Those best books lists . . .

Strayed’s Wild my top memoir; Ford’s Canada my top novel.

Strayed's Wild

I’m on track to have read some sixty-seven books in 2012. I know that because for the first time I kept a reading log, which is heavily weighted toward memoir: thirty-plus read, including re-readings. Maybe that’s because memoir’s been my own writing project, though by now I’m a true fan of the genre. The rest are a smattering of history, theory, short stories and novels. There were standouts and duds in all departments—books unlogged because unfinished. I’m working on my complete favorites list, and so far it includes, along with the memoirs and novels, a short story collection, a work of journalism, a how-to book, and a history. (Admittedly I find myself wanting variety on my list.) The best indicator of my heart’s true tally: the thirty titles in boldface (“to re-read”) on my reading log.

The idiosyncratic nature of preferences is shown by my slow-to-grow admiration of Junot Diaz’s blockbuster novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I just finished; from the start it’s obviously great, so full of energy and so confident in its story, but it was late to capture me the way a couple other novels did this year, maybe because of its shifting narrators—a real feat, technically and imaginatively—when I was most invested in Oscar’s story. Of course any writer and most readers can see advantages in multiple narrators: the urgency, voice, and warmth of first person allied with multiple perspectives on key characters and events akin to third-person. I have a feeling that Wao, with its fearless slang and colloquial vulgarity, is a time bomb that will detonate for me when I need it. The other thing against it making my top twelve list is that I read it so late in the year, and books need time to marinate and resonate—at least for me they seem to. It’s been hard to get a draft of twelve, so I better stop before I talk myself into listing it . . .

Ford's Canada

And although I say here that Richard Ford’s Canada is my favorite novel, I’ve just realized that I’m mentally exempting probably my finalist list’s greatest novel read this year, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, simply because it’s an older book I just got around to, whereas Ford’s is indeed a 2012 publication. I can see why it would be easier, cleaner, and just plain better to stick to 2012 books for these best lists, like the major review outlets do. Except that’s not the way real people read. Also, while I admired McCarthy’s masterpiece I enjoyed Ford’s novel in a rare childlike way. Notably missing in action so far from my draft of the final twelve is the great Iraq War novel The Yellow Birds, a lyrical wonder. I have no idea why. Except like Wao I read it late. It is in boldface, however, among the top thirty, on my log.

Who said these lists were fair, let alone logical?

Next: My top twelve books of 2012.


Filed under fiction, memoir, Persona, Voice, POV, reading, REVIEW

8 responses to “Those best books lists . . .

  1. There are all sorts of inchoate, apparently ephemeral reasons as to why certain people like certain books–I’m impressed that you even tried to keep a list. I used to, but this year hasn’t been my top year for number of reads, though I have read a record number of short stories (probably because I can write posts about them a bit easier than I can about novels). I’m so glad you liked Ford’s “Canada.” It resonated with me too, and not because I’ve lived there, because I never set foot outside of Ontario, and the book takes place mainly in Saskatchewan. I guess there’s just some primitive, “I’m-in-a-cave-and-want-to-watch-the-shadows-dance-on-the-wall” sort of satisfaction about it. Who knows? I think my favorite memoir segments are still those narrations from “This American Life.” Somehow, it’s in my mind that memoir lives better when we hear people tell it than when we read it on a page (any plans to do an author’s rendition recording of your memoir when it’s done?).

    • Thanks, Victoria. I may never do this again—too weirdly angsty to winnow out great books. Then again, it forces thought, floundering, and making sentences. As for reading/recording my own work, I’d sure rather do that than appear in a podcast, which terrifies me.

  2. I agree with Wild as the best memoir of the year. I’ve put off reading novels until after I send in my memoir ms. to the publisher. But then, Canada and the Chief Wondrous Life will be on my list. Thanks!

    Oh, and I admire your log discipline. That might have to become a New Year’s Resolution for me. See if I can get to Feb. 🙂

    • A reading log can seem a weird incentive to read more, Shirley. And for me it also has the merit of seeming to make reading more tangible, as if all those enjoyable hours built something physical.

  3. Richard Moore

    Thanks for these observations and recommendations. I was intrigued by your mention of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Read it a couple of years ago and keep recalling the beauty and power of his images and language. I have yet to sit down with it and really try to get inside it.
    I would love it if you would offer an analysis of it (or get one of your excellent guest reviewers to do it).

    Thanks, too, for another year of fine and astute insights into la vie litteraire.

    • Thanks, Richard. I feel that Blood Meridian is just about beyond my powers to review. I’ve asked my son, a McCarthy expert, to provide some thoughts, and he might. Till then, I will load about four lines on the book when I run my complete list.

  4. The best way to keep a reading log is create a free account with You log and rate books, create reading goals for the year, write reviews (that you then embed in a blog post so you’re not doing double duty), and, if you have a book coming out, you can create an “author page.”

    I highly recommend it.

    • Yep, I can see advantages of putting the whole thing in the clouds. Haven’t checked out that feature on Goodreads, but the whole shebang works great so I imagine that does too.