Do you need book recommendations? I certainly do not, I am stacking unread books on the floor again, and my unpurchased tbr list is going to outlive me. But, that never seems to stop me. I’m so sorry to see Bookforum go, it was one of the best, but I am not short of reviews to read, even The Lily got me to buy a book this year that was published in 1851 and will not help my project. And my weekly trip to help shelve Tuesday books at my local bookstore and scan the ARCs and hear bookseller opinions–all I can say is bless the public library for keeping me out of worse debt, I tipped her well on my last trip of the year.
I had my first ever preview of a book auction at Christie’s in NYC in early December with a art journalist friend, with a brilliant tour guide –if you love rare books, especially old manuscripts and early printing, and you have an Instagram account, take a look at liber.librum.aperit . This was one of my favorites from our tour — “the most beautiful Aristotle in the world” inside and out, with the little leather knots and tabs as finding aids!
As to books I was able to read —
Boys Come First by Aaron Foley — I love a novel that immerses me in unfamiliar places, past or present. This was my escapist read of the year. It is full of sex and wit and has a much more uplifting ending than I feared it might.
History and biography were big categories for me this year, context for the biography of Amelia Bloomer I am writing, but most of those I did not adore. I admired The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice Nimura, and was entertained and encouraged by Listen, World!: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America’s Most-Read Woman by Alison Gilbert (a member of my biography discussion group) and Julia Scheeres. And good lord, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate was an eye-opener re nineteenth-century American pop cultural history, and a queasy reminder of why I’m so grateful for modern divorce laws.
I never read much memoir, but I bonded with Runaway: Notes on the Myths that Made Me by Erin Keane and gave it to two friends for Christmas–a mix of memoir, family biography, and cultural analysis that spoke directly to my own complex relationship with an adventurous and private mother, love of the Pogues, and re-evalution of everything I grew up believing was romantic in the 70s and 80s.
I didn’t read nearly as much fiction as I have in the past (again, writing a biography), and other than a transcendant reread of Moby Dick in the spring spurred by A Public Space, I had mixed feelings about most of the novels I did read, including Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow which I plan to give to my gamer/coder Gen Z kid when it comes out in paperback (I read a library copy) though I know already he’ll think the prose is “okay.” I finished The Last White Man, which left me lukewarm but I will absolutely buy Hamid’s next book, I loved Exit West so much. Meanwhile it made me think of a better speculative novel: The First Century After Beatrice — better because more lyrical and strange and heartfelt where for me The Last White Man stayed bobbing at the surface of his “what if.”
For years I have set myself a numeric reading goal. This year I fell well short of it, both in number of books and pages –both are options on StoryGraph–because of all the research reading. For some reason, articles and ancient newspapers do not count. But, I will set the same one for next year and see how it goes. Life is too short, and I’m stacking unread books on the floor again.