A year in books and stuff

There's no reason for this. But who needs a reason?

There’s no reason for this. But who needs a reason?

Forget January. March is the start of my fiscal year. March is my point of renewal, and not just because of spring (come o-o-o-on, spring!). March is when I started writing my weekly newspaper column (10 years ago this month, to be precise). March is when I stopped drinking (three years March 13, but who’s counting?).

March is when I look back on the past year. For example:

  • I published my latest collection, Don’t Everyone Jump at Once.
  • I bought a pair of forest green dress pants, and even though two girls at the school where I work said, “Nice pants, sir,” to which I replied (unsure whether they were sincere or sarcastic), “Thanks, because it was kind of a big deal to buy them, and an even bigger deal to wear them,” I don’t care. Though clearly I do.
  • I was published in that McSweeney’s collection.
  • I discovered that “spice” scented flea medication is unfortunate in all regards.
  • I came to the revelation that I no longer have the patience to ask a sales clerk to unshackle a package of razors from a display shelf anti-theft lock.
  • I began writing a novel.
  • I hit 1000 followers, and just recently 1500 many of whom are human. I love you, human followers!

And for whatever arbitrary reason, March is also when I compile my list of books read since the previous March. I read 30 in all, which is about 11 fewer than last year. I blame society. Granted, a number of this year’s were monsters compared to some of the slim jims of the year before. Winter’s Tale alone took up all of January. I’ve also been writing more (see “novel” above). In fact, I should be doing that right now! ARRRGH! Curse you, procrastination!

So here’s my list with a few random, not particularly helpful comments:

  • Telegraph Avenue – Michael Chabon (my first introduction to Chabon and a revelation)
  • 84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
  • The Ask – Sam Lipsyte
  • Sarah Binks – Paul Hiebert (Won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 1948, the second year it was handed out; it hasn’t held up too well.)
  • Tenth of December – George Saunders (This guy can write, bub!)
  • Truth in Advertising – John Kenney (I completely forget pretty much everything about this.)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed
  • 419 – Will Ferguson (won Canada’s top literary prize in 2012; made me worry about the state of Canada’s top literary prize)
  • A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore (okay but prefer Birds of America)
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbary
  • Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby (second time; I aspire to Hornby)
  • NW – Zadie Smith
  • Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon (epic; dazzling)
  • Angels & Insects – A.S. Byatt
  • The Ten-Year Nap – Meg Wolitzer
  • billylynnBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Ben Fountain (probably the best book I read last year)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon (I know it’s beloved but… meh…)
  • Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut (again)
  • 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson (I felt 100 years old by the time it was over)
  • A Person of Interest – Susan Choi (my first intro to her; complex; recommend)
  • A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers (A favourite of last year and one of the best sad-middle-aged-man books I’ve read.)
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabbon (did not engage; am I just Chabboned out?)
  • The Sisters Brothers – Patrick DeWitt (A major prize-winner, including Canada’s top humour prize. Humour so dark as to be almost invisible, apparently. Still, excellent book.)
  • Canada – Richard Ford 
  • Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town – Stephen Leacock (the master; holds up surprisingly well)
  • Best of McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies – Various (including me!)
  • Bone & Bread – Saleema Nawaz (A terrific little novel set mostly in Montreal; named best English novel in Quebec 2013.)
  • Arcadian Adventures With the Idle Rich – Stephen Leacock (This is how you write satire.)
  • Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin (What a revelation! Pure magic!)
  • The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer (Are you special? Wolitzer is.)

Have you read any these? What did you think? Are you still there? I have nothing else to say. Leave a comment if you’re going to. If not, skedaddle already!


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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58 Responses to A year in books and stuff

  1. markbialczak says:

    Thank you for the list, Ross. Now get writing. Or reading. Or working in forest green pants at the school. You are a busy guy!

  2. El Guapo says:

    I also enjoyed Winters Tale, though I had no idea what the hell was going on for most of it.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It gets pretty trippy, and there are many “What th?” moments. It’s what you would call “audacious.” I’ll definitely re-read this one at some point.

  3. March is also my birthday – so that’s definitely a celebration in the making 🙂

    I read: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabbon – and stopped about 1/3 of the way thru and didn’t care…so there’s that.. and I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon which I liked b/c it was so uniquely written.

    I’d suggest “A Short Stay in Hell” (short story) but Steven L Peck – very good!

    I never thought to make a list of what I read in a given year – that would take time out of my reading…

  4. Addie says:

    I’m not a big fan of Winter’s Tale, and have given it two chances–once when it was published, and recently on my Kindle. Third time, maybe? I also read The 100 Year Old Man, etc.–it was okay. And, I read Angels and Insects. I love A.S. Bryant. I’m currently working on The Children’s Hour, along with Dragonfly in Amber. I have a bad habit of reading 2-3 books at a time, plus the trash romance in my car for emergencies.

    Well done on your anniversaries as well as the publishings!!


    One of your human readers

  5. Are all Canadians required to read Canada?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It was surprisingly moose-free. I loved how the narrator, living an hour from the Canadian border, captured the sense of foreignness that Canada represents for most Americans.
      But to answer your question: no.

      • Canada? Foreign? Dude, we’re practically Siamese twins! (Or would that be considered an insult in Ottawa?)

        It was a good book, though…

        • rossmurray1 says:

          I liked it but it was one of the cases where the narrator’s own determination to be objective over-cooled the story. Ford is a masterful writer; I just couldn’t grasp why he had his adult narrator recount this riveting, heartbreaking story in such a detached way.

