My favourite books of 2012

As some readers may know, this year I made a new year’s resolution concerning my habit of buying new books. I said I would only buy one book a month in order to curb my tendency to purchase books only to put them on my shelf. There they sit waiting for me to eventually get around to reading them. Well, I failed this resolution and ended up purchasing way more books than I should of, 39 more to be exact. In a kind of paltry defense, some of these were for my dissertation research. But most weren’t.

Anyways, as part of this resolution I also decided to record everything that I read in full (cover to cover, prefaces, forewards and acknowledgements excluded). Below you’ll find my stats and some of my favorite picks of the bunch. I’m amazed that I read this much, and it gives me confidence that I can do 10-10-12 next year.

52 novels/collections of short fiction
89 graphic novels/comic books
16 books of non-fiction
10 books of poetry
10 academic books
5 plays

Favourite Reads of the year:

Nilsen, Anders. Big Questions: or Asomatognosia.
– This is a massive graphic novel that is epic, philosophical, moving, and all kinds of other adjectives. I loved the artwork, but most of all I loved how much Anders Nilsen pushes the form

Eugenides, Jeffrey Virgin Suicides
– I’ve seen the film adaptation a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it. I finally got around to reading the source text this year and was not disappointed. This is an amazing novel (almost a novella) about suburban Detroit, teenage longing, and environmental collapse. Read it now!

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
–  Similar to Virgin Suicides, I’d seen Blade Runner and loved that movie. However, after reading this novel, I’m not inclined to link the two anymore. Ridley Scott does some great things with this novel, but Dick’s original is very, very good. It is a challenging work of science fiction that asks questions about what it means to be human while also being a compelling read.

Best new artist
Jason
– I discovered this graphic novelist fortuitously and have been thankful ever since. I`ve read everything the local public library has of his. He has a dry, black sense of humor. I really like his clean art style and the anthropomorphic characters.

Favorite new writer
David Mitchell
–  I read Cloud Atlas and loved it. I have since read Number9dream and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. All three are very large novels and I don’t really read long novels. I’m no 18th century scholar. Enough said.

War and Peace award (book that took the longest to read)
Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Most challenging

Nikiforuk, Andrew. Tar Sands/ van Wyck, Peter Highway of the Atom
–  These two books are amazing in very different ways. Nikiforuk’s is a long, hard look at the Alberta Tar Sands and what they mean for Canada’s future. It is necessary reading if you want to understand the current crisis that we find ourselves in (despite Mr. Harper’s protestations otherwise). Van Wyck’s book is a meditation on Canada’s involvement with the Manhattan Project via the uranium mines in what is now the Northwest Territories. It is an academic work, so be ready for some Derrida and deconstruction, but it is accessible and asks good questions about what nuclear energy and waste means for human culture.

Here is a list of some of the other notable reads from the year (and a few not so notable ones)

Fiction: Michel Basilières Blackbird
Dionne Brand What We All Long For
Ivan E. Coyote Bow Grip
Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex
David Mitchell Cloud Atlas
Wayne Johnston Colony of Unrequited Dreams
Aryeh Stollman The Illuminated Soul
David Adams Richards Hope in the Desperate Hour

Short Fiction: Don De Lillo Angel Esmeralda and Other Stories
David Bezmozgis Natasha and Other Stories
James Salter Dusk and Other Stories

Graphic novels/comic books: Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home.
Canales, Juan Diaz. Blacksad
Jason. Why Are You Doing This?
—. I Killed Adolf Hitler.
Kreuger, Jim. Earth X.
Lemire, Jeff. Collected Essex County.
McNeil, Carla Speed. The Finder Library.
Poplak, Richard. Kenk: A Graphic Portrait.
Thompson, Craig. Habibi.

Non-fiction: Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Terpstra, John. Falling into Place.
Vasey, Paul. The Age of the Cities.
Wright, Ronald. What is America?

Poetry: Ala, Salvatore Straight Razor and Other Poems.
McKay, Don. Strike/Slip
Zwicky, Jan. Songs for Relinquishing the Earth.

Worst read:
Miller, Frank. Holy Terror
Nobody should read this book. I have laid out my reasons for this on another blog here.

