started and didn't finish.) Lots more poetry this year.


rebecca said...

I cannot believe you read this many books in one year! That's insane! And, I envy your enthusiasm and dedication. I'm a bookworm (but, obviously not as fully developed as you) and every time I go to my weekend digs (B&N or Borders), I sigh in frustration over the amount of books I'd love to buy but refuse because I still have a multitude of those that "I had to have" in previous excursions and have not yet gotten around to reading them. I truly envy your dedication. I could learn something from this.

RW said...

The trick for me is reading myself to sleep, and I don't sleep so well, so it's a couple hours of regular reading each night.

I know the feeling about collecting books I don't have time for. About 2 years ago I decided I was going to save money by not buying anything until I made a dent in my to-be-read pile. That lasted about 6 months.

rebecca said...

Ah, there it is then. You're like my husband who reads well into the night. We both read at night but I have never been able to get through one single chapter a night - the eyes become very heavy with sleep.