My Reading Year 2016: Cranky Edition

And now my long-awaited(?) 2016 reading wrap-up. Most of it was spent listening to the superb (but lengthy) Lyndon Johnson biography by Robert Caro, a book I didn't expect to be in my roster but feels like one of most important works I’ve read in awhile. Other than that, it was a typical eclectic reading year. I read a classic I should've read in high school, a book that made me want to punch the writer in the face, abandoned a book that everyone else seemed to like but me, and gleefully devoured the latest Harry Potter play adaptation despite reviews like this. And I reread a few favorites for good measure. 

Best and Most Important
Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #3) by Robert A. Caro
So we all know the United States Senate is a mess, but did you ever wonder how or why, exactly it was a mess other than something-something corrupt politicians? I sure didn’t. This book is not only a superb biography of Lyndon Johnson, but a fascinating (and infuriating) illustration of how the senate works, and how LBJ was the first man to come along to figure out how to exploit it to his advantage. It’s also a harsh reminder of how being on the right side of history isn’t enough if you can’t wield power effectively. 

Most Annoying
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
by Antonio Garcia Martinez
There’s a lot of interesting content in this book, mostly about how start ups are born, and gossipy tales of the office culture at Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, it was all overshadowed by an author hell-bent on making sure you know that he is Smarter Than You with every sentence. Not to mention casual misogyny (the women he's fucking don't even get proper pseudonyms and the mother of his children is obnoxiously referred to as "British Trader" the whole time) and cringe-inducing sex scenes. If you want a more palatable account of start-up culture, I'd recommend Dan Lyon's book, Disrupted

Most Entertaining
Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons
This was a fun, if slightly terrifying, romp through a certain brand of youth-driven, peppy start-up culture I read this in one sitting. 

Most Overrated
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Unconvincing torture porn. And became impossible to take seriously the moment one of the protagonists, an artist, manages to get a show at the Met at the ripe old age of 27.  

Book that Did Not Disappoint, Even Though Every Review Said It Would
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 (Harry Potter #8)
by John Tiffany (Adaptation), Jack Thorne (Adaptation), J.K. Rowling
I'm going to come out and say it: I love Harry Potter. I love J.K. Rowling, who seems like more and more of a brilliant class act every day. I love the adult novels she's written since the series ended. (I have no love whatsoever for any Harry Potter movies except the fourth one, but that is a whole other blog post.) Anyhow, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was everything I wanted it to be. I am eagerly awaiting an audio version. 

Book that Did Disappoint, But I'm Glad I Read Anyway
The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver
I'm sure I'm on record somewhere as a huge Lionel Shriver fangirl. Her books We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post Birthday World are some of my all-time-re-read-every-few-years-and-try-to-foist-on-all-my-friends favorites, and she is better at articulating human motivation than any writer I know. That said, The Mandibles—a dystopian novel that traces a family during an American financial collapse—isn't one of her better novels. She didn't figure out how to make her characters talk constantly about interest rates and currency valuation without them sound like walking Economist articles rather than people, and the whole second part of the book should probably have been cut in half. Nonetheless, it was well worth the read for its insight about our complex relationship with money.  

Best Re-read
Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. 
This one is on my 're-read every five years or so' shelf and sends shivers down my spine every time. It's also one of the few books to truly dissect the question: so how do you have a meaningful life, anyway? 

Book I'd Should've Already Read By Now, but Am Also Glad I Read in Adulthood Instead of in High School
Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov. A masterpiece that would have been completely wasted on me at 16. 


Other Books I Read And Enjoyed
The Martian, by Anthony Weir. Better than the movie!

How to Be a Person in the World, by Heather Havrilesky. 

The Interrogative Mood, by Padgett Powell. A book composed entirely of wonderfully weird and thoughtful questions. (Examples: "When you see an abandoned toilet, do you have any impulse to salvage it or right it or in any way restore to it some lost dignity?" and "Would you like to have been a conquistador—perhaps a benign one?”) 

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden. 
Amazing. Everyone who cares about journalism should read this. 

Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt
Lisa Hanawalt teaches us all that not only is your weird, pervy stuff in your brain not only worth sharing, it is what people will love you for. 

Mooncop, by Tom Gauld. 
Pure poetry. Anything else I say about it will ruin it. 

Happy New Year, everyone! As always, I welcome friendship on Goodreads if any fellow readers want to compare notes or recommend titles. 




My Reading Year 2015

Hey, I've done a couple of these reading wrap-ups now, haven't I? Come to think of it, I’m still not sure why. But other people who read also post year-end lists, and it makes me feel obliged to toss my own hat in the ring. 

Anyhow, the usual disclaimers about most of these being audiobooks applies. And as always, I welcome friendship on Goodreads if you want to compare notes. 

