Hindsight: What I Read In 2011

For the past three months, all of my books have been in boxes. The reason was simple enough: my partner and I bought a house, and we agreed that there were more pressing issues to attend to (eg. a yellow living room). I thought I’d hate not having my books visible and easily at hand, and at first I really did. But eventually it felt kind of freeing. The Great Unread wasn’t scowling down at me for a change. And I hardly needed to consult them at all. Instead I could start from scratch, and read in peace.

Then I got antsy again. So flash forward to a few days ago, and the shelves finally went up. Seventeen boxes’ worth were then freed from their stacked confinement and released back into my daily line of sight, all in one fell swoop.

I was thinking about those stacks while polishing up the list below, and two things are clear to me. First, I read a lot this year: nearly 90 books, plus a bunch of comics. This makes me not smarter, maybe, but at least disciplined. More importantly, I finally—finally—started to feel like I’m getting past the obvious books, and finding my own little niche of idiosyncratic fiction to snuggle up against.

So, for the third year running, here’s what I read in the past 12 months. It’s all here—I promise. Links to full reviews are provided wherever possible, and at the end you’ll find a bunch of statistics to skim past.

My resolutions for 2012? Stick with Shelf Defense; read more science and history; stay vigilant; stay ambitious; keep pushing into unknown territory; work hard. The usual stuff, I guess. I hope you stick around and hold me to it all the same.

* * * * *

JANUARY

Patton Oswalt, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland (2011)

Grégoire Bouillier, The Mystery Guest (2004, trans. Lorin Stein)

Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, House of M (#1-8) (2005-6): I like the cleaner drawings and pastel colours, but this veers too close to Heroes Reborn for me to get too worked up about it. Library.

Hannah Pittard, The Fates Will Find Their Way (2011)

Dan Charnas, The Big Payback (2010) [Interview with Charnas]

Greg Pak and John Romita, Jr., World War Hulk (#1-5, Aftersmash) (2007-8): “Aftersmash.” Library.

John Williams, Stoner (1965)

Nicholson Baker, Room Temperature (1990)

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels (#1-4) (1994): Just as gorgeous as I’d remembered. This is the high water mark, as far as I’m concerned. Re-read, library.

Justin Taylor, The Gospel of Anarchy (2011)

FEBRUARY

Herman Melville, Typee (1846)

Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)

Matthew J. Trafford, The Divinity Gene (2011)

Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart (1999, trans. Philip Gabriel)

Karen Russell, Swamplandia! (2011)

Deb Olin Unferth, Vacation (2008)

Mike Sacks, Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason (2011) [Interview with Sacks]

David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999)

Mark Waid and Alex Ross, Kingdom Come (#1-4) (1996): #kanyeshrug. Library.

Jonathan Ames, I Pass Like Night (1989)

MARCH

Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen, New Avengers, Vol. 2 (#1-6) (2010): Library.

Adam Leith Gollner, The Fruit Hunters (2008)

Sheila Heti, Ticknor (2005)

Haruki Murakami, After Dark (2004, trans. Jay Rubin)

Jessica Page Morrell, Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected (2009): Look, I don’t have to justify myself to you. (And I only read a quarter of it.) Library.

Alison Espach, The Adults (2011) [Q&A with Espach]

John Barth, The End of the Road (1958)

Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1994)

Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel, The Alcoholic (2008): A graphic novel with plenty of overlap with I Pass Like Night—plus the protagonist is named Jonathan A.? I’m on to you, Ames! Library.

Roger McGough, The State of Poetry (1983-2003): One of my beloved Penguin 70s (though this one kind of sucks). From Chapters.

APRIL

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (2011)

Alan Heathcock, Volt (2011)

Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End (2007): A kind of anti-Pale King—here the way to transcend boredom is via the ancient art of dicking around. (It also uses the exact same dead-at-desk-for-four-days-and-nobody-noticed scene.) Bought from Value Village last summer.

Donald Barthelme, Forty Stories (1987): One long, glorious, occasionally bewildering shot of adrenaline to the English language. I felt downright jittery after reading it. “Lightning” is one of the finest stories I’ve read in a long time. Powell’s.

Rob Taylor, The Other Side of Ourselves (2011) [Q&A with Taylor]

Lisa Lutz and David Hayward, Heads You Lose (2011)

MAY

Jonathan Lethem, You Don’t Love Me Yet (2007): When Rolling Stone said it was “fit to be devoured over the course of a weekend,” they forgot to mention you’ll barf it back up on Monday morning. Not good. Bought from the Untitled Bookshop in late 2010.

