My dear friend Emily challenged herself to read 100 books in 2013, and wouldn’t you know it, she actually did it. I have no idea HOW she did it, but my hat is off to her.
Ten years ago (January 2004), I began keeping a list of every book I read (and finished) in addition to the dates the book was read. For example, the first entry reads as follows:
January 4-16, Noise Abatement, Carole Anne Davis (date, title, author)
And so on. I don’t know exactly why I started doing this (other than the fact that I can get pointlessly anal-retentive over pretty ridiculous things) especially since the list wasn’t posted in any public forum (although I began continuing the list on Goodreads about three years ago). I suppose it was to give myself a little incentive to read more. My part-time gig at Borders (which lasted from 1999 until the chain went out of business in 2011) certainly helped me step up my reading game, not just in terms of being literally surrounded by books, but also spending time with a more literary crowd. And while I firmly believe in quality over quantity, I really liked the fact that I went from reading a scant 15 books in 2004 to an impressive (for me) 32 in 2008. For the record, I’ve read 216 books in the past 10 years. Yay me?
My tastes aren’t necessarily exemplary, at least not all of the time. I still have a soft spot for mystery novels, but I tend to gravitate more towards the higher echelon of that genre (Michael Connelly, Raymond Chandler, Laura Lippman). I also have a deep fondness for the novels of Jonathan Kellerman, and I haven’t decided whether or not that’s something to brag about. At least it’s not James Patterson. I still love rock star bios, as long as they’re well-written. I dip into the classics on a pretty regular basis, I began an obsession with Stephen King back in 2005 with the help of my friend (and King uber-fan) Kevin and have since read about 20 of his books (check out Kevin’s amazing unofficial Stephen King website right here). A few years ago I started to dive into the works of postmodernists like Pynchon and Delillo, and while I still don’t really get what they’re doing most of the time, I enjoy the ride.
And so on. The point is, I’m trying to keep my literary tastes – like my much-documented musical tastes – wide and varied. I’m also trying to “keep my numbers up,” trying to read as much as possible, but as priorities shift, children are born, houses are bought and moved into, etc, it gets more challenging to carve out time for a good book. But part of me doesn’t really buy that excuse. There’s plenty of times when Liza and Noah have gone to bed and I’m left alone in the living room and choose to watch some “Law & Order: SVU” episode on Hulu Plus that I’ve already seen before, instead of plowing through a few chapters of whatever’s currently on my nightstand.
Having said that, I really have no excuse for only reading 12 books in 2013. TWELVE! A book a month. Ridiculous. And since it’s the beginning of January, a new resolution is in the works. Hopefully this isn’t like those gym memberships that everyone talks about joining for about two weeks.
For the record, here’s a list of the books I read in 2013.
Favorite of the year? It’s a toss-up between “Waging Heavy Peace” and “Black Swan Green.”
Least-favorite? I didn’t read any really bad books in 2013, but “Alternadad” was wildly uneven, and “Moonlight Mile” was disappointing.
And if you’re still with me, here’s a quick recap of all 12 books:
“Who I Am,” Pete Townshend. The long-awaited autobiography of the Who’s mastermind is thoughtful, moving, and extremely well-written. Rock star debauchery, the songwriting process, Pete’s occasionally terrifying childhood, all the controversies (the 1979 Cincinnati concert stampede, the unfounded child pornography investigation, etc) is all documented here, in Pete’s typically erudite yet accessible style. As a fan, I loved it.
“Alternadad,” Neal Pollack. Pollack is a thirtysomething writer (at the time this was written) and writes here about his experiences raising a young son while still maintaining his life as a music fan, going to concerts, consuming cool music and maintaining his integrity. I like the idea of this book, and at times, I found it laugh-out-loud hilarious, quite moving and something I could periodically identify with. But often times it was whiney and complaining and full of “first-world white guy problems.” Wow, Neal, I’m really sorry that you can’t smoke pot in your house now that you have a son. It’s called adulthood. Recommended, but with reservations.
“Heart-Shaped Box,” Joe Hill. Aging rock star Judas Coyne has a taste for creepy memorabilia, so when he sees a men’s suit for sale online that is inhabited by the ghost of the man who used to own it, he orders it without hesitation. Then things get really scary. This is a fun read, and Hill, who is one of Stephen King’s sons, shares his father’s taste for the horror/pop culture combo. Sparse prose and a quick read, but overall, I liked Hill’s next book, “Horns,” a lot more.
“Waging Heavy Peace,” Neil Young. I got the Townshend book for Christmas from my daughter. In March, my wife got me this one for my birthday. While “Who I Am” is witty, cogent and erudite, Neil’s autobiography is a rambling, chaotic mess. And I loved it. The book reads like a typical Neil Young album. It veers off in strange tangents, spends inordinate amounts of time on random subject matter, but it’s all fascinating. Neil Young does things his way, and that applies to his music, his pet projects (the Pono digital music format and his LincVolt electric car, two projects that get a ton of lip service in this book), and his writing. Lots of great rock star stories, but a lot of fun surprises as well. This book led me to completely rediscover Neil’s music in 2013, making it not only one of my favorite books of the year, but probably the most important.
