Friday, December 19, 2008

2008 IN REVIEW | My Life and Books

This year has been disruptive: I had an operation, I moved to a new country for a job that overwhelms me most of the time. I have less time to read. I lost access to my personal library - or a decent library of any kind. I can buy books, yes, but I always ask myself: how am I going to bring the books home?

My life in Dubai is one I am not used to: I am constantly reminded of how I do not belong, how I am not here to stay. A simple decision to buy furniture leads to the question of: What are we going to do with it when we leave? This is why we have a relatively spartan apartment. We are avoiding being tied down by heavy furniture. It's hard to feel at home in this city when that's the mindset I have. Home is about being settled, about stillness. Internally I am still not at ease.

If anything, 2008 is a year that keeps reminding me of how things are never what we expect them to be. I was just thinking about this last night when I read what struck Ovidia during a talk she attended - about moving "beyond our static preconceptions to respond to novelty & the unexpected." It sums up what 2008 feels like to me - a year's worth of lessons in having my plans disrupted, and learning to adapt and work without.

It is difficult. I am only just coming to terms with the reality that I will not be able to make it home next February for Chinese New Year or the Ani DiFranco Singapore concert. But we'll see - nothing is what I expect anyway. So maybe something will change along the way.

Meanwhile, here is my 2008 Reading in review:

Number of Books Read: 34 (2007 - 51 Read)

Books in Translation: 3 (1 Swedish, 2 French)
Re-readings: 1 (Cyteen)

100 Books To Read:  18/100 (2007 - 24/100; 2006 - 44 /100)


Interestingly, I read 14 non-fiction titles this year. I read more essays collections - and in particular, I have started reading more food writings. I have grown quite fond of Ruth Reichl's writing - because she adds a dash of charm and a personal, emotional connection with her subject. She is also quite funny.

Travel writing - I read a few authors for the first time this year: Patrick Leigh Fermor and Colin Thubron - all wonderful writers. The writer who stands out most however, is Colin Thubron. Shadow of the Silk Road was a good blend of history and culture, but surprisingly, Thubron keeps himself in the background a lot of the time. He seems to be a writer who listens a lot, and who has this ability to get his subjects to talk about themselves no matter where he goes.

I need to read more Rebecca Solnit. But all my Rebecca Solnit books are at home. :(

Best Read of 2008:

I'm a little self-conscious about making a claim for "Best Read of 2008", because if you check out the list of books I read this year, it's only a modest 34, and I doubt I will finish anything before the end of the year. But there are some interesting reads among the 34 titles.

My most enjoyable fiction read for 2008 is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I am awfully cynical the media hype behind books most of the time, but sometimes, I get curious. The tattooed-hacker protagonist of the title is an intriguing character. She is obviously smarter and more observant than most people, yet too vulnerable to live in the real world. The book itself is character-driven and I found myself looking forward to coming back every night to continue reading. I am definitely going to read the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire next year.

A notable mention for Falconer: an astonishing story about disillusion, and finding redemption in the oddest of places: prison.

This is brief. I guess because I am still struggling with 2008, and it is going to take a while before I can reflect on the year with any kind of insight.


Doc Martian said...

have you ever thought about going the other path of books? librarian.

just wondering, it sounds like a better place for you to cozy up.

might take a year or so back at school... but you've probably got your sillies out enough that you could do it without launching screaming things across the 'office'.

you could delve into more classical lit as well that way, less trying to satisfy the right now (although that's part of it) and more building a collection for a community.

just wonderin',

wil said...

I'm almost finished with Thubron's Shadow of the Silk Road. I've enjoyed it, but I haven't loved it. He seems to view everything through a melancholy lens...

Ana S. said...

Thank you for reminding me that I have to read Falconer.

2008 was a good reading year for me, but on the other hand, nothing much happened in my life. Of course, that in itself is not a bad thing, but I feel that with the exception of perhaps 3 months, there isn't that much from this year that I will remember in the long run. I don't know... Sometimes I think that the years that unsettle us end up being the most important ones.

Anonymous said...

Can I just say how much I have admired the way you have handled the upheavals of your year? From my perspective you really have done well. And 34 books is not bad considering everything. My husband really enjoyed Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He was pleasantly surprised because he doesn't trust the media hype either.

darkorpheus said...

Doc - I did consider the option of being a librarian. But with a bookstore -there is a sort of satisfaction in watching the books you order actually sell through.

wil - I enjoy the melancholic lens, so that's just me :)

Nymeth - Falconer was a surprise to me. I picked it up after reading A.M. Homes' essay on it.

But 2008 can be a good year too - you had peace. It's like music: We need the silence between the notes to create music, otherwise it's just sound. And life is about the ups and the downs - and the peace in between.

Stefanie - Thank you. Life just pulled me along the way though. I'm still trying to catch up.

Your Bookman is definitely an old-timer from the book trade. After a while, you wise up to the media hype on books.

But oh yeah, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a must read.