When you read a lot, authors come in and out of your field of vision. People you don’t think about for years, books you don’t touch, float into view, and you have to seek them out. I always think I forget what I have read, soon after I put the book down, but then many years later it comes back. A specific scene or character or setting or the whole thing. This weekend was
a flood. J.G. Ballard is always around somewhere–although I don’t need to read them all again right now, that world is too dark. Alasdair Gray died.
Arundhati Roy came back–I’m looking at her new essay collection My Seditious Heart. She is someone who goes into what is happening in the world and looks hard at where we need to go. Terry Eagleton is back. It’s not hard to see the full shelf of his books, but his way of delving into a topic opens up the chance to see his point of view and to fight back. Neil Gaiman and Sandman was right up there over the weekend, as kept getting introduced as the Graphic Novel guy to adults and young people alike. Chris Ware is back–but that is because he has a new book, but also because I ran into a clean copy of Building Stories in the library sale.
There’s that quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, that the best way to understand another person is to “climb into [their] skin and walk around in it.” This sounds a little Silence of the Lambs when taken out of context, so here is an alternate way of improving your capacity for empathy: Read more literary fiction.
Or so goes the argument recently put forth by a pair of researchers, who find that familiarity with literary fiction — in contrast to genre fiction (mystery, sci-fi, romance, and the like) — is associated with greater emotional intelligence.
Here it is: the complete list of books I finished in 2017. A few caveats: I have a toddler, so both reading time and energy are in short supply; there are lots more books that I started, or read pieces of, or read excerpts of in magazines; current events were much more distracting this year than others. That being said, I’m proud of this list. I read some truly great books, and thanks to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (more on that next week), I read a much wider range of genres than I typically would.
The best of the best: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward were the best novels I read this year, and One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin was the most unexpected. For nonfiction, I loved Code Girls by Liza Mundyand I savored How to Sit by…
“Most books I read are still e-books, mostly because I do a lot of reading on my commute and it’s much harder to keep a paper book open and at eye level when you’re clinging one-handed to the pole on the Northern line, but I’ve been making more time to read for pleasure and those are usually print books.” http://www.planestrainsandplantagenets.com/2017/06/reading-print-books/
It’s hard not to be drawn to what Ann Morgan is doing, but it is not for me at the moment.
In 2012, I embarked on an eccentric project. Having realised how anglocentric my reading was, I decided to try to read a novel, short story collection or memoir from every UN-recognised country, plus former UN member Taiwan (then 196 nations in all), in a calendar year.
I set up a blog, ayearofreadingtheworld.com, and asked the world’s book lovers to help me. Pretty soon suggestions – and even books, manuscripts and unpublished translations – were flooding in from around the planet.
My criteria for choosing the titles I read varied and developed throughout the year. Sometimes I opted for national favourites. At other times I picked wildcards that intrigued me because they seemed at odds with the society that had produced them, such as works by exiled writers. And there were narratives that challenged my preconceptions in a huge number of ways.
Not all the books I read were set in the countries in question, but many were evocative of the regions they describe. Since then I’ve continued to seek out books that transport me to a different place. Here are 10 of my favourites: