Monday, December 30, 2019

2019's best reads

A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Night of the Claw by Ramsey Campbell
Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Miami Blues by Charles Willeford
The Dollmaker by Nina Allan
The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett
Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Faithful Place by Tana French
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

In reverse chronological order, here are the 12 books I couldn't stop thinking about after I had read them. If forced to choose a single title, Asymmetry would have to top the list, if only for how much it wormed into my brain, how tight was its grip on me. I loved all these and a few others, but for whatever (100% arbitrary) reason, I capped my list at a beautiful dozen.

Lessons learned from this year's reading? I remember setting my goal at 90 books and telling myself to read the longer books, the behemoths that I push past in search of shorter, more gratifying reads. This year, I read 8 books over 600 pages. According to Goodreads, I read 34,466 pages across 113 books, making for an average of 305 pages per book, which sounds about right. In 2020, I'd like to continue reading more of the paper leviathans languishing unread on my shelves. I've been staring at Bronte's Villette and other Victorian doorstoppers for years now (including a massive serial novel from the late 19th century that's so thick it's published in two >900 page volumes). Sometimes I begin resenting a novel for eating up so much of my time (eg. The Golden Notebook) and sometimes I enjoyed that distinct pleasure of praising something just because it's long (eg. You Bright and Risen Angels). Speaking of Vollmann, I picked up four of his Seven Dreams novels and his nonfiction work Imperial over the course of the year. All of his books are intimidatingly long (Imperial is 1308 pages and The Dying Grass is 1356 pages!) but I had fun with the one I finished this year. So perhaps I'll set my goal for only 80 books and lean into this trend. Let's make that average page count hit 500 instead of 300!

I also read 63 books by women out of the 113, or 55.75% women authors. This is the first time since 2014 that I was over 50%. In comparison, in 2015, I read only 26% women. Last year was 43% so at least I have improved. There is zero excuse for not reaching gender parity with authors. There are women I follow on Twitter who read only women and they read more than I do, or at least, as much as I do.

I also managed to chip away at the Booker Prize project. I finished the year with 35 books out of 55, or 63%! I read two more women Nobel Prize winners (Svetlana Alexievich and Doris Lessing), meaning I've now read 6 of the 15 women winners of the prize! Almost halfway!

So: resolutions.

In 2020, I'm going to read more books from prize winners that I've enjoyed (such as more Anita Brookner and Penelope Lively). I'm going to finish off some trilogies and series I've started (Robinson's Mars, Barker's The Wounded Kingdom, Herbert's Dune, Wolfe's The Book of the Short Sun). I'm going to read more short fiction (I've got two massive William Trevor collections and a best-of by Mavis Gallant that weighs in at 800 pages); I own almost every Alice Munro and Ann Beattie so this blog will see more of them. And of course, I'm going to read more Booker Prize winners and more women Nobel Prize winners.

The usual caveat: who knows where my tastes will take me? I may not know where my tastes will take me, but I do know I'll record fastidiously where I'll go.

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