So far, I've read 11 books toward my goal of 17:
- A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
- The Elements of Style (illustrated) by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White and illustrated by Maira Kalman
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Shrill by Lindy West
- After Alice by Gregory Maguire
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
- Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith
- Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
A twelfth is not far behind: Murakami's Kafka on the Shore (Goodreads cheerfully informs me that I am 63% through the book).
Geography of the books stands out this year more than in past years. Six of the seven novels I've read this year have taken me abroad: Japan, Italy, Nigeria, England, and China (twice). The two books set in China complement each other nicely as Amy Tan shows us China from the early 20s up to World War II, and Mo Yan picks up from there and takes us to the present. Ferrante covers the 50s and early 60s in Italy, and both she and Murakami refer to WWII, but Kafka on the Shore takes place in the present day of the author (2005). Adichie's story spans roughly my lifetime and she travels between Nigeria and the US. Smith goes specifically to 1986 (from 2006). Lastly, Maguire takes us back to mid-19th century Oxford, just after Alice goes down the rabbit hole.
There are 13 authors and 1 illustrator for these 11 books, and of the 14 of them, exactly half are male and half are female. Born in the US and born abroad is also split down the middle. All except Strunk & White are living, and the oldest of the living is Ozawa at 81. The youngest is Doughty at 33, with West joining her in the younger-than-me club at 35. Maguire and Murakami are the only authors I'd read before. After Alice is my fourth by Maguire and Kafka on the Shore is my third by Murakami.
So far this year I've read no books published before 1989 (The Joy Luck Club), and none between 1990 (A Natural History of the Senses) and 2005 (Kafka on the Shore). I've read no books published this year, the newest book being Shrill (2016). Technically, The Elements of Style was published in 1918 (predating all but one of my grandparents), but the illustrated version I read is from 2007.
On a Memorial Day trip upstate with my friend Cricket, I bought My Brilliant Friend and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca (and The Yiddish Policeman's Union, which may also get read this year). I visited the now-sadly-shuttered Book Court in Brooklyn on their last day (New Year's Eve 2016) and bought The Joy Luck Club, Kafka on the Shore, and After Alice (along with Ishiguro's Noctures). My Goodreads review of A Natural History of the Senses shares the story of how I've owned that book for nearly 20 years, but I forgot I had it and bought it again at Book Barn of the Finger Lakes in Dryden, NY last year, so now I have two. A fellow Phi Sigma Pi alum told me about Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, which I finally ordered from Astoria Bookshop on the third consecutive time I visited and they didn't have it in stock. I borrowed Shrill and Americanah from friends (Courtney and Max, respectively, although I think Max's copy of Americanah belonged to someone else), and The Elements of Style, Remembrance of Things I Forgot, and Absolutely on Music were gifts (my brother-in-law, Álvaro, and my parents, respectively).
I'm doing a very good job of reading the books I buy and receive as gifts, and not as good a job of reading from the pile I created at the beginning of last year, to which I've been adding since I took this picture.
With things looking pretty even male/female-wise and US/abroad-wise, I could spend the rest of the year catching up on non-fiction: there is a Mary Roach in the pile, a memoir, a few scary big books, and David Foster Wallace on my nightstand (I had a false start with him last year and the book's been sitting there ever since). David Rakoff is also on my nightstand from a time when I thought I was starting The Uncollected David Rakoff, so that would also fit the bill. After finishing Kafka on the Shore, I'll only be five away from my goal, and if I finish early, I might spend the balance of the year on a time-consuming project like Game of Thrones. It will be winter by then, after all (he says, not having any idea what "Winter is coming" means).
Oh, and how did I like them, you don't ask? My favorite for the year so far is After Alice. I just loved every minute of it. I also loved Shrill, The Elements of Style, and Yan and Tan. Although I enjoyed experiencing Naples through Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend was a drudgery, and the book I liked least.