Odd year. Too many days with distressing or infuriating news. Often, news difficult to believe that it was not some elaborate parody of the life I wished I inhabited. But my reading life was marvelous, and not just as escapism either. It would have been memorable for any reading year, in any political climate.
I will get to those most memorable books in a moment, but I also want to share that one of the things that made this a great reading year for me was amped-up book pimping to my littlest friends. I am a school leader in an elementary school, and have always prided myself on the number of books I get kids to read happily each school year. This year I took my efforts up a notch, and partnered with lots of generous spirits that helped me make sure that my kiddos had books in their homes too. Books to call their own. And lots of them. It is a long story, and I will not share the details now, but I would encourage anyone that loves books, that values their reading life, to look for opportunities in the new year to support the intellectual lives of children, especially those not likely to have books of their own choosing in their lives.
My other favorite reads of the year in no particular order:
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
- Three Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy
- Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
- Compass by Mathias Énard
- The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
- Autumn by Ali Smith
- Common Ground by Rob Cowen
- Eggshells by Caitriona Lally
There were surprises as I compiled this list. I find it really funny that while reading this year's Man Booker nominees with the usual lovely ladies, I did a bit of grousing about the literary titans dominating the lists. And then picked three of those titles here as best reads of my year. Oh well. I also was really excited about reading Banville's Mrs. Osmond, and re-read the James antecedent in excitement to prepare. And while I appreciated the new work, I was, as always, blown away by the James. No comparison.
In a year where I read a whole lot more nonfiction, the Cowen work was a standout not just for the perspective it offers on the natural world but also for the gorgeous prose, the personal vulnerability that aligned so beautifully with the fragility of nature at times. The Lally work was not what I expected at all. Certainly whimsical as promised, but also an astute observation of a life seen from the unique perspective of a protagonist with emotional disabilities. I do find it odd that more people have not discussed this aspect of the novel in more explicit terms.
Compass stands alone. Something to spark multiple other reading paths.
As I look to the new year, I find myself looking at authors more than specific books. I think I would like to take some deep dives into the works of individuals. In consideration are Barbara Comyns, Marcel Schwab, Jane Gardam, Rachel Cusk, Angela Thirkell, Patrick Modiano, Henry Green, plus some Graham Greene re-reads. Maybe some more Henry James re-reads as well. All of these things are already on my shelves. The good intentions of years past. Where I also seem to have a good bit of Japanese literature to which I have not given enough time.
What reading plans do you have for the new year?