Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Year Of Books

About this time a year ago, I found Brad Green’s A Year in Reading. It was staggering. It still is. This was around the same time I was getting serious about writing. I devoted myself to reading and writing as much as possible in the year ahead.

I re-read some old classics and sought out works that were new to me. I’m glad I did. I came at the reading with a different eye, the zeal of an autodidact. And now there is a list, evidence of something learned, or at least vicariously experienced.

I tracked my reading from December last year through November this year in a Google Docs spreadsheet. Next year, I’ll likely switch over to Goodreads. For obvious reasons, my reading skewed heavily toward fiction, poetry, and writing instruction. The latter was largely a bust, excepting The Art of Fiction and How Fiction Works.

A good bit was accomplished. I read more than I had in the prior few years and certainly more than I will next year. I managed to publish a few stories in journals I admire. That was a first for me. I’m around two-thirds of the way through an extensive re-write of my first novel. Still it doesn’t seem like enough. It’s never enough. There's already a distant ache weaving its way into my bones. Over Thanksgiving, my brother mentioned the sprout of gray at my temples. There is so little time, but maybe that’s the key to forward momentum, a lingering sense of the unfulfilled.

What about you? Any favorite reads you’d suggest? Any prose stylists that are also great storytellers? What about poets? I would love some suggestions.

Notes on the list: Books marked with * denote an aborted read, usually somewhere around fifty pages in. Also, I didn’t include any magazines, literary journals, or one-off short works culled from anthologies. The list is sorted in alphabetical order by author's first name.

The List

Adam Robinson, Adam Robison
Ansen Dibell, The Elements of Fiction Writing -Plot
Barnaby Conrad, Learning to Write Fiction from the Masters
Barry Hannah, Never Die *
Billy Collins, Nine Horses
Breece D'J Pancake, The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Carl Sandburg, Honey and Salt
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men
Darlyn Finch, Red Wax Rose
Denise Levertov, Evening Train
Denise Levertov, Breathing the Water
Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories
Donigan Merritt, The Common Bond
E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel *
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition)
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway, The Short Stories
Etgar Keret, The Nimrod Flip Out
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Federico Garcia Lorca, The Selected Poems
Fred White, The Daily Reader
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil *
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? *
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
James Joyce, Dubliners
James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime
James Salter, Dusk
James Salter, The Hunters
James Salter, Light Years
James Wood, How Fiction Works
Jason Jordan, Cloud and Other Stories
John Gardner, On Being a Novelist
John Gardner, The Art Of Fiction
Kenneth Rexroth, Collected Poems
Kent Haruf, Plainsong
Larry McMurtry, Literary Life
Lewis Turco, The Elements of Fiction Writing -Dialogue
Mario Vargas Llosa, A Writer's Reality *
Matt Bell, How They Were Found
Matthew Sweeney, Teach Yourself Writing Poetry
Paul Cobley, Introducing Semiotics
Paul Harding, Tinkers
Philip Deaver, Silent Retreats
Robert Bly, What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?
Robert Frost, A Boy's Will and North of Boston
Rovit and Waldhorn, Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time
Sam Lipsyte, The Ask
Sigmund Freud, Three Case Histories
The Paris Review, Interviews Volume 1
The Paris Review, Interviews Volume 2
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner, Sanctuary
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
William Shakespeare, King Lear


  1. You should also read Haruf's Eventide. It doesn't strike the same note as Plainsong, but it's still very good. A good, strong list that would better anyone's writing, I wager.

  2. A lot of good thoughts here. I've been meaning to track all I read--just for curiosity's sake--but I keep forgetting to. Goodreads is a nice resource for that, but I've noticed that a lot of chapbooks and lit mag issues aren't on there, so there's that to consider.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to read my novel (and not putting an asterisk after the listing). I would like to mention that you missed my second favorite Salter novel: Solo Faces. It, like Possessed by Shadows, is a climbing story, or a climber's story, it is gorgeously written -- I suppose with Salter that is redundant.

    Your list is intimidating and inspiring.

