Against The Day - Thomas Pynchon
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
Palm of the Hand Stories - Yasunari Kawabata
Mutants and Mystics - Jeffrey J. Kripal
Fair Play - Tove Jansson
Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn
Amulet - Roberto Bolano
In Hazard - Richard Hughes
Midcult and Masscult - Dwight MacDonald
Content - Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman
Food Matters - Mark Bittman
A Carrot is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond - Interviews with Capt. Beefheart
Do Movies Have A Future? - David Denby
Subliminal - Leonard Mlodinow
Revelations - Elaine Pagels
Film After Film - J. Hoberman
The Complete Cosmicomics - Italo Calvino
Love In The Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Miracles of Life - J. G. Ballard
The Buddha Walks Into A Bar - Lodro Rinzler
House Made of Dawn - N. Scott Momaday
One of my New Year's Resolutions as we slid from 2011 into 2012 was to read 24 books this calendar year, going under the reasonable assumption that I could finish two books each month. As you can see, this list is a record of my failure as I only managed to finish 21 titles. Worst yet, I'm convinced I read at one or two more books but can't remember them. This no doubt says something (insulting) about my ability to retain information.
Several of the books on this list are relatively brief; at least six of the titles are less than 200 pages. I admit that I chose them out of my perpetual "to be read" pile for their brevity, always keeping my two-books-a-month goal in mind. I was in good shape to accomplish this goal as recently as October, but then the combination of starting Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoir of living under the fatwa, and the hurricane that slammed much of New York City threw me off my course. In those days I was glued to the television and the computer, hungry for whatever information I could find about the problems occurring a few miles from my door. The focus, the attention that reading a book requires eluded me during those hectic days. The only reason I finished 21 books is that I forced myself to read the final 120 pages of House Made of Dawn this evening so I could make the end of year deadline, which I managed with four hours to spare.
Perhaps it's not a matter of quantity so much as quality. Looking over the list, the only book I didn't really connect with was Content, a marketing guide I never would have picked up if I didn't still have vague ideas of perhaps starting a business. Other than that, there's nothing on the list I regret spending time with and there were a number of pleasant surprises. David Denby is the Chicken Little of film reviewers, but his Do Movies Have a Future? (short answer: yes!) was an enthusiastic assessment of where we are in cinema history and an optimistic guess at where we're going. I thought Mutants and Mystics would be an overview of mystical and occult ideas in mainstream comics and sci fi. Instead, it was a history of such ideas in the lives of comic artists and sci fi writers. A case of "this isn't the book I thought it would be...oh wait, it's better." Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior is an entertaining layman's guide to recent findings in neuroscience and how they disprove common assumptions about individual consciousness and human behavior.
Speaking of behavior, I find reading a Buddhist book every year or so refreshes and reminds me of my path. I found much to value in The Buddha Walks Into A Bar. As far as the purely physical realm is concerned, Mark Bittman's Food Matters provided a diet overview I hope to adopt soon, overlooking the fact that I had cookies for dinner the other night.
There were also old favorites on the list: Calvino, Marquez, Pagels, Hoberman. Part of me wishes Ballard had written his autobiography when he was a decade or two younger and still full of vinegar and outrageous statements, but I'll accept this mix of his memories of his internment in a Japanese war camp in WWII and his paternal pride in his children. The book I kept thinking about this year was (no surprise) Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day. As far as language is concerned, it's one of the most accessible and direct things he's written. But the glut of events, characters, historical data and ideas can leave the reader wondering "where is this going? What is the point?" Incredibly, it comes together (sort of) in the second half of the book and even if you, the reader, don't find out what The Answer is, you find yourself compelled to follow the characters as they stumble towards said Answer. The novel is over 1000 pages, yet I've been itching to re-read it since finishing it. If I can resist, maybe I'll finish 24 books in 2013.