Tag Archives: fiction

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)

Ursula K. Le Guin

Such a devastating loss of such an incredible and truly imaginative person.

Thanks to Director Arwen Curry, her team, and many Kickstarter backers (which includes me and my tiny drop in the bucket back in February 2016), we will soon(ish?) have an incredible documentary traversing Ursula K. Le Guin’s absolutely remarkable life and legacy. There’s still time to donate to their finishing costs here.

2017: A Reading List in Review

The books I read in 2017, listed chronologically (January reads first). Some of these I commented on more fully in earlier posts and/or on Goodreads. You can see a prettier visualization of this data here.

  1. Autumn by Ali Smith (my first Ali Smith and as I’ve said before, it was a true joy to read)
  2. How To Be Both by Ali Smith (I preferred Autumn but also liked this)
  3. Heartbreak by Andrea Dworkin (loved her voice)
  4. The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri (disappointing – one star on Goodreads)
  5. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee (really fantastic biography, though not as great at Lee’s bio of Virginia Woolf)
  6. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (great)
  7. Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law by Robert Post, K. Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Thomas Grey, and Reva Siegel
  8. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (if you want a super fun read about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, you must read this)
  9. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (also excellent)
  10. The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild (eye-opening and I’ve started giving it to all my girlfriends)
  11. Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (enjoyed, especially after reading her biography first. In all her work there seem to be these moments of intense violence that are mixed in with the very normal everyday. In some sense it makes it even more jarring — you aren’t expecting it and she doesn’t do anything to help you process it afterwards. It’s just — here’s a horrible violent thing. And then we pan to the left and see Johnny having some tea.)
  12. The Taming of Free Speech by Laura Weinrib (If you’re interested in the history of civil liberties, esp. the First Amendment, and how its current form is far away from its labor economic-rights-based origins, this is a must read. I thought it was so interesting. Go Laura!)
  13. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  14. Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale by Debra Satz
  15. N-W by Zadie Smith (got progressively better as it went along)
  16. We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World by Melvyn Dubofsky (As best I can tell this is *the* history of the Wobblies book to read – and for good reason)
  17. To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization by William Alford (such an interesting topic but didn’t give me exactly as much as I’d hoped for. I wanted a deeper dive into the history and development of conceptions of property and ownership in China generally and then for IP specifically. Stealing as a concept already assumes a background ownership structure. It assumes that someone is a rightful possessor and then some other person wrongfully took that possession from them. But what’s interesting is how cultures can develop where what we might think of as stealing and wrong others simply don’t even conceptualize in that way. That is part of what I wanted to walk away with a better understanding of. But at only 236 pages, you can imagine that a lot had to be left out. If anybody reading this knows of another book like this but longer and deeper, please let me know!)
  18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (I loved this book. Like, loved it. Dear book gods, please please please give me a signed first edition. And if you want to send me the presentation copy from Woolf to Vita Sackville-West or even Vanessa Bell (see, I’m not picky!), I promise… well… I’ll promise whatever you’d like! (note the current price of the presentation copy to Vanessa Bell is currently listed on abebooks at $325,000!) (The cheapest signed first edition I see is already $2,887.50 on abebooks. I cry.)
  19. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (given my love of The Hours (which you should read right now if you haven’t), I thought I’d have to love this one. But, alas, it just didn’t work much for me. I found Orlando and To The Lighthouse to be absolutely wonderful though.)
  20. The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand (great and now filled with pages of my notes)
  21. The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
  22. Private Government by Elizabeth Anderson (her Tanner Lectures followed with commentary from a number of people in different fields and then her replies to those replies.)
  23. The Disappearing L by Bonnie J. Morris (about the rise and fall of US lesbian culture since the 70s, focusing almost exclusively on concert festivals (esp. Michigan Festival) and music more generally. As a Lilith Fair lover, I enjoyed reading about all the many awesome festivals that came before it. The demise of these kinds of events (think a women-only burning man in a summer camp) is a true loss.)
  24. Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil by Deborah Nelson
  25. Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi
  26. Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (easy intro to attachment theory, though I found their inability to sympathize with/contextualize avoidants a serious mark against it)
  27. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  28. I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (sometimes, some of us, become a little, shall we say, unwell, when it comes to romantic relations. Most of the time we take this behavior to be bad/something to ‘work on’. Here’s a story of a woman who did the opposite. Put another way, there’s the person who calls their ex a bunch of times in a row and then finally feels ridiculous and creepy. Then there’s the person who just keeps calling, leaving hundreds of messages, sending letters, emails, etc. and 100% owns that. In fact, turns the whole thing into something of an art project. This is the person who drives their car, full-powered, over a cliff and while falling just screams manically “yes!!!!!” This book is about this latter sort of person. I found it sort of amazing.
  29. The Myth of Ownership by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel
  30. The Sum of Small Things by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (my previous review is here)
  31. Future Sex by Emily Witt (a total disappointment)
  32. Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy by Richard E. Ocejo (‘how educated and culturally savvy young people are transforming traditionally low-status manual labor jobs into elite taste-making occupations.’ People who gave this less than four stars on Goodreads were objectively wrong)
  33. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (charming and delightful. I just loved this. If you, like me, love books about books and book culture and book collecting, you would absolutely treasure this one)
  34. Feminism: A Very Short Introduction by Margaret Walters (3-stars ok)
  35. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (I loved American Gods back in the day and was motivated to read this while watching the American Gods show. I love this world and would like to pay it more visits)
  36. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff (the follow-up book to 84, Charing Cross Road. Also enjoyable but not nearly as much so as the original)
  37. The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch (Not hating men for about a week after reading this was a challenge)
  38. The End of the Story by Lydia Davis (it’s not often that I explicitly think about form in literature. This book changed that. When trying to talk about, make senes, etc. of very painful times, the truth is we often don’t have one clear overarching narrative that runs in chronological order. Instead, we have fragments. Pieces from different moments run together. There can be a certain stillness and painful fog hanging over us. This book perfectly captures this through, in part, experimenting with form.)
  39. Virginia Woolf by Hermoine Lee (without question the best biography I have ever read in my entire life. The only negative is that I don’t quite love Woolf-the-person so much anymore. But honestly, if you read Woolf, give yourself the gift of reading this book.)
  40. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and Jack Thorne (A goddamn tragedy. I was angry when I finished it. It was so bad, so unbelievable, so unfortunate. Oh, it hurts me still. I consider this outside the Canon and a flukey horrible mistake (that is making lots of people very rich). It’s so bad. Save yourself the heartbreak.)
  41. Conversations on Art and Aesthetics by Hans Maes (A collection of interviews with some of the leading aesthetic philosophers around. For someone with no prior background in the topics, I found it a super helpful primer that sparked tons of ideas for future exploration
  42. Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice and Responsibility in Liberal Thought by Samuel Scheffler
  43. My Brilliant Best Friend by Elena Ferrrante
  44. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
  45. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
  46. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (my reading these back-to-back over the course of *maybe* a week and a half speaks for itself. The relationship between the two main characters was so fascinating and rich and challenging. I kept thinking about these books for months.)
  47. Beauty by Roger Scruton
  48. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (worth reading multiple times and so much to say about it. The betrayal at the end (having to do, I think, will a desire to destroy what you feel controls you), our extremely limited access to Miss Brodie’s life outside the views of the girls — it was all just so psychologically interesting.)
  49. Private Wongs by Arthur Ripstein
  50. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi (translated by Jocelyne Allen) (an autobiographical manga. I just wanted to give her a big hug)
  51. The Course of Love by Alain do Botton (long-term relationships are hard and the more books we have that talk about different ways to make them work, however they might work for those individuals,  the better)
  52. Sourdough by Robin Sloan (I *loved* Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookshop and this was Sloan’s next book. Totally fun. Delightful. I felt like I was back in the bay area working at Google. Dear  Robin Sloan, I love you. Sincerely, me.)
  53. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (rich, sad, and with a real sense of place)
  54. By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano (a step into more experimental-y writing styles.)
  55. On Beauty by Elaine Scarry
  56. How Fiction Works by James Wood (if you read fiction, you should read this book)
  57. Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art by Alexander Nehams (yes yes yes)
  58. The Tyranny of the Ideal by Gerald Gaus (I saw him present at the NYU Law & Philosophy Colloquium this Fall and was absolutely fascinating with what his work on complex systems could mean in epistemology. That talk and this book inspired an entire paper of mine, and inspired me to take a course with Scott Page’s Modeling Complex Systems course on Coursera
  59. Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature by Alva Noe (Many little morsels of interesting thought but, alas, I felt like there was not enough depth. I wrote a review where I tried to help rationally reconstruct some of his arguments and provide some more nuanced accounts.)
  60. The Lives of Animals by J.M. Coetzee (recommended by a friend. It’s a two-part lecture Coetzee gave at Princeton for the Tanner Lecturers. But instead of a normal lecture, he delivered a fictional novella. I think this could pair nicely with Unspeakable Conversations by Harriet McBryde Johnson [NYT link here])
  61. Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Plays by Mitchel Resnick (read to help with my epistemology paper. Quick and enjoyable)
  62. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (better late than never. Read to help provide some context for my reading of Charles Mills’ White Ignorance and The Racial Contract)
  63. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch (Enjoyed)
  64. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (I mean, the book is magical. The idea that octopi might be the most alien conscious creatures we ever encounter is striking. That nature could produce such different kinds of intelligent life, basically totally separate from each other is beautiful. It also provides me hope that there are aliens out there and they will find us!)

