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. 

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.”