Reading 101 Books in 2011: A Year in Review

This year, I have read 101 books. That comes out to almost two books a week. My daily commute (80 minutes, aggregate), though not specifically designed for such first-world leisure as scholarship, is perfectly suited to my inner-Anobium.
There was no rhyme or reason to my book selections for this year. I read what interested me, and sometimes, I read what didn’t interest me. A few of the titles on this list were books I read simply because I was tired of seeing them or hearing about them. I think, once I read that, I don’t have to see it anymore. And it’s true.

Some people say that it’s depressing that one person cannot read everything. I find the thought reassuring. There’s a lot of shit out there, and even out of 101 hand-selected books, there were a few that would be best suited for a grocery store garbage compactor, puppy chew-toy, or both.
For example, I started off the year in the thick of it. I’d never read Herbert’s Dune and thought it high time I give it a go. As I suspected going in, Herbert suffers the genre-writer’s curse: he spends most of his time building worlds, forgoing other story-telling standards like pacing, description, and character building. Yet somehow, he succeeds. I wonder if the Herbert cult is really paying much attention?
The other ‘genre’ writer I read was The Scar by China Meiville. I heard from a now-braindead source that Meiville shares common elements with Haruki Murakami. This is an insult to Murakami, and I’ll leave it at that.
Those were the only two low points (though, for some reason, I read Pet Semetary). The rest was cake. I discovered P.G. Wodehouse this year. As they say, he’s much too bright to be analyzed. Reading him is like drinking a glass of champagne. It’s bubbly and light and easy to drink too much.
I also went on a big Sam Lipsyte kick, reading Venus Drive, Home Land, and The Subject Steve. What his stories lack in plot, they more than make up for in prose. He’s a dangerous, misanthropic, and hilarious writer. I wish people talked like his characters in real life, or that people could at least get away with talking like that. The same goes for Saul Bellow. I read Humboldt’s Gift, Herzog, and Him With His Foot in His Mouth. They’re all essentially the same story, and they’re all essentially the same book. But still, I love his self-hatred. Writers like Lipsyte and Bellow make me proud to be an American (Jew).
Speaking of, when I was reading Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz (which is supposedly the Polish answer to mid-century existentialist literature), I happened to be riding the train with the then mayor-to-be, Rahm Emanuel. He asked me what I was reading, and then told me he never heard of it. Then, we took a picture together. I’m taller than him, and I’m not even that tall.

Rahm Emanuel has never heard of Ferdydurke.

Possibly one of my favorite books from this year was Herzog on Herzog, a collection of interviews with Werner Herzog, the best director in the history of the universe. I read the entire book in his voice, which made his talk about the evilness of chickens especially compelling. The book is full of great conversations about filmmaking, art, and the absurdities of the modern world.
I dabbled more with different types of non-fiction this year. Books like Gary Rivlin’s Broke, USA, Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices From Chernobyl, and Studs Terkel’s Working were enlightening and informative in their own ways. I benefitted more from the exchange of ideas I found in John Dewey’s Art as Experience or The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. I especially found a lot in common with James, and plan to return to his other work in the future.
Fiction took up the bulk of my reading time. Most of what I read was tolerable to moderately enjoyable, though it seems that the more I read, the more difficult it is to find the real gems. I finally overcame my loathing of David Foster Wallace this year, and was able to enjoy mostly everything I read by him. Maybe next year I’ll give Infinite Jest another college try. I really enjoyed Antwerp by Roberto Bolano, Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (which is also soon being turned into an HBO miniseries). None of these books have anything in common. Also, Murakami’s 1Q84 was worth the wait. I finished it in less than a week.
Books I found tedious were Swann’s Way by Proust, which is much too flowery. It needs some explosions. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole was also borderline intolerable. It’s an SNL sketch someone thought would be funny enough to turn into a full-length movie. Screened Out by Jean Baudrillard also reeked of theoretic pretensions. Dude needs to watch some Van Damme flicks.
For 2012, I’ve resolved to read a biography of each of America’s presidents. Even the weird ones like Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield. That’s going to take up a lot of my time. I hope to finish all of these before the world ends in December. Fortunately, there have not been more than 101 presidents.

