What a lame blogger I’ve become! This is literally my only post for the year. But I had my reasons, chief of which was a breast cancer diagnosis this spring that proceeded to derail the entire year. I hope to write about the experience so won’t go into any detail here, but know that I’ve recovered pretty well from surgery and have gotten a clean bill of health for now. I share this, however, as it did affect some of my reading choices for the year.
The other thing that influenced my reading choices was my work with the Ashland University lo-res MFA program, where I started this summer. This fall semester I asked each of my students to choose one book for us to read together, with the marvelous result that I read four novels I’d never read before and had had no particular plans to read.
Reading our lists now right before I press “publish,” I’m dismayed by two things: First, I read no short story collections this year. What the hell? That was an oversight. Second, Dan has actually written that he read Daphne du Maurier’s classis Rebecca “waiting for something to happen.” Again: what the hell? Have I actually spent 31 years married to a man who finds Rebecca boring? Sigh.
As with our previous lists: All the books are novels unless otherwise noted, Dan’s reading list follows my own, we’ve included brief reading notes, and I’ve included links for the writers who are also friends. Dan and I read just one book in common this year, Swiss writer Christian Kracht’s novel The Dead, which has just come out in English and which we both agree is altogether excellent. Phew. Marriage saved!
- William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale: Read in order to read Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, part of Hogarth’s series of Shakespeare novelizations. But then I never did get around to reading the Winterson.
- Tyehimba Jess, Olio (poetry). Remarkable, inventive collection that takes as its subject early African-American musicians.
- Janine Kovac, Spinning: Choreography for Coming Home (non-fiction). Wonderful memoir about author’s experience of having twin micro preemies.
- Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere. Very engaging.
- Nayomi Munaweera, Island of a Thousand Mirrors. I learned so much about the Sri Lankan Civil War in this haunting, beautiful novel.
- Andy Jones, In the Almond Orchard: Coming Home from War (poetry). An excellent collection meditating on the experience of veterans.
- Kristi Abbot, Pop Goes the Murder. Escapist cozy mystery fun, with popcorn recipes.
- W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn. Lyrically stretches what fiction can be and do. Also made me want to take my own walking tour in England.
- Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washington’s Relentless Pursuit of Their Slave, Ona Judge (non-fiction). One of those books that feels like a very good article stretched beyond its proper size.
- Christian Kiefer, Phantoms (galley). Coming in April! Here’s my blurb for the book:
- Sandra McPherson, Quicksilver, Cougars, and Quartz (poetry, galley). A wry, elegiac collection that I hope is out very soon.
- Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Reread in order to teach it at UC Davis. God, what a great, creepy, wonderful tale.
- Rob Davidson, What Some Would Call Lies (galley). Just out! I blurbed this one too, as follows:
- Rebecca Makkai, The Hundred-Year House. I read this with so much enjoyment over the summer that I assigned it to my Ashland students this fall.
- China Mieville, The City and the City. Another book I assigned at Ashland. My second-favorite detective novel of the year.
- Toni Morrison, A Mercy. A student choice book. Compelling story set in Colonial America. Highly recommend.
- Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think (NF). I thought reading this might help me negotiate the horror that was dealing with the medical profession. It didn’t, really, but was still an interesting, worthwhile read.
- Imogen Binnie, Nevada. Another student choice book. By turns hilarious & sad, the novel follows a trans woman trying to figure out life, the universe, and everything.
- Susan Love, Susan Love’s Breast Book (NF). I hope never to have to refer to this book again, but it’s sort of the Bible for breast problems.
- Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts. Another student choice book. I really wanted to love this sci-fi novel set aboard a generation ship that’s preserved old racial hierarchies from Earth. Impressive, but needed better & more editing, IMO.
- Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders. Nope, this was not my favorite detective novel of the year. But its story-within-story structure was pretty fun.
- Katherine J. Chen, Mary B. This novel attempts to give poor, put-upon, unloved Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice her due, but does so in a somewhat ham-fisted & unlovely way. Much better, IMO: Lauren Gunderson & Margot Melcon’s stage play “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.”
- Gene Luen Yang, Saints (graphic novel). I now know more about the Boxer Rebellion than I used to & need to read the companion book, Boxers.
- Christian Kracht, The Dead. A compact zinger of a novel that features Toraichi Kono, Charlie Chaplin’s chauffeur, a real-life figure I also fictionalized in one of my first short stories.
- Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time. This was my favorite detective novel of the year. A reexamination of the case against Richard III. The whole thing takes place as a series of conversations with a bedridden detective. Brilliant and fun.
Currently reading, not yet done:
- Rae Gouirand, Glass Is Glass Water Is Water (poetry): People, Rae’s second collection is amazing. Buy it! Read it!
- Joseph Heller, Catch-22
- Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop
- Naomi Alderman, The Power: Kind of predictable.
- Brandy Colbert, Little & Lion: Covered all the bases for a YA novel
- Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing: Way too much vomiting
- Jane Austen, Emma: I think I should have just watched Clueless again
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Read to better understand Infinite Jest. It didn’t really add that much, but it was worth reading anyway—actually, enjoyed it more than watching the play.
- Richard White, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (non-fiction): Author had one point—that the folks who ran the transcontinental railroads were bad at their jobs—and made it many times.
- Paul Beatty, The Sellout: Got that he was making jokes; just didn’t think they were funny.
- Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca: Kept waiting for something to happen.
- Meg Wolitzer, The Female Persuasion: Super bad—all the characters were cardboard, and none of the emotions were earned.
- Mikael Colville-Andersen, Copenhagenize: The Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism (non-fiction): Inspirational.
- Neil de Grasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (non-fiction): In the middle ground between a fun survey and an in-depth treatment. Attempts at humor were pretty weak.
- Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (non-fiction): As good as everyone says.
- Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad: Not quite as good as everyone says. As an escape narrative, it worked well, but the sf conceit was unnecessary and underdeveloped.
- Samantha Hunt, The Dark Dark (short stories): Mostly entertaining short stories
- James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (non-fiction): Long past time I read some Baldwin.
- Nnedi Okorafor, Binti: Pretty good YA, but would have worked better as a short story or longer novel.
- Marc Silver, Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment, and Beyond: Pretty heteronormative (I mean, look at the title), but useful if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of needing this kind of advice.
- Christian Kracht, The Dead: Brilliant
- Manuel Pastor, State of resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future (non-fiction): As with a lot of non-fiction books, would have made (and probably was at some point) a pretty good magazine article.
- Jeffrey Eugenides, Fresh Complaint (short stories): Can’t quite figure out if Eugenides is a misogynist or just a misanthrope. Maybe both?
- Katherine Dunn, Geek Love: Started strong, but kind of petered out at the end.
- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (IV). Some parts are better on re-reading, some worse, but I still plan to do it again in a couple of years. [Naomi’s note: Dan insists I label this with that parenthetical Roman numeral IV. It is apparently an inside joke. Hope someone out there gets it.]
- Nathan Englander, Dinner at the Center of the Earth: Complex, beautiful/terrifying novel
- C. Sellar & R. J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That (humor): The classic
- Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita: Laugh-out-loud funny at times, but also a little horrifying considering it’s a satire of Stalinism.
Currently reading, not yet done:
- Magda Szabo, The Door
Wishing everyone a happy new year and a 2019 filled with good books!
Hi Naomi ,Glad to hear you got a clean bill of health about your cancer. My 96 year old aunt has beaten cancer twice and is still going strong. Impressive reading list, I have been undergoing treatment for my ongoing depression, so no reading. I have been working on my novel, it is now about 85,000 words and I hope to finish it soon. I am considering a Japanese publishing house. The story is about a Japanese woman born in 1909,survived the1923 earthquake, became a translator for the League of Nations and currently working for a British intelligence organization during WW 2. Anyhow you keep strong. Arthur Murata
Love seeing you here, and you’ve inspired me to do a ‘Best of’ list of my own. This was definitely the year of reading mysteries for me. I started writing one of my own in May and threw myself deep into the genre. It’s been a great way to escape political turpitude and personal upheaval. Heaps of fun to read AND write.
I wish you a brighter and peaceful 2019, Naomi.
Thank you, Julie. You’re writing a mystery?! That is so exciting & inspiring. Thanks for reading!
Just saw Christmas at Pemberly & enjoyed it. Glad to see you read mysteries. Sometimes an escape but some, like Daughter of Time (a favorite), are more.
I love mysteries, though in recent years haven’t read as many as I once did. I’ve always kind of wanted to write one too. One of these days, perhaps… Thanks for reading!
Neither of you read Educated? I just finished it; spellbound.
Haven’t read it yet, but I should. Happy New Year, Erica!
Happy New Year! Here’s to a clean bill of health!