A Decade in Books: 2015

G. gave me a wonderful gift in 2011, which came from one of my favourite bookstores, Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England. I was treated to a “bibliotherapy session” in which I sat down with one of the booksellers and told her about my tastes and interests. She then sent me one specially packaged book every month for a year, with a personalized note. I’m ashamed to say that it took me much longer than 12 months to actually get around to reading the twelve books I received that year, and I think Kanoko Okamoto’s A Riot of Goldfish was the last one I finally picked up, the first book I read in 2015. I’m even more ashamed to admit that I don’t remember anything about it…

In 2015 I was living in Palo Alto, California, and commuting every day on the CalTrain to a private school where I taught English, French, and History. I read a lot in the train and in the bus on the way to and from work, in intense 20 minute sessions. And I got up very early to write a novel I started that year about the successor’s of Alexander the Great. A lot of the books I read were research for my novel: primers on the Hellenistic age, biographies of Alexander’s councillors and successors.

Other than these “research” reads, there are some standout books from that year that I recall very well, two in particular. The first is LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I can’t remember why I picked this novel up, I think it’s just the kind of book you hear about and mean to read. I fell very hard for that book. I remember reading it, gripped by the story, the characters, the voice, and that wondrous world while walking back home from the train station one day. I was focused on the book and all of a sudden I got struck on the head by a passing bird. I was quite stunned, I looked around a bit, but then I went right back to walking and reading.

The other standout from that year is Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, which I started reading while on a two-week holiday near Naples. I had come to join G. who was working on an archaeological dig in Italy that summer. During the day G. was on-site so I went off, either taking the train into the city to walk the dank alleyways and visit museums, or else driving the rented Fiat 500 (nicknamed “Spritz”) around to surrounding villages and interesting historical sites. I had a nice time and it was great to visit alongside reading Ferrante, who depicts the city in such stark terms.

Living in the US, getting books from the university library or buying them from excellent local second-hand sales, I caught up on a lot of American literature I’d failed to get around to before. More Didion, whom I grew very fond of, and also some Updike, Roth, Robinson, Chabon… The Greats. After reading LeGuin I thought I’d open up to more sci-fi and picked up Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest Aurora, about multi-generational space travel in search of a new planet to inhabit. It was a good read, with a superb premise and a really interesting storytelling aspect.

There are several books I read because of my job as a teacher: some were suggested by my students, others felt required by the situation or the class I was teaching. That’s how I got around to Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (in college I had actually acted in one of his other plays), A Streetcar Named Desire, and why I reread things like The Old Man and the Sea and 1984, which are curriculum standards.

I continued to read to G. at night before bed, and in 2015 we undertook our most ambitious project to-date: Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, which I had already read in college and remembered fondly. If memory serves we both had a lot of fun with it, and it’s the sort of book that lends itself well to being read out loud with all the repetitions, vivid descriptions, and hilarious dialogue. Although I think it took us something like 8 months to finish it, so it really felt like we’d finished a reading marathon by the end…

Reading List: 2015

Kanoko Okamoto, A Riot of Goldfish

Guy Delisle, Pyong Yang

Lydie Salvayre, Pas Pleurer

Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake

Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Peter Green, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age

Joan Didion, Where I Was From

Michel Houellebecq, Soumission

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

Cesar Aira, The Seamstress and the Wind

Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo

James Romm, Ghost on the Throne

Marguerite Duras, L’amant

Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House

Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays

Edward M. Anson, Eumenes of Cardia

Tennesse Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Javier Marías, Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell

Jacques Poulin, Un Jukebox dans la tête

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Philip Roth, American Pastoral

Jane Hornblower, Hieronymus of Cardia

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Henri Carrière, Papillon

Paul Cartledge, The Hunt for a New Past: Alexander the Great

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Waldemar Heckel, The Last Days and Testament of Alexander the Great

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Ian Worthington, Alexander the Great: Man and God

Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen

Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

Joseph Roisman, Alexander’s Veterans

Rudyard Kipling, Kim

John McGahern, Amongst Women

Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora

George Orwell, 1984

Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve

Anakana Schofield, Martin John

John Updike, Rabbit Redux

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

David Mitchell, Slade House

Diana Athill, After a Funeral

Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen

Rupert Thomson, Secrecy

Ian McEwan, The Children Act

Michel Rabagliati, Paul à Québec

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