So when we in the writing-about-writing business publish our year-end lists of books we've read or the ones we've loved, we know, deep down, that we're giving you only half the story. Or, I should say, 1/4376th of the story. For we are defined not alone by what we are (a collection of read and/or admired books), but also by what we are not (a diverse collection of slimy little bastards we never got around to taming).
So then, in the interests of partial transparency (for total transparency would require a few more hours than remain in 2006), I offer, as a companion to my seven-part list of 75 books that I read in 2006 (1 2 3 4 5 6 7), the following list of 75 books that I failed to read in 2006.
Note that this should not be considered an exhaustive list: there are, for example, many graphic novels I could have failed to read this year in addition to the one noted below. Nevermind all the female authors who I neglected to neglect getting around to, or the obscenely high number of books published in 2006 that I don't even realize I haven't yet realized existed. Plus I think there's one or two celebrity biographies I haven't mentioned haven't having read, too, either. But 2007 is coming up fast, and I have some big plans for all the upcoming books that I haven't mentioned that I have no plans yet for planning on.
Confused? Not confused enough:
- Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
2006 was a banner year for failed promises to myself. I planned a Summer of Dostoevsky, in which I was going to read his last five big novels, while sharing many wild observations and acute insights during my reading. I read Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, and I said like two things about them, and I think neither of those things I said were that I liked The Idiot way more this time than I did my first time through it some eight years earlier, which is about as basic of a thing as I could have said, but didn't. Then I got distracted by every single other book on my TBR pile for the remainder of the year. Also, like Maureen, I think I cleaned my kitchen.
Demons, at least, did get moved from the TBR piles to the end table next to my reading chair, a couple months ago. That ought to count for something. Do you know how many Americans this year failed even at the simple task of moving a Dostoevsky book across their living rooms? Hint: nearly all of them. Kind of puts things in perspective, that.
- Independence Day by Richard Ford
- The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
I was pretty hot for Richard Ford when I read The Sportswriter back in May. The clear prose and plodding observational style of the opening volume of the Frank Bascombe trilogy were just what I needed at that exact moment. I liked it enough that I did consider reading Independence Day so that I could jump on The Lay of the Land when it came out.
Then I woke up one day, looked at myself in the mirror, and wondered what the hell I was thinking. And then I sat down in front of my television and played about eight hours of Katamari Damacy. With spirits soaring, indeed.
For what it's worth, I've touched neither Ford's books nor the video game since.
- Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Earlier this year, I decided to jump on the "reading is re-reading" boat. I went through the apartment and grabbed a bunch of those books that I'd really, really loved when I'd first read them, and I piled them up, forming a TBR-R pile adjacent to the main stacks.
I've Swiffered the pile, once or twice, since I formed it.
It's not that I don't believe in re-reading. I look forward to re-reading several books I've read this year, and seeing them in that way you can only see a book when you're reading it for a second time. The Exquisite by Laird Hunt will hold up well, I'm sure. Pynchon's books, yes. But I think there must be a certain mood you have to be in to spend time re-reading old stuff. A mood in which you can safely walk into a bookstore, look at every book on the shelves, and decide that there is nothing you haven't read yet that you really need to read just then.
It's a mood I was in for approximately five minutes this year, I guess. And while I hesitate to make uncertain predictions about the future, I have a hunch that at least three out of the four books above will be right where they are now in a year's time. Unless I move out of my apartment. Then they'll be in some other building. Maybe less dusty.
- The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway
Speaking of books I've planned on re-reading ever since I first read them. I keep looking at this book, thinking maybe now is the time to re-read it? And then, every time, I think, no. No, I am not ready to be that depressed again.
- A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn
I keep looking at this book, thinking maybe now is the time to read it? And then I keep thinking, no. No, I am not ready to be that depressed. Ever.
- The Fall by Albert Camus
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- The Stranger by Albert Camus
When I decided I was going to re-read a bunch of books this year, I also decided I wanted to focus on books with "the" in the title.
