The books I read in 2019

This is a potentially incomplete list of all the books I remember reading last year. I was going to put it on Twitter a few weeks ago, but nah. Why should Twitter get all the good stuff?

So, in no particular order:

  • Everything Matters – Ron Currie
  • The Blurry Years – Eleanor Kriseman
  • Less – Andrew Sean Greer
  • Dirty Boulevard: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Lou Reed
  • Tales from Nowhere – Lonely Planet
  • Homesick for Another World – Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Love is a Mix Tape – Rob Sheffield
  • Cool Gray City of Love – Gary Kamiya
  • The Incendiaries – R.O. Kwon
  • Hark – Sam Lipsyte
  • 1Q84* – Haruki Murakami
  • Solaris* – Stanislaw Lem
  • Bukowski in a Sundress – Kim Addonizio
  • The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States – Jeffrey Lewis
  • A Thousand Distant Radios – Woody Skinner
  • Severance – Ling Ma
  • The White Album – Joan Didion
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit
  • The Taxidermist’s Catalog – James Brubaker
  • The Friends of Eddie Coyle – George V. Higgins
  • Motherless Brooklyn – Jonathan Lethem
  • The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells – Andrew Sean Greer 
  • Bartleby – Herman Melville
  • Benito Cereno – Herman Melville
  • No Longer At Ease – Chinua Achebe
  • Favorite Monster – Sharma Shields
  • They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us – Hanif Abdurraqib
  • Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink – Elvis Costello
  • All the Sad Young Literary Men – Keith Gessen
  • Florida – Lauren Goff
  • Appointment in Samarra – John O’Hara
  • The Power of Point of View – Alicia Rasley
  • Story Genius – Lisa Cron
  • To Show and To Tell – Phillip Lopate
  • Bitches Brew – George Grella Jr.
  • Live at the Apollo – Douglas Volk

The last two on this list are those little 33 1/3 books published by Bloomsbury; if you’re a music lover and a particular kind of nerd, you should check them out. They’re tons of fun.

The three before that are writing craft books. I feel like I read more than just three of those last year; I should make a point to read more of them this year.

The books with an asterisk are ones I didn’t finish and probably won’t try to in the future.

As far as the rest of the list goes, there were a few re-reads (the Melville, the Didion and the Higgins), but I’m trying not to revisit many books these days, since there are so so so many out there that I want to read but haven’t. For 2020 I’d like to get the number of female authors up a bit, and I’d definitely like the next edition of this list to be less white.

Holiday in Cambodia (and other places)

In a few hours, I will cross the Pacific Ocean for the first time, on my way to a two-week vacation in Southeast Asia.

In this household, we travel with hats. But my hat game is apparently the weaker of the two.
In this household, we travel with hats. But my hat game is apparently the weaker of the two.

I enjoy traveling, except for the part about being in between home and where I’m going: for me, getting there is never even close to half the fun. Anyway, J and I both prepare for travel by reading, of course, but we don’t read the same things. She, being sensible and logical, read the Fodor’s guide for Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to get ready for this trip. I took a different path and read The Sympathizer. Last year, for our trip to Italy, she didn’t read anything because she’s been there so many times before. And while there were plenty of traditional travel guidebooks available to me, I read The Dark Heart of Italy instead. (I highly recommend both books, by the way.)

This way, she knows all the actual sights to see and places to go, and I feel like I have an understanding – or maybe the beginning of an understanding, since you can’t get much more than that from a book – of the place based on who its people are.

At least, that’s how it worked last year. We’ll see if it works that way this time. I’ll just read the Fodor’s guide when I can’t sleep on the plane, just in case.

Seven novels I’m thankful for

So today is Thanksgiving. And whether you’re a religious person or not, it’s tradition in this country to say a few words about what exactly it is you’re thankful for. Often this takes the form of going around the dinner table one by one, but if you know anything about me at all, you know that I don’t like that sort of thing all that much. Sooooo, this year I’ve decided to do it in the form of a blog post.

I’ve been thinking lately about the books I read early in my life that shaped the desire in me to write one of my own one day. In general, I don’t like to think in terms of “influences,” because I’ve found that using that term creates expectations of similarity in theme or style or whatever. (I remember when I was playing in bands in high school, it was customary for musicians to ask each other who their influences were, so that we would know what to expect from them, how to judge them, and whether or not to give a shit about them in the first place.) But I am glad I read each of these books at some point in my life, as I feel each of them contributed in some way to the publication of How I’m Spending My Afterlife, as well as to whatever’s next for me.

Also, I think it’s telling that I still have a copy of all seven of these on my shelf.

So here’s the list:

  1. The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) – I read this book in the fifth grade. I’d seen the TV miniseries (Bradbury thought it was boring) by that point, and of course the first thing I noticed was how different the book was from that. I enjoyed the sprawling, rambling narrative style of the book, which is not so much a novel as it is a series of linked stories about humanity trying to colonize Mars over the course of the early 21st century.
  2. The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (Douglas Adams) – My parents got me the boxed set of these for Christmas when I was 12 or 13. Adams is one writer whose influence I can often clearly see in my own work, usually when I’m trying to be funny. And no matter how hard I work on that, I will never nail it the way he did.
  3. Devil in a Blue Dress (Walter Mosley) – Mosley’s first novel was the one that showed me that straight-up genre fiction didn’t have to be superficial and by-the-numbers, even when it did check all the required boxes. It’s an unexpectedly deep work.
  4. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (George V. Higgins) – If you want to know how dialogue can drive a story – and I mean really drive it – this is the one to read. I still love it, even if I am completely over the whole Boston gangster thing.
  5. My Secret History (Paul Theroux) – This is my favorite of Theroux’s books. It’s a big, probably at least semi-autobiographical novel that I come back to every few years; each time, I get something new out of it.
  6. Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis) – I read this a few years after it came out, when I was in high school and before American Psycho was published. More than any other single book, this is the one that pushed me toward considering trying to really write my own stories. Of course, the down side is that everything I wrote for a couple years afterward was a straight-up Ellis ripoff, which may have contributed to my decision to walk away from writing when I was in my early 20s. So, a mixed bag there, then.
  7. Deliverance (James Dickey) – The storyline is pretty straightforward, but the language is so elegant and poetic throughout that it belies the gruesomeness of the plot, or at least certain elements of it. I consider it one of the best American novels ever written, period.

What about you? What books are you thankful for?