The Year Behind, The Year Ahead

champagneHello all! Merry Christmas and the happiest of happy new years to you all! It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to post, since the end of my semester at school, the end of my children’s semester (with all its attendant hoohurraw), Christmas festivities, and a visit with family came right on top of each other this year. But that doesn’t mean I stopped reading! I’m glad I didn’t decide to make my end-of-year-post too soon, because — as always seems to happen — I read some of my favorite books of the year in the last couple of weeks. I’ll have reviews coming up of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Nabokov’s King, Queen, Knave, and Jo Baker’s Longbourn, but first I wanted to do a little reflection on 2013 and on the year to come.

2012 was an absolutely phenomenal reading year, and I wasn’t expecting to top it, but 2013 was surprisingly wonderful as well. Perhaps my very favorite book of the year — the one that has lodged itself with me and changed me, the one I’ve given to at least ten other people this year — is The Translator, by John Crowley. I read this exquisite novel about poetry, language, longing and love in January and I can’t believe it was only a year ago; it seems I must have been reading it all my life.

2013 was also the year I met Virginia Woolf for the first time, and read several of her novels, including To the Lighthouse. I read James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner — bizarre and fantastic — and finished Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire in July. I entered the devastating childhood world of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and the world of ancient Persian demons and kings in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, and the scandalous world of the suddenly-illegitimate in Wilkie Collins’s No Name. Rebecca West showed me an utterly convincing, yet perfectly unique family in one of my favorites of the whole year: The Fountain Overflows. I was pierced by Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women, Graham Greene spoke quietly in my ear in The End of the Affair, and George Saunders wrote modern parables in his Tenth of December. Gogol and Nabokov talked to each other about Dead Souls. And A.S. Byatt drew me in for generations of intertwined art and life in The Children’s Book.

My nonfiction reading was also pretty spectacular. I got to read more by some of my favorite authors: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence, Randall Jarrell’s Poetry and the Age, and Marilynne Robinson’s When I Was a Child I Read Books were wonderful examples. But I also got to meet some marvelous new people: David George Haskell’s The Forest Unseen and Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life were revelations.

What about 2014? For one thing, I plan to keep reading off my ever-expanding TBR list. My strategy of planning my reading a month at a time, including at least one nonfiction book and at least one book by an author of color each month, has been working pretty well for me. It leaves room for serendipity and changes in mood, but it also makes sure I’m reading the things I have been wanting to read for years. And I plan to keep reading primarily from the library, both out of principle (support your local library!) and out of space and budget considerations. The only books I buy these days are by authors I know I am devoted to: my collections of Crowley, King, Nabokov, Robinson, and O’Connor (for instance) are slowly growing!

I also have certain traditions, like reading Big Classics during the summer months, when I have more time and brain space to devote to them. I had vaguely thought that I might give Proust another whirl this summer (I have never been able to get through Proust, though I do think I ought to like him.) But I received the Sagas of the Icelanders for Christmas, and perhaps I will read those instead. Any other suggestions? I’ve got Journey to the West sitting on my shelf as well (a four-volume 16th-century Chinese classic) and obviously there are thousands of other things I haven’t read.

I’m looking forward to the new year! May 2014 bless you in every way, and especially in the books that it showers into your lap!

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26 Responses to The Year Behind, The Year Ahead

  1. Samantha says:

    What a wonderful and diverse year of reading! Happy New Year!

  2. Lisa says:

    A very happy New Year, Jenny! I hope 2014 brings all good things, especially books to share with us. I’m mulling over my new year of reading as well.

  3. Sounds like a great year! Any year where you meet Virginia Woolf HAS to be good :)

  4. Sly Wit says:

    One thing I’d like to do in the New Year is to read more diversely. I love the idea of making sure to read at least one book by an author of color each month. Thank you!

