I spent a lot of 2013 working and trying to get my thesis off the ground. There were months when things got so tight, it was a wonder I got any reading done at all. I would read a chapter or two before falling asleep or immediately upon waking up; I would read on jeeps, in airplanes, or in line to pay the bills; basically during any stolen quiet moment. I turned in some serious reading while waiting at the airport. On a field trip to Bantayan Island in Cebu, I took a chunk off the tome that is The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Now, I associate travel to the island with chapters of that book.
Last year, I stopped worrying about the number of books I could finish. I took on books that challenged me (in terms of both scope and scale) and was rewarded for it.
I had a renaissance with epic fantasy, and The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss were a revelation. I read the first two volumes, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, a third and final still forthcoming. They were compelling reads, not least because of their endearing protagonist Kvothe and the colorful storytelling. There’s also the added bonus of watching Pat Rothfuss turn fantasy tropes on their ear.
Probably no other book permeated my reading life as pervasively as Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Books I and II were gripping enough, but by the time I got to Book III, I was fighting for every chapter. There is a clumsiness (even repetitiveness) to the writing that I speculated could either be deliberate or due to some fault in the translation. Maybe it read better in Japanese? It was a struggle but finish the magnum opus I did. Despite feeling like I was being dragged to the finish line by my hair, my brain wailing “No more!”, it was extremely satisfying to get this book under my belt. There were figurative trumpet sounds and confetti.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was a shock of sublime writing. I highlighted that woman’s sentences with manic frequency, which actually slowed my reading progress. When I realized I would have to highlight entire pages, I made do with marking them with post-its. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman was a complicated experience in which I rebelled and ended up getting swept away. I unabashedly love Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home, with its superb prose and poignant exploration of family.
Early in the year, I read World War Z: An Oral History by Max Brooks in preparation for the Brad Pitt flick (haha). It’s a very sober take on a genre I count on to revel in its humour (ironic or otherwise) and caricature monsters. It is incisive yet brimming with heart, and I was happily surprised.
In short stories, I was blown away by J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. You know how, in short story collections, there are hits and misses? Well, here, all you get are hits. Each of the stories is a high, sustaining a superior reading experience throughout. This book transformed me both as a reader and a writer.
Though not quite as transcendent as Nine Stories, I thoroughly enjoyed This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. In a notebook, I wrote of his style: “I finally understand what ‘lyrical’ means.” I also read my first Raymond Carver this year, Hanna’s copy of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I guess it is a thing with Carver where he has to punch you in the heart? I found a copy of Cathedral a couple of months ago so yey, more beautiful pain.
As usual, it was a good year for young adult and children’s literature. I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen (and even anyone who won’t) that they should read Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and succeeding books thereof) by Laini Taylor. There is Prague and Marrakech and angels versus chimaeras and forbidden luuurv.
After a lengthy, fruitless search for The True Heroine, I finally found her in Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I also did a lot of crying-for-catharsis this year, the Ugly Cry Face making special appearances for Hold Still by Nina LaCour, The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, and Where She Went by Gayle Forman. I took to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl betterthan her other YA heavyweight, Eleanor & Park. Alas, the hype killed the latter for me, and I’ve promised to read it again when the dust has settled.
I read Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman in October, at the end of an exceptionally hellish week. It was an oasis for my imagination, which was drying up due to my being severely tired and burned out. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, which I finished during the post-holiday slump at the beginning of the year, had the same rousing effect. It is a wise old thing, and I declared that my future kid would read it.
Sometimes, the powers-that-be conspire to send you a book so totally aligned with your current thoughts and feelings. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami was that kind of a book. Looking back, I was lucky I was paying attention. My other non-fiction favourite this year is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which told me “[not to] worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg was a purchase late in the year. I’m so glad I managed to get a copy, because it is absolutely gorgeous and strange. It is an ode to stories and the way they keep us breathing. The ongoing fantasy comic Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples was a recommendation from the boy, who correctly predicted that I would go crazy for it. And finally, my copy of Love & Misadventure by Lang Leav is a mess of post-its and bleeding hearts.
I didn’t expect it or think it possible, but 2013 turned out to be such a meaningful reading year. I’m not opposed to a repeat, but right now, I’m just thankful. The curtain is about to fall on my academic circus, my friends, so 2014 should largely be focused on finishing my thesis. But I will find those quiet moments, the precious gaps amid the chaos, where I might read a story or two.
This was a post by Kubi who is still looking for the right book to start out 2014.