In 2012, I resolved to read Moby Dick and I just barely finished with a little over a week to spare. It’s a portmanteau of a “novel” that’s full of surprises. Most surprising to me is that I got through a good chunk of it on my iPhone via the Goodreads application. (Of course, I kept the Norton Critical Edition handy.) As both the book and the app are free, it’s an excellent way to read classics.
Books That Made Me Question the Worthiness of the Human Project
Ponary Diary 1941-1943: A Bystander’s Account of a
Mass Murder, Kazimierz Sakowicz
Götz and Meyer, David Albahari
Four New Messages, Joshua Cohen
I grappled with Götz and Meyer and Ponary Diary for much of the year. I started writing about them in The Floating Library, continued in my column for Razorcake, and will probably make another go at it before too long. These books have colored both my fiction and my impressions of Lithuania. These books explore what it means to be a witness to crimes that go beyond the scope of the imagination. These books are arguments against the moral fitness of our species. As for Cohen, he made James Wood’s Books of the Year, and I don’t understand why he didn’t make more.
Books That Reaffirmed It
The Book of Disquiet, Fernando Pessoa
The Truth About Marie, Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Autoportrait, Edouard Leve
Pessoa is required reading for participants in the excellent Disquiet International Literary Program in Portugal, and I didn’t start it until I was on the plane. Big mistake. But what a revelation! The Book of Disquiet is about everything and nothing. This is a book I will return to again and again. As for Toussaint, it’s impossible for me to be objective, but this might be his best.
Books About the Oddness of Creative People
The Book of Drugs, Mike Doughty
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, D.T. Max
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
What do a rock and roll has-been, a reclusive genius, and an epic-but-poorly-planned hike have in common? Nothing. But for this reader, they were my favorite reading experiences of the year.
Books That Anticipate the Future
Radio Iris, Anne-Marie Kinney
Look at Me, Jennifer Egan
Perhaps it’s because I’m writing one, but this year I developed a strong affinity for novels that present a world that is just slightly off. Whether it’s an alternate future, a David Lynch-like present, or a past peopled with unusual abilities, I really enjoyed spending time in these places that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
Books That Zapped Me Into the Past
Jonah Man, Christopher Narozny
Train Dreams: A Novella, Denis Johnson
Bohemian Girl is a book that slipped under the radar in late 2011 and didn’t get the recognition it deserved in 2012. If you enjoyed True Grit by Charles Portis or The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, this book is for you.
Books That Don’t Rhyme
The Oregon Trail Is the Oregon Trail, Gregory Sherl
Fjords, Zachary Schomberg
I have two thoughts: 1) Chiwan Choi is the poet laureate of DTLA and 2) I need to read more poetry in 2013.
Books That Make Me Wanna Commit Some Crimes
Breakfast at Midnight, Louis Armand
Untouchable, Scott O’Connor
The Speed Chronicles, Edited by Joseph Mattson
Monsieur Monde Vanishes, Georges Simenon
The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, Georges Simenon
Ignore the genre label, Breakfast at Midnight and Untouchable contain some of the best sentences I read all year. As for Simenon, I think I’m going to have to move on to a new literary crime writer for 2013. Any suggestions?
Books That Were Stranger Than I Thought They’d Be
The Verificationist, Donald Antrim
Threats, Amelia Gray
Reticence, Jean-Philippe Toussaint
My Only Wife, Jac Jemc
The Art of Tony Millionaire, Tony Millionaire
Year of the Beasts, Cecil Castellucci
Henry & Glenn Forever, Igloo Tornado
This year I took two comics workshops with Kiyoshi Nakazawa and learned a great deal about the comic art-making process. I don’t know why this comes as a revelation but life is more interesting when I’m engaged in making art.
Books That Are Difficult Classify
OD: Docufictions, Harold Jaffe
Fact. Fact. Bullshi*t!, Neil Patrick Stewart
Little Book of Big Fuck Ups, Ken Lytle and Katie Corcoran Lytle
Citation Needed: The Best of Wikipedia’s Worst Writing, Conor Lastowka and Josh Fruhlinger
10 Ways to Recycle a Corpse: 100 More Dreadfully Distasteful Lists by Karl Shaw
Because I’m lazy.
Books with Short Stories in Them
Vampire Conditions, Brian Allen Carr
People with Holes, Heather Fowler
Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, Rob Roberge
Emerald City, Jennifer Egan
Of all the books I buy and don’t read, I think short story collections make up the largest share. Not sure if I should read more or buy less. Brian Allen Carr’s “Lucy Standing Naked” was my favorite story from 2012.
The Invisible Circus, Jennifer Egan
The Neighbors, Ania Ahlborn
Jerusalem, Tavares Goncalo
The Odds: A Love Story, Stewart O’Nan
American Sniper, Chris Kyle
Melville, His World and Work, Andrew Delbanco
Egan gets a pass because it’s her first book and then went on to create some truly amazing work. With O’Nan I disliked the characters and hated the ending. Delbanco’s bio is a disappointment because his portrait of Melville is so thin.
The Book That Had the Biggest Impact
The Return, Roberto Bolaño
This collection of stories was my introduction to Bolaño. It wasn’t my favorite book or most enjoyable reading experience, but as a writer, I read for two things: insight and inspiration. How to live. How to write. Somewhere in the midst of this strange collection of tales, my own ambitions became clear: turn low-brow genre fiction into high literary art. My resolution for 2013 is to read Bolaño’s 2666, but I think I’ll start with The Savage Detectives.