Reading 2013: Summing Up

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After months and months of good intentions, Bluestalking is still split between Typepad and WordPress, the bulk of it at Typepad. That certainly doesn’t help when it comes to assembling my yearly reading summary. Aggravating the situation, the power cord on my laptop – which I insist on using, since I can sit on the sofa with it – is broken, requiring that I stop typing every few minutes to wiggle the thing until the little “charging” indicator appears. All this so you know behind the scenes things are rough, despite how seamless and graceful it appears from your perspective. As far as I’ll admit, this is said without even the barest trace of irony.

The year being what it was, largely dispiriting with a touch of crushed dreams, the best I can do is list my top ten reads, in no particular order, adding only a few analytical observations:

The Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker (2013)

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (2013)

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay (1956)

Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (2011)

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (2009)

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (2014)

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura (1996)

The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2013)

Four books by women, all Brits. Two by the same author: Nicholson Baker, who also happens to be the only American on my list. One author is Japanese, one Swedish, the last Lebanese- American.

All have dark themes, a couple relieved by moments of equally dark humor. Two are set in the U.S. Half were review copies. None could be technically classified as classics, unheard of for me a decade or so ago.

The oldest is Towers of Trebizond (1956), the latest An Unnecessary Woman (2014).

If I had to pick just one as the jewel in the crown… I guess that would be the book I just finished, likely the last I’ll complete in 2013, An Unnecessary Woman.

Pre-pub reviews are spot on:

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“Acclaimed author Alameddine (The Hakawati) here relates the internal struggles of a solitary, elderly woman with a passion for books…Aaliya’s life may seem like a burden or even “unnecessary” to others since she is divorced and childless, but her humor and passion for literature bring tremendous richness to her day-to-day life—and to the reader’s… Though set in the Middle East, this book is refreshingly free of today’s geopolitical hot-button issues. A delightful story for true bibliophiles, full of humanity and compassion.”—Library Journal

An Unnecessary Woman dramatizes a wonderful mind at play. The mind belongs to the protagonist, and it is filled with intelligence, sharpness and strange memories and regrets. But, as in the work of Calvino and Borges, the mind is also that of the writer, the arch-creator. His tone is ironic and knowing; he is fascinated by the relationship between life and books. He is a great phrase-maker and a brilliant writer of sentences. And over all this fiercely original act of creation is the sky of Beirut throwing down a light which is both comic and tragic, alert to its own history and to its mythology, guarding over human frailty and the idea of the written word with love and wit and understanding and a rare sort of wisdom.”—Colm Toibin

“The extraordinary if “unnecessary” woman at the center of this magnificent novel built into my heart a sediment of life lived in reverse, through wisdom, epiphany, and regret. This woman—Aaliya is her name—for all her sly and unassuming modesty, is a stupendous center of consciousness. She understands time, and folly, and is wonderfully comic. She has read everything under the sun (as has her creator, Alameddine), and as a polyglot mind of an old world Beirut, she reminds us that storehouses of culture, of literature, of memory, are very fragile things indeed. They exist, shimmering, as chimeras, in the mind of Aaliya, who I am so happy to feel I now know. Her particularity, both tragic and lightly clever, might just stay with me forever.”—Rachel Kushner

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2013 was a difficult year, the latest in a series of soul-crushers. On the personal front it was abysmal.

In reading I have little to complain about, aside from wishing I’d done more and gotten my blog settled. Quantity-wise it wasn’t great but the quality of each book was.

In 2014, I need to tighten up and streamline my life. I know better than to declare anything in sweeping statements but things must change: bit by bit, goal by goal.

Four days and a handful of hours to go in 2013.

Phew.

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