Year in preview: 2017

Things I don’t typically do:

  • Keep up very well with contemporary literature. As in like published-right-now literature. Maybe once upon a time I dabbled closer to that, when I was actively pursuing book reviewing as a thing I was trying to do. So, so long ago. But really not so much anymore. Theoretically, I’d like to, more than I do, so I can feel like I’m more a part of more conversations, but I don’t. Partially because I don’t
  • Read nearly as many books as I’d like to. It feels like once upon a time I closed in on that book-a-week pace over the course of an entire year, but that might also be rose-colored rear-view mirrors. I hit 35 books in 2016, 37 the year before that, which does put me stratospherically above many people, based on flimsy stats I’ve half scanned or invented, but it’s not nearly enough, obviously. I attribute this in part to the fact that I don’t
  • Focus terribly well. I don’t sit well for long periods of time, eyes on the page, pages turning almost invisibly, like flowing water. Pointless social media trolling hurts me a bit, a stupid number of professional- and/or hobbyist-level interests also suck up time, but I’m also just generally a bit restless, likely as not to seek out distraction when the task doesn’t require me to have my hands on it. Great for my rockstar coder lifestyle, less good for, like, just, thinking, and stuff.

I have absolutely no plans to solve the above problems.

I mean, if they’re indeed problems. Though I do suspect an increased focus on my inability to focus would be a generally beneficial one, at the least.

That said, these “shortcomings” do rattle around in my head as I think ahead toward what I loosely plan to attempt to do this coming year.

Typically I don’t make specific plans for the year ahead, and I wouldn’t say I’m setting a script in motion this year either, but it does feel like a good year to put a little structure around my reading list. My TBR pile isn’t insane—a few years back, I think, I forget when, I did a concerted effort to focus all my efforts on working the pile down, either via reading or dumping, and I think the residual effect of that effort still lingers in the size and shape of the pile today. At least in so far as it it not absolutely ungainly, still.

I don’t plan on going quite so hard-core this year, because, I mean, buying books and being gifted books is a pleasure, and I’ve also made better use of the local library over the last few years, which is also a pleasure, and, well, pleasure is nice. And I suspect pleasure, done right, could be made great use of in the coming years. Ahem. But I have grown conscious of a sub-set of books in the pile marked by no other commonality than that they’re all kind of longer and feel slightly more ambitious than other books and are often easily passed over in favor of not-as-long and maybe not-so-ambitious books when I’m looking for my next book to read. And I think it might feel good to put a little effort into focusing on those titles for a while and feeling like I’m putting in some good progress on actually reading all the things I really do think I do want to read. Or at least finding a few more titles I can maybe forgive myself of, allowing them to move on to other pastures, while new challenges slip in to take their place.

So there’s about 14.5 inches of 2017 I’d like to get through, right there. It could be an interesting list. There’s a Nabokov in there and another Vollmann, a Dickens, the second volume of Proust. Other things. I expect that part of the pile (which I’ve formally made a well-defined part of the pile) to shift and slide a bit as the year progresses. But hopefully it won’t grow too dusty.

As for other plans for the year, it’s a bit nebulous, really. Not really plans, so much as things I’ll probably think about as the year goes on:

  • I grew conscious of the fact that in 2016 my efforts to diversify the genders of the authors I read fell apart, which is baffling but also sort of not. So I need to do something about that. Because, jeez. C’mon.
  • I’d like to get some poetry into the mix, but, and this might sound dumb, I sort of don’t know…how, I guess. It’s a kind of reading that doesn’t seem to mesh well with how I read these days. That’s something I’d like to figure out.
  • I read more non-fiction in 2016 than I have in ages, and I’d like to keep that going. I’d like to work in more essays, as well. This probably won’t make for a huge percentage of what I read, but I’d like it to continue to feel less like a statistical glitch, more like something with some intent behind it.
  • And then there’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, which I’m probably not going to devote four months to reading cover-to-cover, but which I’d like to get a plan in place to make some honest headway on. I started it in 2016 and I dig it but I realized when I picked it back up later in the year that I was going to have to plan my reading of it a bit better if I was going to make more coherent sense of it. I’m not quite sure what that entails but I think it involves more marginal notes and shorter gaps between sessions with it. We’ll see.
  • And, really, I think I do want to allot some time to re-read a notable book or two, because there’s so many books I say I think I’d like to consider re-reading, but it’s so hard to do. But maybe just identifying even one to spend some time with again would be enough. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Gravity’s Rainbow. Or Perdido Street Station. Or A Visit from the Goon Squad. Or The American Girl. Or you, Summer of Dostoevsky 2006 Project II: The ReDostoevskying. Or…

Which, well, there’s what 2017 may or may not look like.