Kristen den Hartog, And Me Among Them (2011)

José Saramago, Small Memories (2006, trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

Horacio Castellanos Moya, The She-Devil in the Mirror (2000, trans. Katherine Silver): Oh yes yes yes yes. Powell’s.

Ian Williams, Not Anyone’s Anything (2011)

Malcolm Bradbury, The History Man (1975): Lop off the last chapter, tidy up some of the sexual politics, and double the page count—you’ve got an A+ campus novel on your hands. Powell’s.

Lynne Tillman, Someday This Will Be Funny (2011)

JUNE

Michael Murphy, A Description of the Blazing World (2011)

Martin Amis, The Second Plane (2008): A smartly structured, unflinching, and (mostly) carefully considered book about 9/11. Flaws are flaws, but this can’t be tossed aside—plus it might be Amis’s best-written book, which is saying a lot. Bought remaindered from Chapters earlier this year.

Maude Hutchins, Victorine (1959)

Michael Lewis, Moneyball (2003)

Horacio Castellanos Moya, Tyrant Memory (2008, trans. Katherine Silver) [Q&A with Silver]

JULY

Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers (2011) [Q&A with deWitt]

Kevin Wilson, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (2009)

César Aira, The Literary Conference (2006, trans. Katherine Silver)

Daniel Orozco, Orientation (2011)

J. Courtney Sullivan, Maine (2011)

Isol, Beautiful Griselda (2011, trans. Elisa Amado)

Nicholson Baker, The Fermata (1994)

AUGUST

Misha Glouberman with Sheila Heti, The Chairs Are Where the People Go (2011)

Esmé Claire Keith, Not Being on a Boat (2011)

Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (2011)

Nicholson Baker, House of Holes (2011)

George Saunders, Pastoralia (2000)

Muriel Spark, Memento Mori (1959)

Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai (2000)

SEPTEMBER

David Gilmour, The Film Club (2007)

Edward Riche, Easy to Like (2011)

Elissa Schappell, Blueprints for Building Better Girls (2011)

Lynn Coady, The Antagonist (2011) [Interview with Coady]

Lynn Coady, Mean Boy (2006)

Adam Gopnik, Winter: Five Windows on the Season (2011)

Mary-Louise Gay, Caramba and Henry (2011)

José Saramago, Cain (2009, trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

OCTOBER

Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter (2011)

D.W. Wilson, Once You Break a Knuckle (2011)

Helen DeWitt, Lightning Rods (2011)

Mélanie Watt, Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party (2011)

Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant (2011)

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (2009, trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel)

Zsuzsi Gartner, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (2011)

NOVEMBER

Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

Percival Everett, Assumption (2011)

Cheryl Foggo and Qin Leng, Dear Baobab (2011)

Chris Bachelder, Abbott Awaits (2011) [Q&A with Bachelder]

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (2011)

David Whitton, The Reverse Cowgirl (2011)

Kaitlin Fontana, Fresh at Twenty (2011) [Q&A with Fontana]

DECEMBER

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1918)

Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda (2011)

Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence (2011)

César Aira, The Seamstress and the Wind (1994, trans. Rosalie Knecht)

Colson Whitehead, Zone One (2011)

Justin Torres, We the Animals (2011)

Chris Adrian, A Better Angel (2008)

Nikolai Gogol, The Night Before Christmas (1832, trans. Constance Garnett)

Agatha Christie, Crooked House (1949): Awesome. Just… just awesome.

Dava Sobel, Longitude (1996)

* * * * *

STATISTICS

Fiction: 72/89 (81%) 

Non-fiction: 17/89 (19%)

Books in translation: 12/89 (13%)

Male authors: 58/89 (65%)

Female authors: 31/89 (35%)

Canadian authors: 23/89 (26%)

Most-read author: Nicholson Baker; Haruki Murakami (3 each)

Favourite not-new book: Lynn Coady, Mean Boy

Obvious, five-star classics: The Education of Henry Adams, Forty StoriesThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

PUBLICATION DATES

2011: 45

2010s: 1

2000s: 22

1990s: 7

1980s: 2

1970s: 1

1960s: 2

1950s: 3

1940s: 1

1910s: 1

1800s: 2

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