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Updated 10-10-12 list

Hello hello

After many great recommendations and some good conversation, I’ve made a number of changes to the list. Feel free to peruse and comment as you see fit. On-deck simply means that these are alternatives that I may consider substituting it at any given point. As a reader, I normally finish everything that I start reading (except for academic stuff … perhaps unfortunately). I’ve often slowed down my reading if I get stuck reading a really long book, like War and Peace. So, this year, I’m going to stop reading if at some point I’m not feeling a novel or book. This is basically sacrilege for me, but I can’t see myself finishing if I get stuck in the middle of Moby Dick. Anyways, I’ve created the on-deck category in case of emergencies like failing interest levels. That being said, the first five works in each category are non-negotiable, I’m going to read these books. So, if you see one that is a disaster waiting to happen, let me know.

Novellas

  1. We the Animals – Justin Torres
  2. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
  3. A River Runs Through It – Norman Maclean
  4. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
  5. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
                  
  6. Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
  7. The Time Machine– H.G. Wells
  8. Trains Dreams – Denis Johnson
  9. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
  10. The Stranger – Albert Camus

On-deck
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

American literature

  1. Moby Dick­ – Herman Melville
  2. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  3. Canada – Richard Ford
  4. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
  5. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
                  
  6. Freedom – Jonathan Franzen (This one is on the fence between non-negotiable and negotiable. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time, begging me to read it)
  7. The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
  8. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
  9. Cane – Jean Toomer
  10. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

On-deck
Underworld – Don DeLillo (It was really painful to pull this one out because I really like his work, but this novel is huge)
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper (This one is tempting because as much as I hated John Richardson’s Wacousta, the general level of ridiculousness and contradiction made it fun to read. I’m guessing that Cooper’s work would be similar).

Collections of short fiction

  1. The Love of a Good Woman – Alice Munro
  2. Women with Men – Richard Ford
  3. Drown – Junot Diaz
  4. Jesus’s Son – Denis Johnson
  5. From the Fifteenth District – Mavis Gallant
  6. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver
  7. Everything that Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor
  8. Forty Stories – Donald Barthelme
  9. No one belongs here more than you – Miranda July (had to add this one after hearing a version of one of her stories on the New Yorker’s podcast)
  10. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

On-deck
At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom – Amy Hemple
Pastoralia – George Saunders
The Night in Question – Tobias Wolff
Last Night  – James Salter

Pulitzer/Booker prize winners 

  1. A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
  2. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
  4. Life and Times of Michael K – J.M. Coetzee
  5. The Famished Road – Ben Okri
                  
  6. The Confessions of Nat Turner – William Styron
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  8. The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
  9. The Bone People – Keri Hulme
  10. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

Indigenous literature

  1. Motorcycles and Sweet Grass – Drew Hayden Taylor
  2. Ten Little Indians – Sherman Alexie
  3. Ravensong – Lee Maracle
  4. The Incovenient Indian – Thomas King
                  
  5. The Stone Canoe – Peter Sanger, Elizabeth Paul
  6. Write It On Your Heart – Harry Robinson
  7. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
  8. Angel Wing Splash Pattern – Richard Van Camp
  9. Baby No-Eyes – Patricia Grace
  10. Carpentaria – Alexis Wright

On-deck
The Round House – Louise Erdrich

Science Fiction

  1.  Dune  – Frank Herbert
  2. Day of the Triffids – John Windham
  3. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
  4. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
  5. The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway
                  
  6. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin
  7. Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks
  8. Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson
  9. Neuromancer – William Gibson
  10. Foundation – Isaac Asimov

On-deck

Saltfish Girl – Larissa Lai
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Solaris – Stanislav Lem

Crime/Detective Fiction

  1. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard
  3. Beach Strip – John Lawrence Reynolds
  4. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
  5. Fatal Grace – Louise Penny
                  
  6. L.A. Confidential – James Ellroy
  7. Sidetracked – Henning Mankell
  8. The Hunter – Richard Stark
  9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carre
  10. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

On-deck
The Trial – Franz Kafka
The MoonstoneWilkie Collins

Poetry collections

  1. Cartography and Walking – Adam Dickinson
  2. Black – George Elliotte Clarke
  3. Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person – Eirin Moure
  4. Night Fields  – Don McKay
  5. New and Selected Poems– Mary Oliver
                  