As you can see, there was a strong Meghan Daum and Phillip Roth trend in 2015:  

Best Books I Read in 2015

  1. My Misspent Youth: Essays, by Meghan Daum 
  2. The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum. One of my favorites. You know it's a good book when you buy an extra copy to lend out to friends. 
  3. Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)  by Robert Galbraith. Still loving the new incarnation of J.K. Rowling. 
  4. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates  
  5. Here and There: Collected Travel Writing, by A.A Gill 
  6. Stoner by John Williams. 
  7. The Patrick Melrose Novels (The Patrick Melrose Novels, #1-4) by Edward St. Aubyn
  8. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum. The essay by Lionel Shriver still haunts me. Mostly this passage.
  9. So You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson
  10. The Human Stain (The American Trilogy, #3), by Phillip Roth
  11. Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking) by Christian Rudder. Fascinating! And more than a little horrifying. 
  12. American Pastoral (The American Trilogy #1), by Phillip Roth

Books I Abandoned in 2015

  1. Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby.  It broke my heart to put this down, but all of the insight and wisdom and humor that makes Nick Hornby novels so good was somehow lacking in it. 
  2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. 
    Maybe it's just me—everyone else seems to like this one. But I always thought stories that blatantly attempt to be inspirational seldom are.
  3. Purity by Jonathan Franzen. Couldn't get into it myself, but curious to know what Obama thinks of it. 
  4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I might go back to this eventually. I started it just after finishing Career of Evil when I was craving another whodunit. 

Best Comics I Read in 2015

  1. Killing and Dying: Stories, by Adrian Tomine
  2. Rosalie Lighting by Tom Hart. This completely blew me away. "Turning pain into art" takes on a whole new meaning after finishing it. 
  3. Mama Tried: Dispatches from the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting by Emily Flake.  I don't have kids, nor am sure if I ever will or want to, but I will happily read anything Emily Flake writes on any subject.
  4. Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue by Bill Watterson. Read it because it was rumored to have some of the best interviews with Bill Watterson ever published, and it did not disappoint. 

My Reading Year 2014

Here I go again, for the sorts of people who might be interested in this kind of thing. Also, since most of these were audiobooks I am using the words, "read" and "listen" interchangeably, as a shorthand for, "I have absorbed the content of this book in some form or another." If this bothers you, well, I think I know who you are. Anyhow, on we go!

Book I Read That I Liked Well Enough, But Was Glad When it Was Over 
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tart

I’m not sure how I feel about this book, exactly. Greatly enjoyed it in parts, got fed up in others, and breathed a sigh of relief when I was finally done. Overall I would describe reading it as a stressful experience, one that put you into the same frame of mind as the mind-bogglingly unfortunate protagonist.  

That said, I think the whole tome was worth it for this paragraph alone.

Best Book I Read that Came out in 2014
Thunderstruck, by Elizabeth McCracken. Stories that capture loss oh-so-perfectly. And leave you hungry for more. 

Best Book I Read That Did Not Come Out in 2014
The Pale King, David Foster Wallace. For many reasons, this one hit home. And it had several moments that left me laughing hysterically on the Metro and causing fellow passengers to look at me funny. 

Best Art Book
The Art of Richard Thompson (see my gushing here). 

Best Revisiting Childhood
Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary 

I'm always going back to my favorite children's books from time to time, just because. A few months ago I stumbled on Dear Mr. Henshaw in the used bookstore, and read so much of it I finally decided to pony up the $4 and buy it. This book is sadder reading it as an adult but it also makes you remember certain truths about being a kid that seem worth carrying in the back of your mind, like the way a compliment by a well-respected adult could have you glowing for days.

Book I Felt Kind of Guilty About Abandoning, Then Didn't When I Read Nabokov Wasn’t a Fan Either. 
Crime and Punishment, Fydor Dostoevsky. 
Says Nabokov: "Dostoevsky is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one-with flashes of excellent humor, but, alas, with wastelands of literary platitudes in between." 

From   Truth is Fragmentary  , by Gabrielle Bell

From Truth is Fragmentary, by Gabrielle Bell

Books I Abandoned Without Regret
The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, and Us, by David Nichols.
Like most people, my first reaction when abandoning books is to say, 'I didn't like the characters.' Which is always true, but also never the real reason the book isn't doing it for me. It's more that the characters didn't inspire curiosity; I didn't care what they'd do next, and didn't want to spend any time with them; their reactions to their situations were too dull/predictable/implausible. Which is mostly what happened here. 

Best Comics 
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast, a comic memoir I picked up on a whim and devoured in under 24 hours. This is a funny, brutal account of the complications that arise dealing with aging parents, all the more horrifying for how clear-eyed it is. 

I also read Gabrielle Bell’s Truth is Fragmentary on a trip to Istanbul, which wound up being the perfect thing to read when bopping around a foreign land by yourself.