 – – –
Dune; Frank Herbert, 1965/1984, Berkley Books.
Franny and Zooey; J.D. Salinger, 1961/1985, Bantam Books. 
The Maltese Falcon; Dashiell Hammett, 1929/1972, Vintage. 
Pigeons; Andrew D. Blechman, 2006, Grove Press. 
Cocktail Time; P.G. Wodehouse, 1958/1987, Penguin. 
Speak, Memory; Vladimir Nabokov, 1947/1999, Everyman’s Library. 
Skinny Legs and  All; Tom Robbins, 1990/2003, Bantam. 
The Ask; Sam Lipsyte, 2010, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves; P.G. Wodehouse, 1962/2008, Touchstone. 
How Right You Are, Jeeves; P.G. Wodehouse, 1960/2008, Touchstone. 
The Undiscovered Self; C.G. Jung, 1957/58, Mentor. 
Swann’s Way; Marcel Proust, 1922/2005, Barnes & Noble Classics. 
The Scar; China Meiville, 2002, Del Ray. 
Corn & Smoke; Blaster Al Ackerman, 2006, Shattered Wig Press. 
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim; David Sedaris, 2004, Little, Brown and Company. 
Ferdydurke; Witold Gombrowicz, 1961/1986, Penguin. 
Aspects of the Novel; E.M. Forster, 1927/1955, Harvest. 
The Devil in the White City; Erik Larson, 2003, Vintage. 
The Unnamed; Joshua Ferris, 2010, Reagan Arthur. 
Dear Mr. Capote, Gordon Lish, 1983/1996, Four Walls Eight Windows. 
The Shape of Inner Space; Shing-Tung Yau & Steve Nadis, 2010, Basic Books. 
Pet Sematary; Stephen King, 1983, Signet. 
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight; Vladimir Nabokov,1941, Vintage International. 
Mr. Funny Pants; Michael Showalter, 2011, Grand Central Publishing. 
I Am Legend; Richard Matheson, 1954, Berkley. 
The Cabin; David Mamet, 1992/1993, Vintage. 
Laughter in the Dark; Vladimir Nabokov, 1938/1965, Vintage. 
Humboldt’s Gift; Saul Bellow, 1973/1975, Viking. 
The Whispering of Ice Cubes; Rupert Wondolowski, Shattered Wig Press. 
Working; Studs Terkel, 1972/1990, Ballantine Books. 
Couples; John Updike, 1968/1969, Fawcett Crest. 
Herzog on Herzog; ed. Paul Cronin, 2002, Faber & Faber. 
The Varieties of Religious Experience; William James, 1958, Mentor. 
Him With His Foot in His Mouth; Saul Bellow, 1974/1985, Pocket. 
Hairstyles of the Damned; Joe Meno, 2004, Punk Planet Books. 
Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir; Joe Meno, 2005, Northwestern University Press. 
Demons in the Spring; Joe Meno, 2010, Akashic Books. 
The Great Perhaps; Joe Meno, 2009, Norton. 
Disgrace; J.M. Coetzee, 1999, Penguin. 
The Universe in Miniature in Miniature; Patrick Somerville, 2010, Featherproof Books. 
Play It As It Lays; Joan Didion, 1970/2005, FSG Classics. 
The Lazarus Project; Aleksandar Hemon, 2008/2009, Riverhead Books. 
Art As Experience; John Dewey, 1934/1979, Paragon. 
Parrot & Olivier in America; Peter Carey, 2009, Vintage International. 
Amerika; Franz Kafka, 1927/1974, Shocken. 
The Tibetan Book of the Dead; 1994, Robert A.F. Thurman, Bantam. 
The Man With the Golden Arm; Nelson Algren, 1949/1964, Crest. 
Gates of Eden; Ethan Coen, 1998/2008, Harper Perennial. 
I Sailed With Magellen; Stuart Dybek, 2003, Picador. 
Hell’s Angels; Hunter S. Thompson, 1966/1995, Ballantine. 
Forty Stories; Donald Barthelme, 1987, Putnam. 
Goodbye, Columbus; Philip Roth, 1959/1969, Bantam. 
Less Than Zero; Bret Easton Ellis, 1985/1998, Vintage. 
Labyrinths; Jorge Luis Borges, 1962/2007, New Directions. 
