Books I Didn’t Read in 2011 (And Books I Will Try to Read in 2012)

Okay. So obviously a list of the books I didn’t read in 2011 would be, y’know, long.

This post is about the books I set out to read, tried to read, wanted to read, abandoned, neglected, acquired and thought looked interesting, etc. It’s also about what I want to—what I plan to—read in 2012.

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A reasonable starting place: I wrote a post in early January of this year detailing the books I would try to read in 2011. I actually read most of the books I named in that post. But:

I failed to read past page 366 of Adam Levin’s incredibly long novel The Instructions, although I think I was a bit too harsh in my semi-review. Chalk it up to exhaustion.

I failed to even begin to try to read William Gaddis’s incredibly long novel JR. (But I swear to read it one year. Not next year, but maybe the year after?).

I failed to read past the first chapter of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love.

I read most of the Tintin collections I picked up last year, but I didn’t get to volumes 5 or 6.

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Moving beyond that early post, books that I recall abandoning (although I’m sure there must be more):

I abandoned Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Italian romance The Marble Faun after about 30 pages.

I abandoned 334 by Thomas Disch after about 50 pages. Somehow simultaneously dense and loose, it struck me as intensely imagined and sloppily composed.

I abandoned John Williams’s Butcher’s Crossing after the first chapter; it was a great opening chapter, but I thought it was going to be, I don’t know, more like Blood Meridian.

I also abandoned Chad Harbach’s big book The Art of Fielding (after 100 pages) because it was lame (notice it’s not pictured above because I traded in that sucker), but I had a nice dialog with some readers who responded to a post I wrote about abandoning it, so that was a plus.

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Books I bought in 2011 that I aim to read in 2012:

Correction by Thomas Bernhard. Bernhard was a repeated suggestion from readers in the aforementioned Harbach post/rant, and he was apparently a huge influence on W.G. Sebald, so, yes, looking forward to this.

The Reivers by William Faulkner. I read A Light in August this year and reread most of Go Down, Moses. My plan is to read one Faulkner a year for the next ten years.

Ferdydurke by Witold Gambrowicz. I struggled to make it through Gombrowicz’s bizarre jaunt Trans-Atlantyk, but once the novel taught me how to read it, I was enchanted by its strange humor and frenetic syntax. Over some beer and wine, I had a conversation about Ferdydurke with my father-in-law’s priest who is Polish. His pronunciation of Ferdydurke should win an award for charm.

I will read Georges Perec’s big book Life: A User’s Manual.

I have already promised to read William Vollmann’s Imperial.

There are many, many more, of course (too many, really).

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Books people sent me to read and review that look really cool that I will be reading and reviewing at some point in the very near future:

Satantango by László Krasznahorkai: I will read this and review this in the very near future.

The Funny Man by John Warner: Comedy, drugs, celebrity culture.

The Book on Fire by Keith Miller: This one is about a biblioklept. It’s been at the top of my stack for a few months now, but I keep letting myself get distracted.

Thirst by Andrei Gelasimov: Apparently this novella about a maimed alcoholic war vet is funny. (I hate the cover).

Mule by Tony D’Souza: Middle class man sells marijuana cross country. (I love the cover).

Various titles from Melville House’s Neversink line: I’ve got a few in the stack.

Also: I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. I actually stayed up really late last night reading free public domain books from Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson; I’ll read a contemporary novel on it this year—Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, perhaps? Suggestions welcome!—and try to review both novel and the process of reading the novel on a warm glowing machine.

And: I’m sure there are a ton of novels that will come out in 2012 that I’ll want to read; I’m already primed for Dogma, Lars Iyer’s sequel to Spurious.

So: What are you guys looking forward to reading in 2012? What did you fail to read in 2011?

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Books Acquired, 10.20.2011

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A good lookin’ pair this eve. First up, Tony D’Souza’s novel Mule, which looks rather promising (the cover and premise alone earn it an advanced spot in the stack). From K. Reed Petty’s review at Electric Literature—

Mule is Scarface for readers of The New Yorker: It plots all the emotional points on a man’s rise and downfall, while explaining everything you need to know to avoid getting caught while driving $50,000 worth of marijuana from California to Tennessee.

D’Souza’s book is the most satisfying in answering the details that cable skims over. Our hero, James, is an out-of-work freelance journalist with a new family and no safety net. When he gets an opportunity to make some quick cash, he researches the business of driving drugs like a long-form journalist: How do you convince a bank teller to hand over your $7,000 savings account in hundreds? What are your rights if a cop pulls you over in Texas versus Nevada? And, as James asks of a buyer he meets on his first run: “How much does an ounce weigh?”

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The Species Seekers by Richard Conniff also seems really cool. The book explores the strange intersections of science and adventure. Press release—

Conniff takes us back in time—before the words “scientist” or “biologist” even existed—to when a popular fever for the natural world swept through humanity. Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, amateur naturalists made it their mission to go to the most perilous corners of the planet and bring back astonishing new species. Linnaeus, Darwin, and Wallace dominate most histories of the great age of discovery.  But they owed their success to this network of enthusiasts, who worked mainly for the pleasure of adding “to the power and grace and beauty of the Infinite.”  Among them:  A grave-robbing anatomist who became the model for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a Catholic missionary who held off bandits at gunpoint, and a British ornithologist who lost his left arm by jamming it down the throat of a charging leopard—but happily lived on to play a good game of tennis.

Discovering new species wasn’t a rarefied pastime; it was a pandemic, a social disease that struck every corner of society, claiming such notables as Thomas Jefferson, who laid out mastodon bones on the floor of the White House, and Mark Twain, who set out to become an Amazonian explorer, but went bust in New Orleans and had to make do with the river at hand.

Amid its tales of adventure and intrigue, The Species Seekers offers unmatched insight into one of the great revolutions in the history of human thought. At the start, God was in heaven, Man was the center of the universe, and everyone accepted that the Earth had been born yesterday for our benefit. But we weren’t sure where vegetable ended and animal began. We didn’t know what species were, or that they could be joined by common origin. We had no way to identify the causes of the pestilential diseases that made death a constant companion.

All that suddenly changed, as the species seekers introduced us to the pantheon of life on Earth—and our place within it.