  4. Interesting - I have never been convinced that writers necessarily have to read widely, I sometimes wonder if it does more harm than good. I read The Great Gatsby this year, wasn't moved, wrote a blog post about how the classics leave me cold. Oddly it was about the most popular thing I've ever written so it's comforting to know I'm not alone.

    In terms of excellent books I've read this year that I'd recommend to you - both Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter by Maile Meloy are just fantastic - she marries a terrific literary style with being able to tell a story. I discovered this year just how rare that is.

  5. Hi, Brad. I'll give Eventide a look. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Hi, Jason. The Google Doc spreadsheet was pretty easy, so that might be a possibility.

    Hi, Donigan. Solo Faces is on the list. Salter quickly became my favorite this year. I also have Possessed by Shadows on the list. I very much enjoyed The Common Bond and know Brad speaks very highly of Possessed by Shadows. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

    Hi, MLS. Meloy is a new name to me. I'll definitely give it a look. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. Hunter, that’s quite a list! I admire you. And I think I’m jealous, too, lol. Lolita, The Sound and the Fury and Beyond Good and Evil have been circling my shelves for a while, still mostly unread. I’m all caught up on vampire fiction though. Very literary of me, I know.
    Thanks (as always) for the inspiration!

  7. Hi, Letisia. I enjoyed Lolita and The Sound and the Fury but bailed on Beyond Good and Evil pretty early on. So, you know, if you're looking for an excuse to not read one of them... Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  8. That's a lot of books! Life is a little stressful and stuffed with unimaginative things. I'm stuck with 'sense and sensability' and can't seem to finish it. I'll get through it somehow.

  9. Wowsas, what a great list! I wish i could remember all that i've read this year but i'm not as organised as you!

    I'm glad you've read 'The Art of Fiction' as i was going to suggest it to you. Also, another writing handbook that might be good is 'Story' by Robert McKee. It's mainly about screenwriting but much of it can easily be applied to fiction.

    Oh, have you read any Terry Pratchett? Not what you would describe as 'literary' but extremely readable and enjoyable. :)

  10. Guess I'm in trouble. I've only read 14 books on the list! I'd better get busy!

  11. Hi, Sarah. I've been there. Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi, Lou. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Hi, Judie. Nothing special about the list. It just happened to be what I read for the year. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. Hunter, I want to get my son a subscription to a literary magazine (not an on-line one). Do you have any suggestions?

  13. Wow, a lot of books! That's great dedication, and I'm sure you enjoy it too. I wish I could do the same; but I get easily bored when reading! I have to find writers who really really inspire me and excite me and turn me on creatively, and I only find one every three years or so! But am always searching! Keep reading! Keep writing!

  14. Hi, Judie. There's a lot of great stuff out there. I'll drop you a note with a few suggestions.

    Hi, Kid. I did enjoy most of the books. A few were a slog and some missions were aborted, but I found it beneficial to see how others succeeded or failed things I'm trying to do. Thanks for stopping by. And as always, thanks for the encouragement.

  15. Hi,

    I'm currently readin Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. A British classic but not sure if it made it big stateside.

    Just bought The Great Gatsby to read next. What were your thoughts on Gatsby and have you read Hitchhikers?

  16. Hi, Malky. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I've never read Adams. He's quite popular here, so that puts me in the minority. As for Gatsby, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd imagine even someone who wasn't a fan of the book would admit Fitzgerald's talent for description. For me, the confluence of events really made the story work; the climax was both surprising and inevitable. I did, however, find the denouement a little long-winded.

  17. I struggle getting through books. But I've decided to stop being mad at myself; I just read what I read, and if I only read 74 pages of a book, well it's the book's fault, not mine :)

  18. "The Land I Came Through Last" by Australian poet Robert Gray is a good read. Most poets don't write novels. This is his one and only.

  19. Hi, Kid. I hear you. Life is too short to stick with something you aren't enjoying or learning from.

    Hi, rallentanda. Robert Gray is a new name to me. I'll have to see if I can't find a copy. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

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