Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Year in Reading (2015)

(Spring, 2015)

2015 was yet another wonderful year in reading, though I only managed to finish twenty-one books in all. One reason was I wanted to spend less time following current events on the computer so I invested in subscriptions to Harpers, The New Yorker, and the UK film magazine Sight & Sound. And I was good about reading most issues cover to cover (excepting Sight & Sound, of which there is a pile of unread issues.) However, the most important reason for finishing fewer books is the birth of my son, Tennbo, on January 18th. I'd known that when you have kids certain sacrifices have to be made and a big one was time for reading. If I were lucky I might be able to read Tennbo a poem or two before he puts the magazine or book into his mouth and screams, but that was it. Daddy time superseded reading-chair time by a long ways.

The following list of books has an * marked for rereads. The first twelve books are linked to reviews I posted on this blog. (Once my son learned to crawl, life became too distracted, time too precious for this sort of reflection):

1) The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein (2014)
2) Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger ((1953)
3) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)
4) Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1940)
5) Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver (1990) *
6) The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch (1969)
7) Desperate Characters by Paula Fox (1970)
8) Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (1992) *
9) The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson (2014)
10) Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
11) My Lunches with Orson by Henry Jaglom (2
12) Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn (2013)
13) A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1964) *
14) Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961)
15) The Easter Parade by Richard Yates (1976)
16) Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates (1962)
17) The Creator by Eva Minervudottir (2013)
18) The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra (2007)
19) Waiting for the Sun: A Rock and Roll History of Los Angeles by Barney Hoskyns (2009)
20) The Lady and the Monk by Pico Iyer (1991)
21) Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmasking of American Consensus by Rick Perlstein (2001)

In all, there are eleven novels, three story collections, four histories, two memoirs, and a book of collected interviews. Only three books were rereads.

I can't recommend novelist Richard Yates enough. I'd bought a collection and ended up reading all three books in a very short time frame. Such beautiful tragic realism, such tight, wonderful sentences. Eugenides' The Marriage Plot is a bit cumbersome at times, but very enjoyable. Murdoch's The Nice and the Good doesn't have a single bad sentence and begets me to try for more. And I will probably reread Carver's Where I'm Calling From many times over the course of my life. So many great, true, stories there.

If you have an interest in 1960s and 1970s politics I recommend both Perlstein histories, especially the one on Reagan, as the 1970s in America was such a fantastic place of displaced idealism and madcap schemes. And if you are game on 1960s and 1970s pop culture, particularly that of the Los Angeles variety both the Manson book and the history of LA music are terrific reads. The interviews with Orson Welles are delightfully aphoristic and very gossipy if you are familiar with the names of Golden Age Hollywood.

Disappointments: I found Master and Margarita an absolute slog to finish. It's an interesting story with great psychedelic visuals but the prose (at least in translation) is as leaden as a stone carving of Lenin sinking in the deep blue. And while I enjoyed Hemingway's A Moveable Feast as a young main in Paris many years ago, it reads poorly now not only for its sentimentality but also as an apologia of sorts for Hemingway dumping his first wife. The anecdotes regarding the legendary artists don't have enough catharsis to excuse such obviously thrilling namedropping. And, finally, there is not a single great read among J. D. Salinger's extraordinarily pretentious Nine Stories.

I did read one book on the kindle, the last one of the year, the history of Goldwater and the 1964 US Presidential election. I had long resisted e-readers primarily because of resistance to electronic technology in general, but finally gave in for the sake of convenience. Certainly if I lived in an American city with a great local bookstore I wouldn't bother, but my options in Kyoto are limited. Again, it's convenient to fit in my jacket pocket and I could read quietly with my son napping on my chest, but no question e-reading is inferior to the tangibility and feel of paper books. I guess I'm old-fashioned, but I guess that's okay too.

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