Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Year Mapped Out in Books

As a way of further mulling over and therefore delaying the on paper documentation of my 2008 resolutions, goals, wishes and dreams, I decided to post the list of books I read in 2007.

Recently, Scott and I watched the movie High Fidelity, which was adapted from Nick Hornby’s novel. It was the umpteenth time we’d seen it but we both love it. Just as those of us who love music hear songs and immediately make autobiographical connections, so it is for me with the books I read and fall in love with.

The list itself provides a sort of map of my figurative and literal journey as a writer this year.

I found the Joyce Carol Oates at The Strand on my trip to New York City in May. I read Everyman, by Philip Roth on the plane trip to New York. The John Gardner books rocked my world and made me yearn to write even more, while reinforcing my insecurities and motivating me to read, read, and read until my eyes fall out. I read four of these books for my first writers’ retreat and discussed them with new friends I found there. Some of these are books written by fellow bloggers, and I loved every one of them – the books and the bloggers. Strange to read a book by someone you know, but don’t. Some were written by the faculty members of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. How much was each fictional main character like his or her creator? I could never get that question completely out of my mind. I read four of five of these books when we went to Cabo San Lucas in October and some I read with a dictionary by my side. Some books were recommended by friends, some were award winners and some just looked good.

Do book titles take you back to a significant moment at some point in your life? Can you remember details about where you were and what was happening in your life when a particular book resonated strongly within you?

And here’s a question I’m really curious about – can you separate characters in a book written by a fellow blogger -- since we only sort of know each other – from who you think the author really is? I’m confessing this tendency because I can’t seem to help it. If I actually knew the author in person, I’m sure the differences between the person and the character would be obvious. Or, if you’ve published fiction – does it bother you to know that people probably make assumptions about who you are based on your characters?

Happy reading in 2008!

  1. Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell
  2. Atonement, by Ian McEwan
  3. A Nail Through the Heart, by Timothy Hallinan
  4. The Boy Who Went Away, by Eli Gottlieb
  5. The Murder of Jacob, by Mary Ellen Johnson
  6. Then We Came to The End, by Joshua Ferris
  7. Look Me in The Eye, by John Elder Robison
  8. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
  9. In the Electric Eden, by Nick Arvin
  10. The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald
  11. White Noise, by Don DeLillo
  12. 78 Reasons why your book may never be published and 14 reasons why it just might, by Pat Walsh
  13. Away, by Amy Bloom
  14. No Place Safe, by Kim Reid
  15. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino
  16. The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford
  17. From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler
  18. Articles of War, by Nick Arvin
  19. The Children's Hospital, by Chris Adrian
  20. Old School, by Tobias Wolff
  21. So Long a Letter, by Mariamba Ba
  22. The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon
  23. On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan
  24. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid
  25. To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
  26. Poetics, by Aristotle
  27. Souvenir, by Therese Fowler
  28. Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow
  29. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
  30. Augusta Locke, by William Haywood Henderson
  31. Jesus' Son, Stories by Denis Johnson
  32. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  33. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
  34. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  35. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  36. All the Numbers by Judy Merrill Larsen
  37. The Liar's Diary by Patry Francis
  38. Elements of the Writing Craft by Robert Olmstead
  39. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
  40. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
  41. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
  42. Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers
  43. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  44. Everyman by Philip Roth
  45. The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates
  46. Blindness by Jose Saramago
  47. Spoonwood by Ernest Hebert


Barrie said...

Hmm....yes, I do think I can separate characters from a blogger. After all, when I read different books by one author, the characters don't all run together. That's all right off the top of my head! Happy New Year! I popped over from Gina's blog to say hi!

Sustenance Scout said...

Hey Lisa, stopping by real quick while I wait for some photos to download *yawn!*. Do you realize you read A LOT of books in one year?! Not that I'm surprised but wow! K.

moonrat said...

47... very nice. i aim for a book a week but i fell short this year :( haven't done an exact count but there was half a book book page blank so probably missed by at least 10. oh well.

i loved SECRET HISTORY and YIDDISH POLICEMEN. i really liked ATONEMENT and feel a strange affection fro RAVELSTEIN.

Julie said...

Lisa - number of things here - interested by the Bentwaters connection - just had a quick browse of the museum, if that's the same base. Veteran memoir I did was based on Watton in East Anglia.

Evocative video from the Simon and G era; brought the 70's back.

Characters - think there's an argument for any first novel being seen as an auto-biographical testing ground, but maybe in some cases more than others; suspect authors switch out of it with experience.

Good book list - did you say in a comment a while back that there are so many 'best sellers' available now its not often you find someone reading the same thing at the same time?

Patti said...

i am stunned at your are the master reader. i wish i had a button for you.

Larramie said...

