The Year Behind, the Year Ahead

champagneA very merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years to all of you! Like Teresa, I wanted to do a little musing about my reading over the past year, and think about directions I might take in the year to come.

This last year, I did less reading than I’ve done in any recent year I can remember. I only read 75 books, and in many past years I’ve read almost double that number. This means that in 2016, I’d simply like to read more: stop turning to television or other distractions (unless it’s good times with good friends) and turn in with my endless stack of wonderful novels instead. I’d also like to be part of the bookish conversation more. Unlike Teresa, I doubt that will mean reading more newly-published books; for me, that will just mean reading other blogs, and commenting on them. I’ve been scrambling to keep up, and it’s time to get back into the habit, especially with my most-beloved blogs.

I like to read roughly one pre-1900 book, one book by an author of color, and one nonfiction book per month, in addition to my other reading. I only made one of those goals, with 13 nonfiction books, 10 books by authors of color, and 9 pre-1900 books. Try, try again; these are goals I really enjoy and ones that shouldn’t be hard to reach.

And yes, I read fewer books than I usually do, but what I read was certainly worthwhile:

Best Short Stories That Will Knock You For a Loop: In Persuasion Nation, George Saunders. These stories are strange, funny, heartbreaking, eerie, satirical, compassionate — exactly what I want stories to be.

Most Convincing Re-Read: I read Emma years ago and didn’t like it. Then I read it again and decided that Jane Austen might have known what she was doing, dang it.

Best Book Containing Norse Dirty Jokes: The Sagas of Icelanders. You want shockingly modern prose, complex characters, day-to-day life, the stories of marriages? Sure, there’s Middlemarch. But centuries earlier, there was this. And there’s also the dirty jokes!

Best Essays on Random Topics That Make You Rethink the Human Condition: Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace. I wasn’t sure I’d like this book, and it absolutely knocked my socks off. Foster Wallace can take any tiny piece of human weirdness and turn it into his particular thoughtful magic.

Best Matched Pair: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, and The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, by Monique Roffey. These books showed two very different perspectives on Caribbean colonialism. Both were angry, loving, impatient, and wise.

Best Book: Hands down, it was Lila, by Marilynne Robinson. Here, Robinson speaks from the heart of someone who has been mostly abused and abandoned, and the language and structure of the book reflect that. The slow, meditative exploration of what it might mean for someone with those experiences to find love again is, in my view, a masterpiece.

Looking back over the year, it makes me excited for 2016. I want all these kinds of experiences, and more. In the new year, I wish you health, happiness, and the space and time for wonderful reading! I look forward to sharing it with you all!

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18 Responses to The Year Behind, the Year Ahead

  1. Lisa says:

    Happy New Year! Your end-of-the-year post, like Teresa’s, sort of chimes with some things I’ve been considering. I read a lot of books this year, particularly during the three weeks when I lost my internet connection. I’m trying to move away from spending so much time on-line – while still wanting to keep up with blogs. Twitter is the real drain on my time and attention – and reading energy. I did read some shiny new books this year, but not many. I don’t avoid them (well, I’m avoiding A Little Life like crazy), I guess i don’t seek them out like I do the older books.

    I hope this year brings you great books to share, and many bookish conversations. I look forward as always to seeing what you’re reading.

    • Jenny says:

      I got back onto Facebook this year for the first time since 2007, and it’s been really fun reconnecting with people, but also a big time-suck. This year was also very difficult for other reasons, and I hope that 2016 will be much, much calmer! I’d like to set specific time aside for reading in the evening, instead of TV — that’s my main game plan.

  2. lauratfrey says:

    Did you review either Caribbean novel? I read my very first Caribbean novel in 2014 and it ended up being my favorite (The Bridge of Beyond, Kincaid wrote the intro.)

    • Jenny says:

      I did review both books (A Small Place is a long essay rather than a novel) — I should have linked, but got lazy. :) I’ve read and reviewed several Caribbean books here over the years, but would really like to do more, perhaps especially something Haitian.

      • lauratfrey says:

        Ok, now that I found your reviews, I remember reading your review of A Small Place! Still very intrigued by both. Wasn’t Roxane Gay’s novel set in Haiti? That’s what first comes to mind.

      • Teresa says:

        Roxane Gay’s book was set in partially in Haiti. I personally didn’t love it, though. If I were to recommend something specifically from Haiti, it would be Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory.

      • Jenny says:

        I knew I remembered that Danticat was a Haitian writer. I’d love to do something that was originally in French or Creole, as well. I’ll have to explore!

  3. lailaarch says:

    Based on Tenth of December alone, George Saunders is one of my favorite writers. I hope to read In Persuasion Nation this year. Happy New Year!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I just loved it. I’m still planning to read his first two collections of stories in the next couple of years!

  4. Scott W says:

    75 books in a year is hardly a number to sneeze at. I’m convinced by your posts that I should take up Austen again and spend more time with the Icelanders this year. Did you by chance see the “interview” of Marilynne Robinson by Barack Obama (!) in the New York Review of Books a couple of months ago? Worth tracking down if you haven’t read it yet. All best for 2016!

    • Jenny says:

      That interview was one of my favorite things of the year — such an interesting conversation about literature, democracy, and faith. Quite like her essays, if you’ve read any of those. And best to you in the coming year as well, Scott!

  5. Shonna says:

    Great to hear how your year went.
    I found your comment about Emma interesting as I had the same experience. First time reading I couldn’t get into it, and the second time I absolutely loved it.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes — I was pretty sure it was my fault and not Austen’s! I’m so glad it was the same for you. Have a wonderful year, Shonna!

  6. Happy New Year, Jenny – ‘Norse Dirty Jokes’ is now my new benchmark. Not sure how I can apply it, of course, but… ;-)

  7. Health and happiness and wonderful reading to you too, Proper Jenny! I hope all your resolutions come true and all your 2016 reads are fabulous!

  8. Stefanie says:

    Happy New Year! Saga of the Icelanders, huh? You sold me :)

  9. Nicola says:

    Happy New Year! Loved Lila, too.

  10. Alex says:

    Happy New Year! I’ve also re-read Emma and felt very much like you did. There’s to way around it: she was a genius :)

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