May 2018 bring more great books!

March – May Reads

  1. The Taming of Free Speech by Laura Weinrib (HUP 2016)
  2. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  3. Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets by Debra Satz (OUP 2010)
  4. NW by Zadie Smith
  5. We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World by Melvyn Dubofsky
  6. To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization by William P. Alford (Stanford University Press 1997)
  7. Orlando by Virginia Woolf – loved this
  8. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  9. The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand – loved this
  10. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer
  11. Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives by Elizabeth Anderson (PUP 2017) – this combines her Tanner Lecturers with commentary by scholars from various fields. I’m hoping this is a sign that philosophers are becoming more interested in theorizing about work relations and private-ish law.
  12. The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture by Bonnie J. Morris (SUNY Press 2016) – Books on lesbian culture are hard to come by so I was quite happy to have stumbled upon this one. Very interesting. The discussion of conscious raising and how it resulted in intra-group fights(e.g. concerning women-born-women only spaces) and factions pairs well with the documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, which covers the rise of the women’s movement, focusing on 1966-71.
  13. Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil (University of Chicago Press 2017) – better to know a bit about these women before you read this.
  14. Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi (MIT Press 2010) – some helpful information for those with limited knowledge about the issues. I found it repetitive.
  15. Attached by Amir Levine

February Reads

  1. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee
  2. Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law by Robert Post and others (a collection of responses to a Post essay)
  3. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  4. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (Fun but also sad. I now would like to own the complete OED. Note: very expensive)
  5. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
  6. The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild (a must read)
  7. Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (great to read after finishing her biography)