A Year’s Reading

At the start of 2012, I decided to keep a list of the books I read this year, with a couple of lines for each one detailing my thoughts after reading. I thought it’d be interesting to track any changes in tastes, and to see if certain books particularly influenced the way I write…

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut – my introduction to Vonnegut. Conversational, cynical, and a very quick read.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill – I first discovered Joe Hill reading his book Horns last year (highly recommended). In 20th Century Ghosts, all the stories were good, but Pop Art blew me away (pun not intended), and it’s become one of my favourite short stories.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – this had been on my to-read list for some time. Having seen Apocalypse Now (which was inspired by Conrad‘s novella), it was interesting to see the links.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – the first, and so far only, thing I’ve read by Hemingway. It’s a simple premise (an old man sets sail to catch a massive fish), but the whole struggle is imbued with meaning. I’ll definitely be reading more Hemingway.

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas – a lyrical masterpiece detailing the goings-on in a small welsh seaside village. The audio version read by Richard Burton is excellent.

11.22.63 by Stephen King – many say King is hit and miss these days, but for me this one is definitely a hit, even if the ending feels a little rushed – a similar issue found in Under the Dome.

The Bat Tattoo by Russell Hoban – this is an off-the-wall story about two lonely people who share a similar tattoo design. An enjoyable read, but I was left feeling a little, ‘huh?’

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut – my second Vonnegut novel. Not as good as Slaughterhouse 5, in my opinion, but just as quirky, and still worth a look.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – one of the best on this list, detailing the politics and struggles within a family whose members have drifted apart from one another. Franzen’s opening line filled me with envy.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy – McCarthy is one of my favourite writers. Child of God is a slim novel, but it’s just as bleak and brutal as most of his other works.

The Gospel of Us by Owen Sheers – this short novel is based on a passion-play which was carried out in the streets of Port Talbot. Some great set-pieces, and it’s interesting to see how Sheers transplanted the standard storyline into Port Talbot, using real locations (key scenes saw the last supper at a conservative club, and the crucifixion on a roundabout).

You and I by Padgett Powell – I read this one out of curiosity. The whole book is one long conversation between two pensioners. Funny and sometimes profound.

Falling Out of Cars by Jeff Noon – an interesting read, in which a sort of psychological plague sweeps across the country.

Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas – life through the eyes of a psychotic police officer. Sometimes shocking, sometimes darkly funny, this was a decent read.

White Noise by Don DeLillo – a meditation on mortality, through the experiences of a lecturer in ‘Hitler Studies.’ I read this in a bid to work myself up to the gargantuan Underworld.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell – David Mitchell, along with McCarthy, is in my top five writers. Black Swan Green spans roughly a year in the life of a thirteen year-old in a quiet town. The structure is very episodic – each chapter could almost stand alone as an independent short story, although there are a couple of plot threads that are carried throughout.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy – currently being read. Grand, mythic, spare, and generally considered to be McCarthy’s masterpiece. I’m twenty pages in and absolutely hooked.

Along with all of these, there have been various short stories, both online and in print.

Henry Szabranksi’s Survivors can be found on his blog here. It’s a quick, enjoyable read. I found myself wanting to know more about the world in which Survivors is set, so it’s lucky that one of Henry’s other stories, Starfish and Apples, offers some of that.

Then there’s Ilan Lerman’s The Insect Garden, which can be found here, and Saint Stephen Street, found here. They were published 2009 and 2010 respectively, but I re-read them a couple of months ago, and I highly recommend them.

Birthday Americana by Erika Swyler stayed with me for a long time. The story’s strength comes from the little, honest details Swyler litters throughout it. Read it here.

And finally, During the Pause by Adam Troy-Castro. A strange but compulsive read, ending with a hard-hitting question. Find it here.

If you’ve got any reads you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment.

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