Every year I make the same New Year’s resolution: read 52 books. Just one per week. Doable right? Well, the last time I achieved this goal was 2009. I’ve heard of superspeed-reader people who read hundreds of books a year. I wish. I love to read. It’s my favorite pastime. But in this age of time restraints, I struggle with reaching 52.
We do so much today that we didn’t do yesterday. The older we get, the faster the days, weeks, and years pass. The reason for this is not complicated: we have less free time. Therefore, time seems to move fast. The last time I recall being absolutely, positively, bored I was still a teenager. I remember spending an entire month at my grandmother’s house—away from my friends—hanging out on the couch listening to the same album over and over and reading romance novels. Man, what a slow-ass month. But, I’d do it again now if I could.
Another reason I don’t make 52 is that I’m a leisurely reader. I savor each book. With fiction, I get lost in the language and atmosphere of story. With nonfiction, there’s an amount of learning and notetaking that slows my progress. Reading is continued education. And here—I am loath to admit—my eyes slow-roll over brilliant sentence structure. I learn different ways of punctuating complicated grammar. I make mental notes of plot structure and pace. To find myself at study and wonder what attributes I can incorporate into my own writing is a bit frustrating. It is a true gift when I reach the end of a book without thinking of the work as a writing workshop.
Now that the excuse making is over, allow me to introduce my favorite reads of last year, listed in the month they were read. Not all of them were released in 2016. Nor is this a complete list of resolution books. I did manage to read more than 12, but these were my favorites.
January: Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke. This is Burke’s 9th novel and it came out in 1989. I bought a signed first edition in a conference bookroom. Making purchases is my way of saying thank you for the booksellers’ hard work of hauling books from con to con. The way Burke transported me to the bayou of Louisiana with its fragrant heat and heartache was worth every dollar.
February: The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy. I’ve had this novel in my library for years. It survived every cleansing, garage storage, rotation, and donation. While perusing my reading options I picked it up to consider a re-read. (Yes, re-reads count toward the 52. Cheating, I know.) I flipped through the pages and found a great familiarity with the language but nothing concrete to convey that it had ever been read. My head hung in shame as I thought better late than never. The relationship between Blanchard and Bleichert and their obsession with the Dahlia is so destructive yet tantalizing that it was hard to put down at bedtime.
March: 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley. Smiley read 100 novels and wrote about them. She also wrote about novels and novelists. What I love about this book is that it’s like an entire semester of English Lit without the tuition or having to sit in an audortium.
April: The Faithful by S.M. Freedman. I met the author at a conference. A random seating arrangement and common interest made us into conference buddies. On the last day we exchanged books with the promise of reading them. The first sentence: “I found her amid the drifts of dirty snow, somewhere near the silenced creek.” With such a fine start I continued until the end at the expense of my schedule.
May: A Girl’s Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber. The two characters in this novel were memorable and I thought about them long after the last sentence. It came to me tucked inside a goody bag at a conference. I do appreciate the books donated by publishers and the people who stuff the bags and haul them to check-in. It’s a fun way to discover new authors.
June: Dodgers by Bill Beverly. Richard Lange told me that he doesn’t write many blurbs. He was asked to do so for this book and liked it so much he gave me a hearty recommendation. I was well rewarded. Note: the spare, yet rich, language made me mad with envy.
July: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Because everyone else was reading it I had to know what the hype was all about. At first I was frustrated with the dated passages of the multiple POVs. I kept flipping the pages backward and forward to get my bearings. Once I got a handle on the rhythm of the story it moved along briskly. Usually, I don’t feel compelled to read a novel before seeing its adaptation for the big screen. In this case, I’m glad I read the book prior to seeing the movie in October.
August: Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets. I took the Kindle version of this book with me into the wilderness during a backpacking trip. Perhaps a book about a lost woman and the ranger looking for her wasn’t the smartest reading choice considering the rugged demands of the landscape I found myself in. There was more than one occasion when I jumped at an unidentifiable noise.
September: Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. During a trip to Berkley some friends recommended this book. One said it was the best book he ever read. The moment I got home I checked it out at the library. I blew through it in two days. My husband did the same. I realized later there are two editions of this book. We had read the version for younger readers. Is that why we read it so quickly? Or is it because the boys’ backstories enriched an already compelling underdog story? I vote the later.
October: The Lake House by Kate Morton. A friend mailed this book to me because she loved it and wanted to share. I took it on vacation and read it poolside in Cabo San Lucas. By the end of the wet week it had structural distortion and sunscreen stains on the cover. I particularly liked the deep character biographies.
November: Night Life by David C. Taylor. I met David at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books back in April. I enjoyed chatting with this charming fellow and I bought his book. It was a great investment of time to disappear into the noir of 1953 New York. This book was an Edgar nominee for Best Novel, and rightly so.
December: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Wow. A stunner of a read in which to end the year. I have to admit I knew nothing of the author, or that the novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker, until after I finished it. I picked it up solely for the cover and was not disappointed.
12 favorites of 2016. Maybe you’ll try one or two and enjoy them as much as I did.