Thursday, December 29, 2016

December 29, 2016--The Year In Reading

At the end of each year, the New York Times asks an assortment of creative people what they have been reading.

They get interesting responses from a cross-section of avid readers and writers from Junot Diaz to Margaret Atwood to Joseph Ellis. But also from a mix of non-literary types such as Bryan Cranston, Paul Simon, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Though maybe with Bob Dylan having won a Nobel, Paul Simon is not so easily categorizable.

Depending on one's own literary aspirations and pretensions you can peruse in wonder Salman Rushdie's top dozen of the cool and exotic or sneak a peek at what Kareem has on his bedside table.

I can't wait to pick up Abdul-Jabbar's recommended poems by Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. But I'm not racing to get Valeria Luiselli's, The Story of My Teeth, listed by Rushdie.

I know Salman, he's a friend, but really?

Writers can be very competitive. I should rephrase that--writers are very competitive and I am certain that all who were invited to participate took hours coming up with a list that would not only be (sort of) true but would interest--let me rephrase that--impress readers and even trump their colleagues' picks.

No one, for example, would consider listing All the Light We Cannot See, even though it won a Pulitzer and has lingered on the Times best sellers list for 131 weeks, or maybe All the Light would be actively ignored because of these achievements.

Nor would any writer wanting to show off his or her esoteric side or the global reach of their readings even hint at mentioning anything escapist from the likes of John Grisham, though it would be more honest to list some guilty-pleasure reading, which we know everyone occasionally engages in, as that would make strivers such as me feel better about sneaking off with something from James Patterson, which to limit judgmental looks I read with the dust jacket slipped off.

Instead in the Times' Year In Reading we have Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk listing Halldor Laxness' Independent People, set among Icelandic farmers, and essayist Mary Oliver taking note of the work of Patricia Fargnoli, New Hampshire's poet laureate.

Competitive myself, and something of a compulsive reader, if the Times as an inclusive gesture to its average readers was ever to ask me for my list, I already have it ready--

Moby Dick
Don Quixote
The Brothers Karamazov
The Iliad
Finnegan's Wake
Madame Bovary (in the original)
And Peter Balakian's poems, Ozone Journal, which, sorry, did win the Pulitzer.

Salman Rushdie

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