In total, I read 130 novel-length volumes this year, including some heavies like “Infinite Jest” and an 800-page biography of Alan Turing. On account of the rather time-consuming nature of some of my reads, I count shorter works -like “Of Mice and Men”- as “novel length volumes”. I think it all shakes out rather fairly.
Here are the stats:
Books by White American/English males: 51
Books by women: 12
Books in translation: 13
Books in translation make up 3% of the total number of books sold in America, so I’m not mortified by my 10%, but damn, the number of books by women I read this year is abysmal. I really need to read more female authors. Damn…
I finished the late Oliver Sacks’ most recent (and most general) memoir days before his death. As an avid listener of Radiolab (where he was a frequent contributor) I was aware of the severity of his illness as I read, which lent the whole experience a far more deliberate sense of looking back upon a life in its entirety. Sacks cast a wide net in his life, pursuing science with a sense of narrative that evoked the best scientific writing of the 19th century, but with all of the wonderful advances and wide knowledge base of the 20th century driving him to greater specificity and rigor, and his personal life is equally compelling.
This is far more what, growing up, I would have called an autobiography, as opposed to a literary memoir. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with Sacks’ prose. It’s simple and direct, but each word is well-chosen. The intent is not to dazzle, but to create an honest and plain communication between the reader and the life of the author. Sacks only falls into that Latinate vernacular when describing something in medical terms, camping squarely in the Anglo-Saxon when he tells us stories of his days riding motorcycles to the Grand Canyon on the weekends or participating in competitive weightlifting at Muscle Beach.
One of the things I find myself repeating in my reading log is how little the subject matter really matters, at least in comparison to the honest joy the communicator can bring to bear through good prose. I’m certain this truth has its limits (I probably don’t want to read about the minutia of the breeding displays of Western Fence-Post lizards, no matter how passionately its described), but I’ve found it to be a worthwhile truism. Sacks’ memoir details a fascinating and richly lived existence, but, more importantly, it does so with real, communicable joy.
Regular postings are resumed. I’ve just gotten back from spending the better part of the month gallivanting about the Western United States on and in various modes of overland transportation, but I’m back now. I managed to get a lot of reading done -time to get my thoughts down.
11 books down in 5/15. Literature in translation, some classics, some light/funny work, assorted miscellanea, and a couple of lit mags (Thrice has officially hooked me). It was a good month.
Best Book: Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” -lots of fun, classic genre fiction at its best.
Worst Book: Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”. Well, maybe not the worst, (I can’t argue that it’s badly written) but certainly the most annoying and least rewarding. A longer review is forthcoming…
April was a great month for reading. I knocked out thirteen titles, all very diverse (graphic novels, male and female authors, works in translation, nonfiction, anthologies, etc.). Beyond the ones I finished, I’ve started some longer ones that I’m looking forward to wrapping up soon (the Norton Critical anthology of Chekov’s short stories, and Egger’s ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’, to name two). April was great, and I’m gonna keep my steam up for May.
I did much better this month, but I had to really buckle down toward the end. I read a couple back issues of literary journals, some work in translation, a graphic novel, and some nonfiction. In addition to having some great reads, (Asterios Polyp, Of Love and Other Demons, The Crossing) I had a pretty diverse month. I’m going to try to pick up the pace a bit in April, but I feel like I’m doing pretty well.