Hello 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!