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December 9, 2009

On reading in 2009

It’s been a funny old year for me, reading-wise and otherwise. I don’t even know how many books I read in total, because my Books Read Since 2006 list was lost in the (Un)Great Hard Drive Kaputment in late June. I’d wager I’ve read about 100 books in total though, and I’m quite pleased with the fact that I’ve read 53 of them since my baby was born in May. Many of these books have frustrated me, however. Something has changed in the way I read– either the books have gotten worse, or I’ve become more demanding/less patient. This has been ongoing since I first got pregnant, and all the books I read in the first trimester made me nauseous. Since then, I’ve had no time for a book that does poorly what it has set out to do.

I think there’s a connection in that lately, most of my literary fiction (apart from big name authors) comes from small presses. Last year, I made an “indie list”, that was sort of an off-the-beaten-track best ofs, but this year small press books make up half of the books I liked best. My impression is that the big publishing houses have been focusing less on literary fiction, in producing it and promoting it. And perhaps this been an opportunity for small presses to pick up their slack, or at least receive more focus on the wonderful books they’ve been publishing all along. It just seems remarkably clear to me for whom the bottom line is something other than profit.

I’ve also seen less incredibly polished popular fiction with a literary bent– it’s been derided, but last year I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or The Flying Troutmans and American Wife which managed to be delicious and literary at the very same time. The pop/lit. divide has seemed wider lately, much to the detriment of popular fiction in general.

Anyway, where have I discovered the books I liked best this year? I was been coaxed to read many after newspaper reviews– Caroline Adderson on Lisa Moore, and Lisa Moore on Lorrie Moore in particular, neither of which disappointed. And then there are bloggers: I read The Spare Room after DoveGreyReader’s review, and I read The Incident Report because of Melanie’s review (which was before its Giller longlisting). I read The Children’s Book after Steph wrote about it at Crooked House. The Lydia Peelle book after Lauren Groff recommended it on her blog. I only read The English Stories because I wanted to buy something from Biblioasis at Eden Mills, and that goes to show you never know, because it was one of my favourite books all year. Apart from that, my point is that bloggers sell books, oh, yes they do!

Surprising: so many short story collections here. I root for the short story, but I adore novels, but maybe short stories have better suited my focus lately. Unsurprising: all my favourite books were written by women. This doesn’t mean the men are rubbish, but I think I’ve only read two novels by men in the last six months, so better broaden my focus in the new year.

This list doesn’t mention The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon (which is called The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal in foreign lands like America). Read my post on it: the book was absolute magic and blew me away, but alas, as it was not published this year, it doesn’t fit the bill. You should read it anyway, though.

My other favourite discovery was Barbara Pym. I can’t imagine what my life would have been had I not picked up Excellent Women at the Vic Book Sale and discovered how incredible her novels are. They’re so funny, smart and modern. I just finished read my second, No Fond Return of Love, and I liked it even better than Excellent Women. But I’ll be writing more about that later.

One thought on “On reading in 2009”

  1. BabelBabe says:

    I cant find The Incident Report in the US and I am dying to read it (esp. as I am a librarian). I give up, I am ordering it from UK or Canada.

    I deliberately gave up keeping lists of what I read, as I was feeling way too much pressure with it, but I admit it was handy for year-end wrap-ups. Now I have a gajillion more books to go look at, thru your links. You're killing me! : )

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