Filed under reading

Ceci n’est pas Graham Greene—a mystery solved

About four months ago, I stumbled across a picture which was incorrectly identified as being Graham Greene. I recently had someone (via Hacker News, of all places) identify the mystery individual as Artur Lundqvist, a member of the Swedish academy.

Now, this is especially ironic given Greene’s storied history with his non-receipt of the Nobel Prize in literature. It was largely considered to be the result of a personal dislike of Greene on the part of several members of the Swedish Academy, and wondering if Lundqvist was part of said “cabal,” I did a Google search on “Graham Greene Artur Lundqvist” and turned up a 1980 article in the Washington Post in which the question was put directly to Lundqvist. Lundqvist offered a number of excuses, none of which was particularly compelling: “I think his work has declined.” “Greene is too popular.” “He doesn’t need the money.” Overall, he came across as peevish and defensive. I suspect that if anything, this particular interview may have resulted in whatever small chances Greene might have had of receiving the Nobel in his last decade of life vanishing.

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My favorite reads of 2021

I’m going to do something a bit different this year. Much less on the numbers other than the top line of 85¹ books read this year with 50.1% by women and 38.6% by non-white authors.

 I’ve been a bit better about finding time to read without my commute by “L” to give me the time with my books. Even so, I 85 is less than my goal of 100.

I started the year with a few books by women, with Siân Griffith’s The Heart Keeps Faulty Time being the first book that really blew me away. It’s a slender book, but I can remember being torn between savoring it and tearing through it as I read.

Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe came close on the heals of reading Griffiths. Everyone else was reading his latest book, Interior Chinatown, but this popped up higher on my to-read list and it was an amazing book and made me eager to read more of Yu’s writing.

As part of my Dewey Decimal Project, I read Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy² and was absolutely blown away by it. It feels in many ways what Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States should have been. This is the book that I keep bringing to other people’s attention.

I only read one book in Spanish this year, and it was the slender La Historia de mis Dientes by Valeria Luiselli. I read Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive last year and wasn’t that impressed by it. My sense, coming at this book, is that Luiselli is a more compelling writer when she writes in her native Spanish than when she writes in English which seems to make her more conventional in her voice.

Kristen Radtke’s Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness was a revelatory read. Radtke managed an amazing mixture of words and pictures for her illustrated essay that allowed the text to have even greater strength than it would have on its own.

  1. Assuming that I do indeed finish the two books I expect to finish by Friday.
  2. Strictly speaking, I only read the first volume as part of my Dewey Decimal Project but I was so taken by it that I made a point of reading the other two volumes at the first opportunity.
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Wait, What?

I’ve grown accustomed to odd things popping out in my Goodreads recommendations, but this is a weird one: Because I’ve begun reading Stephanie (Stephen at the time of publication) Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense, Goodreads has recommended not one, but two books about Jeffrey Dahmer. There’s no index in the book, but a glimpse over the table of contents doesn’t give me any clues about why this might happen.  With any luck, it will be clearer as I read the book.


2020 in reading

2020 was, of course, a strange year. My reading habits were severely disrupted when I lost my 60–90 minutes a day of commute time on the “L” which had in previous years been a bastion of protected reading time. Like last year, I aimed to read 100 books and, like last year, I fell short, this year only reading 90.

On the diversity front, my reading was 49.1% by women and 23.4% by people of color. 30% of the books were books that jumped the queue to meet my diversity goals. 15.6% were by dead white men. 42.6% of the books were fiction, 11.7% poetry with a median publication year of 2011. 59.7% of the authors were new to me and 4.5% were by authors I’ve met. 1.5% of the books were re-reads. 13.4% of the books were translations, 41.8% by non-US authors and 2.2% were in Spanish. 6.7% of the books were research for my novel.