Rather than a button, how about a gold star? ;)

Given that a book should not be judged by its cover, bloggers can be separated from their characters...yet questions creep into one's reading, don't they?

Interesting to note Donna Tartt's novel on your impressive list, Lisa, since I hemmed and hawed then didn't read it.

Lisa said...

Barrie, I figure it's a weird quirk of mine. I don't usually make much of a connection if I don't know anything about the author, but if they blog -- my mind tends to drift to them when I learn about the main character in the book. I know I shouldn't do it because I wouldn't want people thinking my characters are autobiographical, but for some reason, I can't help it. I'm sure I'll get over it ;)

Karen, Well, the writing books are all usually pretty quick reads, so I think the list is artificially inflated to a degree. I hope I can read even more this year. Chalk it up to insomnia.

Moonrat, those four were among my favorites and I know what you mean about Ravelstein. Affection is the perfect word to describe my sentiment about the story, about Ravelstein and about the two old friends. I would also put On Chesil Beach and Black Swan Green at the very top of the list too. I'd love for you to read BSG and tell me what you think. I really thought it was brilliant. David Mitchell is notorious for being difficult to read (I haven't tackled any of his others yet, but I do have Cloud Atlas), but this one was just great.

Julie, Bentwaters has a pretty interesting history, I think. It and Woodbridge, it's sister base were once the HQ for the largest tactical fighter wing in the USAF. Woodbridge was also on a documentary about UFOs -- apparently there were some unexplained occurences there!

The book I'm reading now (Forgetfulness, by Ward Just), had a great comment in it. The MC is a portrait artist and said something like, all portraits are self-portraits to a degree, and all novels are autobiographical to a degree. I think there's something to that (to a degree):)

I don't think it was me who said that...

Patti, I would gladly read fewer titles if I could get more sleep!

Larramie, Can't really help the questions creeping in, can you?

I do recommend The Secret History. It was a great book.

Charles Gramlich said...

I remember many significant moments of my life by the books I was reading at the time. I think I used to project the characteristics of characters on their writers more than I do now. I've had it done to me quite a few times and that has called attention to it for me.

Great list of works. My list would not have as many literary works on it.

Lisa said...

Charles, I suspected that it probably wasn't a desirable thing to have your readers identify you with your main characters, but it is tough not to do it sometimes! I'm really taking a hard look at my upcoming reading list for 2008. I really need to focus on reading more writers who write the type of stories I want to tell -- now if only I could figure out who they might be...

Melissa Marsh said...

Ok, blogger totally ATE my comment. ARGH!

Anyway, yes, I have had books where I remember what I was doing and where I was - and I still remember those times fondly.

I'm completely impressed with your list of books read in 2007. I don't think I even remember what books I read last year!

Shauna Roberts said...

I've had the opposite experience. I don't usually judge authors I don't know personally by their books. The exception is when they describe an unusual experience and get it right—then I wonder if they've been through something similar. However, I often read something by one of my critique group members, whom I know well, and think, "Where did that come from?" I guess everyone's public persona is different from their private self and from their subconscious, but it's not something I notice except when reading something by someone I know a lot about.

Anonymous said...

You put me to shame on your reading. I don't dare count though I know I did read continuously.

Copied your list because some of these I've read or plan to, and would like your thoughts on them.

Here's to some good books--and some sleep--in your new year!

susan@ spinning

Lisa said...

Melissa, I'd never have remembered them but I keep a list of what I'm reading and what I've read on my sidebar :)

Shauna, I think it's that "where did that come from" thing that always makes me think about the authors. I don't associate them in terms of what the characters do -- it's more the way they think. And really -- my thoughts are always complimentary when I project characters onto authors.

Susan, PUH-LEEEZE!!! Every time I check in with you, you're reading something incredibly difficult! If I switched to your reading list, I'd finish about four books a year!

Carleen Brice said...

Um, I don't remember half the books I read last year. And that's not a commentary on the books, but more on my faulty memory.

As far as readers thinking the character is the author, I think it's a hazard of the trade. And to some degree maybe it's always correct--I tend to think, as in a dream, all my characters are a little of me. I wonder...did you think my character Shay is me? Doesn't bother me, just curious.

BTW, High Fidelity is a fave of mine too. Did you read/see About a Boy? Another good Nick Hornby book and movie.

Lisa said...

Carleen, I saw About a Boy, but didn't read it. I also read his A Long Way Down -- I like Hornby.

I think I imagined parts of Shay, like her fierce independence and her drive to accomplish her goals were traits she might share with you. Also, one of my favorite descriptions -- "little marshmallow teeth" -- was something I could imagine you thinking and getting a big kick out of :)

I think we have to tap our own emotions or remembered emotions to get in a character's headspace, and even if they become exaggerated, or go off and do things not remotely like what we've done, somewhere the seed of that has to start with the writer. I think a writer can create characters that are all completely different, but pieces of each come from something she knows. Everybody has a lot of dimensions, right?

reality967 said...

