Take A Look, It's In A Book - 12.28.98|
This is the first of what will probably be a series of writings that tie into the piece that I wrote last year concerning New Years Resolutions and what I wanted to accomplish in 1998. While there were some things that definitely got left by the wayside (and you'll find out about those next week), getting a lot of reading done was not one of them.
Referring back to that piece, I wrote down that I wanted to read at least 9,000 pages worth of books. Being the dork that I am, I kept track of everything that I read (in book form) this past year and I much surpassed that mark with a total of 13,552 pages. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think I would read near that many and I probably won't manage to do it again in my lifetime unless something strange happens. Instead of going into more details on my reading patterns, I'll just refer you here.
Below is a list of the books that I read in 1998 in the order that I read them. Believe it or not (I know I can't believe I've made it this long without reading some of the below titles), it was my first time reading each of the books below. I tried to read a lot of books that I knew were considered "classics," as well as read some titles by authors who I simply got hooked on. There is some further commentary following the list, but it gets kind of long-winded.
Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer
One of the first things you may or may not notice about the list is that it is mainly dominated by fiction titles. This is one of the things that I want to curb a bit in the next year. While it is what I enjoy most, I can't help but look back and think that I could have read something that I would have gained more actual knowledge from. I guess one of the things that I hoped would happen (and maybe it has, and maybe will do so more in the future) is that by reading a lot of the things that interest me, at least some of it will rub off on my writing. I know that just looking through my idea notebook, I see several different stories that I can trace back to a specific author or set of stories.
Speaking of authors, it's easy to see that I got hung up on several different ones. If one were to judge by quantity alone, the safe assumption would be with Kurt Vonnegut Jr. as my favorite author of the year. I'm not sure if it has to do with my short attention span or his heavy dose of cynicism, but I enjoy his writing immensely. It makes me laugh, it startles me, and it makes me think. Out of the 11 books that I read by him this year, if I had to only recommend 4 it would be Mother Night, Player Piano, Cat's Cradle, and Slaughterhouse Five, in that order.
The books that I read by Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury are the sorts of ones that made me enjoy reading in my earlier years. I've always been a sucker for a good, fantastical story, but these two have the added bonus of social commentary and the right touch of horror, sci-fi, and surrealism to get my mind going other places. Even the two authors, although somewhat inhabiting the same category, go their seperate ways. Ellison is a bit more bleak and dark, while Bradbury tends to use a light touch. They're good to offset one another. The titles I recommend the most by Bradbury are Fahrenheit 451, S Is For Space, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Out of the Ellison I've read this year, I enjoyed Strange Wine the most.
Although most of her stories left me feeling depressed, Flannery O' Connor is another of my favorite authors for other reasons. Her characters are ordinary and extraordinary at the same time and her writing captures despair of the human condition and the questioning of religion. Find anything by her and read it right away.
I got hooked on Albert Camus in college when I read The Plague for an existentialism class. Although it's still my favorite title of his, I would also highly recommend The Stranger (a classic tale of apathy and non-feeling). While he was a contemporary, Jean Paul Sartre argued with Camus on more than one occassion. Even though the two dissagreed on philosophical terms, I find their fiction to be equally impressive. In addition to Nausea (which I read last year), both of the other titles I read this year by him (Intimacy and Troubled Sleep) are both amazing.
I can't really say much about Franz Kafka, except that he's on my list to read more of. The Trial is a somewhat strange, but very engaging novel about a man trapped by the system, and you should probably read it really soon.
Although I previously only thought that Isaac Asimov was a writer of sci-fi, I was surprised by how readable and interesting his book on the human brain was. Even though I'm not very inclined to science, learned a lot from The Human Brain: Its Capacities And Functions, and I would like to read more of his other scientific work.
While that's not an explanation on all the authors or books I read, those are the ones that I enjoyed the most. As I mentioned before, I want to read more non-fiction work in the next year (although I'll probably shy away from auto-biographies), and I want to follow-up on some authors that I really got into in the last year (Anais Nin, Jean Paul Sartre, and Franz Kafka). I even want to start the somewhat daunting task of reading the bible. If you have any suggestions, or want me to expound on any of the books above any more, feel free to e-mail me.