Just like many pop culture nerds, I too like to…
In 2012 I vowed to read more books by women. It’s nothing I’ve ever paid attention to before and consequently the list of authors on my Amazon Wish List read like a surgeon’s roster of patients who had undergone successful vasectomies.
I like to read what I want to read without guidelines and restrictions, but what I took from my male-centric wish list was that it was likely I was being exposed, through my book sources, to more men who write than women who write. I decided to become a book source who exposes readers to women who write.
As soon as I made an effort to start reading more books by women, my eyes skated right over books by men. I just wasn’t seeing them anymore. I didn’t even read Telegraph Avenue or the Tom Wolfe book. That caused me concern, too. I don’t want to be that person either. I just want to read good books with my legs kicked over the back of the couch and a mound of cheese and crackers piled on my stomach and for it to never stop raining.
In 2012 I stopped talking about how I want to read Don Delillo’s Underworld [review] someday and just read it already. Ho. Lee. Crap. This book about everything is the best, most completely imagined, most consistently engrossing thing I’ve ever read in my life. “Delillo painting mini figurines that require a magnifying glass to shade the laugh lines with his Lilliputian brush,” is how I described it in my review and I now see what I thought was descriptive is actually redundant. (Mini figurines?) Regardless. This is the best novel I’ve ever read.
In early 2012 I became enamored with Emma Straub, the delightfully twee fan-friendly writer-bookseller who makes bold lip color choices and is besties with The Magentic Fields. I loved Other People We Married, a collection of short stories teeming with lines that deserved to be Sharpie’d on the walls of stalls.
But all that adoration dried up when I read her novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, [review] which was really disappointing and unimaginative. Any one of us could have written that story given the prompts: Wisconsin girl. Theater in her blood. Hollywood starlet.
(Every time I’ve seen ‘Laura Lamont’ on a best-of 2012 list, I’ve sneered at the list and considered the list-maker easily duped by Straub’s large bows, high-waisted dresses, and that general feeling that she would share half of her peanut butter cookie with you). If this was a conventional list, this would be an unprecedented situation where an author’s short stories make my best-of list and the same author’s novel makes my worst-of list. Still, I will read the next thing she writes. I believe in her. And I, too, have been duped by her subtle personal branding via Twitter and Tumblr.
In 2012 I took one for the team. I read Fifty Shades of Grey because I knew none of the other reviewers at Minnesota Reads would do it and the reading public deserved to know. I have been called, by myself, a person who loves to do things she hates. As expected, it was horrible. But some unexpected goodness came from this fail: The best book review I’ve ever written in my life. Also: I earned the right to make a judge-y eyebrow raise when I see a well-worn copy get passed through a group. I mean, who borrows a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey? Imagine taking a blacklight to that thing.
Also falling in the surprisingly blech pile this year: Alison Bechdel’s followup to one of the best graphic novels ever penned in the history of the world. Are You My Mother? was a total snoozefest. It was as if the master Bechdel let herself off the hook after the success of Fun Home and said “You know what? It doesn’t have to be as good as that. That was the perfect storm of a good story, the phases of the moon and the lucky socks I wore the summer I wrote that. Just write something.” Except she accidentally releases too hard and writes something that the average eyeball wants to just spit back out onto the page.
In 2012 I put my finger in the right place at the right time at the right obscurities shop and yanked Carol Lay’s Goodnight, Irene off the shelf. This serialized comic about a billionaire with an unconventional face seeking love was so delicious and so unique that I fell madly in love with it. It reminded me that when it comes to fiction, you’re only limited by your own imagination. This is something someone should Molly Ringwald,whose highly anticipated book of short stories was like reading the blog of a very dull woman with very dull problems. “Out of gas. Have to go to Target. Relationship feels a bit shaky.”
In 2012 I kept coming across references to Brideshead Revisited to the point where it became creepy and stalkerish. I exorcised Waugh by reading and loving this story of a young man’s co-dependent relationship with his alcoholic friend. And then I stopped seeing it referenced everywhere.
True crime is great through the introduction to the major players, the heinous crime, and the confusing aftermath. Then it always dips into snoozy procedural nonsense that only an actual investigator would give a rat’s about. But People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Perry avoids this pratfall and tells a really engrossing story about a normal young British girl living in Tokyo and working as a hostess up until her mysterious disappearance. This story never lags. After I read and loved this book I read an essay about how exploitative this account is and I didn’t necessarily disagree, so I had to resign myself to knowledge that I apparently like exploitative things. That took about 30 seconds.
Liking Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn best of any book written in 2012 feels really pathetic, like admitting blue is my favorite color or that I just love pizza. Unfortunately, it’s true. This book continued to whip me in the face with its cleverness. It’s a story that remains as clear in my head now as when I was reading it and it’s a book that I would feel comfy recommending to everyone I know.
Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be [review] fell into this grey area I seem to struggle with: Do I like this or do I hate this and think I like it because it fills me with anthropological curiosities? I think I liked this book because of the way it totally painted a picture of a specific time and place in the mid-2000s and even in its boring moments felt super authentic, albeit navel-gaze-y, and maybe even more authentic because of the navel-gaze-iness.
There were two YA-ish books that I read that I love, love, loved at the time and will always remember fondly, but there is something about them that really feels the same in retrospect even though they are totally different. I wouldn’t be able to say one was better written or a better story than the other. They just fall into this same file in my brain: The Age of Miracles, [review] by Karen Thompson Walker and Tell the Wolves I’m Home, [review] by Carol Rifka Brunt. Both great, both recommended.
David Foster Wallace is starting to feel like a guilty pleasure. Not since David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself have I read nonfiction so greedily. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story [review] paints a complicated (and admittedly void of glitter) portrait of this person who is becoming more and more human the more that is revealed about him. Although human genius. Human genius who bangs lots and lots of women.
Gah. May We Be Forgiven [review] by A.M. Homes was so awful.
I read just more than 90 books in 2012, which is totally frustrating. I was on pace to easily clear 100 for the first time in the history of the world and then went through a case of the blergs that interrupted my flow. Curses.
My reading goal for 2013 is to read in a bubble. To be minimally influenced by “it” books and chatter and to just read things and sink into them. Like, I’m reading Fight Club right now. And then I’m going to read The Hobbit. I won’t be able to do this completely because I’m a sucker for “it” books and chatter.