Worst Movie Adaptation from a Much-Loved Novel
Please please please never watch the movie version of A Long Way Down, especially if you’re like me and adore the book. It pained me to turn off a film starring Aaron Paul and Toni Collette after fifteen minutes, but I couldn't bring myself to watch more than that.  

Classics that I Probably Should've Already Read by Now, But Hadn't 
Last year it occurred to me that I hadn’t read anything published earlier than 1999, so I tried to get better about finishing books that have actually stood the test of time. My favorites: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Nine Stories, Raise the High Roofbeam Carpenters / Seymour: an Introduction by J.D. Salinger. I also may have been the only person who hadn't read Of Mice and Men in middle school, so I did. And then it made me cry on the bus.  

Anything you read this year you recommend? As always, let me know in the comments, or become my friend on Goodreads

The Art of Richard Thompson

Usually when I “read an art book” it means I look at the pictures and skim the text. The newly-released Art of Richard Thompson is the only one I’ve ever read cover to cover, feeling genuinely sad when I was done. Fortunately, it’s good enough to go back to repeatedly and enjoy a place of honor on my drawing table. What really makes this book is that a) Richard Thompson is a superb writer as well as artist and b) the people who worked on this book are all superb writers who can gush about Thompson's work repeatedly without it getting old. And at least half of the writers are superb artists, too, notably Bill Waterson and Nick Galifianakis. One of my favorite paragraphs is the Nick Galifianakis introduction, when he describes seeing Thompson’s portfolio for the first time: 

"Richard Thompson’s drawings staggered me. Their deftness, humor, and depth made mine feel amateurish, self-important and shallow. In an instant, I saw not only just how long the road was..I was astonished to realize I wasn’t even on the road. Ability? Sure. Effort? Absolutely. But how does one convince the gods to fashion your visions, and an angel to guide your hand? 


Richard provided me with the “aha!” moment of my creative life. This book exists partly because I want current and future artist to feel as worthless a I did.”

As one of the book's contributors David Apatoff points out, Richard Thompson knows how to “draw funny.” This is pretty much what it sounds like; sometimes a picture can crack you up without any text. You don’t need to be a good artist to draw funny, and not all great cartoonists can draw funny, at least not reliably. But it certainly doesn’t hurt. I mean, just LOOK at that pig.

(Sidenote: Other artists who could draw funny: Hieronymus Bosch , Flannery O’Connor  (no, really), Saul Steinberg.)

In short, everyone I know is getting this book for Channukah, and if I don't know you, you should get one yourself. You're welcome. 

Art and Audiobooks, Part 2

My devotion to audiobooks began in earnest in art school, when I realized that I could crank out drawing assignments at two in the morning, while the great Jim Dale narrated Harry Potter in the background. I was an avid reader, but not always a diligent student, and throughout my college years I tended to phone it in for any required reading. Chalk it up to the arrogance of youth. Why would I read what anyone told me when I could devour Michael Chabon or Jonanthan Franzen or Zadie Smith on my own? Or suffer through Marshall McLuhan when I could listen to Frank Muller narrating Beach Music, all while cranking out an animation assignment to boot? Senior year, I ignored writing a term paper for an art history class, opting instead to finish Confederacy of Dunces on the couch in the illustration lounge. What could I say? It wasn't a fair fight. The book won. Ironically, my being a devoted reader had the effect of making me a crappier student. I was less inclined to read anything assigned, because I only wanted to pick out my own literature. In my mind, books were supposed to always be interesting and personal, and if I didn't find one so, I had no patience for it. A book you selected on your own was meaningful; a book you were assigned to read just meant you were doing your homework. 

See if you can find the Infinite Jest quotes in this one. 

Because I listen to books more than I physically read them, and because I often draw when I listen to books, my reading life and my artistic life seem intertwined. Last summer I painted walls of Flashpoint Gallery while listening to The Love Affairs of Nathanial P.;  Lines from Infinite Jest have snuck into certain drawings, and I spent this morning listening to to Stephen King's writing memoir while doodling commuters on the Metro. 

I've gotten into heated debates with a few friends who claim that audiobooks don't count as reading (one even said that I was being deliberately deceptive by using the terms "reading" and "listening" interchangeably), but for some reason these friends never are the ones who read a lot to begin with. My friends who read the same way I do—the ones who feel vaguely uneasy if they aren't in the middle of a novel, and don't have another one lined up on deck for when they're done—never get bogged down with distinctions about what does and doesn't count.  And sadly, many conversations about books invariably turn into conversations about guilt over books not read. As though reading is still seen as something that you should be doing, like recycling or going to the gym, and not one of life's pleasures that you can enjoy for its own sake.  

