A Year of Reading: 2012

When I posted last year’s edition of this post, I had no idea I was a few weeks away from being selected as 3:AM Magazine’s Blog of the Year 2011. A thrilling way to end the year; the charge continued into 2012 with the genuine, anxiety-inducing, kick of being asked to contribute to a 3:AM conversation about modernism with David Winters, one of this country’s brightest literary critics.

In fiction reading, the year began brilliantly with László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance and War and War. The latter has stayed in mind all year, one of the best books I’ve read in memory. I’ve never read such a successful send-up of corporate life as Helen DeWitt’s intelligent Lightning Rods. My slow journey through JM Coetzee’s oeuvre continues; In the Heart of the Country is powerful enough to take skin off.

In non-fiction, the highlight of the year was Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia. Much of it whooshed over my head, but with such beauty and insight that I’ve dipped in and out all year.  Kate Zambreno’s Heroines  came out of nowhere, like a lightning bolt, to awaken a passion for the modernist wives, and her idiosyncratic, personal writing style that flowed so naturally into Hélène Cixous, my current idée fixe.

My two major discoveries of the year were Clarice Lispector’s Água Vida and Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness, both authors I will be reading and thinking about for a long time.

Geeky Statistics

  1. A third of the sixty-five books I read are in translation, down from forty percent.
  2. More than a third of the books I read are written by women; almost double the eighteen percent of 2011.
  3. Thirty percent of the books I read are fiction, way down on the almost sixty percent of last year.
  4. Over half of the books I read are written by European writers, a third by American writers, the rest split between African, Middle Eastern and South American.

There were no resolutions behind these statistics. As ever, serendipity led my reading. I failed so badly on the few reading resolutions I made last year that I shan’t even repeat the pretence. Reading much less fiction feels in some way connected to this year’s tussle with depression and anxiety. (Fuck, that was hard to write.) The year’s been a grind and make-believe lost some of its allure. I’m pleased that I read more women’s writing, a trend that I expect to continue naturally next year.

I read fewer books and blogged a bit less, both factors I place squarely at the door of my Twitter timeline. Twitter is a huge time-sink but often I find myself having the conversations that I wanted to have on this blog. That is also something that I’ll be considering over the coming year.

15 thoughts on “A Year of Reading: 2012

  1. My first comment here got swallowed up earlier today, Anthony, so feel free to delete this one if the “original” magically reappears. I feel like I don’t visit your blog nearly often enough, but I wanted to let you know that I continue to enjoy the focus of what books you cover here. Also always enjoy reading the end of the year “geeky statistics” posts of all the bloggers I follow. Look forward to seeing how you resolve the blog/Twitter issue over how you divide your team esp. as I’ll probably be looking at that subject myself sometime soon (I’m aware that the books I read and/or my writing style itself don’t exactly draw in the readers and/or promote discussion, so time spent on this “hobby” is a big question of interest for me right now & going forward). Anyway, continued happy reading/writing time to you and best of luck dealing with the personal issues you mentioned in your post. Cheers!

    • The enjoyment is mutual, Richard. You seem to do a good job of encouraging commentary/discussion on your blog. I’d like to learn from you and do the same here, where comments are rare. Maybe I should turn the ‘Like’ button off, but I’m afraid it would be too like writing into a black, icy void. At one point I though about renaming this blog to ‘Comments (0)’. To be honest, I’d rather be having the conversations here rather than Twitter, but somehow I have proved more effective at the latter. Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate them.

  2. I have to echo Richard’s comment. I too enjoy your blog. The reason I don’t comment more is that your reading is focused on modernist literature and generally out of my realm of interest. I simply enjoy knowing such books are around! Thank you. (As an aside, Twitter is overrated, surely, as a medium of discourse. I hardly look at it now, it’s so bloated.)

    • Thanks for your comments, Catherine. Max makes the same point in his reply below. My reading occupies a niche of a niche. I’m delighted that you are reading.