Big WOW. Not only do you have qty but also a lot of quality in there.
Ever since I started writing, my reading has gone down and TBR just grows bigger and bigger.

Julie said...

I had some more thoughts on this ie, blogger as character, but I've forgotten them!

Thanks for that Suffolk link on mine - fascinating. i read Stuck in a books blog last night and a few post's back there's his comparable book list for 2007 if you're interested.

Julie said...

....just picked up your comment above. Yes, think there may be some mileage in the arts/writer comparison. Guess the mind relies on stored templates in both cases.

Lana Gramlich said...

Some books take me back in time, certainly. That's why I recently started reordering some of the books I had as a kid or a teen--to help me remember what that time was like.
An impressive list you have here! Hope 2008 brings the best to you & yours. :)

Rebecca Burgess said...

I too think that, while many authors do protest too much, characters are to some extent tied to their creators. But more than the characters themselves, an author's recurrent themes can speak volumes.

Of course, that's the psychologist in me speaking. Author me says, "No, no. My crazy ass characters and themes of maternal conflict and abandonment have nothing, NOTHING, whatsoever to do with me. Geeze. Readers know nothing, NO THING, about writing. Geeze." (Shakes head and walks away) "Geeze."

Lisa said...

Usman, I have a feeling my reading is going to slow down a little now too that I'm writing more than I was.

Julie, I'll check out that post (although I'm already drowning in books as it is!) That church really is amazing. It's said to have the most beautiful baptismal font in England -- it's from the 1400s.

Lana, So glad you came by! I've done that too. A few years ago I bought Catcher in the Rye and my uncle saw it and asked me if I was planning to assassinate someone! All the best to you and Charles in 2008. And I LOVE your photography.

Becky, you had me laughing out loud when I read this! Geeze!!!

Julie said...

Lisa - not recommendations, as my reading habits would be an acquired taste at the best of times, but have posted a sample of what I've touched on in the recent past...

I've made a note of that Suffolk link to look back through if we visit the area.

Josephine Damian said...

Lisa, we have many books in common. I think that Carolyne See book is a must read writing advice book.

When I read any book (regardless of whether I know the author) and the book goes "clunk clunk" meaning it strikes an odd note, or digresses in tone or direction, I know that part is autobiographical, and therefore doesn't work.

I see this in my own work as well when I try to work in some real life bit of business, something about me or someone I know, or that happened to me or someone I know - more often than not, it doesn't work.

I think this is especially true of first/early novels. Yes, when the book is mostly about some true-life thing or person (like Ravelstein), it can work, but when an author decides to insert something personal because it was interesting to them, doesn't mean it fits the story.

Julie said...

lol. Typo.

Tell I grew up in a Port.
Yes, The Shipping News. Saw an excellent docu on AP some time ago, and like her style, but never saw the film. My favourite novelist was Iris Murdoch - particularly early stuff, but I've read relatively little fiction to compare her with; and I'm not sure I could go back an d re-read with the same enthusiasm; tastes change over the years, I guess!

My favourite review quote was about The Bell - 'never a dull page or slipshod sentence'.

kate said...

Lisa, thank you so much for linking to me. I'll do the same. I'm thrilled to know about your wonderful blog.

You have a ton of great books on this list. I especially liked Gilead and Blindness. Scenes from Blindness pop into my mind now, three years after reading it.

I have the same problem reading fiction, though I fight it. I actually just spoke on the phone with Suzanne Kamata, whose debut novel, Losing Kei, was just released. I've read some of her essays and I read her blog, so I could tell which parts of the novel were autobiographical, and I had to remind myself that Jill, the main character, is not Suzanne. I think as readers we need to keep separating author and character. So glad you posted the question.

Lana Gramlich said...

Lisa; Thanks. You're too kind. :)

Sphinx Ink said...

Lisa, reading your list and those posted on a couple of other of my favorite blogs inspires me to try to keep track of my own reading in 2008. Your list is impressive...lots of literary fiction...I read mostly genre fiction, occasionally some non-fiction. Anyway, thanks for the interesting list and comments. Good inspiration.

Lisa said...

Julie, you've got quite a reading list at your place! I'm off to a slow start so far -- still reading book #1 for the year :)

Josephine, You once mentioned doing a post on the writing books you've read and I've been thinking about doing the same ever since you said it. I loved Carolyn See's book, but I think a lot of it was that I love her attitude. I don't know if I've ever been able to detect real autobiographical pieces in a book, but I'm learning that you are an astute, highly tuned in reader, so I'm not surprised you can sense it. I don't ever really use anything straight from my own life -- I've tried it and you're right, it doesn't work for me either -- but I do use places and lots of real people do inform my characters. Real situations have given me ideas, but the actual events need to spin off far off into fiction or they seem to fall flat too. I think it's because reality constrains my imagination. And to your final point, I have frequently tried to use small anecdotal things that I thought were interesting and meaningful, but they are always the darlings that go first.

