January 5, 2012

December Reading Recap

At the beginning of 2011 I decided to start planning out my reading on a monthly basis and announcing each month what I intended to read. I said that I wasn't going to commit to finishing all the listed books every month, and I haven't, but stating my reading list publicly in advance has motivated me to make more time for reading so that I'd have more books to report at the end of the month.

I read 30 books in 2011. I know that's not a very impressive number compared to many other readers and writers, but it's a good number for me. It's about the same number of books as I read in 2010 and significantly more than in the preceding years. I didn't read every day, but I read most days, and I count that as a resoundingly successful result to this experiment, which I intend to continue. Maybe my number of books will be higher in 2012, and maybe it won't -- after all, there are books to be written, too.

In December, I only had time for two of the books on my list:

BLUE MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson - I finished the final book in the Mars series and enjoyed it just as much as the first two. The story went in a bunch of interesting new directions in this last installment while also continuing with the familiar plots, topics, and characters. This is an incredible saga with well-developed characters in a highly detailed, believable world. The books are a dense read, full of descriptions and scientific explanations, and for that reason I'm sort of surprised that I liked them as much as I did.

I spent just over a year reading the Mars trilogy, while reading many other books at the same time, and I think that was a good way for me to approach such a quantity of challenging text. I'm thinking about taking on another large reading project for 2012, and I'm open to suggestions.

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan - This is a creative and well-written book, deserving of the acclaim it received, but I don't think it qualifies as a novel because it doesn't have a unified story arc or much sense of beginning, middle, and end. I'd call this a book of closely linked short stories, and while I appreciated each story, I didn't feel as satisfied at the end as I do after a good novel. It seems an unlikely candidate to be optioned for an HBO series, but if the network makes it, I'll watch with fascination.

However you categorize the book, it's full of intriguing characters, many of them involved in the music industry and all of them coping with disappointments and difficulties in life. The chapters, or stories, jump around in time and feature a variety of narrative styles, including a chapter consisting entirely of PowerPoint slides. I love that kind of thing, but it's not for every reader. Each chapter features a different main character, who might have appeared or been mentioned in an earlier story or might have a more distant connection. Part of the fun of reading is figuring out how each new story relates to what has come before and finding out more about events that have been alluded to. Taken together, the chapters present snapshots from the lives of a loosely connected web of characters while tracking the development of music and technology over time. Recommended for readers open to unusually structured books, particularly those with a passion for rock and roll.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Jacket Copy collected literary New Year's resolutions from writers. I particularly like Marisa Silver's: "Use fewer commas."


Henri Picciotto said...

I just read the first story in _A Visit from the Goon Squad_. It's both absorbing and cringe-inducing at the same time.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Agreed. There is a certain amount of cringing and uncomfortableness to many of the stories. I'll look forward to discussing the book with you when you're done.

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