2018 Reads in Review

A quick recap of the books I read in 2018, with comments sprinkled throughout. (Some) fuller reviews can be found on Goodreads.

First US edition cover of Pnin by Nabokov

My favorite novel of the year. Read it twice. (picture of first US edition)

  1. To Save Everything Click Here by Evgeny Morozov
  2. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
  3. Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones (so rare to find a new biography on an American anarchist, especially on one so under-biographized as Parsons. I only wish I learned more about her, especially about her thoughts about race and passing)
  4. Know Your Place by Nathan Connolly (a book that asks 24 working class writers to answer the question, ‘In 21st century Britain, what does it mean to be working class?’)
  5. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (read again in honor of getting a first edition)
  6. Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan (takes place before Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I am a sucker for books about bookstores, libraries, and secret societies of bibliophiles)
  7. Meno by Plato
  8. One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality by Jeremy Waldron
  9. Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence by Rachel Sherman (eye opening)
  10. The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber (If you like all the Netflix shows on chefs and food, you’ll love this)
  11. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (I scour book award lists for new reading recommendations. Little reveals my dilettante nature more than the fact that I hadn’t heard of Saunders before stumbling upon Lincoln in the Bardo [it won the 2017 Man Booker Prize]. Two things to say. First, people say the writing here is ‘experimental’ but I did not have that thought at all while reading it. You do not have to be highfalutin to experience the elegiac beauty of this book. As for its formal qualities and purported experimentalism, my thought while reading it was something like this: ‘instead of getting a description of a thing directly, or of a thing itself, it feels more like this author provides us with descriptions of the spaces, shadings, and shadows that surround the object. We are then left to – and trusted to – hold those descriptions together in a way that allows us to then come to grasp the object enclosed by them.’ Another way I thought about it had to do with drawing. When you first start out, there’s a tendency to want to fill in with pencil the spaces that you want to highlight. Kids draw in color on the cheeks. As you go along, though, you realize that when you want to highlight something, you don’t draw it in. You fill in/shade the spaces around it. Saunders here is the writer analog of an excellent drawer. He gives us the shading and we are left to see the highlight. The second thought I wanted to share is this: the style and topic of Lincoln in the Bardo is not representative of much of Saunder’s other writing! His short stories are fun, griping, and often techno-dystopic, with sharp criticisms of consumerism and classism, but elegiac they are not!)
  12. Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf
  13. Book Collecting: A Modern Guide by Jean Peters
  14. Modern Book Collecting by Robert A Wilson
  15. The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of American Culture by Joshua Kendall (great topic but disappointing read)
  16. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (read after seeing the movie, I kid you not, about six times in theaters. Over the course of a single week. Dark times, friends. Dark times)
  17. Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life by Julia Briggs (prep for my life-changing Virginia Woolf reading and walking trip [see post re: Boston Globe article here])
  18. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  19. Why Does Inequality Matter? by Tim Scanlon
  20. We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler (loved this and before you blame Citizens United as the critical moment where the Court went wrong, you absolutely must read this)
  21. The Rare Book Market Today by William S. Reese
  22. Publisher for the Masses, Emanuel Haldeman-Julius by Alton R. Lee (another great topic but just so-so execution)
  23. Dr. Rosenbach and Mr. Lilly: Book Collecting in a Golden Age by Joel Silver (loved this. I fantasize about having this kind of relationship to a dealer)
  24. Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History by Rebecca Romney
  25. The Early Community at Bedford Park: Corporate Happiness in the First Garden Suburb by Margaret Jones Bolsterli (again, love the topic but execution leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, beggars can’t be choosers where many of my interests are concerned)
  26. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (a short story collection. I enjoyed the weirdness and themes)
  27. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Lydia Davis translation) (Will read Adam Thorpe’s translation in the future as well)
  28. The Lesbian Community, with an Afterword, 1980 by Deborah Goleman Wolf (covers the development of the San Francisco lesbian feminist community from 1972-75. Describes the women involved and the community itself. Favorite part was the brief discussion of a lesbian feminist bookstore. Such an under-investigated piece of our collective intellectual history. Recommend!)
  29. The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks
  30. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (third reading? Remains one of my favorite novels of all time)
  31. The Veiled Woman by Anaïs Nin
  32. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley (If found a book about a bookshop lacking, you know you should think twice before reading it)
  33. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  34. Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer (gave this to my sister and some friends going through rough times. Such a great topic, even though this book is just ok)
  35. The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between by Stacey D’Erasmo (one in a series of craft books published by Graywolf Press. Have gotten something out of them all)
  36. Gifts Glittering and Poisoned: Spectacle, Empire and Metaphysics by Chanon Ross (about the ‘power and prevalence of spectacle’ in the modern era. Focuses on Christian views of this over history. My Goodreads review, “One need not be religious to find this book incredibly interesting. I have pages and pages of notes and new ideas.”)
  37. Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice by Stephanie Paulsell (Stephanie, from Harvard Divinity School, was our Virginia Woolf expert this summer. Her book is so important. Paraphrasing and de-contextualizing a bit, Stephanie makes you want to be a better person. And you would be, if you were around her all the time)
  38. Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Rego Barry
  39. Hermann Zapf: A Life in Letters by Julian Waters (Lovers of beauty, look up Zapf)
  40. The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story by Christopher Castellani (in the Graywolf Craft Series)
  41. My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 1 by Kabi Nagata (the sequel to My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. The original was, alas, much better)
  42. Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
  43. Interpreters of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (collection of short stories, introduced to me through a Craft of Fiction course I had the very good fortune to take this past semester)
  44. A Model World and Other Stories by Michael Chabon
  45. Success by Martin Amis (hate the players, hate the game, revel in the story)
  46. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (hands down my favorite book of the year. I love Pnin. My first Nabokov. The rumors are true: his writing is pure delight. It feels like he must love me, or at least enjoy flirting with me, through his prose. Also a nice way to shower after Success)
  47. The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
  48. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (best read as a kid, I suspect)
  49. Political Virtue and Shopping by Michele Micheletti (not worth it)
  50. A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America by Lizabeth Cohen (much more useful than the above. Pages of notes)
  51. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb (a gift from a comic and Batman devotee I met at Sheila Water’s calligraphy retreat this summer)
  52. Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders
  53. Tenth of December by George Saunders
  54. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (again! The only book I read twice this year. God, I love this book)
  55. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (so well written, you’ll likely need a xanax (or two) to get through it)
  56. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (highly recommend. Bought my sister a copy)
  57. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (read again for class, with a new appreciation for her structuring)
  58. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  59. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (great idea packaged in a tragically lacking story)
  60. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
  61. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (loved it all but loved the Scrabble story best)

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