Well, okay, that, and Television by Jean-Philippe Toussaint left me craving more existential French stuff. So I piled up the Camus for Camus Re-Read Fest 06: The Oui Oui Non Non Bon-Bon Edition.
And then again, with the Swiffer, and the dusting. And the sneezing, now and then. I do that. Sneeze, I mean.
- Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
- Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
- Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
Earlier this year, in a madness spasm, I thought that maybe I would read all of Pynchon's novels before Against the Day was released, so then I could read it while everybody else was reading it, and then I could play along at home with the Internet's treasure trove of Pynchon scholars.
Well, when I get a time machine? I'm going back in time, and I'm going to find that version of me? And I'm going to laugh at me. And I'm going to point at myself, while I'm laughing at me.
Then I'm going to make like a tree and get the hell out of there.
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
I own this? What the hell? I don't remember buying this.
- The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
Since the release of Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro has become one of my favorite writers. I've read that book twice and I've read When We Were Orphans and I've read The Remains of the Day and I've loved them each with all my heart. Never Let Me Go remains my favorite. I'm really looking forward to reading Ishiguro's next book, when he decides to publish a new one, in, like, 2017.
And yet I still haven't gathered up the courage to take another stab at The Unconsoled, the book I read in high school, and hated, hated, with black inky wet passion. I did take it off the shelf for a while, a couple months ago, and I had it in my laptop bag for a couple weeks, and then it went back onto the shelf, where it's propping up a stack of three Umberto Eco novels (who, himself, ought to be on this list, because, yeah, I didn't read any of his books this year, though I know I really should).
It's not that I don't want to try The Unconsoled again. I do. I have to believe I'll like it better than I did in high school. But what if I don't? What if it actually does still, to me, suck? Would that mean I've achieved a net zero intellectual and aesthetic growth since high school?
What I'm saying is that like an attractive smart girl, this book draws my eye while making me exceedingly nervous, and I'm still trying to come up with a good approach, a pick-up line, a conquistadoring technique that won't result in immediate pain and/or embarrassment for either of us.
- Libra by Don DeLillo
- Mao II by Don DeLillo
- Underworld by Don DeLillo
Motherfucking Don DeLillo. Right? Am I right? You know what I mean.
See: I have this theory that outside of White Noise, nobody actually reads Don DeLillo's books. People just talk about them at dinner parties so they can attract mates, but if you gave them a pop quiz on the contents of the books, they'd all fail miserably.
Well, except for Jennifer Egan, who I believe when she says she read and liked Underworld, but that's because her brain is naturally sexier than those of most of the rest of the human race. For her, Underworld did move to my end table, so that if on the off-hand chance she drops by my apartment for a visit, I can pick the book up real quick and act like I was about to start reading it. Then she'll marry me.
Okay, so, fine. I put Don DeLillo on this list solely to get to the Jennifer Egan joke. My editors informed me that I haven't met my "Darby has a huge literary crush on Jennifer Egan's brain" jokes yet this year. And by jokes I mean, well, I sort of want to ask her to prom. The Literary Prom. The one where instead of a band, it's just Don DeLillo reading excerpts of White Noise, while Jennifer Egan and I dance under the moonlight, and William T. Vollmann spikes the punch. With crack.
What? Yeah, like your fantasies are less weird.
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith
- The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
- Clara by Janice Galloway
- Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby, Jr.
- Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner
Around about when I decided I was going to re-read books, I also decided I was going to take all these books I'd started but abandoned and I was going to read them but for real. These five books are all very lovely books, I'm sure, from what I remember of them--Clara, especially, I remember finding really entrancing (and infinitely less brutal, but I guess also equally less addicting, than The Trick is to Keep Breathing). They all deserved better from me.
This stack is looking like a great way to start 2007. An early spring cleaning of sorts. We'll see what happens in reality, though, where I'll probably wind up reading some crap or something stupid.
