Electricity & Lust

Sam’s Year of Reading

Posted in end of year lists, Sam by Sam Unsted on January 2, 2008

So for books, as I have little money and do my reading on a packed tube of commuting fellows, I can’t really rank the books of the year. In fact, I think, I only managed to read one book which was released in this country in 2007 and even that is somewhat borderline. Therefore, I am simply going to write my way through my year of reading, pointing out the notable and not-so-notable works I have loved or endured over the past year.

At the close of the article is a list of all the books I have read this year. If you see any your are interested in and want to ask if I enjoyed them, should they not be mentioned, feel free to do so in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

So to preface this, 2007 saw Tom and I challenge each other to read 52 books over the course of the year. One a week for those of you working on alternative calendars or unaware of how long a year is. I will also preface this by bringing the twist that neither of us managed this. Tom purchased a video iPod and began watching a host of television shows and films on the tube. I changed jobs and cut twenty minutes from my journey. However, I think I made somewhere around forty books so, yeah, pat on the back for me.

The year’s reading started with a bang, working in parallel with how this year is going to open just this time, in the world of film. So yes, the first book of the year was No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. If you’ve not read it, I recommend reading prior to seeing the Coen’s movie and, as you read the heavily stylised prose, imagine your own version of the movie in your head, also directed by the Coens. Also from Cormac-land, I indulged in The Road, the Oprah-pushed post-apocalyptic masterwork of bleak existential realism. It’s very close to my favourite book of the whole year, so utterly beguiling was its premise and language.

Also a titanic achievement of a novel was Jeffrey Eugenides’ inversion of the Great American work of fiction, Middlesex. Any book which essentially boils down to the life of a hermaphrodite and Greek family and yet grips you for its epic length must be a work of genius. It got a little dull in the fourth fifth but was fantastic.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind was a little dull too in places, more an exercise in style than a novel. Still, if you’re looking for non-trickery scratch and sniff, indulge. Similarly Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood was inspired in places, overly indulgent and self-satisfied in others. Diary by Chuck Palahniuk has its moments but generally never lights up to truly grip you.

Crime provided some great moments, George Pelecanos dominating that genre. Hell To Pay and Shame The Devil are both great but the best was the most recent, The Night Gardener. A beautifully judged story of past obsession and modern strife, it proves that certain crime authors don’t deserve any of the stereotyping stigma the genre gains. Michael Connelly I really couldn’t get into but I will try again.  Interpretation of Murder, the Richard & Judy-pushed shrink-crime novel by Jed Rubenstein, was too convoluted but just the kind of pseudo-intellectual shit which sells buckets.

Disgrace by JM Coetzee provided much food for thought and was a powerful study in post-Apartheid South Africa’s troubled inner workings. Again, it wasn’t really an enjoyable read but I should be read.  As should Jonathan Safran-Foer’s wonderful Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a sweet-natured and deeply sad post-9/11 love letter to the small things. Also Denis Johnson, now gaining praise for Tree of Smoke, should be more read and Jesus’ Son is the place to start. Dislocation, drugs and misadventure, the classic American experience.

Non-fiction provided a number of joys. Rip It Up And Start Again by Simon Reynolds is indispensable for post-punk and new wave fans. The 33 1/3 books peak with Hugo Wilken’s account of Bowie’s Low and Chuck Klosterman stopped being annoying at all in Killing Yourself To Live. Best was Rob Sheffield’s memoir Love Is A Mixtape. Concerning the loss of his wife to an aneurysm, it is smart, funny and utterly tear-worthy throughout.

The last book of the year was Daniel Woodrell’s snow-boiled thriller Winter’s Bone which zips along neatly and contains a host of breathless sentences. But the best of the year? Richard Yates’ personal dissection of the American dream through a young couple, Revolutionary Road. Marital dysfunction has never been so readable, heartbreaking and troubling than this masterwork.

The books I’ve read (not really in order)

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; The Wanderers by Richard Price; Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood; Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson; Diary by Chuck Palahniuk; Hell To Pay by George Pelecanos; Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami; Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami; Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates; Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell; Right As Rain by George Pelecanos; As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner; The Road by Cormac McCarthy; Disgrace by JM Coetzee; The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell; Shame The Devil by George Pelecanos; Rip It Up And Start Again by Simon Reynolds; Lit Riffs by Various (Short Stories based on songs); Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenstein; Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield; The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly; The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos; The Black Echo by Michael Connelly; Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem; Waiting For The Man by Harry Shapiro; The Wrong Case by James Crumley; The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley; Runaway by Alice Munro; Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns; All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland; The Dirt by Motley Crue and Neil Strauss; Sarah by JT Leroy; American Pastoral by Philip Roth; Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman; Killing Yourself To Live by Chuck Klosterman; Oracle Night by Paul Auster


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