I’ll be doing a few Top Fives to wrap up 2019, starting, obviously, with books.
Before the list proper, here’s everything I read in 2019:
J R by William Gaddis
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Fat City by Leonard Gardner
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Airships by Barry Hannah
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Suldrun’s Garden by Jack Vance
The Stand by Stephen King
The Green Pearl by Jack Vance
The Shining by Stephen King
The Croning by Laird Barron
Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers
How to Read Donald Duck by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart
Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson
I try to adhere to a 30 pages a day regimen in my reading. I settled on 30 pages because A) it’s a feasible fit-in with an obstructed modern life, and B) if observed, guarantees I’m able to finish nearly any book in about a month, which keeps things tidy on the mental calendar. I thought I fell short of that goal this year, but did better than expected. In total, I read 10,224 pages this year: about 28.01 pages/day.
Some observations about my readings:
Which two exceptions, everything I read this year was originally written in English.
With two exceptions, everything I read this year was fiction.
This is the first year in which I listened to audiobooks; three of them: The Stand, The Road, and A Game of Thrones (I read the first third, but switched to the audiobook).
Only two books this year were rereads.
I, and I cannot state this enough, do not like New Years’ Resolutions, but if I were to draw some possible guidelines for 2020’s reading based on what I did/didn’t do in 2019, they would be:
Read more literature in translation.
Keep audiobooks a key part of my regimen.
Read more nonfiction.
Keep the ratio between new reads and rereads approximately the same.
Oh and also: maintain a list of everything that I read somewhere because collating between my blog and twitter account to make sure I found them all was a pain in the ass.
FIVE FAVORITE BOOKS 2019
- Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers
A winter surprise. Not super happy with my review of Urban, which I wrote right after finishing it and which fails to address the strange, elegant presence this book has continued to maintain inside my head. Superficially so straightforward, Urban teems with strong characterization, clean prose, and (a particular catnip) Heavy Midwestern Vibes. There are other things that I like about it, but don’t want to talk about for fear of spoiling them for others. Still don’t know who I’d recommend this one to; guess I’ll say that if you liked Silence by Shusaku Endo or the movie First Reformed, give Morte d’Urban a try.
- Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
It was so strange and rewarding to return, after ten years, to the book that ignited all the literary drypowder in my skull and has always been a personal emblem to me of what books can achieve. Its place as fourth on this list speaks to the simple, obvious inability of a Top 5 to be authoritative in any way, or even ‘correct’; from lots of angles GR should be higher, and from any angle its place in my life is singular. But from a pure “reading for pleasure” point of view, for all that I admire GR (and there aren’t many books I admire as much), it is a lot. It was a fatiguing reread, and gave me full-on Epstein Brain three months before he was killed; I became paranoid to the point of exasperation, nearly to a point of despair. Not that either feeling was/is unwarranted.
- J R by William Gaddis
J R is a powerful book, angry and funny and beautiful; whereas The Recognitions can be a little too unvarnishedly angry to the point of unpleasing obviousness at times, with J R Gaddis struck perfectly the balance between anger and art. I mean, the book is still very obvious; there’s nothing subtle in Gaddis’s satire (with the exception of J R himself); but the eloquent vehemence of the attacks and their particular accuracy channel much vivid power. The characters are stronger in J R, too, and the whole thing is grounded in a more direct, tangible realism that I like; this is our world, in all its hot and cold ugliness, indicted in words on the page.
- 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
2666 is dark, arcane, driven by death and thoughts of death, death-obsessed; but also bravely makes the key leap and shows that engagement with death means engagement with life; and life, to Bolaño, isn’t a cheesy positivity, or some facile reconciliation with finiteness; instead, for Bolaño, life comes down finally to those few stretches of time in which we are steeped in art. Divided into five obliquely-related parts, what should feel like a congeries comes together like a cathedral. Highly excited to reread this one.
- Herzog by Saul Bellow
No surprise here, except for the first, eternal surprise that against all odds Herzog, most novely of novels (even the page count – 341 pages – is so fucking novely), stormed my heart and became my favorite book of the year. It hit me right in the red marrow. Herzog is magnificent.
A Couple Miscellaneous Awards
Best Audiobook: The Stand by Stephen King, read by Grover Gardner
I like Stephen King but he’s exasperating for me to read; I much prefer to listen to his novels; it somehow mitigates his excesses. The audiobook for The Stand is, hands down, the best audiobook I’ve ever heard. Grover Gardner seems totally in sync with the text, allocating the perfect voices to each of the (many) characters. This is one case where I can say that not only did the audiobook help me finish the book, it also actively made it better.
Worst Book I Read in 2019: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin