Thursday, January 6, 2011

I won't be writing an X of the year list.

Not because I think listing the books you read in a year or the best books you read is somehow wrong because it's arbitrary, but because I rarely read much of anything the year it comes out. As I come to know more contemporary writers this changes -- in 2010 I read Pee on Water and The Fixed Stars and The Orange Eats Creeps, for instance, and my friend Evan's From Old Notebooks, and part of Witz, but off the top of my head, discounting journals, I'm not sure what else I read that was new. I spent much of the last month with Infinite Jest and before that I read a lot of my fellow students' work, books chosen by those students (a Perec, a Munroe, a Calvino, a Vonnegut that I chose) and research for my novel (French histories, etc.), and books assigned in class. I read a lot of modernist poetry, and especially enjoyed Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams. I read the things you submitted. I read the things I am publishing. I read Stanislaw Lem. I imagine that as I catch up more on the books from the past that I want to read, and as I stop having to spend so much of my book budget and book time on things assigned by instructors, I'll be reading more of what's coming out today, as there are many really excellent-looking books I'm missing out on.

When I read the "best of" lists people prepare I mainly think about how it would affect me to write those sort of lists. If I did it one year, especially for a blog, I might feel pressured to do it again the next year -- which would naturally mean reading more of what's coming out now. Which is something I want to do a little of but not that much: I like reading old stuff, too, and I'm not an especially fast reader (I like to live in a book for a while, take my time with it). I might find myself buying books so that I could read them so that I could say whether or not they were in the top ten of the year, or whatever. I might find myself trying to define myself or make certain connections or make certain statements about other writers through my choices. It sounds exhausting.

If I were to list everything I read this would be even worse as it would provide me with an incentive to read as much as possible every year. I don't enjoy reading as if I were running a marathon: people who read books in one sitting on a regular basis weird me out. I only do that sort of thing if the book is just totally demanding my attention, if it's maybe the best I read that year. And I favor pretty long books, often, which can limit me or lead me to rushing through them, which is not a good habit.

When I'm buying music I tend to look for stuff that came out this year maybe 3/4 of the time or more, because generally I find that I enjoy listening to what's going on right now (although the recent plenitude of "chillwave" or whatever has made me question that policy: I hate that stuff). Partly this is because music is more about fashion for me than is reading, I think, and partly I demand novelty from music in a way I really don't with fiction. I like all this "new writing" but I rarely experience it as very new; as far as I can tell, experimental literature is more a sweater you wear to a party than an actual process or genre or whatever. A lot of my favorite books come from the '50s through the '70s.

If you'd like to make a year-end list in the comments though that would be cool with me I guess.

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