A Busy Year
As I have said before on the Dillsburg Area Public Library blog, I read roughly 200 books per year – assuming that the year is relatively calm or at least manageable. For several reasons, 2022 was not at all calm and only barely manageable.
Therefore, my year end summation of reading advice is going to be rather haphazard. I don’t see a unifying theme to hold it together. I tried a little of this, a little of that; I muddled through less than 100 volumes, putting the year well below quota. Here are some of the highlights and perhaps a few lowlights as well.
- Octavia Butler. I read two of her novels this year as well as a few short stories. The novels: Kindred and The Parable of the Sower. Let me be clear on this: when you pick up any volume of Butler, you are walking with the science-fiction gods. Kindred is a masterpiece, period. I will argue the point with anybody though, to be honest, I doubt very many would oppose me.
It does what all the best sci-fi does. Using the tropes of the genre (in this case time travel) it exposes and explores issues that we face in the real world, all while telling a compelling tale. It is not to be missed. I will, however, miss the forum through which I read these two books, a now defunct book club (for the record, a book club that was never associated with the library.) That is part of the highlight/lowlight mix. There was this terrific venue for exploring some great books and I took full advantage of it – until it ceased to be late this year.
- Graphic novels. I used my love of classic genre fiction to get started on graphic novels, a type of reading that is relatively new to me. The highlight was an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut is so brilliant that it is a matter of course that the story works as a graphic novel. Though to be completely open, I do not believe any of his fiction has been successfully translated to the screen. If you know of a good, filmed version of any Vonnegut, please inform me.
You can also clue me in on any good graphic novels. As a newbie, I find the scope of the graphic novel world to be intimidating. I simply do not know where to start. I’ll watch a streamed TV show, like it, discover it was based on a graphic novel –only to learn that the graphic novel is a multi-volume saga that’s been an ongoing production for decades.
- Elvis. Speaking of film, the summer featured a much-hyped release about the king of rock and roll entitled, to no one’s surprise, Elvis. I did not see the movie, but it inspired me to read an Elvis biography in two volumes: Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, both by Peter Guralnick. The first volume covers the rise of Presley; the second volume covers his final years. I found Last Train to be the better of the two probably because the story of an early downfall, as told in Careless Love, is far too common. On the other hand, when a hillbilly nobody comes out of nowhere to change popular culture on a global scale, well, that does not happen all that often.
- Series. I have two series that I’ve been following for a while. I’ve used this space to discuss them previously: The Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen and The Slough House series by Mick Herron. Although discussed several times before now, I still wanted to mention them as part of my 2022 reading. They certainly match the up-and-down feelings of this reading year. Both series had a new volume with the past twelve months; both series seem to have come to an end. At the very least, the authors have placed themselves in a corner. Indeed, Jack Taylor, spoiler alert, appears to be dead. Herron also killed off a major character. Looking ahead, 2023 does not seem to promise any additions to either series, so I am in search of a new one.
- Local. Every year, I try to read a few books that have some local connection. This year, there seemed to be a plethora of books about Jim Thorpe. Thorpe, for the few who do not know, was an extraordinary athlete—some would say the best of all time.
Thorpe’s life is documented in all sorts of ways. You can find a large biography, a close look at just one football game, and more.
The Dillsburg Area Public Library will present a discussion of one such book soon (January 28, 2023 at 1pm).
But this year, the surprise winner for my favorite local book is a cozy mystery. If you review some of our older blog entries, you can find me making merciless fun of the genre. Nonetheless, I genuinely enjoyed Death of a Saleswoman by Michelle Haring. The setting is a car dealership. Considering that many of us have had less than pleasant experiences at said dealerships, the murder is satisfying.
- NPR.org. For years now, National Public Radio has assembled an end-of-year list of best books; you can search the NPR web page for “Books We Love” and find reading inspiration from 2013 till 2022. The 2022 list contains 402 titles. Alas, there is only so much time. Working a library circulation desk, as I do, is both a blessing and curse for such an avid reader as myself. Nearly every book I see – and at Dillsburg our circulation number are measured in the tens of thousands – is at least a little tempting.
So, do I really need a yearly list of another several hundred titles?
Yes. Yes, I do, especially when the list is as good as this one. Here are some of the titles I read last year:
Recitatif by Toni Morrison (an extended discussion of one of the Nobel winner’s few short stories);
Rogues by Patrick Keefe ( a collection of biographical essays featuring a very chapter on the late Anthony Bourdain);
Less is Lost by Andrew Greer (a comedic follow up to a previous Pulitzer winner);
Blood and Ruins by Richard Overy (Word War Two history);
Camera Man by Dana Stevens (a biography of silent film genius Buster Keaton).
That is a small taste of 402 titles! No doubt I will continue to sample the list well into 2023.
- Future Projects. Speaking of 2023, I have given the matter much thought and have developed a reading resolution for the new year. I am going to read the Nobel winners in literature. That is about 100 authors, and I already got a start in 2022 – see the Toni Morrison book mentioned above. I hope to keep the blog world notified of my progress.
—Craig Magee, Dillsburg Area Public Library