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Posts Tagged ‘2014 reading goals’

I am working on a post about this year’s Tournament of Books that really should go up ahead of this one for chronology’s sake but after looking at Jenny and Kelly read books. I determined that I need to set some reading goals for myself before the month of January is out. Last year was one of the worst reading years of my history as an omnibibliovore. I blame both the dismal publishing lineup of 2013 (I have no idea what everyone is talking about when they call it a great year for literature as I HATED almost everything I read that was published last year) and the ebbs and flows of life. Despite outside forces, a large part of the responsibility is mine:  I simply didn’t try hard enough to read as widely and voraciously as I historically do. So I have decided to follow Jenny and Kelly’s lead and make a list of 12 books that I already own, with two alternatives in case of extreme dislike and necessary abandonment, that I intend to read in 2014.

I own more books than I will probably ever read. Everyone who reads seriously or who has ever worked in a bookstore does, but in the past five years I got particularly bad about accumulating books without reading them. I am a library devotee and most of the things I read come from inter-library loan rather than my own shelves. Every year I vow that I will read largely books that I’ve already got, and every year I find myself back on Prospector randomly ordering titles instead of pulling books from my 7 (seven!!) bookcases. Hence this motivating list! I have to prove to myself that I am not a book hoarder, that I own these titles because I really will read them, before I pack them all up and carry them across the country yet again. I chose these books somewhat randomly in about ten minutes of wandering about the apartment. The lucky selections:

