The late comedian Mitch Hedberg had a great joke about do-not-disturb signs on hotel room doors, in which he argues that it’s time to change them to “don’t” disturb. “‘Do not’ psyches you out,” Hedberg says. “‘Do’—all right! I get to disturb this guy! ‘Not’—shit! I need to read faster.”
Well, earlier this year—and for completely different reasons—I reached a similar conclusion. I need to read faster. In 2009 I managed an average of about a book a week, which isn’t bad, by any stretch. But fully half of those were for review. I decided that if I was ever going to make a dent in my growing to-read pile, I’d have to drastically step my game up.
By that measure, 2010 was a success. Somehow I cleared 90 books this year (compared to just 53 last year), nearly half of which were for review. I’ve been staying up later, watching fewer movies, and deleting most of my social networking profiles. This is as close to on point as I will probably ever get.
So just like last year, here’s my reading list for 2010. For all my new followers, consider this a crash course in what I’ve been up to for the past 12 months. For everyone who knows me offline, consider this a belated excuse for why I never leave my house.
And, as always, unless otherwise specified, I read everything listed here for the first time.
Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn (1999): A pick for my book club, and a great one. It’s a reflexive, modern-day detective story that manages to nonetheless date itself by how confused all of the characters are by cell phones. Bought from Wee Book Inn on Whyte, at the very tail end of 2009.
Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur (2009): There’s some great stuff here, though I get the feeling it’d work better split into individual magazine essays, rather than smooshed together into one amorphous book. Birthday present, 2009.
Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives (1998, trans. Natasha Wimmer): I’ve been meaning to read Bolaño for a couple of years now, and once I saw all the nods to this, his North American breakthrough, in The Parabolist, I figured it was as good a time as any to dive in. No surprises here: it’s dizzyingly good. Every single page crackles. From the library.
Stephen King, On Writing (2000): You ever hear about this King fella? He’s pretty great. This is a thoroughly winning here’s-how-I-did (versus a how-to). Library.
Elizabeth Hay, A Student of Weather (2000): I was gripped by the first third or so of this prairie lit familial saga, but from there it falls off right quick. Bought from Alhambra Books, for a book club I didn’t end up attending.
Jane Smiley, Moo (1995): This may be my favourite campus novel yet. Not as funny as Lucky Jim, maybe, but it’s wilder and more sprawling and extremely big-hearted. Also: pretty funny. Old Strathcona Books.
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck, Essential Avengers, Vol. 1 (#1-24) (1963-66): Obviously. Christmas present, 2009.
Andrew Kaufman, All My Friends Are Superheroes (2003): I read this novel (which is really a novella [which is really a medium-sized short story]) in about an hour, on a whim. It was clever enough, though I liked the premise more than the logic of the follow-through. Library.
George Saunders, The Braindead Megaphone (2007): It’s no coincidence that one of these essays is about Mark Twain. Saunders has what is, to me, the quintessential modern American voice: spry, witty, curious, and laser-precise. Bought from Wee Book Inn.
Patrick deWitt, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel (2009) [Q&A with deWitt]
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (2009): Is it sacrilege to say that I found most of this book super boring? It’s like an impeccably well-mannered museum tour: no tension in sight. Book club.
P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Impending Doom (Penguin 70s) (1930): My first two Wodehouse stories, and yikes, are they sharp. Guy’s got jokes for days. Bought off Amazon sometime last year.
Jorge Volpi, In Search of Klingsor (1999, trans. Kristina Cordero): For all those who wish their literary Nazi spy thrillers came with crash courses in quantum mechanics and old German mythology. That is to say, for me. I want that. Bought from my favourite used bookstore in Vancouver, the tragically now-defunct Bibliophile, in ~2006.
David Berry and Josh J. Holinaty, We Hate This Place Here; It’s Our Home (Vol. 2) (2010): Two local guys’ graphic-novel tribute to an Edmonton populated by talking, alienated bison instead of people. I missed the first installment, but will definitely be back for number three. Bought from the Royal Bison Craft and Art Fair.
