A Year in Reading

by HRM on December 31, 2012

a list from Harriet Alida Lye


I made a resolution to read only things that moved me and didn’t always succeed, but since “move” is a pretty general term, I guess I didn’t ever really fail either.

I read Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, over New Year in Northern Ontario. It was my first Atwood – my reluctance probably due to the fact that, as a Canadian, I felt I’d already absorbed her – and the woods and that cabin and “those damned Americans” stayed with me throughout the year. I read Craig Thompson’s dazzling Habibi and came out of it different than before, believing in new things.

I read about 60% of The New Yorker – mostly fiction, little about the election. I didn’t read as much of the news as I feel a good person should. I read Tweets and lots of things on Facebook, most of which went in one ear and out the other and of those that stayed, I wish they’d leave.

I read lots of Alice Munro. A little of Hateship, Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage, all of Runaway, and most of Dear Life, her new yet familiar collection, and felt glad for Alice in every line.

I read Chatwin’s On the Black Hill after a trip to Wales, and The Sense of an Ending, and felt I could have done without either, though both reminded me of my father. My father gave me The Girl in Blue, my first Wodehouse, and that reminded me of him, too.

I reread White Teeth, having remembered only that I loved it, and loved it all over again; I reread bits of Just Kids just to remember why I do all this, and reread This is Water for the same reason. Reread Franny and The Virgin Suicides to remind myself of what I love about writing.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, and read the whole story aloud to my special friend in an accent I personally think was alarmingly Southern (alarming since I’ve never been South of Virginia). I read George Saunders’s short stories and his short novel, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, and preferred the stories. I read Fall on your Knees and felt Canadian and sexual and naively excited by both of those things. That scene in Central Park is, well, hot times.

I re-read my own first novel, rewrote half of it (then rewrote it again), and then wrote a second novel just to escape the first. For the second book, I read lots about bees and Canadian history. I read novels by two of my dearest – Rosa Rankin-Gee and Nafkote Tamirat – and felt privileged to know these people personally.

I read most of Rabbit at Rest, the final in the quartet, and while I love Updike mostly, I found myself bored and defensively feminist, so stopped after the (warning! spoiler!) heart attack. Same disappointment with another favourite: Ondaatje.

I read Canadian heavy-hitters The Sisters Brothers and Half-Blood Blues, and now memories of Oregon during the gold rush and Berlin blues bars during the war feel like my own.

I read loads of submissions – short stories and poems and essays – for this magazine, the surprising and beveled gems of which are published in issue 12, and I read novellas for the Paris Literary Prize, for which I am helping separate the wheat from the chaff.

I read, loved, and constantly misquote This is Not the End of the Book. Read it if you want to feel like you’re attending the most interesting private dinner party; read it if you want to be more interesting at your own private dinner parties.     

I read Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn and found it rolled off the tongue but was too full of hateful things to continue with the series. I read Carol Ann Duffy’s new and beautiful collection, The Bees, to purge myself of all that undirected and inward spite from Never Mind.

I often tried to read the weather and always failed. In Sweden, the locals tried to teach me to read the birds but I failed here, too.

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