I think it started on one of my trips to the Biltmore. One of the Mr. Vanderbilts kept some sort of record of all the books he read. Since 1998 I have used a postcard as a bookmark. Usually one of those black and white photographs of someone famous that they sell on the rack in Barnes & Noble or a reproduction of a painting. When I finish a book I write the title, author, and date finished on the back. I have a different card for every year from 1998 until now. Some years I read as few as three books, other years as many as 21.
Here are the books I read last year:
Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt
Letter from Point Clear by Dennis McFarland
Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
As I Lay Dying by Wm. Faulkner
Write Away by Elizabeth George
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Highwater by Lynn Hightower
The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
Bellocq's Ophelia by Natasha Threthewey
Drifting into Darien by Janisse Ray
Georgia Bottoms--Mark Childress
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter--Tom Franklin
All the books I read last year were worth reading. I loved the Tom Franklin and Dennis McFarland books. The Optimist's Daughter was really really good. I'll be back for more Welty soon. Bellocq's Ophelia is narrative poetry and I loved it. Last year I heard Tom Franklin, Janisse Ray, and Natasha Trethewey speak, and I met Mark Childress. I have such conflicting feelings about As I Lay Dying. The way I describe it is that so much of reading it was like walking in chest-high water but then you'd come across a piece so beautiful it was like flying. And I loved the last page of The Sun Also Rises:
“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Thank you, Ernest. "Isn't it pretty to think so?" Fantastic line.
I looked back at my postcards from the past twelve years. These are the books that stayed with me the most.
All Over but the Shouting by Rick Bragg *
The Color Purple by Alice Walker *
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Patton
The Legacy of Luna by Julia Hill
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant *
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray *
Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford
The Alchemist by Apulo Coelho *
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden
Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Faye Greene
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger *
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
On Writing by Stephen King
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Huston
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
This One and Magic Life by Anne George Carroll
Good Poems by Garrison Keillor
Nora Jane: A Life in Stories by Ellen Gilchrist
Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
New & Selected Poems Vol I by Mary Oliver *
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by G. G. Marquez
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Atchafalaya Houseboat by Gwen Roland
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips *
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers *
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee *
If you Want to Write by Brenda Ueland *
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith *
What the world will look like when all the water leaves us by Laura van den Berg
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison *
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson *
Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch
Well, 2009 was definitely a fantastic year. If I could only go back to one year's books, it would be an easy decision. Also, I couldn't find Out Stealing Horses on a list but I know I read it recently and it was fantastic--"Because we do decide for ourselves when it hurts." I feel like I must be missing a recent piece of my list.
I put an asterisk by books I feel are, at least for me, necessary.
Some books I have on my radar for 2012 are The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, some Shakespeare, The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner, some plays by Chekhov, A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White, The Last Girls by Lee Smith, Saving CeeCee Honycutt by Beth Hoffman, more poetry by Billy Collins and Natasha Trethewey, Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier, Modern Vintage Style by Emily Chalmers, One Bite at a Time by Tsh Oxenreider, and Nataline Chanin's new book that comes out next month.
I also hope this year to beginning reading chapter books to Lucia, Elliott, and Mazie. I am sure Charlotte's Web will be the first. I also want to try reading some Grimms' Fairy Tales to them.
Wishing you Happy Reading in 2012.