Friday, December 30, 2011

My Year in Books 2011

Greetings Narrative Reviewers to our first annual "My Year in Books" segment. Here you'll find a complete listing of my yearly non-academic or semi-academic reading and back links to the appropriate entries. I set out this year wanting to read the following twelve books:

1. One Russian Novel
2. Don DeLillo, Libra
3. E. L. Doctorow, Waterworks
4. William Gibson, Pattern Recognition
5. Frank Norris, The Octopus
6. Philip Roth, The Human Stain
7. Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan 
8. Zadie Smith, The Book of Other People 
9. Mark Twain, Autobiography vol. 1
10. John Updike, The Rabbit Series
11. Gore Vidal, Myron
12. Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

Out of these twelve, I finished 8. My apologies to Don DeLillo, Frank Norris, Mark Twain, John Updike, and Russian novelists everywhere. Although I did not complete all the books I set out to read for last year, I did manage to read quite a bit. Here's what I read (for fun) in 2011:

Aimee Bender, The Girl with the Flammable Skirt

William Wells Brown, Clotel or, The President's Daughter

Heinrich Boll, The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum
  •  The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum answers the question, "What if Law & Order were actually well thought out police procedurals?"
J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
  • Sparse in language but dense in emotional resonance, Waiting for the Barbarians presents the West with a millennial judgement upon its soul. 
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image

Robert Coover, The Public Burning 
    Joan Didion, Democracy
    Joan Didion, El Salvador
    • In both fiction and fact, Joan Didion shows us that democracy occurs not at the center but on the edges.
    E. L. Doctorow, Water Works
    • A postmodern thriller of old New York. It doesn't aspire to the greatness of Doctorow's The Book of Daniel or Ragtime, but it's a fun page. 
    Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

    Dave Eggers, The Wild Things

    William Faulkner, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem 
    William Faulkner, Sanctuary 
    • Honestly, why do I keep on trying to read Faulkner. 
    William Gibson, Pattern Recognition
    • The clipped nature of noir dialogue might just have been preparing us all for Twitter.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Pat Hobby Stories

    Reginald Hudlin & John Romita, Jr., Black Panther: Who is Black Panther? 

    Henry James, The American
    Henry James, Daisy Miller
    Henry James, The Europeans
    Henry James, Washington Square
    • OK, none of these were read purely for fun, but I'm finally developing an interest in James after seven years of grad school, a place where everyone talked about how great James was.
    Gish Jen, Mona in the Promised Land

    Murray Kempton, Part of Our Time: Some Ruins of the Thirties
    • Kempton gives the arguments of Partisan Review a popular sheen.
    Michelle Latiolais, Widow: Stories

    D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

    Scott McCloud, Zot!

    Norman Mailer, The Prisoner of Sex
    • Did Norman Mailer hate women? Probably. But if this is him at his worst, it mostly consists of him doing anal retentive, literary critical hair splitting.
    Toni Morrison, Sula

    Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father

    Ismet Pricic, Shards

    Philip Roth, The Professor of Desire
    Philip Roth, The Human Stain
    • Roth's book is stronger for its statement about African American and Jewish relations than it is about the cultural politics surrounding the Clinton-Lewinski affair.
    Ishmael Reed, Juice!

    Ishmael Reed, Japanese by Spring

    Ishmael Reed, Mixing it Up 

    Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan
    • Those of you have not read Shteyngart are missing out. At the very least you should subscribe to his Twitter fed. 
    David Simon, Homicide

    I. B. Singer, Gimpel the Fool
    • It's easy to mistake this story as nostalgic, but its better to think of it as elegiac.  

    Zadie Smith, The Book of Other People
    • A remarkably consistent short story anthology. I enjoyed almost every story here.

    Craig Thompson, Blankets

    Lionel Trilling, The Journey Abandoned
    • Although I like Trilling's criticism, his fiction really is the work of a snob. Check out page 101 for the most spurious comparison that I read this year.

    George W. S. Trow, My Pilgrims Progress: Media Studies 1950-1998
    George W. S. Trow, In The Context of No Context
    • Trow has  a great style, but his arguments can be a bit cranky.

    Kurt Vonnegut, Look at the Birdie
    • Normally I'm not the biggest fan of Vonnegut's short fiction, but these previously unpublished works were great little stories.

    Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
    • Other people's appreciation for this book prevented me from enjoying it fully.

    Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
    Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
    • Although this has a fairly conventional movie-monster type plot, it has enough twists that it surprised me. 

    Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg
    • A very solid rhetorical account of the Gettysburg address. 

    Richard Wright, Lawd Today

    Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

    Dan Zevin, The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-up

    So, what did you read?

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