Early in the quarantine, thanks to the library being closed, I found myself digging deeper than usual into my long list of books that I’ve put together of titles I intended to check out from the library. I ended up with an accidental pandemic trilogy from this, consisting of The Passage by Justin Cronin (vampire pandemic), World War Z by Max Brooks (zombie pandemic) and The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (humanity-extinguishing manmade pandemic).

And now my favorite reads of the year (in alphabetic order by author):

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2019 in reading

I had set a goal for 2019 of reading 100 books and nearly made it with 95 books. I’ll aim again this year.

My favorite reads for the year, in alphabetical order, were:

It’s interesting to note how much of this highlights list is non-fiction (fully half). The fraction that are written by women has declined somewhat to just under half, but white men continue to be almost absent from the list again.

My overall stats for the year had the fraction of women I read decline a little from 52.4% to 49.4%. PoC also slightly declined from 21.4% to 19.3%. Dead White Men continued to decline from 10.5% to 5.4%. Non-US 34% up from 25.7%. Translations 7.5% up from 4.6%. Authors new to me 80.1% up from 76.7%. Re-reads 0.3% down from 0.7%. Authors I’ve met 4.5% down from 7.5%. Median publication year 2014 vs 2013. Books advanced in the reading queue to meet demographic goals, 23.7% down from 35.8%. Books read as novel research 9.7% down from 16.4%.

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2018 in reading

I’ve noticed that over the past few years, the number of books I’ve read each year has been in steady decline. This year I read just 67 books (which, I suppose is still a fair amount).

My favorite reads for the year, in alphabetical order, were:

It’s worth noting that my list is female-dominated, moreso than my overall reading, which continues a pattern from previous years.

Some statistics: books by women accounted for 52.4% of my reading, up from 50.8% last year. PoC: 21.4% up from 16.3%. Dead White Men 10.5% down from 20.1%. Non-US 25.7% down from 39.8%. Translations 4.6% down from 14.1%. Authors new to me 76.7% up from 68%. Re-reads 0.7% down from 2.8%. Authors I’ve met relatively flat 7.5% from 7.2% Median publication year 2013 vs 2009. Books advanced in the reading queue to meet demographic goals, 35.8% up from 24%. Books read as novel research, 16.4% down from 22.7%.

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2017 in Reading

My favorite reads of the year, in alphabetical order by title. I read some damned good shit this year with one re-read in the list (Run)

The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise by Georges Perec

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler 

Cake Time by Siel Ju

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey 

Fountain of Age: Stories by Nancy Kress

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process, from Pencil to Vector by Jessica Hische  

Lies of the Saints by Erin McGraw 

Night to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier 

Run by Ann Patchett 

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Sex, Class & Culture by Lillian S. Robinson 

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski 

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti 

My diversity report for the year: Women authors 50.8% (up from 48%) last year). Non-white authors were 16.3% of my reading (essentially flat from last year’s 16.4%). I chose a book different from what I might have read ordinarily to hit my diversity target 24% of the time, down slightly from last year’s 25%. Between my being careful about what gets into my to-read lists/piles and perhaps improved diversity coming from my filters, this is a continued good sign. My Dead White Men number meanwhile somehow continues to climb, up to 20.1% from 14.4% which goes to show that diversity doesn’t necessarily entail the death of the Canon. Non-US authors were 39.8% of my reading essentially flat from last year’s 39.9%. Translations were up at 14.1% compared to last year’s 10%. Books in Spanish were down to 1.3% from 3.8% courtesy of not taking a Spanish class this year and the fact that I’ve still not finished the long-ass but magnificent 2666. 

The authors I’ve met number was up a fair amount at 7.2% vs 2.5% last year to which I attribute a few friends having new books out this year. Re-reads were down to 2.8% from 5.4% (my Salinger re-read project having come to an end), authors new to me were down to 68% from 71.8% last year. Fiction and Poetry were both up slightly at 56.1% and 2.6% respectively, compared to last year’s 47.5% and 1.3%. One new stat this year: books read as research for my novel accounted for 22.7% of my reading this year. I expect that will be down next year as my research winds down, but it is up from last year’s 20% which would be higher had I started work on the novel earlier in the year.

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2016 in reading

My diversity report for the year: Women authors 48% (down from 51.4% last year). Non-white authors were 16.4% of my reading (up from 14.8% last year). I chose my book to hit diversity targets 25% of the time, down from 37.5% last year. I think part of that is that I’ve been more reluctant to let books by white men into my to-read list. My Dead White Men number, meanwhile, despite this climbed from 10.7% of my reading to 14.4%. Non-US authors declined to 39.9% from 41.9%, translations accounted for 10% down from 11.4% while books in Spanish increased to 3.8% from 1.1%.

The authors I’ve met number also climbed slightly from 2.5% from 1.45% Re-reads went up to 5.4% from 3.7%, authors new to me were 71.8% compared to 76.9% last year. Fiction and poetry both declined in my reading, at 47.5% (from 53.4%) and 1.3% (from 5.9%).

My total number of books was 81, down from 88 last year.

And now, my favorite reads of the year, in alphabetical order by title. Worth noting: Only one white man in the list, and mostly women. I think this is the first time my favorite list has included two books by the same author (Mary Rakow was a wonderful discovery this year). Franny and Zooey, was a re-read, but a wonderful re-read. I read La Fiesta del Chivo in Spanish.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

La Fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa

Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The Memory Room by Mary Rakow

This Is Why I Came by Mary Rakow

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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2015 in reading

Continuing my goal of last year to diversify my reading, I’ve boosted the goals for reading women writers and non-white writers. My statistics improved in both categories, with women accounting for 51.4% of my reading (compared to 39.6% last year and a target of 50%) and non-white authors accounting for 14.8% of my writing (compared to 13.5% last year and a goal of 15%). I did find myself choosing my next book to boost my diversity numbers 37.5% of the time (compared to just 10.8% last time). Dead white men were responsible for 10.7% of my reading up from 9.9% last year and non-US authors were 41.9% of my reading up from 30.1% last year. The total number of books read was 88, down from 101 last year.

In other categories, 11.4% of my reading was in translation, 1.1% in Spanish, 1.45% were by authors I’ve met (finishing my MFA program pulled this number down quite a bit), 3.7% were re-reads and 76.9% were by authors new to me. Fiction was a smaller fraction of my reading this year at only 53.4% as was poetry down to just 3.9% from 5.9% last year.

With the statistics out of the way, my favorite reads of 2015 were (in alphabetical order by author):

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich 

Narratology by Mieke Bal 

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball 

The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus by Michael F. Bird 

Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son by Peter Manseau

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami 

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov 

Living with Saints by Mary O’Connell 

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock 

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine 

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch 

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2014 in reading

I set out this year to make my reading a bit more diverse. I fell a tad short of my goal for women writers making only 39.6% when I was aiming for 40% but had 13.5% non-white. I ended up choosing my next book to read 10.8% of the time in pursuit of these numbers. I had 9.9% of my reading written by dead white men and 30.1% by non-US authors.

69.8% of the books I read were by authors new to me, and I’ve met 10.8% of the authors of the books I’ve read. 60.8% was fiction and 5.9% was poetry. 3.9% was in translation and 1% was in Spanish.

And now, my top books of the year:

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Great short stories by a master of the form. 

The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim
Magical realism and brutal realism in contemporary Iraq 

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford 
I read this in college 25 years ago, coming back to it, I still love it. 

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
A great account of a mystical experience. 

The Instructions by Adam Levin
A work of pure genius. Once I finished, I went back to page one to read it again. 

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
A lyrical tribute to libraries of all kind. 

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong
An alternate version of the Superman story done brilliantly. 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A great investigation of identity and deception, 

The Year of What Now: Poems by Brian Russell
A beautiful depiction of painful experience through poetry, even more impressive in that it’s fiction!

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