The Year in Review, Part 2…or I read One Hundred and One Books in 2007 !?!?
Books, I love ’em. That much is clear. So how was 2007 in books? I don’t know; I don’t have a list for you of that, unlike the Globe and Mail, the Village Voice, the CBC and Amazon.ca all like to do: I don’t have any. The idea off listing of the best books of this last year is as ludicrous as trying to do the same for music, or at least, in my case it is ludicrous. There could very well be plenty of good books out there that got missed, written in other languages, released by small presses, or subjective upon taste, and yet it leaves the problem of having no time to read that many NEW books on top of the millions, yes, millions of books written over the last, say, even quarter century. There is the problem of rushed reading and journalistic writing, so that a mediocre book on second reading is actually seen as being brilliant on a first, deadlined rush
There are few critics I really trust anymore on new fiction: John Clute on science fiction, the reviwers in the London Review of Books for almost anything. The year of 2007 in books has been rather boring, then, though there are some good books out there, some good ones on Blackwater or consumer waste or food networks, worth reading. I read three books from 2007 this year: Why God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, Infidel by Ayaan Ali Hirsi and a book about the Roman Empire and plague by William Rosen. I wasn’t impressed by any of them, for reasons I’ve already stated at great length. Only one book on many critics list has interested me, a reprint of the anarchist editor Felix Feneon’s strange little epigrams, Novels in Three Lines. Other then that, nothing,. That happened to me this year: one book, one book alone, re-appeared on every list. ONE BOOK.
My reading was dominated by dead or living white English-speaking males. The majority of the fiction by single authors I read this year was dominated by two Britons, one a Scotsman the other a Londoner: Iain M. Banks and China Mieville, both of whom I have spoken about at length on this radio show…incidentally, I also read a lot of M. John Harrison, who I have also spoken about on this show. Most of the history I read was written in the English-speaking world, though interestingly enough, including big examples like Linda Colley’s Britons and C. V. Wedgewood’s opus The Thirty years War, they were written by women. I read numerous novels in translation, such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s 1927 satire Kappa and was told tirelessly to read more Haruki Murakami by Wil Rutledge. The other writer to dominate my interest was Jorge Luis Borges, whose collections of essays and short stories I read again and again and again, all unfortunately in translation. Some Germans in translation, Hesse and Kafka, and the 1668 war story and black comedy Simpliccisimus by Grimmelhausen, round off a list this year mostly dominated by science fiction or its literary antecedents.
What would I change about last year in books, and thus what would I do this year in books?
Well, I didn’t read a lot of books by women. That is a major problem. There are lots of woman out there writing excelently, I know, and I feel bad that my list has been dominated heavily by wealthy, middle-aged white writers. So, I plan on changing that in the new year: some writers I’m considering reading are Anna Kavan and Ann Quin, both relative unknowns but famed for their Dada-esque and abstract fictions that play upon real fears and dreams, as do the works of Angela Carter. Luckily history is being written more and more by women, who offer to the field something much more interesting then the old political, military and nationalist narratives of history.
I haven’t read a lot of science books, which is a real shame, because I am very interested in the natural sciences, astronomy and zoology and animals, insects and quantum particles. I own many many books about these subjects, but I suspect that their foreign language, thick size and difficult maths is what is keeping me away from despite the fact that these subjects are important, the singularity is important, Steven Hawkings and black holes are important, quantum quarks and voids and hyperspace are interesting. So that is going to be a big priority in 2008.
Philosophy was likewise neglected, and I suspect for the same reasons as the sciences: the books are thick, imposing, large, difficult vocabulary and concepts. I had been meaning to read or re-read several books of philosophy this year, including Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, In the Name of Identity: Killing and the need to belong by Amin Maalouf and Chuang Tzu’s complete works. Or even Das Kapital by ol’ Karl Marx. No such luck.
I want to direct my reading more, and basically read according to a rough plan instead of just going at it willy-nilly. So, below, a list of the books I bought this year that I would most like to read!
1) The Supermale by Alfred Jarry
2) Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel
3) The Singularity is Near by Kurtzweil
4) Hyperspace by Michio Kaku
5) In search of the Quantum by Banesh Hoffman
6) Monster of God by David Quammen
7) Vicious: wolf and Man in America by Coleman
8) The Society of the Spectacle by Guy DeBord
9) The System of Objects by Jean Baudrillard
10) History of Madness by Micheal Foucalt
11) Absence of Myth by George Bataille
12) Angel of Darkness by Eernesto Sabato
13) Terrorism and Communism by Leon Trotsky
14) several interrelated books on the Bolskeviks
15) The Structures of Everday Life and Commerce and Society by Fernand Baudrel
16) King Mob by Christopher Hibbert
17) Absolute Destruction: The Practice of War in Imperial Germany by Isabel Hull
18) The Aqquyunlu: Tribe, Confederation, Empire by John E. Woods
19) Naukur, Rajput, Sepoy: The Military Ethnography of Hindustan by Holff
20) Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis
21) City of Quartz by Mike Davis
22) Archeologies of the Future: Science Fiction and the Desire Named Utopia by Frederic Jamieson
23) Master and Margaritta by Mikhail Bulgakov
24) The Complete Novels by George Orwell
25) La Machine Infernale by Jean Cocteau
26) Q, by Luther Blisset
And finally, the big list, the big deal, the total of all the books I read this year. I included books I had to read for school if I read them cover to cover and enjoyed them in some way or learned seriously from them; most of the school books are thus for my thesis. Some of these books, especially the ancient legends of Japan and China, were read in fragments and pieces: the Nihongi is easily the longest book I own by several hundred pages, clocking in at 1600…clearly I didn’t read all of that in one go, or in a coherent fashion. I did not include the inumerable magazine, scholarly journal and blog articles that I read and from which I get much of my information and news about the world. That is a whole other list. Without further ado, after the break, the 101 books I read this year. Yes…it actually turned out to be a hundred books. I forgot that I re-read Solaris I am shocked, just a little. Ahem.