Every year I seem to forget how much I love December, how it’s consistently one of the best months. This December has been especially fun, weekends full of get togethers with friends and family, shopping for the holidays (and myself, let’s be honest), baking cookies, a roadtrip outside the city. Toronto is strangely warm, but the house feels Christmas-y. We won’t be here over the holidays, but there is a little string of lights, a single garland along the fireplace, a few branches clipped from my parents’ yard in a vase for a mini-tree. I also love December because I enjoy looking back at the year that just passed, figuring out the narrative of it. Mostly we bob along, living, forgetting that if you look hard enough you can see progressions or shifts. In some ways 2012 has been a year of revelations, and I want to write about it here, but first I want to record what books I read because that tells its own story too.
I remember reading I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck at the very beginning of the New Year, the ground bright with snow, sitting on the bed in the old apartment in Montreal. What I liked best about the book was its tone, the feel of it, and it was the kind of book I sought out for the rest of the year.
When I flew to the Philippines, stressed out about random medical ailments and needed something to distract me, I reread High Fidelity, and realized that when I read it in my early twenties and didn’t relate to it because I thought it was book for dudes, I was wrong. I didn’t relate to it because it’s a book for people older than in their early twenties.
I read The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst in the twin bed I slept in in the apartment my mother and I rented in Manila. But I read most of Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending on the living room couch of that apartment, and when I would take a break from the book, I’d look out the window at the strange, muddy tangle of the greater Manila area around me.
I was awed by Joyce Carol Oates when I saw her in Montreal, but I still haven’t read any of her books. And I read Zona by Geoff Dyer and can imagine entire sequences in the movie, but I haven’t actually seen the movie.
I read parts of Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger in a hotel in Montreal on my birthday, Summer of Hate by Chris Kraus in a different hotel in Montreal a few months later, and Bluets by Maggie Nelson in a hotel in Rochester in early December. I think a line can be drawn between these books, something about women and obsession and sex and a certain kind of wild, but controlled and specific writing. I can probably add After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie by Jean Rhys to that list. I liked it best of all.
Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton was the most comforting thing I read all year. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz made me the most gleeful, despite the subject matter. I bought You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik at The Strand in NYC because it was set in Paris and then read it in airports, between New York and Burlington, and Montreal and Toronto. I loved the book, and then wished I hadn’t read about the circumstances around how it was written, so I could be left with the fiction itself.
I think I read more cookbooks than I actually cooked, although I did actually make a few great recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table and Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
I read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and it’s Tiny Beautiful Things that I still have in a pile on my nightstand. It’s there along with NW by Zadie Smith and Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector. NW excited me, but seeing Zadie Smith in person excited me more. Near to the Wild Heart is such a strangely beautiful and sad book. I started off dogearing so many pages, and then it sputtered out for me, and I didn’t even finish it. How can a book I didn’t even finish be one of my favourite things I read this year? Maybe with Lispector’s writing, it’s sometimes more about the immediacy of the words. I don’t know. I’m saving her for 2013. I don’t think I was ready to start reading her just yet.
I was restless with the books in 2012, to be honest. In the second half of the year, I started so many books that I never finished. Books that I know I would normally love, that I was loving until I got distracted or decided that for some reason I should set it aside for later. Most notably, Sweet Jesus by Christine Pountney and Ancient Light by John Banville. These books feel right, but I haven’t felt right for reading them yet. I normally feel weird setting a book aside without finishing it, but I’m starting to realize and get comfortable with the idea that one of the best things about books is that they’re patient. They’ll wait for you to figure out whatever you need to figure out yourself.
Christmas vacation is coming up and I can’t wait to get caught up. And with the New Year approaching, I can’t wait to see what books sneak up on me in 2013 – it’s so hard to predict.