A (failed) year of reading

January 4, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno


Last year at about this time, I set a goal for myself: I would read 100 books in 2008. It seemed like a lot, but it really just averages out to two books a week. And two hours or so of reading a day (the same amount of time I spend watching The Simpsons/Seinfeld/Frasier/Frasier every  night) can easily take care of two books a week. But I failed miserably, reaching only three quarters of my goal. 


My excuses are as follows: 


1. The Selected Letters of John Keats. I really, really like Keats. And I like reading his letters, too. But sometimes my brain felt as though it were trudging through mud to get through this book. I blame myself more than I blame Keats, but the next time in the mood I’m going to try to find a copy of The Selected, Selected, Edited and Excerpted Letters of John Keats.

2. Thomas Mann. I’d never read Thomas Mann. He’s one of those fellows that I’ve always meant to read, but never got around to. Something about him always seemed so imposing. I’ve got nothing against imposing, but I always had the sense that he was imposing in a very wordy way. I was right. Two six hour flights with nothing but Death in Venice on my lap did nothing to help. I got a few good naps in, though. (P.S. I liked the book. I’m just saying he’s wordy, is all. And if I drank the airplane coffee, I probably would have been more awake. But airplane coffee = airplane bathrooms. And I don’t use airplane bathrooms.)


3. Dostoyevsky. I’m just going to come out and say this: I think Dostoyevsky is a terrible writer. I think he is interesting, and I think his books can be interesting. Philosophically and historically I think he’s interesting. But I think he’s a terrible writer. I’ve read about 75% of his fiction, and every year I try to read him again, hoping something will click. It never does. Sure enough, twenty pages into the book, I’ve got a massive headache. Because of his writing, yes, but also because of the hairs I’ve ripped from my skull. I’ve never been able to read a book of his twice. And I don’t think Memoirs from the House of the Dead will be any different.


4. I got married. I’m glad I got married, but it really gummed up my reading.


The books:

1. André Gide: Lafcadio’s Adventures
2. Noah Eli Gordon: Novel Pictorial Noise
3. Anne Carson: Glass, Irony and God
4. Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson: Figures for a Darkroom Voice
5. Kim Cooper: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
6. Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Andreas
7. Alan Sillitoe: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
8. Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano
9. André Gide: The Immoralist
10. Georges Simenon: The Stain on the Snow

11. Heinrich Böll: The Clown

12. David Carl: Fragments (manuscript)

13. Robert Musil: Selected Writings
14. John Keats: Selected Letters of John Keats

15. Upton Sinclair: Oil!

16. Jonathan Lethem: The Disappointment Artist
17. Anne Carson: Short Talks
18. Valéry Larbaud: Childish Things
19. Ernest Jones: Hamlet and Oedipus
20. Thomas Harrison: 1910: The Emancipation of Dissonance
21. C.R. Madigan: Entrance (manuscript)

22. Rainer Maria Rilke: The Selected Poetry of

23. Moazzam Sheikh: The Idol Lover
24. Anne Carson: Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides
25. No: A Journal of the Arts, Issue 6, 2007
26. Jean-Marie Carré: A Season in Hell: The Life of Rimbaud
27. Thomas Bernhard: The Loser
28: Émile Zola: The Masterpiece
29. Nina Berberova: The Accompanist
30. John Berger: Keeping a Rendezvous
31. Matsuo Basho: Basho’s Haiku

32. Heinrich Mann: Man of Straw

33. Wallace Fowlie: Rimbaud
34. Robert Martin Adams: Surface and Symbol
35. Marc Bloch: The Historian’s Craft
36. Chuck Zerby: The Devil’s Details: A History of Footnotes
37. Gabriel Josipovici: Goldberg: Variations
38. John Berger: The Success and Failure of Picasso

39. Brian Hall: Fall of Frost

40. Joshua Marie Wilkinson: Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms
41. Dorothy Baker: Cassandra at the Wedding
42. Zoe Crosher: Out the Window (LAX)
43. Walter Benjamin: The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire

44. George Orwell: Homage to Catalonia

45. Dylan Thomas: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog
46. Joshua Marie Wilkinson: lug your careless body out of the careful dusk
47. A.C. Graham (tr.): Poems of the Late T’ang
48. Emmanuel Bove: Night Departure
49. Emmanuel Bove: No Place
50. Christopher Smart: A Song to David and Other Poems
51. Jean-Luc Steinmetz: Arthur Rimbaud: Presence of an Enigma
52. Georges Simenon: A Man’s Head
53. David Carl: Heraclitus in Sacramento
54. Bei Dao: Landscape Over Zero
55. Yasunari Kawabata: Thousand Cranes

56. Thomas Mann: Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories

57. Morio Kita: Ghosts
58. Balliwick, Issue 06 Autumn 2007
59. E.A. Burt, ed.: The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha

60. Phonebook 2008/2009

61. Elkins, James: What Happened to Art Criticism?
62. Terri Griffith: So Much Better (manuscript)
63. Max Frisch: Man in the Holocene
64. John Steinbeck: Sweet Thursday

65. Raymond Queneau: Stories & Remarks

66. Anne Carson: Economy of the Unlost
67. Junnosuke Yoshiyuki: The Dark Room
68. Jose Felipe Alvergue: us look up / there red dwells
69. Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma
70. Andrew Laties: Rebel Bookseller

71. Magdalena Zurawski: The Bruise

72. Max Frisch: I’m Not Stiller

73. Yoshinori Shimizu: Jack and Betty Forever
74. Ann Quin: Passages
75. Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Memoirs from the House of the Dead


I’ve got no goals this year. San Francisco has been cold and wet and I haven’t left the house much, so I’ve finally opened the copy of The Tale of Genji that’s been sitting in the t0-read pile for a couple of years. I let you know how it is when I finish it. Probably some time in May.


3 Responses to “A (failed) year of reading”

  1. Andy Laties Says:

    It is with shock and awe that my Sunday-Afternoon-At-The-Cash-Register narcissistic blogsearch reveals that I am in the august Queneau and Company list above! Damn I am good! But seriously folks, am I better than Dostoevsky and Mann (I get no slam; must be better than)??

    Evidently I have found an editor who likes me! And your operation looks so hip!

    Andy Laties (Rebel Bookseller)

  2. urbesque Says:

    Hey! Thanks Andy-

    It’s great to make your acquaintance, come by more often! and (most importantly), Happy New Year-

  3. makifat Says:

    Believe me, I understand how marriage (and subsequently, kids) can cut into one’s reading. I did a comparison a few years ago of my pre- and post-nuptual reading, and was quite schocked. Plus, advancing age and failing eyesite don’t help much either.

    Still, glad to have stumbled onto your site…

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