Like you, I have my moments of acquiescing to the typical sorts of things people do at the New Year. Rather than make resolutions (“I’ll write 5 pages a day” -“I’ll complete two book manuscripts this year” – etc., ad nauseum, knowing full well I don’t work on any schedule but my own), I’ve gone for simpler plans – trying to organize (in my own slightly eccentric way) activities that I will do this year.
One of those activities is, of course, reading. Because I’m a writing professor as well as a writer/author myself (my nicety in differentiating between those two terms is surely idiosyncratic, but I think of a writer as someone who writes, happily, I hope, for a personal purpose: satisfaction, venting, learning – and an author as one who writes , yes, probably for those same purposes, but with an eye to publication), I read a lot. Sometimes my reading – and I mean here my personal reading as opposed to my academic stuff – can get really scattered and I’ll go on jags. By that I mean I’ll read poetry for a month to the exclusion of all else (or history or creative nonfiction or novels or short stories) until I get sick of a genre and wander off to something else.
It can be fun, but it always feels messy to me and at the end of the year I always feel as if I should have had a plan.
So, I’ve made one – of sorts.
Here’s my list for 2013. I’ll read other books to be sure and the final list will be rather longer. But here on January 1, 2013 is a list of books I will read during this year. It’s a list that reflects my own strong biases (I’m not a fan of any of the genres currently occupying the heights of popularity – sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal, etc.) and they’re the biases of a Baby Boomer professor, former rock musician, and writer/author. So be forewarned. I offer them below with a very, very brief comment on each:
1) William Bradford – Plymouth Plantation. I always read some history, and I decided to start the year with this account of the founding of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts by one of its leading lights. I read Capt. John Smith’s version of the settlement of the New World a few years ago and want to balance the Jamestown version with the Plymouth Rock story.
2) Arthur Conan Doyle – The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To balance the sonorous (and likely dry) prose of Bradford, I’ll follow with some fun from Doyle. I’ve read a good number of the Holmes stories, but I look forward to a few that I haven’t in this collection.
3) Marvin Harris – Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches. This is a cultural discussion by an eminent anthropologist on how some of our beliefs and superstitions have come down to us. Told you I’m a professor…
4) James Joyce – Dubliners. The poet Stephen Spender suggested we should “think continually of those who are truly great.” We should read them, too, if we want to learn more about writing.
5) Fred Chappell – Shadowbox. I’m from North Carolina, as is Chappell, a poet and novelist, whom I am privileged to know. So I’m reading local in this case. And Chappell is also a Bollingen Prize winning poet, so I look forward to reading more of his poetry.
6) Arvidson, Pope, Townsend, eds. – Mountain Memoirs, An Ashe County Anthology. Reading local again, this time from the NC mountain county where I live.
7) Ernest Hemingway – True at First Light. I think it was Carlos Baker who called Hemingway “our greatest 17 year old novelist.” It’s also been claimed that his best novel was his first, The Sun Also Rises, and that each succeeding novel was a little worse. Well, the posthumous stuff has been pretty well snarked, and Islands in the Stream is a damned mess. The same may be “true at first light” about this final (one hopes) Hemingway opus. I intend to find out…
8) Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad. It is my firm belief that every human should read some Mark Twain and some Jane Austen every year of his/her life in order to be a happy person. This year’s Twain is a revisit to this book, which I’ve not read in its entirety.
9) Nick Hornby – About a Boy. Hornby likes to write about rock music, as do I. That’s a good enough reason to read him, don’t you think?
10) Edith Wharton – Ethan Frome and Other Stories. Haven’t read Wharton much since grad school. This will remedy that.
11) Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Both my sons, members of the rock group Doco, love Douglas Adams and some years ago gave me the complete Hitchhiker’s volume. I am ashamed to say that I have only made it a few pages into the first book. I intend to remedy that this year.
12) Jane Austen – Mansfield Park. I wrote my master’s thesis on Austen’s work, and I’ve read all the completed novels several times. I used to read all six every year: now I limit that to two to give other authors their shot. She and Twain will always be my spirit guides, though. This novel is her most interesting because one can see her struggling as a writer to solve problems with her text. Gives hope to the rest of us….
13) Adelaide Fries – The Road to Salem. Another local book, this one a history of the Moravian settlers in Piedmont North Carolina. One should always try to know one’s local history…
14) Gleb Botkin – Lost Tales. This is a strange and wonderful/terrifying picture book by the 17 year old son of the personal physician to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, drawn and written for the Tsarevich and his sisters during their captivity in Tobolsk in the months before their murder by their Bolshevik captors. I found this haunting book in a used book shop and look forward to reading it.
15) Maira Kalman – The Principles of Uncertainty. Another strange book, albeit a self-conscious artistic effort by the author to combine journal entries, brief reminder notes, drawings, and other material into a Gestalt of her daily life. As good an example of post-modern pastiche as I’ve ever seen.
16) Arthur C. Danto – After the End of Art. Lectures on the changes wrought by technology, cultural upheaval, and historical events on the world we call art. Part of the Princeton Lectures series. Real professorial stuff…yum….
17) Chinua Achebe – Anthills of the Savannah. The “followup” novel to Achebe’s brilliant Things Fall Apart. I’ve read both the latter book and his wonderful book of essays, Hopes and Impediments. I look forward to more pleasure from this masterful writer…
18) Terrance Zepke – Lighthouses of the Carolinas. This is more of that “local history” stuff I’ve noted earlier in this list. And everyone likes lighthouses, right…?
19) Fred Chappell – Brighten the Corner Where You Are. I mentioned Fred Chappell up at #5. He’s also a highly regarded novelist. Always a pleasure to read his work…
20) Leonard Frey – Readings in Early English Language History. I know you all want to run out and buy a book on historical linguistics, don’t you? I already have mine…
21) Salman Rushdie – The Enchantress of Florence. I need to read more Rushdie. This fits the bill nicely…
22) Cytowic and Eagleton – Wednesday is Indigo Blue. This is a book on the psychological phenomenon called synesthesia, wherein some folks have multiple sensory responses to stimuli (for instance, some of us “see” colors when we hear music). I happen to be a synesthete as is my wife, the artist Lea Booth, and at least one of my sons. I need to know more.
23) Teresa Milbrodt, ed. – Manifest West. This is an anthology of western US writers, some of whom, such as poet Sam Smith, I know. You should go find their work.
24) Charles Dickens – Christmas Stories. Dickens wrote not just “A Christmas Carol,” but a whole series of wonderful, occasionally haunting, Christmas tales. Just the right sort of book for the run up to the holiday season.
25) Jane Austen – Emma. Why not end the year with Miss Austen’s lovely romance that has a delightful Christmas scene in it?
So, that’s the list right now. I’ll report on these as they get read. Maybe you’ll be curious enough to want to take a peek at one or two yourself.
But for now, let’s just say Happy New Year!