For audiobooks at least, I think the tide is shifting. Every three-to-six months there is an article in the in the New York Times with an, "Audiobooks are a Thing Now!" type-headline, not unlike the articles written about comics with the same lead ("Comics! They aren't just superheros anymore") on a similar news cycle. And celebrities are narrating audiobooks, which can't hurt. 

This past summer I installed my show at the DCAC while listening to House of Mirth, and it occurred to me that I am shifting too. Finally, I am in the stage of my life where I am ready to appreciate early 20th novels (also, I was an idiot—Edith Wharton is superb). I don't know why all the books I so readily dismissed as a student when they appeared on a syllabus are suddenly are becoming appealing, but I am haunted by a line of Henry David Thoreau: “Read the best books first,” he said. “Or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

My Reading Year: 2013

Bookshelf - Dana Jeri Maier

I realize this is probably only interesting to a handful of people and has little to do with art, save the fact that I listened to a good number of these while drawing. But for fellow readers, here you are. And please note I'm using the word "read" interchangeably with "listen to" since most of these books were audio versions, except for the comics, obviously, and a few I read on my Kindle. (If you are the sort of person who thinks that audiobooks don't count as reading, well, I have nothing to say to you.) Looking at this I am wondering if it might be good for my psyche to read a book that came out before 1996, but I guess I'm a sucker for modern fiction. Plus anything at all by Lionel Shriver.

Best books I read that came out in 2013 Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver My Dirty Dumb Eyes, by Lisa Hanawalt Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, by David Rakoff (though the illustrations accompanying the print version seemed to counter the tone of the poetry) The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, by Adelle Waldman

Two Lionel Shriver short stories I read this year were excellent: Kilifi Creek, in the November 25 New Yorker (probably one of the most memorable things I've read all year), and Prepositions, about the subtle difference between what it means to die on 9/11 rather than in 9/11.

Best books I read that did not come out in 2013 Half Empty, by David Rakoff Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems, by David Rakoff Fraud, by David Rakoff Tenth of December, by George Saunders An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken 21 Dog Years, by Mike Daisey Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walters I Don't Care About Your Band, by Julie Klaunsner A Perfectly Good Family by Lionel Shriver (I am two books away from being a Lionel Shriver completist, people!)

I finished Infinite Jest on Saturday (started in June), and am currently listening to the footnotes. This is a lot more interesting than it sounds.

Books I did not finish I abandoned The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook, Lost Memory of Skin, The Good Nurse, This is How, Benediction, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!, and The Creationists. I feel vaguely guilty about not finishing the last two, but not enough to revisit them.

Comics Comic-wise I read Paying for It by Chester Brown (an autobiographical comic that somehow managed to make a year of sleeping with prostitutes boring and self-congratulatory), Heads or Tales by Lili Carre, and The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz. I'm pretty sure Paying for It would be much more interesting if the plot stayed the same but the book was written and illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt.

Book I was surprised to like as much as I did Lean In got a lot of flack for offering contradictory work-life balance advice (and yes, the phrase 'work-life-balance' definitely go off into a corner and die). But it also contained some of the most eye-opening statistics about women in the workplace, and how they often shoot themselves in the foot by underestimating or downplaying their abilities. I felt a very reassured and less alone after reading this, and genuinely wish it had been around for me to pick up five years ago.

Book I was surprised not to like I wasn't a huge fan of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, despite it getting rave reviews (though to be fair, the only fantasy books I've ever gotten into in my life have been the Harry Potter series). But I will say that Gaiman is an excellent audiobook narrator.

Books I read that I enjoyed, but didn't feel like shouting from the rooftops re: how much I liked them or anything Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, Gone Girl, The Cuckoo's Calling and Me Before You

For books I read in 2012 and earlier you can refer to an old flowchart I made, or become my friend on GoodReads.

Installation in progress

Here are a few work-in-progress shots of If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn't Have to Do This, which opens on Friday at the Flashpoint Gallery:Front Wall - If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn't Have to Do This If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn't Have to Do This Overall, the installation has been incredibly pleasant. Applying huge swaths of black ink onto a white wall feels rich and satisfying. While I work I listen to the new Robert Galbraith J.K. Rowling crime novel, and The Love Affairs of Nathanial P., both of which are excellent. There is a Shake Shack down the street and art supply stores in easy biking distance. The hours fly by.

I've also printed promotional coasters for the show, which you may see in local bars: Promotional Coasters - If We Could All Agree Not to Care We Wouldn't Have to Do This

Anyhow, show details again below, and also on the event page. I will be downright thrilled if you can make it.

Dana Jeri Maier: If We Could All Agree Not to Care, We Wouldn’t Have to Do This Opening Reception: Friday, August 9, 6-8pm Exhibition Dates: August 9 – September 14, 2013 Flashpoint Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12-6pm or by appointment