2011 is, in terms of reading, off to a good start. I’m two novels in, just over one week into the year. Here’s a list of the books that I’ll try to make sure I read in 2011. I think this list of 13 ‘must-reads’ leaves plenty of room for impulse purchases, new publications and recommendations.
Candide (Voltaire, 1759)
After a conversation about humanism, my dad insisted that I read this. What sealed the deal was finding and buying the beautiful new Penguin edition with a cover designed by Chris Ware – one of the most enticing books I’ve seen in a long time.
Freedom (Jonathan Franzen, 2010)
I’ve been in near-feverish anticipation of this book since The Corrections – and the reviews upon publication last year were stellar. And yet, I was still a little too stingy to shell out for the hardback, so this will have to wait until the paperback comes out in April.
Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy, 1985)
I read and loved The Road, and this is shorter than committing to McCarthy’s entire Border trilogy. Everyone I know who’s read this recommends it, and everyone else seems intent on reading it.
The City and the City (China Mieville, 2009)
This has been on my shelf for six months and is one of the books I’m most looking forward to reading. I normally try not to read book blurbs too closely, so while my expectations involve detectives and parallel worlds, I still don’t know quite what to expect.
Doctor Faustus (Thomas Mann, 1947)
Taissa and I have made a pact to run a two-person book club in which we’ll read weighty novels that we wouldn’t otherwise get around to reading. This was her suggestion, but I’ve had my eye on it for a decade or so. I’ll probably read this one in parallel with easier, shorter novels.
How I Escaped My Certain Fate (Stewart Lee, 2010)
I’ll certainly finish this one, as I’ve already started it. Sure, it’s ‘only’ a comedy memoir, but Lee’s deconstruction of his work (mainly in the form of lengthy footnotes) is considered and serious, while the transcripts of his stand-up shows are typically genius.
Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)
I meant to read this last year. Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ principle (people are most effective when they’re tackling tasks involving a balance between familiarity and challenge) is often quoted with respect to videogame design. I imagine it’s appropriate reading for my day job which involves, among other things, commissioning educational interactive resources.
Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis, 1954)
I know not a thing about this novel but Kingsley Amis seems like an author I should have read. The edition that my dad lent to me has a funny caricatured cover, so appears accessible.
Our Town (Thornton Wilder, 1938)
I read and was blown away by Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey at the end of 2010. I then followed it up with Timequake, in which, coincidentally, Kurt Vonnegut waxes lyrical about a performance of Our Town. Must find and read a copy of this soon.
Nights at the Circus (Angela Carter, 1984)
Carter’s The Magic Toyshop was great, but felt like a young novelist flexing her muscles. Nights at the Circus is the novel I’d meant to read first, and the one that people at my book club most recommended.
A Universal History of Infamy (Jorge Luis Borges, 1935)
I think this is the one work by Borges that I’ve not yet read, and I found a copy in Wigtown just before new year. I’ll probably put off reading this as long as I’m able, because this will be an indulgent treat.
Disgrace (J M Coetzee, 1999)
Recommended by Chris as the best novel he read in 2010. I know almost nothing about the book, but that recommendation is good enough for me.
Human Diastrophism (Gilbert Hernandez, collected 2007)
I read the first collection of Palomar comics, Heartbreak Soup, a few days ago. It was a fantastic experience (reviewed on Goodreads here), and this follow-up collection is the graphic novel I’m most looking forward to reading this year.