“American Gods,” Neil Gaiman. My first Gaiman book, and it most definitely won’t be my last. I loved the sprawling, epic feel of this book. It’s a fantasy book, a bit of a mystery, a roadtrip book, and it contains lots of interesting flashbacks and characters the likes of which I have yet to encounter through any other author. A terrific gateway book for what I hope will become one of my favorite authors. Believe the hype.
“The Black Box,” Michael Connelly. My favorite mystery writer. If he has a new book out, I read it. Period. Connelly’s style is a brilliant modern-day update to the typical Raymond Chandler style of mystery novel. Detective pounds the pavement for clues to a homicide. Connelly has branched out into legal thrillers with his Mickey Haller series, but “The Black Box” is another entry in the Harry Bosch detective series. Great contemporary mystery, never disappointing.
“Hostage,” Robert Crais. Never read a Crais novel until now. I guess I was just in the mood for a simple mystery. It’s a good “hostage situation” story, well-told, and apparently made into a mediocre Bruce Willis feature film that I have yet to see. This won’t necessarily stick with you for years to come, but it’s an entertaining read.
“Moonlight Mile,” Dennis Lehane. I think Lehane’s great, but he frustrates me. For some reason, I’ve never gotten the hang of his go-to series, the Kenzie/Gennaro detective team. I don’t care much for the main characters and the stories are of the cookie-cutter mystery variety. The fact that they’re usually set in the Boston area makes it interesting to me, but that’s about it. I prefer Lehane’s stand-alone novels, particularly “Mystic River” and the excellent period-piece novel “The Given Day.” “Moonlight Mile” is a Kenzie/Gennaro novel, and while it had its moments, it doesn’t exactly have me clamoring for another entry in the series.
“Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello,” Graeme Thomson. I’ve been an Elvis fan since the mid-80s, so it was fun to read about all this music in the context of a biography (despite the fact that I was familiar with a lot of the stories, especially the higher-profile ones). I don’t think Thomson is a particularly great writer, and it’s as if he can’t decide whether to write a strict biography or a critical analysis. The book tends to jump back and forth awkwardly between these two genres. Required reading for Elvis fans, but not one of the better rock bios out there.
“Sunstroke,” Jesse Kellerman. Jesse is the son of mystery writers Faye Kellerman and the aforementioned Jonathan Kellerman. His books can be easily categorized as mysteries, but he often writes them with a more interesting twist. The only other Kellerman book I’d read prior to 2013 was “The Genius,” a brilliant whodunit that also manages to be a nasty skewering of the New York City art world. “Sunstroke,” Kellerman’s debut novel, is a simpler, more sparse affair, a missing persons mystery that takes its protagonist from earthquake-shattered Los Angeles to the dusty, lawless streets of Mexico. It’s well-written, unique, and a bold first novel, but often moves a bit too slowly for its genre. Kellerman’s great, but I wouldn’t recommend this as a good place to start.
“The Blue Hammer,” Ross MacDonald. I heard that the late, great Warren Zevon, of all people, was a major Ross MacDonald fan. Being an avid fan of the classic L.A. noir mysteries of Raymond Chandler, I was curious about the simliar but lesser-known MacDonald. I picked up a copy of “The Blue Hammer” at the local library. I liked it. It’s a good story. But part of me felt that the reason Chandler is a better-known writer of this genre is because he’s just plain better at it. The book was good, but fell short of the mark. It was MacDonald’s last book, so maybe he peaked early. I intend to find out.
“Black Swan Green,” David Mitchell. Wow. I could not get enough of this book. It was a slow start for me, but eventually, I was flying through it and did not want it to end. My first David Mitchell book (he’s the guy who wrote “Cloud Atlas,” among others) and not my last. I love the fact that the book was about a 13-year-old boy in 1982, since I myself was a 13-year-old boy in 1982. But I spent that year in New Hampshire, and Mitchell’s protagonist (named Jason Taylor) lives in rural England. The book goes through an entire year and chronicles the usual 13-year old boy stuff: peer pressure, puberty, “fitting in,” music, trying cigarettes, trying to avoid getting the crap beaten out of you by schoolyard bullies…all delivered in a nearly incomprehensible (for us Yanks, anyway) British slang that almost sounds like characters from “A Clockwork Orange.” It’s like Judy Blume decided to write as a British kid with an “R” rating. There’s so much more I want to write about this book, I feel like I’m only scratching the surface, but I’m trying to keep all of these to “blurb length.” A terrific coming-of-age story and the best novel I read all year.
Here’s to 2014 and more books! A lot more than 2013, anyway.