  6. Yesno – Dennis Lee
  7. The Martyrology Books 1 & 2 – bpNichol
  8. Land to Light On – Dionne Brand
  9. Towards the Last Spike – E.J. Pratt
  10. Steveston – Daphne Marlatt

On-deck
Residence on Earth – Pablo Neruda
Spring and All – William Carlos Williams
Omeros – Derek Walcott
Things of This World – Richard Wilbur
Harmonium – Wallace Stevens

Environmentally Friendly Books

I have a funny feeling work stuff is sneaking into this category and I hadn’t meant it to. Oh well, what can you do.

  1. Discordant Harmonies  – Daniel Botkin
  2. Ecological Imperialism – Alfred Crosby
  3. The Practice of the Wild – Gary Snyder
  4. The Golden Spruce – John Valliant
  5. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
                  
  6. Arctic Dreams – Barry Lopez
  7. Birdscapes – Jeremy Mynott
  8. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
  9. Out of Eden – Alan Burdick
  10. Eating Dirt – Charlotte Gill

On-deck
Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan
The Great Lakes – Wayne Grady
Trauma Farm – Brian Brett
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
Bird, Sky, Song – Trevor Herriot
The Death of Nature – Carolyn Merchant
Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold

Young Adult Literature

  1. Perks of Being Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  2. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
  3. The True Meaning of Smekday – Adam Rex
  4. Wednesday Wars – Gary Schmidt
  5. Jim the Boy – Tony Earley
                  
  6. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer
  7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  8. The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
  9. The Giver – Lois Lowry
  10. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman

The Math of 10-10-12

I’ve been having a few misgivings about how much reading this is actually going to be. 100 books is a lot of reading on top of the work I already do. As a PhD candidate, my job is equal parts reading and writing (probably more reading than writing most times if I’m honest). So, to deal with this fear, I decided to do a little math and see what is required to complete 10-10-12 in timely fashion.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that all books are equal. I know, I know, not all books are equal as anyone who has read (or attempted to) Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake will tell you. I haven’t tried either, but I have had the pleasure of reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

So if all books are equal, then you can divide 100 books by 12 months.

100 books/ 12 months = 8.333 books per month

8 1/3 books a month is a more reasonable number to look at. It can also be broken down by weeks to provide a different picture:

100 books/ 52 weeks = 1.92 books/week

So, just under 2 books a week. This number is a little more frightening for me as all it takes is one Moby Dick to throw my reading off for the week. Melville’s magnum opus happens to clock in at around 623 pages while Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom comes in at 562 pages. These are long, to say the least, and I would only have 3.5 days to read this going on the 1.92 books/week. This is going to be a challenge.

Let’s break it down a third way. How many days do I have for each book?

365 days/ 100 books = 3.65 days/book

or

100 books/ 365 days = 0.273 book/day

So, that’s about a quarter of a book a day to make 10-10-12 by the end of the year. That seems manageable, but I’m going to have to wait and see if it is. The first couple of months are going to be key because if I get behind, then it will be very hard to keep up. In a way, it’s like the comprehensive exams I completed last year. I had a list of 120 works to read in a little less than a year (works is deceiving as each work was not a full book; in my estimation, it was more like reading 20 novels, 3-4 books of poetry, 8 plays, and 3 books of literary criticism).

All of this to say that I think it is possible to complete 10-10-12. The key is going to be sticking to a strict schedule of reading. Whether such a disciplined approach takes the joy out of reading remains to be seen.

10-10-12: The 2013 Reading Challenge

Hello, hello all

So, I’m going to do 10-10-12 in 2013. That’s right, 100 books in 12 months. 10 genres and 10 of each genre. I’ve put the tentative list below, and I’m looking for suggestions this month. I’m probably not going to finalize a complete list of 100 because a friend, E., suggested leaving a fair bit of room to make changes as the year goes on. This had started as a goal to read most of the books I own, but the list has taken on a life of its own at this point. The list, so far, has a fair amount of American literature on it. This stems from my own feelings of inadequacy in our southern neighbour’s literature. As a scholar (most days) of Canadian literature, I should do due diligence to our nearest national neighbour, right? As you can see, I’m lacking books in a number of categories, especially crime/detective fiction and science fiction. These are genres I don’t normally read, and I’m going to be relying on suggestions to get through these categories.

