Where: The year started in Alaska, where I was living, with a jaunt to Kauai for a late honeymoon.
What: Too Good to be True, A Memoir by Benjamin Anastas. (Mostly at mom's house, snow falling outside, so starkly white in the lit-up darkness) I'm a sucker for books about writers and the writing life; it's painful and addicting to read them, like staring into the well of one's own soul.
Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin. Rereading it for the first time since I was about 14. Oh, how I adore this book, a perfect mix of history, romance, adventure, and passion.
The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. My husband and I had many interesting discussions about this book on the beach.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. (On the beach; a sudden wave came over our towels and things, curly pages thereafter, sand between the pages). A childhood reread.
Where: We sat out on our cross-country journey to Oklahoma; on a ferry through the American and Canadian waters, in a car through Alaska, Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.
What: A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn. Listening to the electronic Kindle voice reading this book on and on while we drove through America was revelatory. Makes you look out of the window differently.
The Affirmation by Christopher Priest. (On the bunk bed in the little ferry state room. Going the Poor Man's Route of the Alaska Gold Rush) What a delicious mindtwist.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. Very funny. I love her voice, love her show (most of the time).
Where: Lawton, Oklahoma. Yellow winter grass, cows, flying clouds of grackles, neon signs for everything, lightening, churches. A very comfortable recliner.
What: A Novel with Cocaine by M. Ageyev. Another reread. A novel of youth, a novel of ideas, a novel of ambition both literary and social by a mysterious Russian emigre author; it thrills me every time. My favorite part is when Ageyev describes his classmates and the class dynamic-brilliant and hilarious.
The Golden Ass by Apuleius
April, May, June, July.
Where: Lawton, Oklahoma - days getting hotter, rare but hard rain, crazy warm winds, an evening of hail, an evening of tornado warning, cicadas getting louder, scissor-tailed flycatchers, curious cows, many box turtles on the road, many of them squished :(
What: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. I love books set in England, if they're good. This one is a campus/spy/love/literary thriller wrapped up in one. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. The end was a bit manipulative, but I totally bought it.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Finally.
How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti. Very naked-feeling. My editor at Holt sent me a box of Holt books, many of which have been on my to-read list.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Again, finally. This was fantastic, a real page-turner and masterly characterizations.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook by Daniel Alarcón (from the Holt box). This book, a complillation of writers answering Alarcón's questions, basically showed that there was no one answer and everybody did it differently. Still fun to get into the heads of a diverse group of writers from all over the world for a while.
Atonement by Ian McEwan. So much better than the movie!
On the Taiga Paths by Aleksey Kosterin. One of the old books my grandfather still has from his days of living in Magadan, Russia in the 50s and 60s. Beautiful descriptions of Magadan's nature and its first Soviet inhabitants. Fascinating to watch how the stories skirt/treat the Gulag, the history of which is so deeply intertwined with Magadan's.
Journalism by Joe Sacco. (Holt box) I've never seen visual/comic style journalism before. Love it.
No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel. Even with the turns that were a little weird, she still somehow pulled off the incredible fantastical premise of the book. Admirable.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Somehow I liked it less this time than when I was in high school.
Boom, Cash, and Balderdash: A Different Look at Fairbanks During Pipeline Construction by Jerry Fears. He was a journalist at a paper in Fairbanks, and this collection of short articles paints vividly the mood of the times. Though how would I really know: I wasn't born yet. Anyway, I loved these dispatches; they are so sly and so full of love for Fairbanks..
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. A easy read, an occasional laugh-outlouder. Sedaris is so endearing..
Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt. I loved the description of 90s Moscow here; the portrait of the main heroine's mother was so touching. That character came alive for me most of all.
Winter Journal by Paul Auster (Holt box).
A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I wish I was reading this for a lit class. Many paragraphs are masterpieces, which I might have read too fast.
Shakespeare's Kitchen by Lore Segal. I was blown away by "The Reverse Bug" as read by Jennifer Egan for the New Yorker fiction podcast. No story in this collection really rivals that one.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Most of this book kinda went over my head.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I listened to this on Spotify read by Wendy Ellison Mullen. She was perfect. I am yet to actually read the book.
Outlander (Outlander, #1) by Diana Gabaldon. First book in, what, seven? A Scottish time-travel romance that is actually very smart and well written. Pure delight. And they are making it into a TV series!
Where: Los Angeles: (by the pool, in the jacuzzi)
What: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. (Holt box) A most impressive debut. I admired the way she portrayed relationships - the way they can be ugly and true and beautiful at the same time. Also literary ambition, and literary New York, and late youth. There were so many moments of truth here, for me.
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E.P. Seligman
On Writing: Notes from the world of books, 1995-2012 by Robert McCrum
On Reading: Notes on the literary landscape, 1995-2012 by Robert McCrum. I have an insatiable appetite for books about reading.
Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville. Read this awkwardly on my iPhone. Wish I could listen to a lecture by a brilliant teacher on this.
Where: Stavropol and Moscow, Russia
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I was reading this on the Air France flight to Moscow with a layover in Paris. For me, as a former Soviet subject with restricted traveling rights, even a layover in Paris still somehow feels the top of luxury, exoticism, and adventure, even though I think the AC was broken at the terminal. I laugh-cried reading the part where Strayed was trying to hoist her overly heavy backpack on her back. Then I cried minutes later when she was talking about her mother's death. The elegant French flight attendants with little scarves around their necks looked at me like I'd had a bit too much wine.
Persuasion by Jane Austen. I read this in Russian; somehow it had much more of a romance book feel than in English.
Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. (more transatlantic and Russian flights, a layover in Rome) I loved this a little less than Emigrants, Rings of Saturn, and Vertigo.
September, October, November, December.
Where: El Paso, Texas - my new home for a few years. I can actually see Mexico from my couch, as opposed to Sarah Palin and the whole seeing Russia from the backyard business. Car-alarm birds in the morning, owl hoots at night, fierce winds, red and blue bruised sky, cacti, cypresses, stars like in Kauai.
What: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Note to self: Austen is not for iPhone reading.
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. A very clever first novel. About writers-what can I say.
The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation by Oliver Bullough. I so admire people who willingly fling themselves to the farthest, most frozen and desolate reaches of Russia to see and physically feel what it must have been like for the prisoners, for the exiles of the past, and the regular folks who try to make a living there in the present.
Once upon the River Love by Andreï Makine. A reread. Makine is one of my favorite writers ever. He's a Russian emigre but has always written in French. I read him in English; I am dazzled every time. Dreams of My Russian Summers is his most famous work.
Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss (from the Holt box)
The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin by Stephen F. Cohen A fascinating account of what happened to those - at least, some of them - who had survived Gulag and tried to rebuild their lives in Russia, with its constantly changing political currents.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. The epistolary form, being such a natural form for a reader's ear, can hide a lot of problems in a book.
A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks. This book amazed me. I believe all five stories, all five voices.
Ancient Campfires of Kamchatka and Chukotka (15 Thousand Years of History) by Nikolai Dikov. Another one of grandpa's old books. The brave archeologists endure snow and wind not only in May, but also in August.
The Believers by Zoë Heller. This novel was so smart and sharp, but I craved more heart.
Love All: A Novel by Callie Wright (from the Holt box)
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting. (on a plane from Buffalo back to El Paso)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. (by a crackling fireplace during snowy Thanksgiving outside of Buffalo, New York). I wanted to adore this book as much as I adored The Secret History, but I just couldn't. It went a little too slow at places; there were too many details, but I had huge respect for its ambition and passion.
Journey into the Whirlwind by Evgenia Ginzburg. Ginzburg spent 18 years imprisoned in camps in and around Magadan, my hometown. This book, the first part of her two-part memoir, tells of her arrest and two years of solitary confinement in Kazan, Moscow and Yaroslavl, and her journey to Magadan. Despite the horrific stuff she describes, her voice is clear and at times full of humor.
A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks. I won this on Goodreads. Yay! I really liked these spare, haunted, turn-of-the-moment stories, which are so different from mine.
We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen (from the Holt box) Another great debut. Seemed more like connected stories to me than a novel. "Total Loss" and "Repture" chapters were simply perfect, spellbinding.
Got Up Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. (On a plane from Texas to Alaska). My first Atkinson. And my first literary murder mystery.
I will be saying hello to the New Year in Alaska, again. Can't wait for 2014 - my publication year.