- Oh The Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey
I feel bad about this one, because I was going through an "Unnnghgg" period a while back, during which I didn't know what I wanted to read, and a friend recommended this one, and I got it out from the library, and then I never got around to reading it, and now I have a really huge fine on it, and then there's always the chance that I'm going to run into this friend, and I'm going to feel awful for not having read the book yet, even though said friend probably doesn't even remember recommending it to me, so I don't know what I feel so bad for.
- You Bright and Risen Angels by William T. Vollmann
- The Royal Family by William T. Vollmann
- Fathers and Crows by William T. Vollmann
I read four of this dude's books this year and he's all like "Whatever, bitch, I got four books coming out next year, I wrote them while I was sitting on the toilet the other day, what have you done with your life, little boy?"
You Bright and Risen Angels was the first book of his I ever bought, and at the rate things are going it will be the last one I read. The Royal Family, Jeff suggested that one, and I know it's the next Vollmann book I want to read, but I've yet to see it on a shelf in front of me in a bookstore, so I haven't bought it yet. And Fathers and Crows, damn, have you ever seen this thing? Or tried to pick it up with one hand? That book's scary huge. Did I mention I'm reading The Baroque Cycle right now? Yeah, so you know when I'm scared of the size of a book? It's a really big book. You can try to tell me half of it is footnotes and an index, but then I'll already be giving you the finger, because when I get that time machine I mentioned before, I'm going to make sure I tell myself you were going to tell me that.
- The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen
It's the first book he published and the only book of his I haven't read. And really I feel no rush to get to it, because I know it won't be as awesome as The Corrections. Still, I feel obliged to complete the set, and guilty for not having done so yet.
Oh yeah, the Literary Prom I mentioned before? As a little joke? The spirit of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and I are totally dunking Franzen's head in the crack-spiked punch. It's going to be hilarious. And awesome. Buy your tickets early.
- The Accidental by Ali Smith
- Talk Talk by TC Boyle
- The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
These are all books that were published in 2006 that somebody somewhere had in their year-end list of favorites. In the act of compiling this list of books I can form no reasonable opinions about, I misplaced the location and identity of the list from which I took these three books. So, to whomever listed these three books? I'm sorry. I don't listen to you enough. I don't even know who you are.
About these three books, I can say that The Accidental is one of those many many titles I heard a lot about but which I failed to pay any attention to so I know absolutely nothing about it; Talk Talk had that ridiculously hideous cover of the mouth and the teeth that convinced me I'd rather stab myself in the face than make that book my first Boyle book; and The Echo Maker won the National Book Award, which means if history repeats itself, I'll read it the way I read Europe Central by William T. Vollmann and then I'll feel compelled to start working my way through the man's entire back catalogue, and you know what? I don't have time for that. I've got enough back catalogues to slash and burn through. So screw you, Richard Powers, for writing what is probably an amazing, awesome book that I'm not going to read for at least another two or three weeks.
- Blood Meridian by Cormac Mccarthy
I read All the Pretty Horses this year and decided I hated Cormac Mccarthy for it. Then I read The Road and decided I loved Cormac Mccarthy for it. So I think I'm going to ignore Blood Meridian for a while and decide I really don't know what to think about Cormac Mccarthy for it.
- Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
Will somebody put this dude on pause? So I can make at least a moderate dent in his back catalogue? Because there's like 150 other books of his I could list here but chose not to? Okay? Please? Thanks!
- Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
- The Collected Stories Of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel
- The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
The New York Times called these three books, along with The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford and Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, the Five Best Books of Fiction Published in 2006.
I call Pessl's book (the one out of these five that I have read) the What the Fuck are You Smoking, New York Times? Book of the Year. I mean, it wasn't really bad, but, lord, it sure wasn't that great. Plus, didn't that Tanenhaus guy make fun of litbloggers again recently? I mean, I don't even care what that guy has to say about anything, because he's a New Yorker and I'm a human being, but I still wound up this year thinking he's a douchebag. It's like, good job, asshole, you keep making what should be your primary audience hate you. Way to be!