Julie, I have to read Iris Murdoch. So many people have mentioned loving her and I've never read her -- yet.

Kate, I'm really glad to have found your blog. I spent quite a while there the other night reading back through your posts and they're great. Blindness had a lasting impact on me too. Unfortunately, I had just read The Road before Blindness, so I was ready to stick my head in the oven and be done with it by the time I got done! It really want haunting and eventually I want to read more Saramago.

Glad you confessed to the same problem with writers! It's just an occupational hazard, I suppose.

Lana, Keep on posting those lovely photos and paintings!

Sphinx, Art Garfunkle has kept a reading list since 1968! I can't remember where I read about it, but it's at

Keeping the ongoing list as I read seems to help me mix it up a little. I think it also makes me read a little more. Happy New Year!

Josephine Damian said...

Lisa, glad to hear you are killing those darlings!

I'm going to post a link in my side bar to those two essential reading posts I did a ways back.

Did you read "The Female of the Species" because you heard the Virginia Tech killer also read it? That's why I decided to check it out - interesting theme for a short story collecion.

Mardougrrl said...

I know what you mean about making the connection between the blogger and the work. Not so much with the characters, but certain expressions that I have heard the author use, etc, will creep into the work. It's a lovely feeling, sort of like getting a secret message from beyond the page. :)

I am in AWE of your reading list. But you knew that! I read a lot last year too, but not as much as you did, I think.

Lisa said...

Josephine, I did not know that about The Female of the Species! Actually, I saw it in the downstairs of Strand Books when I visited NYC and it was 50% off, which surprised me. I had never read any Joyce Carol Oates and so it seemed like I needed to buy it -- and also, it really was an interesting theme.

Mardougrrl, "a secret message" -- I love that. That's just what it's like. One of the best writing books I read was your recommendation: From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler. Now that I understand the power of the unconscious, I just have to figure out how to find the time to just let things come as they will. I got a taste of it over the long Christmas and New Years weekends, but now my normal world is cramping my style :)

Julie said...

If you get round to Iris Murdoch, her early works show less of the convoluted philosophy than later ones; she succumbed to Altzheimers before she died. Might be worth flicking through a short bio first.

I liked her pace, and the deadpan way she built a plot to an explosive denouement. Dated now, of course; The Bell and A Severed Head stand out in my mind as distinctive.

Tim said...

Lisa -

Great list, great questions. Actually, your blog was what inspired me to start keeping track of what I read, and out of that came the monthly reading lists I've been posting.

I agree with (I think it was) Charles when he says that your list is a lot more "literary" than mine is. I really do spend a lot of time using the escape hatch provided by so-called escapist books.

And, like Usman, my reading fell off at the end of 2007. The Challenge was one reason, but it was mostly Bad Money, the first of the burglar novels, which is just eating me alive. Should be done in 2-3 weeks.

Happy new year.

Tim Hallinan

Patry Francis said...

Great pleased to see my novel among so many wonderful titles.

Lisa said...

Julie, Thanks so much for the recommendations. I've heard a lot of people who I respect mention Iris Murdoch and you're one of them.

Tim, My list was pretty much all over the map, but your New Year's list has inspired me to try to focus in on what I really ought to be reading most. Unfortunately, it also put a spotlight on a big glaring issue that I'd never really put my finger on before. When it comes to reading more books that fall into the type and style that I write, I'm afraid it made me realize that I'm not sure what that is yet. I have quite a few books in my TBR stack that may give me some better clues. Happy reading in 2007!

Patry, I read and really loved The Liar's Diary just before I started blogging. As a matter of fact, Simply Wait, The Liar's Diary and you were the catalyst that got me blogging and committed to writing. Although I read The Liar's Diary last February? March? the characters have stayed with me and haunted me. You remain such an inspiration to me. I am so glad you stopped by and I am so happy to hear that you are beginning to feel better. My thoughts are always with you.

Jennifer said...

Coming in pretty late on this. I really like the idea of keeping track of what you've read. My goal for 2008 is to read one work of literary fiction, one non-fiction title, and one "anything that looks fun or interesting." I still have a short stack of books to finish from late last year, but I've managed to finish one of the four I started in January. Am very close to finishing If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, which has been all kinds of interesting (and frustrating!).

Was pleased to see Joan Didion on your list. She's one of my favorites. Such an awesome prose stylist.

"The John Gardner books rocked my world and made me yearn to write even more, while reinforcing my insecurities and motivating me to read, read, and read until my eyes fall out."

I have exactly the same reaction to his writing manuals--and, often, his fiction as well!

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf