Yesterday I added up all the writing and writing-related stuff I’ve been up to this past year. But I left off the most important writing-related activity that isn’t actually writing: reading. That’s because it’s so big and so important it’s another post altogether. So here, this is what I read in 2012:
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Rusty Barnes, Mostly Redneck: Stories
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
Charles E. Benton, As Seen from the Ranks: a Boy in the Civil War
Lori Ann Bloomfield, The Last River Child
Ryan W. Bradley, Prize Winners
Kevin Brockmeier, The Brief History of the Dead
Ben Boulden, Hidden History of Fort Smith, Arkansas
Russell Brickey, Cold War Evening News (forthcoming)
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Chloe Caldwell, Legs Get Led Astray
Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Chris Claremont, Len Wein, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum, Uncanny X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 1
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
Sarah Rose Etter, Tongue Party
Percival Everett, Wounded
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War
Ray Fawkes, One Soul
Edward FitzGerald (trans), Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Nicole J. Georges and Clutch McBastard, Invincible Summer #4 / Clutch #5
—, Invincible Summer #7 / Clutch #13
—, Invincible Summer #9 / Clutch #15
—, Invincible Summer #17 / Clutch #21
—, Invincible Summer #18 / Clutch #22
—, Invincible Summer #19 / Clutch #23
Basil Greenhill, The Life and Death of the Merchant Sailing Ship (The Ship, #7)
The Harvard Lampoon, Nightlight: A Parody
Zahi A. Hawass, Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Gilbert Hernández, Love from the Shadows
Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible: the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth
Jac Jemc, My Only Wife
Peter Kadzis (ed), Blood: Stories of Life and Death from the Civil War
Frankz Kafka, The Complete Stories
Jesse Lee Kercheval, Space: A Memoir
Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead, Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves
James Kirkup (trans), Modern Japanese Poetry
David Lester, The Listener
Jodie Marion, Another Exile on the 45th Parallel
Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology
—, Clutch 1: The Life and Times of Clutch McBastard
—, Clutch 2: 40 Days
—, Clutch 3: Three More Weeks
—, Clutch 10: The Last Turnaround
—, Clutch 12: Small Claims
—, Clutch 16: House of the Damned
—, Clutch 19: The Lost Years
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Scott McCloud, Zot!: The Complete Black-and-White Collection: 1987-1991
Hosho McCreesh, Something That’s True
Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, Wanted: Assassin’s Edition
Debra Monroe, On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family against the Grain
Alan Moore, Alan Moore’s Writing For Comics Volume 1
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, The Watchmen
Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night Omnibus
Erich Origen and Gan Golan, The Adventures of Unemployed Man
Kelby Ouchley, Bayou-Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
—, Flora and Fauna of the Civil War: An Environmental Reference Guide
Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red
Riley Michael Parker, A Plague of Wolves and Women
Philippa Perry and Junko Graat, Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy
Ethel Rohan, Cut Through the Bone
Kelly Roman, The Art of War: a Graphic Novel
Jim Sanderson, Faded Love
Stephen W. Sears (ed), The Civil War: the Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It
Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean (eds), The Civil War: the First Year Told by Those Who Lived It
John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath
Walter Sullivan (ed), The War The Women Lived: Female Voices From The Confederate South
Bill Roorbach, Life Among Giants
Ben Tanzer, My Father’s House
Craig Thompson, Habibi
J.A. Tyler, Variations of a Brother War
Chris Ware, Building Stories
Ryan Werner, Shake Away These Constant Days
James Wood, How Fiction Works
That’s 77 books, altogether. Fifteen novels and nine story collections; five poetry collections, including one that won’t be published until next year, plus whatever you call J.A. Tyler’s weird (and weirdly beautiful) prose poetry/flash collection/novel-in-stories book, Variations of a Brother War. One novella: Ben Tanzer’s My Father’s House.
Seventeen works of nonfiction, including one essay collection (Chloe Caldwell’s sharp little Legs Get Led Astray), two memoirs, three works of philosophy or religion, and a whopping eight books about the Civil War. (I was re-researching while revising my own Civil War novel.)
One book on writing fiction: James Wood’s pedantic but interesting How Fiction Works. One book on writing comics: Alan Moore’s tight and illuminating Writing For Comics.
And twenty-nine works of graphic fiction, from Clutch McBastard’s intimate little comic diaries (I fell in love with these, people) to Craig Thompson’s epic modern classic Habibi to Chris Ware’s deeply complex, moving, and triumphant feat of interconnected storytelling, Building Stories.
Overall, it’s been a good year for books, and I’ve equally enjoyed finding new voices to fall utterly in love with and re-reading old favorites, including my belated perennial reading of The Watchmen. Re-reading is something I don’t do often, but this year I’ve been given the gift of returning to books I know and love: one of my private tutees has been reading some terrific books in his high school English classes, and I had the wonderful opportunity to teach a literature seminar this fall, in which I assigned some of my favorite novels.
But the new voices are always the more exciting, and I thought I’d make you a shortlist of recommendations.
For graphic novels, please do yourself a favor and track down any copies of the Clutch McBastard zine you can find. Also, the book looks intimidating, but Craig Thompson’s Habibi is well worth the time. Conversely, Ray Fawkes’s One Soul will seem simplistic at first, but read it closely — and repeatedly — or else you’ll miss a lot of the beauty in this book.
Also, though Scott McCloud and Chris Ware are hardly new discoveries for me, I cannot let any chance to recommend them go by. Both McCloud’s Zot! and Ware’s Building Stories reduced me to sobbing, and they both made me feel so grateful for the tears. Read them. You’ll thank me.
In novels, I fell utterly in love with Jac Jemc’s My Only Wife, a weird but engrossing novel that will haunt you for weeks after you finish it. Jemc cannot write and publish her next book fast enough — I am dying for more from her. Also, try to get your hands on Lori Ann Bloomfield’s The Last River Child — it’s not going to change your world, but it’s a delightful little novel and I loved it.
If you’re a fan of local histories and quirky true stories, find yourself a copy of Ben Boulden’s Hidden History of Fort Smith, Arkansas. And if you’re ever in Little Rock, track him down and ask him to sign your copy — and tell him I said hi! (Ben’s a cousin of mine.)
If you’re more a fan of personal drama and the unembarrassed excesses of youth, check out Chloe Caldwell’s essay collection, Legs Get Led Astray. You’ll wish you were young again, and — practically in the same firing of your synapses — you’ll get religious and thank all the deities that you’ll never be young again. Somehow, the immediacy and the insight of these essays complement each other beautifully.
For a longer work of engrossing personal narrative, read Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Space: A Memoir. I keep meaning to write a review of this one, I loved it so much, and I might try to eke one out before the New Year, but here’s the short version: there is a LOT to love in this slim personal history, and you’ll find yourself wishing you had been Kercheval’s best friend — or feeling like you were her best friend growing up. It’s that approachable, that inviting, that personal.
The real genre winner this year, though, was the story collection. I cannot say enough kind things about Ethel Rohan’s Cut Through the Bone, Rusty Barnes’s Mostly Redneck, Ryan Werner’s Shake Away These Constant Days, or Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party. All four books are slim — Barnes’s is the longest, at a pocket-sized 156 pages — but all four are powerful little gut-punches of fiction, gleaming examples of what fiction is capable of in its tightest, sharpest form. They will leave you breathless, your heart hammering.
And… that’s it for me in 2012.
What should I read in 2013, gang?