1. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. I wrote about this for OLM's Summer Reading feature (for which I chose the theme "youth and malice"). I don't love Frankie quite as much as I love Mick, a similar character in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, but TMOTW has the benefit of being all about Frankie, whereas Mick has to share space with a lot of other main characters. Here's what I wrote about it in July:
This short novel is a fascinating portrait of an independent young mind trapped in the wrong town at the wrong time. Upon seeing her brother and his fiancée together – “the two prettiest people I ever saw” – and learning they plan to live in another town, 12-year-old tomboy Frankie is forced into a sudden realization of her self and its circumstances, similar to Emily [from A High Wind in Jamaica]. But for Frankie, this awakening is acutely painful, because she just as quickly realizes that her own lot is both undesirable and inescapable. Like that, her world changes, but she cannot change the world, because she is still just a girl.2. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. A funny novel about a middle-class couple living in Brooklyn in the late '60s. Very much of its time (dated, I guess you could say?) but very worthwhile nonetheless. I typed up an excerpt from it here.
3. Open City by Teju Cole, who(m), by the way, I had the pleasure of meeting the last time I visited New York. ***SPOILER ALERT*** This is a book about culpability – at least, that's what I decided after reading it, but it's too complex to reduce to a single abstract noun. What makes it great, I think, is that you get seduced into thinking it's just a picaresque(-esque) novel about a good man, a doctor and flâneur, who happens to meet a lot of interesting people. It seems anecdote-driven. But (guess what!) he's an unreliable narrator. A very well made book that is not overly tidy. (Excerpt here.)
4. The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford. I bought this in Boulder one afternoon (or, more accurately, bade John to buy it for me) because I'm always a sucker for the aforementioned youth and malice angle, and it takes place in Colorado (my new home state!), and we collect those pretty NYRB volumes. I'm also very interested in brother-sister relationships. It's elegant, dry, beautifully observed, and quite gutting towards the end.
5. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. I just wrote a relatively lengthy post about this one, so I'll direct you there rather than repeating it all here. I'll just add: Ben Lerner is the same age as me and vastly more successful, but I'm not jealous at all because I truly believe he is successful for the right reasons: His writing is ambitious but not humorless, complex but not labored. He's found ways to write about big ideas without being a pretentious dick about it. (I mean, purely on the basis of his books; I don't know him personally.) I'm glad he's being published and read.
You'll notice these are all short to medium-sized novels. Well, I guess that's my favorite kind of book to read. There may have been others, but I can only think of one other book that I read cover to cover and did not put on this list: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I liked (a lot in parts), but a) found uneven and b) if you're the kind of person who would like that book, you probably either already read it or you plan to. I'm not usually that kind of person (a reader of memoir or "true life adventure"), but for some reason I found her story compelling. I especially liked the part where they had to shoot the horse.
So yeah, not counting poetry (which I read in short bursts, often most of a book in a single sitting, or just one poem several times in a row, or not at all) and countless articles both online and off-, my total number of books read isn't high. You could say that I read slowly, but I think it's more that I read selectively (pickily, if you prefer). If I pick up a book and it's not exactly what I feel like reading at that moment, it tends to languish on the end table for days or weeks at a time, while I do other things (like tweet and read "Martha's Month").
As for what poetry I liked most this year, I have to say I'm really having trouble remembering what all I read before autumn hit, but in the last few months I have especially loved Madame X by Darcie Dennigan and Nervous Device by Catherine Wagner (expect more on the latter in an upcoming issue of Lemon Hound).
What about y'all?