Tuesday, January 01, 2019

November Road -- Thoughts on Reading in 2018

I read 146 books in 2018. That’s the lowest amount read since I completed 135 books in 2011, and a significant drop from recent highs ranging from 180 to more than 200 books a year.

Travel, thrice weekly work-outs, and various other activities, accounted for most of that decline.  (When I set out on a trip my most demanding decision is not what clothes to pack, but what books to take. Flying, in particular, presents an opportunity for hours of uninterrupted reading. Still, when traveling, entire days go by when I do not open a book.)

To reach previous highs would have required me to read three to four books more each month. While that is something I could do, or might do, the total for 2018 is not only reasonable, but more leisurely and less compulsive.  

Moving now from my reading habits to my reading list.

In truth, the list does not represent everything I read this past year.  Magazine and newspaper articles, comic books and comic collections are not listed.  What you find here, instead, are books only. A few of the titles here might stretch your definition of a book — Lynd Ward’s woodcuts, for example, have no text.  His “novels” are no less powerful for being composed of illustrations only.   Others might question the presence of graphic novels.  I, however, am especially  fond of that combination of text and illustrations.

Also, this year-end summary does not constitute a “best of” list. I’ll leave that to the New York Times and other publications, on-line and off, that have a host of reviewers who, combined, can read far more books in a year than I can.

The books I choose to single out are the books I most enjoyed. They are books, I believe, you might enjoy too, which is the reason I assemble this year-end review.

Let’s start with non-fiction.  In general, I greatly prefer fiction to non-fiction, yet this year there  were some extraordinary works of non-fiction.  Those books I enjoyed most, in no particular order, were:

Ali — A Life, Jonathan Eid
Packing My Library, Alberto Manguel
The Boys In The Boat, Daniel James  Brown
Killers of the Flower Moon, David Gann
Cartoon County, Cullen Murphy
Bad Blood, John Carreyrou
The Library Book,  Susan Orlean
The Diary of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell

The works of fiction I most enjoyed were:

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
Don’t Skip Out On Me, Willy Vlautin
Circe, Madeline Miller
Safe Houses,  Dan Fesperman
Reamde, Neal  Stephenson
Transcription, Kate Atkinson
Girl, Balancing & Other Stories, Helen Dunmore
The Witch Elm, Tana French
November Road, Lou Berney

If you were to ask me to pick one book among this short list to put in your hands it would be Lou Berney’s November Road. It is a fresh take on the suspense novel. 

A few additional comments:

Returned to several old favorites this past year, including the science fiction classics Dune, Ringworld and Footfall.  All were as good, or better, than remembered. 

I can't tell you the last time I read Alice in Wonderland, but we’re talking decades.

Stubbornly completed Ben Bova’s Grand Tour series.  Stubbornly, because Bova can be a  clumsy writer.  His characters are one dimensional — either all good or all bad, rarely shades of gray — and given to using oaths that or no longer in use now, let alone 100 years in the future. His science is solid, though, and I like his vision of the future.

Book series that I recommend: Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series, which is also a good source for recommendations on country music;.  Joe Ide’s three-book series on Isaiah Quintabe (IQ), his Sherlock Holmes of the hood; the Laundry series from Charles Stross, a low-culture blend of espionage and Lovecraftian horror; and anything by Bernard Cornwell.

On the complete list you will find a smattering of books in what I broadly consider graphic arts. Graphic novels are here, and also biographies on a number of creators, including the men behind Mad Magazine and Krazy Kat.  

*Any errors in this post are purely the result of your imagination.  

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