Monday, December 31, 2007

My Reading Project: Another Year Toward 1000.

Another year is coming to a close. This day could prompt a range of musings and reflections about the past year, or speculation on what the next will bring. But much of what I've experienced and considered during 2007 is already documented on this blog, and I have no immediate plans to discontinue the project. So I guess it's more appropriate for me to comment on an annual goal that holds personal meaning for me. December 31st is the date that I take stock of my progress toward my reading project. As I mentioned around this time last year, I decided (in my early 20's) that I wanted to read 1000 books, and keep an updated list of them. The standard I set for myself was 40 completed books per year. When I add up my list for 2007, I count 53 titles- one better than last year. My total sum now sits at 671.

I suppose I could take some measure of pride in the fact that I've been averaging one book/week over the last two years. It has required a certain level of focus and commitment to reach these totals. Life is filled with distractions- some meaningful and some merely irritating. In the coming year, I expect to make a lot of adjustments in my life and I'm not certain how my reading habits will be effected. Still I do know that this project is going to remain a priority in my life, for many of the reasons I mentioned last year. It will be interesting to see what I'm willing to sacrifice to meet my new obligations. Likely I will spend less time going out to meet friends and acquaintances. Perhaps I'll watch less movies. Maybe I'll write significantly less. Who knows?

For what it's worth, I present to you my ten most notable reads from 2007 (in no order):

David Simon, Homicide.

- I'd have never guessed that a trade paperback would make this list. Yet this journalistic account of a year with Baltimore homicide detectives was both memorable and haunting. I'm not much for the hour-long police procedural television drama- but the book is worth reading.

Chuck Kinder, Last Mountain Dancer.

-The author's folksy tone provided the backdrop for some interesting anecdotes about a subject of particular interest- West Virginia. If you can't figure out why this state should fascinate me... check this out.

Mary Gaitskill, Bad Behavior.

-This collection of short stories examines the psychosexual obsessions of the women of my generation. I found it enlightening and entertaining. Have you ever seen Shainberg's Secretary? It's loosely based on a tale from this volume.

Steven Millhauser, In the Penny Arcade.

-Whatever Millhauser lacks in emotional depth, he more than makes up for with his fanciful flights of imagination. He creates magical realism in an early Twentieth Century urban setting, and almost makes the case for the prevailing American ethos.

Jason Moss, The Last Victim.

-The author is not a particularly strong writer, nor are his insights especially deep- but this account of a young adult's correspondence with serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy is riveting. The entire setup is just too unique and intriguing to put down.

A.M. Homes, Music for Torching.

-I'm always on the lookout for a distinctive contemporary American voice, as it's fulfilling to follow the development of an author as she enters the prime of her career. Homes is definitely worth watching and exploring in detail. She is mordantly witty and illuminating all at once.

Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats.

-I had previously read Ronson's Them- a wacky examination of eccentrics who find their essential meaning through the study of conspiratorial systems. This follow-up was just as entertaining, but with the focus shifted on to the US military... it's a bit spookier as well.

Ann Powers, Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America.

-Here's a sociological study that hit close to home. While reading through this book, I recognized the types of people that Powers interviewed... in fact, I feel as if I've been hanging out with them my whole life. If some future generation finds a reason to be curious about the demographic that I most closely identify with- then this will be an ideal place to start seeking answers.

Gaddis and Long (editors), Panzram: A Journal of Murder.

-If you are squeamish, you might want to skip this one. It is the autobiography of one of the most jaded, vile, unforgiving and prolific criminals in all of American history. And you've likely never heard of him because he was edited out of your public education. Probably a good thing?

George Singleton, The Half-Mammals of Dixie.

-This spot could have easily been filled by one of many fascinating "True Crime" books I've read this year. But given the previous make-up of this list, I figured I'd give you a break. These are rather light stories by a master storyteller of the South. You might not remember reading them a few months later, but you'll laugh if someone jogs your memory with its contents. It happened to me after I lent it out.

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Blogger Dagrims said...

Congratulations on your remarkable pace. I think you'll be at risk of slowing down with the impending birth of your son, but that's a good thing.

On my path towards 1,000 books read by 65 (25/year x 40 years), I completed 30 in 2007. My Top 10 this year (in no particular order):

The King's Buccaneer - Raymond Feist
Mr. China - Tim Clissold
Fooled by Randomness - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Pimp - Iceberg Slim
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
Empire Falls - Richard Russo
Oracle Bones - Peter Hessler
The Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

10:05 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I read the Haddon book this year. It was entertaining, but months afterward I forget most of it. I'm surprised you read Iceberg Slim- I've never gotten around to that.

I enjoy Russo, and I'll be looking forward to reading his latest.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous jefg99 said...

I applaud you both for your love of reading.

Russo is without a doubt my favorite author, though the ranking is heavily weighted by what is probably my favorite book, Ordinary Man. I'll be starting Mohawk later this month. I may have read 15 or so this year, which for me is a goodly amount.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Thanks.The intrinsic rewards are great.

Is "Ordinary Man" his latest?

5:13 PM  
Anonymous jefg99 said...

Whoops! I meant to say "Straight Man". It's the one you recommended to me years ago. I don't know what his latest is, but when it comes out, I'm buying it.

10:38 PM  
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