The Human Comedy; William Saroyan, 1943, Harcourt, Brace and Company. 
Herzog; Saul Bellow, 1961/1964, Viking. 
86’d; Dan Fante, 2009, Harper Collins. 
The Way Through Doors; Jesse Ball, 2009, Vintage. 
Venus Drive; Sam Lipsyte, 2010, Picador. 
Homer & Langley; E.L. Doctorow, 2009, Random House. 
The Double Life is Twice as Good; Jonathan Ames, 2009, Scribner. 
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union; Michael Chabon, 2007, Harper Collins. 
Paradise; Donald Barthelme, 2005, Dalkey Archive Press. 
The Accidental Billionaires; Ben Mezrich, 2009, Doubleday. 
Antwerp; Roberto Bolano, 2002/2010, New Directions. 
Darkness at Noon; Arthur Koestler, 1941/1968, Scribner. 
Despair; Vladimir Nabokov, 1989, Vintage. 
Home Land; Sam Lipsyte, 2004, Picador. 
The Subject Steve; Sam Lipsyte, 2001, Broadway Books. 
Landscape in Concrete; Jakov Lind, 1963/2009, Open Letter. 
The Secret Knowledge; David Mamet, 2011, Sentinel. 
Screened Out; Jean Baudrillard, 2002, Verso. 
Blaster; Blaster Al Ackerman, 1994, Feh! 
Broke, USA; Gary Rivlin, 2010, Harper Business. 
Tinkers; Paul Harding, 2009, Bellevue Literary Press. 
Super Sad True Love Story; Gary Shteyngart, 2010, Random House. 
Voices From Chernobyl; Svetlana Alexievich, 2006, Picador. 
Sex on the Moon; Ben Mezrich, 2011, Doubleday. 
I Have The Right to Destroy Myself; Young-Ha Kim, 2007, Harcourt. 
1876; Gore Vidal, 1976, Ballantine. 
Proofiness; Charles Seife, 2010, Viking. 
Oblivion; David Foster Wallace, 2004, Little, Brown. 
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Hunter S. Thompson, 1971/1996, The Modern Library. 
On the Road to Babadag; Andrzej Stasiuk, 2011, Harvill Secker. 
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men; David Foster Wallace, 1999, Little, Brown. 
A Confederacy of Dunces; John Kennedy Toole, 1980, Louisiana State University Press. 
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love; Raymond Carver, 1989, Vintage. 
River Town; Peter Hessler, 2001, Perennial. 
A Brief History of Authoterrorism; Ed. Gabriel Levinson, 2011, Antibookclub. 
The Corrections; Jonathan Franzen, 2001, Picador. 
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub; Stanislaw Lem, 1973, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 
1Q84; Haruki Murakami, 2011, Knopf. 
Technological Slavery; Theodore Kaczynski, 2010, Feral House. 
Is It Good For The Jews?; Adam Biro, 2009, University of Chicago Press. 
The Star of Redemption; Franz Rosenzweig, 1970, University of Notre Dame Press. 
A Land of Two Peoples; Martin Buber, 1983/2005, University of Chicago Press. 
The Louisiana Purchase; Jim Goar, 2011, Rose Metal Press. 
The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology; Slavoj Zizek, Eric Santner & Kenneth Reinhard, 2005, University of Chicago Press. 
His Excellency: George Washington; Joseph J. Ellis, 2004, Knopf. 
Tales of Soldiers and Civilians; Ambrose Bierce, 2004, Kent State University Press. 
Laughing Gas; P.G. Wodehouse, 1936/2008.

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One Comment on “Reading 101 Books in 2011: A Year in Review”

  1. Kari
    December 28 2011 at 9:49 am #

    I think it’s an excellent practice to read every book with the voice of Werner Herzog in your head.

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