José Saramago, In Search of the Unknown Island (1997, trans. Margaret Jull Costa): A lovely parable about two people who go off in search of an island that might not exist at all. Spend six grueling seasons with Lost or a sunny half-hour with a Nobel laureate—your call. Library.
Martin Amis, Einstein’s Monsters (1987): Five short stories and one polemical essay about how nuclear weapons are slowly sapping our humanity. Plus a character named Keithette! Bought from the Vancouver Public Library’s annual sale in 2006.
Simon Rich, Ant Farm (2007): This was a re-read that happened almost by accident, while looking up a quote from “Sultan of Brunei” for the Elliot Allagash review.
Barbara Pym, No Fond Return of Love (1961): Frivolous and marriage-crazy, sure. But man, do I love a high-mannered British farce. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that continually burns a character by referring to her “sensible shoes.” Library.
Nicholson Baker, Vox (1992): Bought and read in a single sitting—a sorely needed distraction from the book that appears just below. It’ll get you hot and/or bothered and/or more. Old Strathcona Books.
Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage (1993): I spent years of my youth trying to track down all 14 chapters of this thing in dusty churches and garage sales. Then, five minutes and five dollars on eBay later, boom.
Michael Chabon, The Final Solution (2004): See? I told you 2010 would be The Year I Finally Read Something By Michael Chabon. Novellas count. Bought from the remainder store on Jasper (which has since gone way out of business) in 2008.
Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird (1994): This is another (along with the King above) of those highly touted books about writing. I liked it quite a bit, but the actual writing advice is as shaky and contradictory as ever; stick to the technical memoir, and let us decide what to internalize. Library.
Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970): My daughter is now old enough to be read chapter books before bed, which is good news indeed. This is where we started. Library.
Graham Greene, Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party (1980): This book basically exists for its final scene (the titular bomb party), but I don’t hold that against it. At least the build-up is pleasant and short. Bought, with some sleuthing, from a home-based online store in St. Albert for book club.
Pasha Malla, The Withdrawal Method (2008)
Roald Dahl, Esio Trot (1990): If only love were as simple as buying a hundred turtles and writing nonsense backwards magic spells for the woman you’re ogling from the upstairs balcony. Sigh. Read to my daughter on the couch one morning; it’s the same copy Katie’s parents read to her as a kid.
Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper’s Penguins (1938): Another classic kids’ book read as a bedtime story, chapter by chapter. Way less kooky than Dahl, and not nearly as eloquent as Charlotte’s Web. Plus I had to explain to Bridget why radio was considered such a big deal. Library.
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web (1952): We read this one twice in September alone. Bought from Powell’s while on vacation.
Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach (1961): This one’s not bad, either. Library.
Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, Marvel: Civil War (2006-7): This isn’t the one where everyone dies! What’s the one where everyone dies?
Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Khoi Pham, and John Romita Jr., Mighty Avengers, Secret Invasion (Book One) (2009): What a horrible way to collect comics together. Four measly issues, and not even a coherent picture of the storyline it’s a small part of. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
A.L. Kennedy, What Becomes (2009)
Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu, Secret Invasion (#1-8) (2008-9): Okay, this is pretty cool. Library.
Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch, Avengers Disassembled (#500-503, Finale) (2004): Here we go—this is the one where everyone dies. (Hawkeye, anyway.) But can I be a crank for a minute and point out that none of these pencillers can draw a human being to save their life? They don’t draw faces; they draw costumes. Too dark. Too moody. No fun. Library.
* * *
Fiction: 67/91 (74%)
Non-fiction: 15/91 (16%)
Books in translation: 14/91 (15%)
Male authors: 66/91 (73%)
Female authors: 17/91 (19%)
Canadian authors: 15/91 (16%)
Most-read author: Jonathan Lethem; José Saramago (3 each)
Favourite book: Padgett Powell, The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?
Obvious, five-star classics: Gargantua and Pantagruel