How I spent 2011 by S.C., part 1 (better late than never)

Strange, I was just listening to everyone’s 2011 mixes and pondering the last year in the peace of my Potrero Hill apartment, and suddenly it’s February and here I am on the other end of the state, installed in new surroundings.  Oh well, better late than never to reflect on a year:

Thanks in part to two things I did last year (going on vacation and quitting, i.e. not working), I spent a lot of 2011 reading.  Also, in early November, C and I were on the phone and discovered something amazing: as of that exact moment, we had each read 39 books in 2011!  Besties for life!  This miraculous revelation fueled our mutual goal of reading 52 books by the year’s end.  The last time I did this was in 2008, the last year before That Job eradicated my life as I knew it.  It felt especially appropriate to do it again the year I was able to get rid of That Job (it’s a shame I can’t express the smugness I still feel about quitting, which translates best into an insufferable facial expression known as smug-face).

On the strength of being fun-employed, I created a new shelf on Goodreads and started flying through books at a speed never before seen.  Even with all that free time, 13 books in two months is a tall order requiring mindfulness and strategy.  The strategy is simple: read short books and read them fast.

I reached my goal on December 30 by finishing a (short) Tom Wolfe book, From Bauhaus to Our House.  It was an improvement on my 2008 run, when I read a play (the ultimate form of cheating! But it counts) on December 31 as the sun was going down.   C had already finished her 52 books, having determined that Lonely Planet counts.  Never underestimate a dark horse, by the way.  Days before, a certain young gentleman had informed me (whilst eating cookies and looking smug) that he had already read 53 books in 2011.  I’m not sure what his final tally was, but I choose not to dwell on such things.

Despite the quantity-over-quality focus, I had a really great year of reading.  I find that each year it gets easier to shake off the burden of books I feel obligated to read and focus on what brings something to my life.  Something like joy.  For all its shortcomings, I think That Job helped me to see how valuable time is, especially what precious little we have to do something that isn’t miserable.

Here are some highlights from my 2011 reading:

Books that made me howl:
– Bossypants by Tina Fey
– Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott
– Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Books that made me wonder why I was living my life the way I was:
– Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz
– Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
– The Claudine Novels by Colette

Jaw-dropping prose:
– The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
– O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
– West with the Night by Beryl Markham (also falls under the previous category)

Books I loved (in addition to the ones above):
– Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner
– Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I haven’t read anything new or substantial since, unless you count fashion blogs (which can feel like reading a book, only turning the pages backward).  To be honest, I’m a little burned out from the marathon reading, though it was satisfying to take down a bit of the backlog.  But after reading short books very fast, I have decided that 2012 will be the Year of Slow Reading.  Definitely no prescribed minimums, but I might aim for something like 12 longer books.  Some I’ve already decided on and some have been on my shortlist for a long time, but I know I’m in the mood for something long and toothsome, to savor slowly.

Here are the 2012 contenders so far:

– 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (already in progress for our March book club)
– Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (it just feels like time for Proust, AND I finally got past the madeleines, what up)
– Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (I was never before interested but now I feel it might change my life)
– Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (finally might have the patience to enjoy each word)
– Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (I’m always so backlogged that it’s hard to stay current)
– Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (hoping it will aid in further recovery from office life)
– The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher (going back to the source)

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but I will say I am always excited to start a new year of books.

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