Need another podcast that talks books? Check out The Bookmark. This week we talk non-fiction with Megan.
Every year, I like to set a few reading goals for myself: number of books, specific titles, and so forth. Because my whims change with the days and new books always catch my attention, I have yet to have one year where I complete my intended goals. So, I've decided that this year I'm going to keep it simple. I intend to read less, to slow down and really focus on and enjoy what I'm reading.
...But I love lists too much. And I cannot resist the urge to make a list of books I “will” complete this year. It's a practice I began in 2012—to identify ten books that will be read by the end of the year. Guess what? I've never read all ten in a year. I still have four holdouts from 2017, plus two others from farther back. So my only concrete goal this year is to complete my 2018 list in its entirety and to read the books from prior years. Other than that, my only goal is to enjoy what I'm reading. I'll set a reading challenge of so many books like I always do, but I'll keep it low so I don't become consumed with it.
So what will I be reading in 2018? These are the ten books that I am committing to. I think I'll be able to complete my challenge this year, assuming the world doesn't go up in smoke first. This year's list has more non-fiction than any prior list because I've had a desire to read more non-fiction lately. I mostly read fiction and I'd like to branch out some.
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
My interest in New Zealand and its literature goes back many years. I've made it a point to read more works by New Zealanders, but despite good intentions, I have avoided this Man Booker winner. I'm expecting good things from this one.
Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman by Cathy Wilkerson
In undergrad, I watched the documentary about The Weatherman Organization and was very intrigued. I told myself I'd learn more about them and would possibly write a novel focused on them. I've been saving these Weatherman memoirs until I began researching for that novel, but now I'm not sure I'll ever tackle that project. Project or no project, I've decided to stop putting it off.
The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
I really want to like Doris Lessing, but my first and only experience with her so far (The Cleft) was so off-putting that I've avoided her for more than a decade. I never want to judge any author by one book, so I'm making a point to read her debut novel in 2018. I'm hoping for better results.
Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham
I have a strong interest in the WWII destruction of Japan, particularly the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I've read some of these historical accounts before and will likely come across much of the same information in this large volume, but it's time to brush up on the subject.
Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean
Dean's previous work was a novel about a girl's obsession with spaceflight during the days surrounding the Challenger disaster. Her second book is this exploration of the rise and fall of NASA. I've had this one on the top of my to-read pile since its publication in 2015, but haven't made time for it.
Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes is one of the more notable authors to have resided in my part of the world. I've always had the best intentions of reading local authors, especially those who were pioneers and helped shape the way for others, but I've never read more than the occasional poem by Hughes.
The Sky Unwashed by Irene Zabytko
When I first started working at the library more than ten years ago, I saw this book on the shelf and was attracted to its sepia cover, its gorgeous title, and its intriguing description. It was one of the very first books to be added to my to-read list at my new job. Ten years later I still work at the library and I still haven't read this short novel about the Chernobyl accident.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
We loved A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, didn't we? Yet I, like many readers apparently, did not transition well to Marra's follow up two years later, this collection of short stories. Even though I absolutely loved his debut novel, I just wasn't interested in this volume. Adding it to my list will force my hand, I figure.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
There's been so much praise heaped on this book. It's time I give this historical gem a try.
This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann
Last year, I read and absolutely loved McCann's Letters to a Young Writer. I'd spent some time with the author previously, but it was this slim volume about writing that made a big fan out of me. I told myself I'd make it a point to return to the author as soon as possible. And I figured I might as well start with the novel that launched his career.
And my unfinished books from prior years:
The Counterfeiters by Andre Gide
The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
Union Dues by John Sayles
Weeds by Edith Summers Kelley
Seeing all sixteen of these listed, I'm already feeling overwhelmed. I've learned the key to completing my list is to not put off the list to the middle of the year. I really need to be checking off one or two of these titles every month. Intention set.
While I'm making an already long post longer, here are some of the top titles, old and new, I hope to get around to in 2018: The Temple of the Dawn by Yukio Mishima, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, Erasure by Percival Everett, The Road Through the Wall by Shirley Jackson, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, Winter by Ali Smith, Parnucklian for Chocolate by B.H. James, 1996 by Gloria Naylor, Hot Pink by Adam Levin, and... I can keep going forever. See how I get myself in trouble?
