Twenty five books in year without classes and while finishing my MFA thesis doesn't sound too bad. I'm calling it at twenty five because you can see my current read is Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land and I don't anticipate finishing it in the next two weeks. There have been good books and there have been bad. Now, keep in mind that when we talk about merit in such terms we are looking at it through one reader's perspective.
Let's start with the bad books I read this year. Now I knew Bad Twin, written by a fictional character Gary Troupe, was going to be a bad book, but Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep came with a lot of praise and I was surprised to be so annoyed by it. The other surprisingly bad book was Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City.
Then there were the classics I was glad to get to, but didn't move me too much like Portnoy's Complaint, The Sound and the Fury, Herzog, A Farewell to Arms, and To the Lighthouse. And more recent books that didn't do too much for me, Slow Man, Never Let Me Go, The Feast of Love, The Bushwhacked Piano, and Everyman.
Now on to the good. The three bad books above were all read directly after Charles D'Ambrosio's short story collection The Dead Fish Museum. That book is so good that it could make many actually good books look bad. This was also the year I discovered Cormac McCarthy. Suttree knocked me out of my boots. I haven’t been as compelled to read as I was while reading those nearly 400 pages. I did get to The Road this year and I do think it deserves all the praise it's been getting, but it was so darn depressing. And it just wasn't as good as Suttree. Then Joyce Carol Oates's We Were The Mulvaneys also made a difference for me, as did Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and, of course, To Kill a Mockingbird. While I learned this year that I may have set my standards too high, it's good to know that there are books out there, both old and new, that can reach them.
Of course one book I read has to be the best book I read this year, but I'll save that for another post.