This Reading Life: Best of the ‘Best Of’ lists
Welcome to 2014. Will it be better or worse than 2013? Who can tell? But one thing never changes: the pleasures of a good book. Right? And it’s time to do some list-making, some reassessing, some defining, some pontificating.
About my Year-End Big Classic: At the end/beginning of each year I read one BIG classic novel that I’ve overlooked in my long reading life. It’s a tradition dating back centuries and it is received at our house with the greatest of anticipation, something like waiting to hear who’s been chosen Pope.
The idea is to slow myself down amid the ruckus of the holiday season and take the time to immerse myself in something long and time-honored. And, of course, to fill some of those yawning gaps in my reading. This year I have chosen Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End. At 906 pages in the beautiful Everyman’s Library copy I own, it certainly fits the bill of being BIG. And considering how much I loved Ford’s The Good Soldier I am looking forward to diving into the deep end of this one.
Previous winners in the Year’s End Sweepstakes: last year’s was Don Quixote. Before that: Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Gulliver’s Travels, W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor, and T. H White’s The Once and Future King. How do I rate these as good choices? Maugham was better than I had dreamed it would be, Nabokov never fails me, Don Quixote and Gulliver’s Travels were more delightful than I had been lead to believe; and White and Dreiser were disappointments.
Also, at the end of the year I make my Best-of lists. Why? Because I am a List-Making Man. Other men rebuild cars, reinsulate their homes, play in a rock and roll band, proselytize for their saviors, are stunt-drivers or spelunkers or DJs. I am a List-Making Man. So, here, in no particular order, are my Best Books of 2013 (published in or near the year): Robert Littell’s Young Philby, The John Lennon Letters, Cary Holladay’s Horse People, James Salter’s All That Is, Sylvie Simmon’s I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, Robert Boswell’s Tumbledown, Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog, Kurt Vonnegut’s Letters, Nicholson Baker’s Traveling Sprinkler, Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge.
And now, the best books I read in 2013, regardless of when they were published: Don Quixote, Edward St Aubyn’s “Patrick Melrose Novels,” James Salter’s All That Is, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog, Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel, Dante’s Divine Comedy (Robin Kirkpatrick, trans.), John Berryman’s Henry’s Fate, Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish a Room, Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Sharon Olds’ Satan Says, Vonnegut’s Letters, Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, W. S. Merwin’s Finding the Islands and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge.
And then, just for kicks and giggles, here are my other best of lists for 2013: Top movies I saw (regardless of release date): The Ascent (Shepitko), Life of Oharu (Mizoguchi), My Dog Tulip (Fierlinger/Fierlinger), Bubble (Soderbergh), the entire DVD set: The Complete Pierre Etaix, Tampopo (Itami), In Darkness (Holland), Lovers on the Bridge (Carax), Holy Motors (Carax), Gervaise (Clement), Le Notti Bianche (Visconti), Before Midnight (Linklater), Last Holiday (Cass), The Bothersome Man (Lien), Hamlet (Kozintsev), Amour (Haneke), Frances Ha (Baumbach) and Hitler’s Children (Ze’evi).
And my Top cds of 2013 (I believe all these were released in 2013): Chuck Prophet’s Temple Beautiful, David Bowie’s The Next Day, They Might be Giants’ Nanobots, the wonderful 4-cd set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan (worth the price for Patti Smith’s ‘Drifter’s Escape’ alone), Jessica Haeckel’s Gemiinii Riisiing, Jethro Tull’s Nothing is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight, Stephen Stills’ box set, Carry On, The Oblivians’ Desperation, Valerie June’s Pushing Against a Stone, Elvis Costello’s Wise Up Ghost, Rob Jungklas’ The Spirit and the Spine, and John Kilzer’s Seven.
That’s it for me. Buy and read more books this year. Keep the collective soul alive. Oh, and I am reading Georges Simenon’s The Engagement. And, as always, I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Corey Mesler is the owner of Burke’s Book Store in Cooper-Young.