Do you set reading goals for your year? Do you find it helpful to do so, or imposing? What do you look forward to reading in 2018?
The Man Booker Prize shortlist announcement is hours away and I've been working hard to read my way through the list. Despite my best intentions, I was only able to completely read seven of this year's nominees as well as three others in part. That leaves three novels that are at this point a complete mystery to me, so I cannot speak on them. Here are some thoughts on who might make the list tomorrow.
I think Home Fire, Exit West, and Days Without End are the three strongest contenders from the ten I've read. I will be surprised if these three do not make the shortlist. I'll be really surprised if none of the three do.
Personally, I didn't enjoy The Underground Railroad much, but I think it also stands a good chance of being shortlisted. I'll be annoyed if wins the Prize given how much attention it has garnered this year, but a shortlist nomination would be accepted.
Rounding out the list is difficult. Autumn and Solar Bones are possible contenders.
I'd love to see History of Wolves on the list as it has been a personal favorite, so far. I know many readers had a very different reaction to this novel, however, so it's a long shot to make the list. (And it has zero chance of winning the Prize.)
If I had to put money on six and only six titles, they'd be
1. Home Fire
2. Days Without End
3. Exit West
4. The Underground Railroad
6. History of Wolves (anything's possible, right?)
Have you been reading the Man Booker nominees? Have any thoughts on who might be shortlisted?
These are ten of the titles I WILL, barring catastrophe, read in 2017. I make this yearly list to ensure I'm not completely distracted by all the shiny new books. This list is one way to make sure I read some books that I've been putting off.
For details, follow the link to my website.
The Book of My Lives – Aleksandar Hemon
The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
Weeds – Edith Summers Kelley
Borderline – Mishell Baker
Demons – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg
All the Living – C.E. Morgan
Mama Day – Gloria Naylor
Union Dues – John Sayles
A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
On the eve of the winning announcement for the Man Booker Prize, I offer a few of my thoughts on this year's contenders. Though I make many attempts to read the shortlist for each year's prize, my U.S. residence makes this difficult. Why publishers do not take full advantage of a book's nomination for such a prestigious prize, I do not know. Maybe US publishers believe people in the US do not care. Maybe they don't and I'm just an odd duck. Reasons aside, I tried to get my hands on a copy of the one novel not yet published in the US, Sahota's The Year of the Runaways, but was unsuccessful. Here are my thoughts on the other nominees.
The Fishermen - Obioma. This is my personal favorite of the bunch--the only story that kept my attention from beginning to end. The language and structure are all expertly done. The characters in this novel weren't perhaps as strong as some of the characters in the other contenders, but this novel's greatest detriment to winning the prize is probably its straight-forward approach and lack of epic, groundbreaking story. This is a wonderful novel, but it may suffer from being too traditional.
A Brief History of Seven Killings - James. Not my favorite, but I wouldn't complain if James' novel about Jamaica won. It's too long. It's too violent. But aside from these complaints A Brief History of Seven Killings is quite a good story. James nails the voices of this myriad of characters and the structure, while slightly confusing, lends to the story.
A Little Life - Yanagihara. Many are predicting A Little Life for the win. As someone who was familiar with Yanagihara before this book surprisingly became all the rage, I am quite in awe at its success. I know I'm in the minority, but I was largely disappointed with this celebrated novel. The lack of realism takes away from any relevance the subject might otherwise have made. The author is clearly a wonderful writer and certainly to be celebrated, but personally I thought this work failed. I'll not be surprised if A Little Life takes the prize, but I will be disappointed.
A Spool of Blue Thread - Tyler. Tyler's most recent novel starts off slow, but it builds itself upon some really great characters that carry the story through its best moments. Unfortunately, midway, the author forgets these characters, the story loses focus, and the book becomes a chore to read. In the end, A Spool of Blue Thread lacks the thread of continuity required to pull this story together. I doubt this one can bring home the prize, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time in the prize's history that the unlikely won.
Satin Island - McCarthy. The style nominee in this year's lineup. Satin Island is for the thinkers. I'm cool with that. I like books that make me ponder. But McCarthy's novel only left me with thoughts of "what was I supposed to have gotten out of that?" No story. Minimal character development. Many attempts at philosophy. Aside from points it earns for the author's reputation and previous nominations, Satin Island seems least likely to win.
Share your predictions if you have them. What books from the list did you particularly enjoy?