My reading year began with a reread of The Radiant Way (1987), which begins with a New Year’s party. The first time I read the novel, I was in my 20s and I hadn’t yet read Virginia Woolf; this time I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Dalloway as the women in Margaret Drabble’s novel make their preparations (as hostess, as guests). And this time around, there were two additional volumes to read, which set the tone for my reading year: expect excellence.
So, Favourite Reading Experiences of 2016:
*Rereading and Reading Margaret Drabble’s Thatcher Years Trilogy, including A Natural Curiosity (1989) and The Gates of Ivory (2007)
*Judith Kerr’s Anna Trilogy (which brought me to her Mog stories, also to her memoir Creatures)
As a girl, I reread When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971) periodically, but this was my first reread as an adult. Not only does it stand up very well, but the idea of seeing her transform her life into fiction (as described in Creatures) is fascinating too. Both The Other Way Round (1975) and A Very Small Person Far Away (1978) were wholly enjoyable because she consistently approaches dark subject matter (war, illness, struggle) while allowing for some light to shine.
*Robert Wiersema’s The World More Full of Weeping (2009)
One night, unable to sleep, I selected an e-book and the device choked and opened this one instead; around 3am, I was too impatient to try again for the book I’d been aiming for and instead fell hard and fast into this delightfully haunting novella, read it straight through and loved every minute.
*Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016)
This was my final read from this year’s Giller Prize longlist reading (and the jury chose it as the winner) and I reserved it deliberately; I wanted to savour it and make sure it had the bulk of my reading attention for that week. Each time I picked it up, I felt both safe and vulnerable: a trusted storyteller, with all the intensity that comes with crafting.
*Shared reads with bookfriends (including Budge Wilson’s Before Green Gables (2008) and L.M. Montgomery’s The Blythes are Quoted (2009) with Naomi, Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs (2015) with Stephanie, Jane Smiley and Antonia White with Danielle, and 22/11/63 (2011) with Eva.
Lisa Moore’s Flannery (2016)
David Mitchell’s Number 9 Dream (2001)
Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby (1981)
Marian Engel’s Bear (1976)
Timothy Findley’s The Piano Man’s Daughter (1995)
Jean Rhys’ Good Morning Midnight (1939)
Margarita Engle’s The Lightning Dreamer (2013)
Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words (2016)
Margaret Mackey’s One Child Reading: My Auto-Bibliography (2016)
Finally my marker moved steadily through Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905), Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale (1988), Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe (1990), Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005), Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes,(1999), and Marge Piercy’s Gone to Soldiers (1987); I’d made multiple attempts but gotten stuck in them previously. (There are a few others in this category which I hope to read in 2017.)
I also finished some series which have been underway a long time (including Chinua Achebe’s African Trilogy (finished the second and third), E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End (last of his novels), Guy Vanderhaeghe’s Western Trilogy (first of three), Antonia White’s Clara series (volumes three and four), the remaining Gabrielle Roy books, and L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. And I continued with other long series with an aim to completing them, and tried to complete some new ones (like Susan Philpott‘s and Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes and the Giant Days graphic novels) instead of simply reading the first and declaring “someday” for the remainder. Either I finished, or brought up to date, sixteen series, and I’ve read towards twelve others.
Many of my reading projects feel like they belong to an earlier reading-me, but I began to revisit some of them in earnest, to see if I wanted to continue, and that brought some animal stories onto my stacks, including James Oliver Curwood’s The Grizzly King (1916) John and Jean George’s Meph the Pet Skunk (1952) Mary O’Hara’s Thunderhead (1943). This year I’m planning to read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, and the last in Mary O’Hara’s series (Green Grass of Wyoming), among others.
This isn’t even one of my organized reading projects, more a collection of books and intentions. Out of the reading lists I’ve been keeping, there are four projects which I didn’t even touch last year. It could be that they just aren’t as satisfying as more recent discoveries, but it could be that I have started more projects in my mind since then, which I’ve not written down. The lists which I did make progress on were the Giller Prize longlist reading, the Toronto Book Award reading, with more than five books read for each during the year, and the quarterly short story project continued strong (the winter 2016 edition was here).
Next, talk of 2017. Because it seems to have arrived. And not just on the calendar, but on my bookshelves. At last.
Have you read any of these? Were you pleased with your reading last year?
Is there anything you’re looking to change in this reading year?