  5. JaneGS says:

    So nice to year your 2013 was stellar, book wise. I’m almost done with Longbourn myself, maybe tonight, so it will be fun to read your review when you post it. I also listened to Graham Green’s End of the Affair, and liked it thought not as much as I thought I would. I read Swann’s Way when I was about 19, and have never had the least inclination to read more of Proust :)

    Best wishes for a wonderful reading year in 2014 as well!

    • Jenny says:

      Well, as a French scholar, Proust is a major, MAJOR hole in my education! But I think I will like him when I get there. :)

  6. gaskella says:

    Longbourn has been getting good notices all around – My copy is on order, it’ll be great to see your review too. John Crowley is someone I must revisit – I read Little Big many years ago, and remember loving it. All the best for 2014

  7. Melwyk says:

    Sounds like a wonderful reading year! I have An Examined Life and Longbourn on the tbr and I also loved Little Big years ago and have meant to read more Crowley ever since!

    As for Proust, I read him about a decade ago; it took me two years to slowly read through all 12 volumes of the edition I had available. It was worth it in the end!

  8. Alex says:

    There’s an awful lot that you mention there that has suddenly found its way onto my tbr pile, so thank you – I think! Planning by the month works much better for me, especially as I always have monthly book group reads to fit in. Rather than trying to include specific types of books each month I’m going to be focussing on limiting the number of certain genres that I read in any set period of time. I know that if I’m not careful I can read far too many crime and thriller novels and I want to try and broaden my reading this year.

  9. Alex says:

    Happy New Year Jenny! I’d come across The Translator before, but ended up not adding it to my wish-list because I felt the average rating on GoodReads was too low (3.73 out of 458 ratings). Now I can’t ignore it any more :)

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, The Translator is an absolutely amazing novel. I don’t know why it’s not better known, but if I have anything to do with it, it will be.

  10. Happy New Year – I hope that your 2014 reads are as equally, if not more, enjoyable as those of 2013 so obviously were. (Some late night grammar going on there, but you get my drift?!)

  11. Sagas of the Icelanders – I may read some of those. Or not those, from the Jane Smiley book, but some others. Your collection has Egil’s Saga which is just – just hard to describe.

    I read Monkey, the abridgment of Journey to the West, several years ago. The whole thing would be quite a challenge.

    Maybe this year I will finally finish Crowley’s Aegypt series.

    • Jenny says:

      Journey to the West would be my second big Chinese classic, after Story of the Stone. There’s also Plum in the Golden Vase, and there are… let’s see… five volumes of that. The last one just came out in September.

      Aegypt is brilliant, but of course I would think so.

  12. litlove says:

    Happy, happy new year, dear Jenny! What a fabulous reading year you had and I am swiftly noting down titles here. In particular, The Translator, which, ahem, is available in a cheap copy online and which I doubt I will resist…. If you aren’t entirely sure about Proust, then I would suggest some Colette or Simone de Beauvoir. I read Les Mandarins a year or so ago and was reminded why I love Beauvoir so much. Or if you want something more demanding, you could try some contemporary classics, like Marie NDiaye or Laurent Gaude or the little known but fabulous Eric Faye. Well, whatever you end up choosing, I wish you another spectacular year of reading!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, thank you so much for the suggestions, Litlove! I’ve got some Simone de Beauvoir on my list (there are still several of hers I haven’t yet read) and Colette is always a treat. And the others are yet unknown to me. What a good idea. And do, do, do read The Translator. I think you will love it.

  13. Happy New Year (a bit belated) to you, Proper Jenny! I can’t remember, have you already read Ada, or Ardor? If not, maybe that could be a Big Classic for the summer? Or am I misremembering its length?

    • Jenny says:

      I have! I loved every word, though so far it’s the Nabokov that has been most obscure to me and about which I have the fewest theories. It is VERY long. Did you read it? Did you like it? I am so pleased if you did!

      Happy New Year, Jenny. I am so glad you are in my (blogging) life.

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