      Everything is overrated, Twitter no exception, but I have put quite a bit of care into constructing a TL that doesn’t feel bloated. I don’t use official apps so am not seeing promoted material. If people are repeatedly shilling, or posting pictures of cats or lunch, or engaged in prolonged back-slapping sessions better suited to DM, I unfollow them.

  3. With sixty five books the difference between a third and 40% is about four books, which sounds well within the bounds of natural reading ebb and flow.

    Clearly an interesting spread of books. Like you I mostly just follow serendipity, plus occasionally recommendations as with Satantango which a great many people recommended to me very highly (and quite right they were too).

    I find comments tend to be fewer on translated fiction as a rule compared to sites focusing on Anglo-American literature, and comments on modernist works fewer than on realist/naturalist works. Any blog focusing on translated modernist fiction will always struggle a bit for comments. It’s like the excellent blog Tomcat in the Red Room which focuses on weird fiction. It’s bloody good on the topic, but weird fiction has a tiny readership compared to novels about middle class people experiencing first world problems prior to some form of emotional epiphany leading to a neat conclusion.

    I know what you mean about twitter. It is a time sink, but also there is something slightly frustrating about posting something on your blog but the conversation being lost to twitter. Also, the kind of conversation is sometimes constrained. How could someone point out to me nuances I’d missed in Satantango in 140 characters or less?

    Anyway, I should do my own end of year roundup. It doesn’t feel like it’s been a great year, but perhaps when I look back that view will prove false. Certainly there have been some highlights, particularly on the modernist side which I find increasingly rewarding.

    • I’d far rather be having the conversation here, Max. Twitter is so constrained, by word count and etiquette. I’ll be giving some thought about how to encourage more conversation here, without compromising what I chose to read.

      You’re quite right about the narrowness of my reading niche. But the literature is more important than the volume of comments, much as I’d love more of the latter.

  4. Thanks for the reminder on your Krasznahorkai posts. I enjoyed Satantango and had made a point to read the books you posted on, but then got sidetracked. I will make a point to get to them soon…thanks!

    • You’re welcome, Dwight, glad you found the posts useful. I’ve been delaying Satantango, reluctant to read my ‘last’ Krasznahorkai, but I’ve recently learnt that two further novels are due next year, so I’ll be getting to it very soon.

  5. Narrow’s not quite how I’d put it, simply not mainstream (few of the literary blogs I follow are, though how they depart from it varies greatly). One of the blogs I follow (Tomcat in the Red Room) focuses on contemporary weird fiction, much of which I haven’t even heard of (and I’ve heard of more than the average random punter). My impression is he gets very few hits despite the extremely high quality of his blog, but that’s his passion and I read his blog in part because he has this area of knowledge and insight which I lack.

    On another note, one interesting thing I’ve found of late is that the more modernist fiction I read the more natural it seems. Natural not as in naturalist, but as in not experimental/avant-garde/difficult or whatever term one might apply that makes it seem daunting. The rules of fiction are of course artificial, realism isn’t, and part of the challenge of modernism is the adoption of literary techniques which can seem alienating not because in fact they are any more challenging than any other, but because they are less familiar than a naturalist literary style which has become so fundamental a default in English language literature that it seems more a law of physics than an aesthetic choice adopted in the 18th/19th Century.

    • I think prospective readers of modernist works are daunted because they feel they must understand everything in a single reading. Truth is the finest examples open up only on second readings when the mind stops its relentless search for meaning. There is no critical agreement of how to define modernism, but I don’t consider it a literary style. There are writers that wouldn’t consider themselves modernists that nevertheless engage fully with the ongoing event of modernism. I find it almost impossible to read fiction that hasn’t in some way dealt with modernism, consciously or otherwise (unless I’m deliberately delving into the past). It isn’t a genie that can be re-bottled, though you’d think so from British contemporary fiction.

      Yes, narrow was the wrong term. I meant it in the sense of not following mainstream contemporary literature.

  6. twitter can eat time I find I use it a lot less than I did mainly due to that and a change in how people use it I ve found ,all the best I ve read 113 so far 80 percent plus in translation ,

  7. Pingback: Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2013 | Time's Flow Stemmed

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