Novellas

  1. We the Animals – Justin Torres
  2. The Time Machine– H.G. Wells
  3. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  4. Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
  5. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
  6. A River Runs Through It – Norman Maclean
  7. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  8. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
  9. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
  10. The Stranger – Albert Camus

American literature

  1. Moby Dick­ – Herman Melville
  2. Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
  3. Canada – Richard Ford
  4. The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
  5. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  6. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
  7. As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
  8. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  9. Cane – Jean Toomer
  10. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

(Other possibilities I’m considering in this category: James Fenimore Cooper’sLast of the Mohicans; Don DeLillo’s Underworld; Jack Kerouac’s On the Road)

Collections of short fiction

  1. Women with Men – Richard Ford
  2. Drown – Junot Diaz
  3. The Love of a Good Woman – Alice Munro
  4. From the Fifteenth District – Mavis Gallant
  5. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver
  6. Jesus’s Son – Denis Johnson
  7. Forty Stories – Donald Barthelme
  8. Ficciones – Jorge Borges
  9. Everything that Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor
  10. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

(Other possibilities include: Amy Hemple’s At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom; George Saunders’ Pastoralia; Tobiass Wolff’s The Night in Question; and James Salter’s Last Night)

Pulitzer/Booker prize winners 

  1. A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
  2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
  3. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  4. The Confessions of Nat Turner – William Styron
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6. Life and Times of Michael K – J.M. Coetzee
  7. The Famished Road – Ben Okri
  8. The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
  9. The Bone People – Keri Hulme
  10. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

Indigenous literature

  1. Motorcycles and Sweet Grass – Drew Hayden Taylor
  2. Ravensong – Lee Maracle
  3. Ten Little Indians – Sherman Alexie
  4. The Stone Canoe
  5. Write It On Your Heart – Harry Robinson
  6. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko

Science Fiction

  1.  Dune  – Frank Herbert
  2. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
  3. Neuromancer – William Gibson
  4. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
  5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
  6. Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson
  7. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin
  8. The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway
  9. Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks
  10. Foundation – Isaac Asimov

(Saltfish Girl by Larissa Lai is a candidate to step in at any point here)

Crime/Detective Fiction

  1. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard
  3. The Hunter – Richard Stark
  4. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
  5. Fatal Grace – Louise Penny
  6. L.A. Confidential – James Ellroy
  7. Sidetracked – Henning Mankell

Poetry collections

  1. Cartography and Walking – Adam Dickinson
  2. Black – George Elliotte Clarke
  3. Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person – Eirin Moure
  4. Steveston – Daphne Marlatt
  5. New and Selected Poems– Mary Oliver
  6. Yesno – Dennis Lee
  7. The Martyrology Books 1 & 2 – bpNichol
  8. Land to Light On – Dionne Brand
  9. Towards the Last Spike – E.J. Pratt
  10. Night Fields  – Don McKay

(Other possibilities include Pablo Neruda’s Residence on Earth; William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All; Derek Walcott’s Omeros; Richard Wilbur’s Things of this World; and Wallace Stevens’ Harmonium)

Environmentally Friendly Books

  1. Discordant Harmonies  – Daniel Botkin
  2. Ecological Imperialism – Alfred Crosby
  3. The Practice of the Wild – Gary Snyder
  4. The Golden Spruce – John Valliant
  5. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
  6. Arctic Dreams – Barry Lopez
  7. Birdscapes – Jeremy Mynott
  8. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
  9. Out of Eden – Alan Burdick
  10. Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold

(Other suggestions which are certainly still in play at this point include: Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire, Brian Brett’s Trauma Farm, and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods)

Young Adult Literature

  1. Perks of Being Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  2. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
  3. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
  4. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer
  5. Jim the Boy – Tony Earley
  6. Wednesday Wars – Gary Schmidt
  7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  8. The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
  9. The Giver – Lois Lowry
  10. Divergent – Veronica Roth