More math: a booklist

booksYesterday 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?

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