  6. franhunne4u says:

    “I discovered that “spice” scented flea medication is unfortunate in all regards.”
    Who goes and buys medication for fleas? Aren’t you happy when those little buggers die?!

  7. peachyteachy says:

    Happy March. But beware the Ides. I am in the midst of reading Tenth of December, and wish that I could tell you how I sort of know George Saunders more than I know you without blowing my anonymity. That sentence sucks.

  8. pinklightsabre says:

    I bought Tenth of December in 2012 I think and still haven’t cracked it. Get this though, I started Don Quixote last night. And if that doesn’t work out, it’s Moby Dick. My favorite book though from last year, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul. That’s a good, cold piece of glass in your privates.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Ambitious choices. I find even reading Dickens now uses muscles not often used. Saunders is a trip.
      I could use some cold private glass; added to the to-read list.

  9. Lily says:

    Congrats on reading all those books! Many of which I’ve never heard of. I’ve only read Slaughterhouse Five out of that entire list, I think. But a couple of them are on my to-read list. Have you seen the movie Angels & Insects though?! Ahhhhh!
    Also, Congrats on not drinking. I try to abstain from alcohol myself.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I saw the movie years ago, so I knew what I was leading up to in the book. Byatt writes so beautifully and richly, though, that it didn’t matter. The second novella in that book, though, was a tough slog.

  10. How the hell you going to top a year like that? Oh…wait…I started following recently. That’s as good a start as any.

    As far as followers, I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll one day hit 100. What?! A guy can dream, can’t he?

    Hornby and Zadie are favorites of mine. A Chabon kick! Read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh next. Written when he was just a kid, that bastard.

    I have a brag. I actually have very little to boast about so when I do, you have to allow it. I’m a small time letterpress printer. I privately printed a limited edition chapbook for Hornby. (Him and Springsteen, no less!) When you have a few free minutes, give this a read. My shining hour.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Last night, my blogger friend Bill told me he has just started reading Don Quixote. I would describe this mad quest of yours as quixotic indeed. What an epic tale of love and passion (and a friendship dashed at that!). My esteem for Hornby, always high, has just shot through the roof. And to you, my friend, I like the way you roll.

      • Thanks for taking the time to read that. It was a big deal to me. I have since reconciled with my friend. We grieve over the lost years but am glad we put it behind us.

        I’ve read a series of fluff books recently so I’m punishing myself by reading Sons and Lovers. It’s a “classic,” you know. That’ll teach me to slack off. I hope to finish by August. Have you read Haruki Murakami? He’s pretty good, to say the least. He is to Japan what Hornby is to the UK and Chabon to the US.

        • rossmurray1 says:

          I was introduced to Murakami just a couple of years ago and have read “Wind-Up Bird” and “Hard-Boiled.” I’m working my way up to “1Q84” but think I need to get one more under my belt before I tackle that one. N
          Never felt the love for D.H. Lawrence, so good luck.

          • You need to BAIL OUT on your idea of reading 1Q84. 1,000 pages?! Is he nuts?! Get an editor, Haruki. Instead, pick up Norwegian Wood. One of his best.

            Yeah, I’m in for a real slog with D.H. He writes in dialect. Thanks, a lot. Serves me right for reading Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart and Richard Burton’s diaries.

            • rossmurray1 says:

              Yes, 1000 pages would significantly cut down my “books read” list. Norwegian Wood it is. I’m also at a stage where I want to go back to books I read years ago. I have some Graham Greene lined up.

              • I’m a big Anglophile and Greene is one of my top guys. So much so that I have a healthy collection of first editions.

                [Aside: You can’t read a collectable first editions. It will degrade the condition and when collecting books, collection is king. Hence, I have two of each title; a collectable and a reading copy. Who buys a book you can’t read?! What an idiot I can be sometimes.]

                I especially loved The Quiet American and, from later in his career The Honorary Council. Our Man in Havana is hysterical. A blueprint for a vacuum cleaner is mistaken for a weapon!

  11. Ned's Blog says:

    Happy New Year! I just wanted to be the first. I also want to congratulate you on all your accomplishments since last March — and the Marches before. Well done, my friend. I’m not sure about those pants, though.

  12. Letizia says:

    84 Charing Cross Road – Good book. I heard it was made into a movie as well. I need to track it down. Best of luck on the writing and reading. Looking forward to reading your future novel!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It’s such a charming little book. It captures an age of courtesy and correspondence that has almost entirely disappeared — as has the shop, I believe. Haven’t seen the movie. Thanks for the best wishes.

  13. Paul says:

    Wow, that’s a hefty reading list. I read a lot but mostly light stuff like P.D. James or Picoult. I have to say, I read about half of The Storyteller and I had to stop. I could not get past the image of the Nazi sitting on the edge of the pit having a smoke to rest because shooting and burying Jews was tiring him out. It seemed too mundane and yet too horrific to contemplate simultaneously.

    Congrats on your successful year, especially on the green pants and on banning “spice” scented flea medication (not sure I want to know). Totally unrelated, you mentioned you were from Nova Scotia. Being from Halifax myself, I am curious what part of the province was your home?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I grew up in Antigonish, went to Mount Allison. Have a brother in Halifax.
      Re the reading list: I like to go “heavy,” “light,” “heavy,” “heavy,” “light” etc. As I tell my kids, I don’t care what you read, just read.

  14. ksbeth says:

    march for ross – in like a ham, out like a scion.

  15. cat9984 says:

    Congratulations! I’m still working my way through the 19th century, so I’m afraid I only know those books by review. You do count me as human, right?

  16. benzeknees says:

    I have not read one single book you read. I read for relaxation so I don’t want to work too hard when I read.

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