I’m continuing my series of posts going through the books I read over the last decade.
2012 was an important transition year: the last semester of my undergraduate degree, a summer of work in Montréal, then in September the first semester of my MFA in Vancouver.
I’ll pass quickly on the first books in the list, which were mostly read or re-read for school: I remember a class on Elizabethan playwriting, another on 20th century American fiction.
It’s that summer, between working two jobs as a waiter and an administrative assistant in a local homeless shelter, shuttling back and forth between these two places of work, my parent’s house where I lived, and my girlfriend’s house, that I managed to find time to read some excellent books that have stayed with me since.
I’d long meant to read Annabel Lyon’s book about Alexander the Great’s relationship with Aristotle and loved it–I also read it because Lyon taught at the program I would be attending in September. Patrick DeWitt’s The Sister’s Brothers was all the rage around that time and I liked it well enough. John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead blew me away; it’s hard to believe he hasn’t published a book since. The first David Mitchell I’d read was Jacob de Zoet, so of course Cloud Atlas broke me brain: the storytelling! The structure! The voices! And what could I say about Hubert Aquin’s masterful, confounding Prochain épisode? It’s the kind of book you obsess over for life. I remember thinking Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies was even better than Wolf Hall, and another vivid memory from that year is from a few months later, when I texting G. during my lunch break at work as Hilary Mantel was winning the Booker Prize for the second time in a row.
It really was a summer of beautiful reads.
The Brothers Karamazov is a book I had first attempted to read a few years earlier, during a backpacking trip in the Balkans. I’d never finished it and felt guilty, so I brought it along with me to Vancouver and it’s the first book I finished there. I honestly can’t say I got much out of it except for the satisfaction of adding it to my list of books read.
Vancouver was rainy days, early nights, reading on the bus to get to school or work. Also buying fewer books and borrowing more of them from the library. I remember feeling like my entire life happened in texts: I got up and wrote, then I read the stories and essays written by my peers, then I went to school and talked about these stories in workshops, then I read submissions for the program’s literary magazine, then I went to work as a copywriter.
I found both the time and the interest to read for pleasure. I wanted to be a writer; reading good novels was part of my training. I remember being enthralled by Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart, devouring it in bed. But now I can’t even remember the plot. Some of these reads were also part of my literary apprenticeship. I reviewed Sweet Tooth, the newest Ian McEwan, for the literary website The Millions, while I read Carnival in preparation to meet it’s author, Rawi Hage, for an interview during the Vancouver Writers’ Festival.
When I think of 2012 I think of a reader trying to turn himself in a writer.
A few words on the last book on the list: Tim Parks’ hilarious and charming memoir of life and family in Northern Italy, Italian Neighbours. I’ve long appreciated Parks’ reviews in the New York Review of Books. I can’t remember where I picked up this book but I was finding it so funny that I kept reading bits of it to G. over the Christmas holidays. She enjoyed having me read to her so much that I ended up reading some of the book to her every night before going to bed. It was the start of a long tradition that continues to this day.
Reading List: 2012
Jocelyne Saucier, Il pleuvait des oiseaux
Frank O’Connor, The Lonely Voice
Willa Cather, A Lost Lady
Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker’s Holiday
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Longinus, On Great Writing
Sean O’Faolain, Stories
Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country
John Fletcher, The Woman’s Prize
Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy
Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust
Brian Friel, Translations
Toni Morrison, Jazz
Don DeLillo, Libra
Annabel Lyon, The Golden Mean
Ian McEwan, The Comfort of Strangers
Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead
Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers
Jacques Poulin, L’homme de la Saskatchewan
Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
Juan Pablo Villalobos, Down the Rabbit Hole
Guy Delisle, Chroniques de Jérusalem
Antonio Tabucchi, Pereira Maintains
Diana Athill, Midsummer Night in the Workhouse
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead
Dany Laferrière, Pays sans chapeau
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
Hubert Aquin, Prochain episode
Mavis Gallant, Varieties of Exile (The Montreal Stories)
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Rawi Hage, Carnival
Ed. Graeme Harper and Jeri Kroll, Creative Writing Studies
Sherry Simon, Translating Montreal
Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart
Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth
Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her
Elizabeth Bachinsky, I Don’t Feel So Good
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
Object Lessons (Short Stories from The Paris Review)
Eric Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Philip Roth, Everyman
Tim Parks, Italian Neighbours