2014 TBR Stack

  • Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years by Richard J. Evans – This title was recommended to me by my favourite history professor last fall. While it looks like a particularly long and dense history, I have read the introduction and was charmed to find it chockablock with literary allusions. I am most excited to read this. I love history of medicine and science! I am taking a class on public health history that looks to be situated in the U.S. but this will tie in nicely and might give me fodder for papers! Also, cholera. Also, I’ve read some articles by Evans and I like his style. Downside: I can be a bit of a hypochondriac so I expect to be intensely worried about my health during the duration of this read.
  • The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 by Eric Hobsbawm – I requested Hobsbawm’s three volume history of nineteenth century Europe for Christmas because I somehow got the idea that one cannot seriously study history without having read Hobsbawm. Though the book is small, the text is very dense and tiny. This one might be tough.
  • Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss – I totally bought this book for the title and the publisher (Archipelago Books, I love you!). It is translated from German and was first published in 1931. I don’t really know what it’s about–a murdering doctor and maybe rats since there’s one on the cover?–but Archipelago wisely chose to adorn the back with a blurb from Kafka: “What an extraordinary writer he is!” I don’t think I need to say anything more to explain this selection. Don’t let me down, Franz!
  • The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead – This is one of the books in my pile that I have owned the longest without ever even trying to read. It’s been with me through two moves and three floods. I do not know why I bought it nor why I have hung on to it for so long because the description – “Sam and Henny Pollit have too many children, too little money, and too much loathing for each other. As Sam uses the children’s adoration to feed his own voracious ego, Henny watches in bleak despair, knowing the bitter reality that lies just below his mad visions.” — does nothing for me. “Dark family dramas” is a subgenre I’m mightily sick of, thanks to overrepresentation in contemporary American literature. I added this one mostly because I should make an effort to whittle down my collection and not keep traipsing around the country with boxes of the same unread books for all of my adult life. Huge downside: apparently Franzen loves this book and I worry I might love it and find myself caught in the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance of agreeing with J-Franz.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie – Americanah was hands-down the best book published in America that I read last year. It was also my first Adichie. This is the only title of hers that I own. I hope it’s as good as her latest was. Downside: has potential to be the most disappointing book if it does not match Americanah in quality.
  • Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin – Maybe this is cheating because I read the first 30-odd pages of this when I bought it. I was loving it,   but I got bogged down in busyness and let it go. I’ve been meaning to return to it for over a year; maybe if I’d done so last year 2013 wouldn’t have been so disappointing. I love the classics of Russian literature better than any other country and am always looking for contemporary Russian publications. This book tells the tale of an official who works at a Swiss immigration office; from what I recall, it has a lovely, eerie fable-like quality. Downside: the beginning was lovely and I will be shattered if the rest of the book doesn’t match up.
  • Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder – I have heard nothing but praise for this book! I bought it in a fit of wanting to learn more about 20th century Polish and Eastern European history. Between the cholera, the age of revolution, and this, I’ve set myself up for quite the depressing historical reading list, I fear. Downside: while I feel a great moral imperative to master 20th century history, I’ve got a really low emotional tolerance for reading about Nazis, and my emotional armor is already pretty battered going into 2014. This may be the book most likely to go unfinished from the lot.
  • It’s Superman! by Tom Dehaven – McGinty suggested this to me about two years ago and I still haven’t read it. I feel awful — I hate to take a book from someone and leave it languishing, particularly since everyone knows that Mr. McG has the finest of taste — but I find Superman to be the most boring comic book character maybe of all time. Nevertheless, I don’t think I could continue to live with myself (or him) if I let another year go by without reading this. Paranoid-insecure downside: maybe Mr. McG will come to hate me if I do not love this book as much as he does?
  • The Book of Khalid by Ameen Rihani – I made a pledge to myself to read more Arabic literature that I have not followed through on. This is described as Arab-American, which isn’t exactly like reading translated fiction, but I hope that it will help ease me into more literature translated from Arabic. This is an especially happy inclusion because I’ve got a dozen titles from Melville House’s Neversink Library that I fear I use more for aesthetic decoration than for reading. Though I’m excited to read a book that “play[s] with classical Arabic literary forms,” I worry that it might be lost on me since I’m still not familiar with said forms. Also: this book was apparently the inspiration for Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet so, there’s that as a downside. Even so, I’m fond of books about immigrants, and this is about “two young men from Lebanon seeking their fortune in turn-of-the-century New York.” Also, I worked hard last fall to gain a better understanding of Islamic and Middle Eastern history, and while I’m weakest on the twentieth century, perhaps now I have enough contextual knowledge to make good on that ancient goal. I might read this one first-ish.
  • The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth – This is frequently mentioned by fans of marginalized classics. I’ve been planning on reading it for years. Downside: I’m worried the translation in the copy I own might not be very good.
  • The Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – This is the easiest history title in my stack, a book that I chose to give myself a bit of a treat and a break from all of the heavy European history. Ulrich is a highly readable and fine scholar who manages to make eras and locations that I care less about (eighteenth century America) compelling. There is no downside at all to this book. It is guaranteed to be delightful and interesting.
  • All Souls and The Dark Back of Time by Javier Marias – I’ve been meaning to read more Marias ever since I liked him so much two years ago. I am counting these two as one since the latter is a sort-of sequel to the former. If I only read All Souls I will still cheat and give myself full marks for this inclusion. The different translators for these two titles displeases me; I fear one may be better than the other, which always troubles. Still, the concept is unbeatable: a withering literary novel about Oxford, followed much later by a “Borgesian” magical-realistic autobiographical novel about the aftermath of the academic novel?! Written by an author who has proven himself to be well worth my time, too! Downside:  none. These are 100% wheelhouse novels for me. I don’t know if I’ve ever written about it before, but I adore books set at universities; it’s my favourite sub-genre of any number of uber-genres (mystery, literary fiction).
  • I and Thou by Martin Buber – I wanted to include something other than history from my nonfiction selection and I’ve had multiple copies of this book throughout the years without ever reading it. My dearest friend sent me a nice hardcover for Christmas, which reminded me of my decades-long failure to get to it. I’m slating this one in my “bedtime devotionals” reading time slot.
  • Mr. Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner – I do a pretty good job of reading selections from my NYRB collection, but this is a book I wanted to include because it’s probably the NYRB that I have owned the longest without ever reading. Even before I started hoarding these most chromatically pleasing of books, I’ve been aware of Warner. I bought a different edition of this book based on the curious title years ago when I was in college in the Bay Area, but I gave it away before I read it. NYRB classics rarely let me down, and this one, apparently about “a London-bank-clerk-turned-minister” serving as a missionary on a volcanic island in the pacific, sounds like a nice dash of something different among my other selections. Also, it’s by a woman and I realized after I’d already made the rest of the pile that my ratios are somewhat off — not something I think about overmuch as I chose books, but I do feel like I should.

So, hastily chosen and quickly written up, these are my reading goals for 2014. May it be a better year for books–and, I pray and hope, a better year in all things–than 2013 was.

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