Last year, around this time (probably last week around this time), I made lists of books, movies, and other things I consumed in 2005. At the time, it was difficult for me to write the book section because books blur together in my mind, and I wasn't sure if I had read a book in 2005 or 2004 or 1997. I also usually don't read books the year they come out.
As a solution to this quandary and because I was curious about what books I read in the course of a year, I decided to keep a running tally of books I read in 2006. I created an MS document called Books 2006 and left it on my desktop. Whenever I finished a book, I added the author and title to the list. Sometimes, I wondered if I was just reading books to fill the list, but for the most part, the books filled me up instead. I was also trying to read the unread books on my bookshelf, but I ended up getting more books. In 2007, I'm really going to read my unread books. Yes, I'll definitely do it this year.
According to my list, last year, I read 45 books---mostly novels with a memoir or two sprinkled in. I also listened to 18 books on CD evenly divided between fiction and nonfiction. I drove a lot.
I don't have the patience to go through all forty-five reads, so I'm going to give you the highlights (or the ones that make me look really really smart).
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I never had to read this book in school, and I read it for the first time in the beginning of 2006. Damn that Virginia Woolf can write prose. Sometimes, she's just flying.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I read this book in high school, but I was too young for it. As teenagers, we analyzed the use of color and the symbolism of the eyes on the eye doctor's sign. Deep down we wanted to be at Gatsby's party or lounging on the divans like Daisy and Jordan. Back then, the book was like a dream. This time, it was a bright light bearing down on the frailty of dreams. Gatsby achieves so much of his dream (or what others dream of), and he can not stop striving for more and more. Unfortunately, the one thing he wants---Daisy's love only for him---is something he can not create, control, or have. In the end, as silly as she might seem, Daisy is very much her own person. We can not control the ones we love. Like our dreams, they are unexpected.
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
This was one of those books that I bought cheap and then let it sit on my shelf for a few years. Finally, in 2006, I got to it, and promptly replaced its unread spot with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas that I picked up cheap in a Used Bookstore. Anyway, this book is Peter Carey's fictional memoir of Ned Kelly, the Irish-Australian outlaw and legend. He really captured a voice for Ned. With phonetic spellings and tangents off in all directions, this must have been one heck of a manuscript to just deal with as you're writing it. Besides, we all know how the story ends. Still, Carey took us through the process of a life that was so lively I couldn't put it down for a hundred pages at a time.
Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan
This book was a gift (thanks Liam) in many ways. I love Dylan's music. My favorite song is ‘Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight' off the Infidels album. I like that this book skips over several decades and that Dylan tells his story his way. He enjoys telling what he's gonna tell, and I enjoyed reading it. He has the voice of an old man sitting by the fire and telling a yarn while smoking a pipe. For someone who has been defined by so many, I like that he still listens to himself first for any sort of definition. And he's funny.
Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I should just read Jane Austen every year if only to learn to spell her name right. Note to self: it is not like the city in Texas. Miss Austen, your books are so cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel. I love it.
A Sport and a Pastime; Dusk and Other Stories; and Last Night: Stories by James Salter
James Salter was my great find this year. An old friend highly recommended him, and my old friend deserves a great big hug for that. Salter's prose is so simple and clean that you wonder how he gets away with it. He just does. He's that good.
Scission and The Turning by Tim Winton
Tim Winton was my great find last year (or was it the year before that?). Scission is some early work, and The Turning is his most recent collection of interconnected stories set in a small town on the west coast of Australia. He finds the lyrical in stories from everyday life. Blah, blah, blah. He's a good writer.
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
I think I have a love/hate thing going with Ian McEwan's books (although his recent story in the New Yorker fiction issue kicked ass). Sometimes, his work is just so ughhhh, but I still have to keep turning the pages. I picked this up at a library book sale (where I also got a hardcover Mason & Dixon for two bucks, score!). I never saw the movie version of it.
A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Again, more high school reading. I think 2006 was the year I went back to the basics in my reading. This time, reading Hemingway, I noticed how sparse he could get with the prose as if he wants to say ‘this is it, this is that, now I'm done'. Other times, he gets into a flow that takes you down a river to a whole new place in the space of a paragraph.
The Garden of Eden and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Late Hemingway which I read for the first time this year. I think when you reach a certain old fart age, you can look back on your youth when you were poor and uncertain and realize just how good those times were.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My aunt read this book and passed it onto me. The characters in it are so human that the end breaks your heart.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Way back when at the happyrobot party in New York, I asked Blaine (of Nutshell Kingdom fame) what he was reading. He told me about this book. He said it was good, and he was right. I now know to ask writers what they are reading instead of what they are writing. A much better conversation will come from it. Reading this book was like eating good candy. It was super sweet and didn't upset my stomach. I still go back to the last page and smile. I passed it onto my aunt.
The Master by Colm Toibin
Colm Toibin's fictional biography of the novelist, Henry James. Forgive my superlativeness, but this is the best book I've ever read on a writer writing. If you're a writer, do you ever get that itch to get away from people and just write. Yep, Henry has that too. I also like how he draws from simple yet unlikely things to make his stories.
The Poor Mouth; The Third Policeman; The Hard Life; and The Dalkey Archieve by Flann O'Brien
Do you ever want to chuck it all, say ‘fuck it' and read whacked out fun stuff? Is traditional reality just not doing it for you anymore? Check this guy out. I don't have strange dreams after reading Flann O'Brien. I don't dream at all. He's just. . .so. . .you just gotta experience it. And yes, The Third Policeman is that book from the TV show, Lost.
Books on CD
I drive a lot, and books on CD are a great way for me to get to all those hot bestsellers I would never have the time or patience to read. I also have a good local library where I can easily reserve them.
The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
Yes, at dinner parties I can talk about this book and compare it to the film thanks to hours of listening to it in the car. It made for fun car listening as there was a lot of sorta suspense. Will Langdon and Sophie get out? Oh no! Go! Go! Go! Okay, gotta park now.
Blink and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
I get it. I think. But not in a conscious way.
Are Men Necessary?by Maureen Dowd
They're really not, but we keep them around for kicks, right Maureen? She has a very good reading voice by the way.
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Yes. That book. Oprah's favorite book. He's got everything in it: the young lovers torn apart by benevolent drug counselors, the mobster mentor, the old musician judge, the clueless parents. Who would've thought rehab could be so chock full of action, action, action? Didn't really like the root canal with no anesthetic. I hate dental pain.
My Life by Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton also has a very nice reading voice. Maybe he and Maureen Dowd could collaborate on something motivational for the cultural elite. I thoroughly enjoyed Bill's story especially when he and Ken Starr had that light saber duel in the Rose Garden. Oh wait, maybe I'm blurring again.
Live at Carnegie Hall by David Sedaris
It's very dangerous to drive on the freeway while listening to David Sedaris. Several times, in the middle of Orange County, I doubled over laughing and for a split second lost sight of the road. Fortunately, we were only going forty-five miles per hour.
Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
My significant other and I listened to five and a half hours of Beckett as we drove down the Five during our thirteen hour sprint from Oregon to San Diego. Yes, we listened to the whole thing. Malone's dead.