My Year in Not Reading (Where Do I Start?)


Tis the season of lists. Rare is the literary critic who waits until January to fully understand 2012. Instead, Thanksgiving is that marker, because t’s the kiss of death for a book to come out in December, rather than a critical achievement like it is with film. But alas, I have a problem with my list-making this year. I didn’t read enough. I can’t make a good list that has enough of the generally accepted “critically acclaimed” books peppered with “huh, interesting” titles to make you check it out.

The thing is though, I have a lot of those galleys I just didn’t get to. I skimmed a few, but I didn’t capital-R Read them. Instead, I got distracted with these books–books that came out in previous years, non-fiction books, random books, whatever.

Here are the 2012 books that I have in my possession, and have heard a lot about, but never spent any time reading. Just looking, staring, and wondering.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. I’m certain I picked this up in May or so, interested in its football meets wartime narrative. Flipping through it now, I’m not sure I ever opened it. I did listen to a podcast with Ben Fountain. I read an article about how Fountain left his job as a lawyer to become a full-time novelist, even though he failed at it for a long time. I know this stuff about Ben Fountain, but I have no idea if this book is any good. I’ve just heard it was.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. The back of this book was really good. An Italian coastline, a young innkeeper. something possibly about famous people. I gave this book to my wife. She loved it. Something about Hemingway if I remember correctly? Or an old movie star? I forget. She said it has a lot of alternating narratives. She said it was good, and I should read it. I believe her. I believe her so much that when she gave our first copy away, I picked up another one.

Nine Months by Paula Bomer. Pal Ben Tanzer sings her praises. Podcaster Brad Listi interviews her. I read her piece in the NY Tyrant. I have not read this book.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Everyone says this book makes them cry, and that they can’t put it down. I generally support “war novels” in theory (see Billy Lynn above and should I add Fobbit to this list? I’m looking at it right now…), but I haven’t read any of these new war novels.

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub. If you read this blog, you know Emma Straub. (And maybe actually “know” her, not just “know of”). She’s entrenched herself in the semi-indie literary culture, with overtures towards “breaking out.” I’ve heard she works in a bookstore. I’ve heard she’s good at baking, too! I’ve heard she wrote an excellent book, but I can’t verify any of it. (And I love me some old movie stars, I haven’t finished Adam Braver’s Misfit either!)

Telegraph Avenue by Michael  Chabon. This book doesn’t quite fit on here, because I started it very earnestly and I quit it. I made an active decision to quit it. I absolutely did not care. The concept seemed outmoded, and maybe I’m just tired of Michael Chabon hobby immersion experiences. You did not get the best of me, Chabon, I wouldn’t let you.

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. A.M. Homes. Ayyyyy….EEIIEIEIEMMM H-OH-MMMSSSS. Very writerly. That’s why I picked it up, I think. Or just that name, floating around my subconscious, could be inspiring. I’m not sure if it’s working, but the book has been on my shelf since October.

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus. Here’s a confession—I started this and then stopped. And it’s really inexcusable. I’ve had this book a solid year, since last December. It says “Knopf January 2012” on it, even though I’m fairly certain some people put it on their 2011 list. But not me. I’m putting it on this list. I even saw Ben Marcus in person, checked out (and didn’t finish) The Age of Wire and String and yet here we are. An unfinished The Flame Alphabet. I suck.

NW by Zadie Smith. By now you are either relating to my plight or are feeling completely sorry for me. You may be contemplating the validity of the whole enterprise of list-making. But dear friend, do you think everyone reads every word of every book on their list?

Or not-read every book on their list, as is my case. So I’ll admit–I am reading this. For real. I swear. I’ve actually read On Beauty. I’ve read that piece on Jay-Z. I just read something by her in The New Yorker about Joni Mitchell. I am reading Zadie Smith. I am. I promise, I think.

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  1. I didn’t read any of these either. Though I must admit, Zadie Smith would never make it to my Must Read list after my wasting time on “On Beauty”.