Just discovered Barnes & Noble’s Online Storytime—popular children’s books read by authors and celebrities. Someone make this thing into an app, stat!
I’ve been making lists of the books I read since I started reading books. It’s a bit of an obsession. Like a photo album, I like to peruse what I’ve read years past and reminisce. Also, it gives me an inflated sense of accomplishment. So what if I did nothing truly noteworthy last year?? Look at all these books I read! Thanks to GoodReads—that beautiful encourager of book-list junkies—I realized a few days ago that I’d read 32 books in 2012. And that if I hustled, I could make it 33 by the new year. I just so happened to turn 33 a few weeks ago and so obviously took this as a sign. 33 books the year I turned 33 is a great omen going into 2013, wouldn’t you say?
I’m happy to report that I met my goal around 8pm (then proceeded to raise a teacup of Martinelli’s in an early toast to the new year with my kids, directly followed by a dream-light techno dance party in our living room. Yeah. That’s how we do it around here). Here’s the best of my 2012 reading. Ten books I most adored.
1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. You can read a more thorough description of this book’s new standard-setting awesomeness here. Let me just say that reading this will probably ruin most other contemporary books for you. Because they just won’t compare.
2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. You know how people are always throwing around the word “genius” in their descriptions of artists? Well, I’m not one of those people. That said, Woolf is a true and unabashed genius and I count the reading of this book as a life experience.
3. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present by Gail Collins. The prose here reads more like a novel than a history text. If you’re looking for a sweeping view of modern feminist history (which I felt like I’d been looking for for a decade or so), look no further.
4. God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant. God set down in the world of couch-buying, dog-walking and beauty school attendance. Okay. So these are poems intended for YA. But each is witty and lovely and surprising and perfect.
5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. A must-read soul crusher, folks. Talk about unsung authors. Yates is at the top of that list for me. Also, if you possibly can, you must also read his short story Oh, Joseph, I’m So Tired. Because it’s brilliant.
6. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Another heart breaker. Well-researched, compassionate journalism. I’ve got a serious soft spot for the plight of defected North Koreans.
7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m a painfully slow reader. But I read this book in a day. Beautiful prose. Hideous (but compelling!) subject matter. It’s the end of the world, after all. McCarthy has hit some kind of authorial nirvana. Both writing and story here soar in unconscious perfection.
8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This would have been so life-saving to have read in my twenties. C’est la vie. I’ll just have to pass it on to my own daughters at the appropriately poignant moment in their lives.
9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. We are all loathe to admit it, but Oprah got a few things right.
10. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro. Last but not least; this book is not an afterthought. It’s more of a given. It’s the Munro book I happened to have read this year. And any book by Munro is bound to blow one’s mind.
Cheers to good books! What were your favorites of 2012?
I’m always regretting I didn’t have some kind of fanatical literature buff to have guided my reading education when I was younger. My mom—herself and avid reader—constantly tried pushing books on me but I shrugged them off. I thought everything my mom liked (oatmeal, talking to strangers in checkout lines, reading?!) was totally lame. Oopsie. So maybe what I actually regret is that I wasn’t open to having a literature-buff-guided education as a younger person.
In my adult effort to catch up, I’ve recently come across the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, where authors are invited to read and discuss stories from the magazine’s archives. It’s an absolute delight. So if you—like me in so many things—are late to this party, now you know. Merry Christmas to all!
P.S. As a starting off point, I highly recommend the Maile Meloy reads Laurie Colwin’s “Mr. Parker” podcast. My favorite so far.
P.P.S. I was looking for an old picture of my mom and I in matching one-piece puffed-sleeve floral jumpers to illustrate how I didn’t always think things she liked were lame. But the ol’ scrapbook is nowhere to be found. Rain check, folks. Because it’s a true vision of wonder.
Because we live in a great age, there is such a thing as iTunesU, where—right from my phone during breakfast—I can sit in on filmed lectures and pretend like I’m attending university in Oxford or Cambridge. My recent favorite is a podcast on Jane Austen’s early and unfinished manuscript “The Watsons.” I sat through it absolutely giddy. Like tween girls sit through a Justin Beiber concert: bopping in my seat.
Back in the late 90s, when I was a junior in high school, the BBCs epic 5-hr version of Pride and Prejudice came out. Somehow my non-cable family obtained a VHS tape of this and I spent innumerable hours watching the film, reciting favorite lines with my cousins (also die-hard fans), and, not long afterward, reading the actual book. Sad to say, as a 16 year old, I wasn’t much of a reader. Pride and Prejudice changed that. Because I was so familiar with the story, the language was easier to follow. And I was predisposed to love what I read. I was finally led to understand that great truism: books are better than their movie counterparts! Who knew??
I read the rest of her works, which then led to a 19th-century British lit jag: Alexander Dumas, Baroness Orczy, Thomas Hardy, the Brontes. I read other stuff, too. Fluffier stuff. But Jane steered me down a classical path. Gave birth to me as a reader. Is that too dramatic? I don’t care. It feels true, which is why I adore her so unabashedly.
Tomorrow’s breakfast lecture: Plato’s Philosophy of Art.