Oh, yeah, and there’s also the bit about wanting to write about books again. Like, here, on this blog, at least. Because—and I mean this with all the love I can muster right now for the entirety of the contemporary human condition as it chills in the long cold shadow of human history—tweet storms, as a method of complex interpersonal communication, can go ahead and fuck right off. And, if I can, in my own tiny, insignificant, likely unnoticed way, breathe a tiny bit of life into this blog this year and contribute some small amount of noise to the legitimate signal? I’d like to think that’s worth something.

And, well, I think I miss the way we used to be.

Year in review: 2016

Well! 2016! Right? Right?

Right.

Books and I had an odd year.

I read my first full audiobook (Bush by Jean Edward Smith, which was a weird but ultimately interesting choice) and then tried one or two others but didn’t stick with them. Nothing against them, just, podcasts became more my thing for the long daily commute.

I’m still a paper-book addict. But I did find a niche for myself where dipping into ebooks makes sense—poking away at various books about coding and such on my phone during the baby’s nap time. Not too many books I actually finished, for various reasons, but these dark, quiet, snuggly hours do account for a fair number of pages.

I started off the year on a bad note, I think, picking things up and putting things down—according to my Goodreads profile I didn’t actually finish a book until mid-February. And then there were a couple graphic novels. There were some slow stretches where I’d plod through a single book over the course of multiple weeks. And then later I fell into a 2.5 month stretch dedicated to two books (I mean, they were fat books, A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, but still) (I enjoyed them both, by the by).

And then things picked up weird, crazy steam in the home stretch. I finished 35 books in 2016; 12 of those came in November and December.

And I’m pretty sure 2016 was the first year I didn’t post to this blog once since I started it. I did other blogging, elsewhere, about other things. But I sort of feel like I’ve forgotten how to write about books, how to write about what I’m reading.

How to write, really.

Strange year.

I ended on a high point with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer, a fast-moving tale of global paranoia that did just enough weird left turns to jazz up what could have been an otherwise fairly rote story. Oddly, I actually started this one earlier in the year, before falling into one of my reading funks; I’m glad I finally finished putting off finishing it off. It would have paired well with Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, one of my semi-conscious attempts to dip into more strong non-fiction this year; I’m not necessarily sure it told me too much I hadn’t already been aware of, or at least suspected, or at least would have pretended to have known about if you’d asked me about it at a party, but it pulled a lot of that stuff (the way mathematical models and/or data science-y stuff is used to manipulate and/or profit off individuals in frankly awful and often terrifying ways) together into a flowing, coherent, eye-opening narrative. The net effect is it makes you want to log off the Internet and move into a log cabin, immediately.

As has been a summer tradition for the last three years, I read a Gormenghast novel. This year’s was the final novel, Titus Alone, by Mervyn Peake, and I’m already sad there aren’t more novels to come. It’s a fascinating series, a strange play on what “fantasy” is—I mean, not that I’m much an expert on fantasy, really, as I’ve only started dipping into it the last few years, but. The series feels like the closest I’ve come to finding that slow-burn, long-bath experience with a piece of literature in a while, which I’ve heard described but have rarely exactly felt myself—I really enjoyed how unhurried the prose and story felt in equal measure. I could sincerely imagine re-reading it, even though re-reading things seems like a terrible idea, what with all the still-to-be-read-once things waiting in all the wings.

I can also easily imagine re-reading the Expanse series, which I caught all the way up on this year, reading book five earlier in the year and then book six shortly after it came out, and now I have to wait for new books to come out, and it hurts. It hurts. But in the good way. Getting back in touch, at least a little, with sci-fi like this, has been good; brings back some of that childhood enthusiasm for writing that never exactly got lost along the way but which gets sort of sidetracked, or something. I hope to work another series or two into the mix in the coming years.

A handful of other books I liked, in various ways, this year, and which, if I had actually been blogging this year, I might have actually blogged about, but which now I’ll just dump here in bullet form:

  • Fiction
    • To Walk the Night, by William Sloane
    • The Story of a Brief Marriage, by Anuk Arudpragasam
    • Beatrice, by Stephen Dixon
    • S., J.J. Abrams
    • The Great Fortune, by Olivia Manning
    • The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill
    • The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra
  • Non-fiction
    • The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by
      Brendan I. Koerner
    • Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, by David Kushner
    • The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership, and High-Stakes Innovation, by Adam Steltzner
    • The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman

And, well, there’s 2016, really. Good times.

Next up: going big, or going home.