I’m a fan of Goodreads, the site that lets you track your reading and share books recommendations with others. They make a really pretty end-of-year summary of reading.
I’m always startled by how little I’ve read, mainly because an enormous percentage of my reading is scholarly articles, chapters from books, individual poems and short stories, and selections from larger works, none of which shows up on Goodreads. This year is especially skewed, because even though I read more books than any other year, my non-book reading was even higher. I read thousands of pages of scholarly articles just for one class alone. But anyway, it’s still fun to see how many books I read from cover to cover.
And there’s something more important going on with these Goodreads end-of-year charts than just personal bragging rights. There’s a message about the enduring power of literature to bring connection and consolation. Check out #YearInBooks on Twitter or any other social media site; you’ll get a sense of excitement, of positivity, and of community with other book lovers. In a year of highly-publicized, widely-mourned celebrity deaths; terrorism around the world; and a divisive, nasty U.S. campaign season, it’s nice to reach back into timeless literature and join those who love sharing ideas through reading.
There were several communities in which I participated by my reading this year; you can see my full list here. I continued reading works by the Inklings, especially for Doug Anderson’s Signum class The Inklings and Science Fiction. These novels were eye-opening! While some of them (The Worm Orouborous, Voyage to Arcturus) were painfully tedious, others (Last and First Men, Childhood’s End!!!!, Rendezvous with Rama!!!!!!!) were revelations.
Indeed, it did. You can see a big increase in 20th-century Irish works on my list, especially those of Lady Gregory, Yeats, and Joyce, since I took an intensive seminar called “Yeats and Joyce in their Irish Context.” Lots of these were short plays, so they pad out my reading list a bit! But I made up for this with my biggest achievements this semester: reading Ulysses and writing a 421-page “Reading Notebook” about Irish mythology, Yeats, and Joyce. Ulysses is a doozey of a book, isn’t it? How many of you have read it? I really loved it most of the way through, but it doesn’t know when to stop, and Molly’s monologue disgusted me. But still, it’s an important, hilarious, brilliant book, and I hope and plan to teach a course on it soon. In fact, I’m tentatively planning to teach a class on Tolkien and Joyce. Yes, I know, that seems an unlikely pairing — but they have a surprising amount in comment. Both myth-makers, writers of sprawling works that encompass everything that mattered to them, affirmers of human dignity and importance and love, modernists who were reacting to what they hated in the modern world, great intertextual writers using vast bodies of previous literature as sources, and so on.
There were two other communities I joined with my reading this year. The first was the field I had thought I would do my PhD on: The Canterbury Festival. From 1928 onwards, with breaks for the war and economic difficulties, Canterbury Cathedral has hosted a dramatic festival. I wrote a paper about the first 20 years of this Festival for one of my classes; Charles Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Dorothy Sayers each wrote Canterbury plays (Sayers wrote two of them), and so I was hoping to use my Inklings knowledge as a base from which to work on these plays. However, I think I’ve changed my mind, because the plays just aren’t as good as I’d hoped they would be, because the existing scholarship on the Festival is quite comprehensive, and because it’s frustrating to study plays without seeing them in performance. I tried to arrange for performances of them, but with little success.
And finally, I read Stephen King for the first time. I read The Green Mile and The Stand. WOW. Amazing. What a gifted writer, with such a vast and penetrating vision! I feel very blessed to have his whole body of work yet before me. It’s great to know there are years and years of reading pleasure before me in just that one author’s work.
But The Gunslinger will have to wait for summer vacation. This semester, it’s Shakespeare and Victorian poets!
What did you read this year? What were the most important books for you? What new reading communities did you join?