2016 – My Year in Reading

I haven’t blogged in a long time now.  Just about a year, actually, and my last blog was also about the books I read that year, so this seems like a fitting way to return to talking to myself.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to blog – I have!  So many times, so many things to say.  2016 has been nothing but eventful, from Bowie to Trump, so much has happened and I’ve had so much to scream about, but I haven’t.  I can make a million excuses, but really it’s because I’ve just been doing other writing – I’m currently in the middle of three different, long pieces of fiction that will likely never see the light of day, and in a vain attempt to stay focused I decided not to blog and to instead spend my writing time on whichever one of those had the most of my attention at the time.  I don’t know if that was a mistake or not, but in retrospect I do think that it was unfair to all of the other thoughts that deserved to make their way out of my head, so I am going to make a more concerted effort in the coming year to pay more attention to my other writing and not just the wild fictions of my apparently vast imagination.

The other, and usually far more enjoyable, thing I’ve done a lot of this year, is read.  I generally read a lot, but this year I seem to have outdone myself, according to Goodreads where I’ve been dutifully logging every book and graphic novel I’ve read.  146 books this year – astounding!  Now, many of those were, as I’ve said, graphic novels, and I know that a lot of people don’t count those (which is incredibly small-minded, in my opinion, as they’re just as viable a form of literature as a novel, and sometimes superior!), so for the sake of argument let’s cut those books out of the picture for this blog, which leaves us with an even 50 novels read (although I think I’ll get in two or possibly three more before New Years, if I’m being honest – I’m doing another read-through of The Dark Tower and I’m already half-way through Wizard and Glass, and as time to read is abundant over the holidays…).

I love reading.  Always have.  Always will.  If I ever lose my eyes, just kill me; audio-books don’t cut it when it comes to bringing worlds of words into my mind.  I’ve learned more from reading on my own than I ever did in school, and I continue to do so.  The food for the mind is of the vitally important kind, and I read my feed with voracious greed.

Over the past year, I decided to challenge myself and read a couple of those more intimidating novels that I’d always avoided.  The first of those tackled was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  A lot of people love this book, and I can see why as the story-telling is incredibly immersive, to the point where you practically know not only every single thought of every single character, but also the background and reasoning behind them; immersive, but really tedious at times, in my opinion, and the copious flipping back and forth between the often unnecessary footnotes was annoying.  I liked it and I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll be going back for seconds any time soon.

I also faced-off against Ulysses by James Joyce this year, a tome that has beaten many a better reader than I to abandonment, so I was incredibly intimidated going into it.  What if I didn’t like it?  What if I didn’t understand it?  What if I can’t finish it?  I almost never leave a book unread once I’ve started it!  What if I failed Ulysses?   Well, I actually did finish it (that last chapter, though…), and I actually did enjoy the parts that I got, but I’m going to admit that there were some points where I honestly didn’t know what the heck I was reading regardless of how often I’d flip back to try to pick up where I’d lost the train.  One of the reviews I read for Ulysses said that the reviewer wasn’t sure that he’d actually read Ulysses, but he had certainly looked at every word on every page.  I think that’s fair, and I almost think that was the way it was intended.

The great thing about having worked through Ulysses was that it prepared me in more ways than one for what was for sure one of my Top Five reads of the year, Jerusalem by Alan Moore.  The influence of James Joyce was obvious in this book, including having his daughter Lucia appear as an incredibly important character (and has the most Ulysses-like and hilarious chapter in the whole massive book), and if I hadn’t have read Ulysses first, I know I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of Jerusalem as I did.  I have loved Alan Moore since childhood, so I went into this, the first prose-novel of his that I’d read, with great expectations, and in return I was greatly rewarded.  This is the pinnacle (so far) of all of Moore’s work, and truly a masterpiece for a writer who already has many under his belt.  I loved it so much I immediately ordered his other novel, Voice of the Fire, that I didn’t even know existed, and actually loved it even more.  Of course, that love was helped by having read Jerusalem in the first place, and so everything comes full-circle.  They may not be the first things I recommend to someone who has never read any Alan Moore, but if they’re already familiar with him then I will beat them with a shoe until they read these two great additions to his already incredible ouvre.

I’m getting long-winded here, so I will just mention two more books that I read for the first time this year that I just loved.  The first is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  I actually grabbed this on a whim.  My wife was rushing me out of the bookstore because we had to home for some important event or other that I have now completely forgotten, and this one just practically jumped off the shelf and into my stack as we walked by towards the registers.  I mean that almost literally.  We were hustling by, the cover caught my eye and the title was cool, so I just grabbed it and bought it without even reading the back.  I’d never read any Stephenson before.  I have since read six of his incredibly intelligent and well-written books because Cryptonomicon was so highly enjoyable – Who knew that WWII cryptology mixed with internet banking could lead to such high adventure?

Grabbing that book off the shelf was a whim I will forever cherish, especially because it led me to the other book I want to mention, Seveneves, also by Stephenson.  This novel sparked my imagination more than any other thing I read this year.  The premise is that the moon explodes and humanity has to deal with the aftermath of what that is going to do to the earth, and comes down to the very survival of not only our species, but all of them.  Well-researched and scenarios so plausible that the tension is palpable, without giving any spoilers, this one blew my mind.  For readers who are afraid or unfamiliar with science fiction, don’t be dissuaded.  Yes, there are some tech-heavy descriptive parts.   Read them.  It all comes together and you’ll be glad that you did, and Stephenson explains it well enough that if you pay attention, you’ll get it.  And if not, it still serves as a good bridge for setting up the next round of action.  Whatever.  My sister is not a sci-fi person and she’s currently burning through it despite the science parts that she doesn’t like, so that’s as good a recommendation I can make as any.

Okay, I’ve rambled enough for now.  It felt good.  If you want to look more into my bookshelves or see other recommendations: https://www.goodreads.com/JamieSigal