What was I saying? Oh, yeah, the Literary Prom. Marisha Pessl? Huge, expensive dress. When Kaavya Viswanathan shows up in the exact same dress? Seriously huge histrionics. Literary Prom is going to be so much better than the real prom I never went to.
- The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
I think this is one of those books I really, really, really, really do need to read, because it might become one of those books I love and cherish for all time. But I don't know why I think that. Because I don't actually know anything about the book. It's tied for second place on the Metacritic year-end list, so I know at least a few other people loved it. Am I so out of touch? What am I wasting my time on Dostoevsky for? (Or, uh, wasting my time on not wasting my time on Dostoevsky.) How can I have read 75 books this year and not know anything about one that I suspect might be meant for me? How can I be such a screw-up?
Don't answer that last question.
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
- Bleak House by Charles Dickens
One of those things I said I was going to do this year was read all these really huge books that are way easier to not read because they're so huge. And in my defense, I did get through some doorstops. For getting Lord of the Rings off the TBR pile alone, I feel I deserve the 2006 Award for Best Litblogger of the Year Named Darby. But, somehow, I didn't get to the two long-ass novels that originally sparked my '06 interest in super-long novels.
It's been too long since I've read any Dickens, long enough that, though I know I love me some Dickens, I've lost all track of which of his books I've read and which I haven't (was it Dombey and Son I made it through? or David Copperfield? or was it the one with the poor kid in it?) other than Bleak House, which, I knew for a fact, I'd once started, and never finished. Yeah, not this year, either.
And as for Don Quixote, I bought it earlier this year, that nice paperback copy with the red cover and the translation by Edith Grossman, because I stumbled into the 400 Windmills blog which I found rather inspiring, and anyway, if you're going to explicitly set out to read excessively long novels, you might as well read the mother of them all, right? Not so much I guess.
These two, at least I didn't have to Swiffer them, because they were buried under my Dostoevskys. Score!
- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
George is right about this--it's the Stephenson book to read and re-read. So, uh, why haven't I re-read it yet? I could re-read it eight times in the time it's taking me to get through the Baroque cycle. Not that I would. But I could.
- A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus
- Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta
- The Zero by Jess Walter
Hey! Check it out! It's three-fifths of the 2006 National Book Award shortlist! Nevermind The Echo Maker, which won, which I haven't read yet, either. Seriously, just...fuck. I suck at this.
One out of five ain't too bad, right? My best year out of the 2000s is 2001; I've read three of those titles. I've done two of last year's books. I'm going to devote one of these years, maybe '08 or '09, to reading all of the NBA shortlist titles from the 2000s, just so I can feel like I have something akin to contemporary lit cred.
- Far too many literary journals to mention
When I conceived of this list, I thought, ha ha, this will be funny, a lark, an amusing way to end the year, a way to make up for all the dead air here of late, and then I saw myself typing out this entry, and I got real sad, because, it's true: there are too many literary journals out there that I really ought to subscribe to and read regularly. There's a lot of "reading categories" I need to give higher priority to in my reading queue, and this one probably needs the biggest boost.
Shoot. Now I'm depressed.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I put this one here to cheer myself up. Because, you know what? Fuck Wuthering Heights. That book blows.
Yes! Now I'm having fun again.
- Literary Theory: An Anthology, edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan
For real, though, I moved it to the end table, thinking I'd maybe brush up on my theory, now and then. Read an essay or two, here or there. Smarten myself back up some. This stuff fascinated me six, seven years ago, and maybe it'll fascinate me again in six or seven more, but right now? Thpft.
- Stories by Anton Chekov
- Sleep by Stephen Dixon
- Dubliners by James Joyce
- The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
- The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol
Partial credit. I've been trying to read more short stories. So I collected some of the random collections I've bought over the years, and lined them up on my end table (yes, the one with Underworld and Demons and Literary Theory on it, the table where books go to die), and read a story or two from each book before bumping it to the back of the queue, and I'd do a couple stories from a couple books this way between novels. This worked great for a while. Then I stopped doing it. It didn't work so well when I didn't do it.
But the books are still there, for when I get back around to being in that mode. I consider it a successful proof of concept. Plus, and I think most importantly, this system did get me to start reading Chekov, which, come on: how did I get this far in life without reading any Chekov? Chekov rules.
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
2006 marks the fourth consecutive year in which I've vocally expressed interest in re-reading Infinite Jest and then never did anything about it. In 2007, the TDAOC Marketing Department plans on releasing a five dollar Fifth Anniversary paperback edition of my failure to re-read Infinite Jest, with a paean-like introduction penned by Your Pal The Rake. No word yet on whether Dave Eggers will offer Rake 49 bucks to eat his ass.
- Snow by Orhan Pamuk
- The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
Dude won the Nobel, you know. Least I could have done to thank the guy for being awesome was re-read Snow, right? It's hard to blame myself for not reading The Black Book since I just bought it last night. But really, what am I doing typing up lists on the Internet when I could be reading Pamuk's books?
- The System of the World by Neal Stephenson
Yeah, maybe I gifted it to myself--but you and I know the truth: I'm a dirty damned lying literary whore.
- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
My friend Erin, who, like me, was cautious about this book because of "the Foer thing," read it, and liked it, and said that I could safely set "the Foer thing" aside, and read it, because it's a good book. I haven't read it yet though, and now I feel guilty whenever Erin IMs me.
There's a good reason why personal recommendations usually get bumped to the top of my reading queue: personal cowardice.
- Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Speaking of "the Foer thing," I just know that if I actually read one of his books, I'll spend the duration of it wanting to punch him in the face, because people my age shouldn't be fabulously successful while I'm still nothing but an Internet jerk. Needless to say, Foer's so not invited to the Literary Prom.
Damn, though. I can't wait until I get my time machine, and I can come back in time, and tell myself how far Foer fell, during my rise to fame. Mmmm: taste that champagne, Foer? It's a special brand I call victory over you, screwface!
- The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
- The Secret River by Kate Grenville
- Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland
- In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
- Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn
- The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Hey! Check it out! It's the entire 2006 Man Booker shortlist!
Yeah, I'm awful. Great Britain, I'm so sending you some more love in 2007. I promise. Unless I find out I'm lying.
- Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
Here's a token graphic novel I didn't read. I might still read it. It, along with Black Hole, was one of those recent titles that snagged my interest toward the genre.
I hear there's a dirty part or two in there.
- Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer
Gwenda recommended this one, and I got super excited, because it sounded like exactly what I wanted to read at that exact moment, and so I ordered it from the library, and then they put it on hold for me, and then when I got there, it was already gone, and now my library card is all fined out until I get some of these other books I haven't read back to the library. I think I'm going to just buy it when it comes out in paperback. It's safer that way.
It does sound great, anyway.
- Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
- Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell
- Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
What the? I read Cloud Atlas last year and I loved it. Loved. It. And I haven't read the rest of his books yet? I've got the first two on the shelf and then I had the last one from the library and I read the opening paragraph, but I think the sun was in my eyes that day or something, because the next thing I knew, I wasn't reading it anymore. Then I was a bird. Yeah, it was strange.
- The Recognitions by William Gaddis
Well hell. Now that I've read Gravity's Rainbow for real, there's this hole in my heart, a hole that can only be filled by the knowledge that there's some other brick-thick modernist masterpiece I can actively despise without having ever read it. Oh! If only some great white male would...aw, hell, my heart's not in it. I'm sure The Recognitions is a lovely book to hate and then read and then love, but I'm going to go back to thinking about punching Foer in the face. At least his books are short, so I can not read them in far less time.