Five years of books

Beginning in January 2018, with inspiration from Sam Allard’s #bookstack, I started recording every book I read. Before long, I realized that this is critical for anyone with a serious reading habit. Books are such an integral part of life that you must develop some sort of anchor for what you’ve read, some sort of foothold in the past that may inform your present. By finally tracking where I’d been, I think I have a better sense of how I went about building the last few chapters of my life. I can see, very clearly, how American Pastoral shaped the way I understand myself in part. (N.B.: I was in a hotel room at the Palmer House in Chicago when I finished American Pastoral, and I was so caught up in Roth’s work that I ran out into the Loop and found a bookstore and bought The Human Stain. This was a pivotal moment.)

Alongside time spent with my family, time spent playing guitar and listening to music and going to shows, time spent writing, time spent playing golf, all of this time spent reading ranks among the most important and meaningful activities in my life. Not only does all this reading inform my own writing, but it tends to shape my own capacities for empathy, patience and generosity. Imagine the level of dedication you need to project a world within a book! It’s a profound source of joy to inhabit an author’s mind while I’m reading a book, and I think there’s a lot to be said about the learned skill of stepping into someone else’s shoes for a while.

It’s also just a great, simple way to unwind. Life is plenty full of distractions and hazards. Sitting down to read at your own pace is something you can control and relish. This is a major lesson I’m hoping to teach our daughter as she grows up. I think the 21st century is already turning out to be relatively more totalitarian in nature, thanks to rising nationalism and the development of artificial intelligence / mass surveillance / digital biometric data tracking / centralized financial instruments / factory farming / CIA psy ops posing as friendly social media / you name it. They can try to burn books (and they are! look around!), but they cannot steal your mind if you don’t let them in.

Anyway, it’s been fun jotting all this stuff down over the years. If you’re not already charting your own reading habit, I highly recommend it.

Looking back, you can see I went pretty heavy on Roth/DeLillo/Pynchon early on. This set a particular tone for me, and I had a habit for a few years of reading a Pynchon novel every December; that fell off in 2021 when I got caught up with Karl Ove Knausgaard and then in 2022 with Denis Johnson. I feel confident that I’ll get around to Gravity’s Rainbow in 2023.

Read the full list after the jump. Asterisks denote personal favorites.

2018

Brave New Weed by Joe Dolce

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis*

Influence by Robert Cialdini

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Kill All Your Darlings by Luc Sante

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving*

The Quiet American by Graham Greene*

The Rise Of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

Leisure, The Basis Of Culture by Josef Pieper

Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Tropic Of Cancer by Henry Miller

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders*

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon*

Dear God, What’s on the Second Floor? by Walter Holland

How Music Works by David Byrne

A Massacre in Mexico by Anabel Hernandez

American Pastoral by Philip Roth*

The Human Stain by Philip Roth*

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

White Noise by Don DeLillo*

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian

Demand the Impossible! by Bill Ayers

The Siege Of Harlem by Warren Miller

Rabbit, Run by John Updike*

The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon*

2019

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

Vineland by Thomas Pynchon*

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

How to Listen to Jazz by Ted Gioia

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Good Kids, Bad City by Kyle Swenson*

Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth*

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Janesville by Amy Goldstein

Draft No. 4 by John McPhee*

Furnishing Eternity by David Giffels*

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis*

The Overstory by Richard Powers*

Underworld by Don DeLillo*

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe*

Tenth of December by George Saunders*

The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo

Americana by Don DeLillo

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

Fox 8 by George Saunders

Libra by Don DeLillo*

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

Just Kids by Patti Smith

The Hard Way on Purpose by David Giffels

Keep Going by Austin Kleon

Replay by Ken Grimwood*

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Working by Robert Caro

Hunter S. Thomson: The Last Interview edited by David Streitfeld

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole*

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson*

On Writing Well by William Zinsser*

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag

Levels of the Game by John McPhee

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis*

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib

The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick*

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) by Jeff Tweedy

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino*

Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Leger

Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Being Here is Everything by Marie Darrieussecq

A Whale Hunt by Robert Sullivan*

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon*

2020

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter*

About a Mountain by John D’Agata*

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth*

2019 Best American Magazine Writing ed. by Sid Holt

Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

Zed by Joanna Kavena

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

True Grit by Charles Portis

Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta

Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario

Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal

Gringos by Charles Portis*

This is Chance! by Jon Mooallem*

Ornamental by Juan Cardenas

On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard*

The Names by Don DeLillo*

The Art and Craft of Feature Writing by William Blundell

Stoner by John Williams*

Make Noise by Eric Nuzum

Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel

Boom Town by Sam Anderson*

Little, Big by John Crowley

Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders*

In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William Gass

River of Shadows by Rebecca Solnit*

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen

Here We Are by Benjamin Taylor

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson*

The Years by Annie Ernaux

Native Son by Richard Wright

Norwood by Charles Portis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas*

Black Boy by Richard Wright

The Glass Eye by Jeannie Vanasco

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Zero K by Don DeLillo

Litany for the Long Moment by Mary-Kim Arnold

The Silence by Don DeLillo

Barnstorming Ohio by David Giffels

Blackfishing the IUD by Caren Beilin

Gringos by Charles Portis

Uncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin*

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner*

Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones

The Meadow by James Galvin

V. by Thomas Pynchon

The Man Who Walked Backward by Ben Montgomery

Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

2021

The Practice by Seth Goden

Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard*

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson*

Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse

Rust by Eliese Goldbach

You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier

Intonations by Zadie Smith

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty*

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin*

This Isn’t Happening by Steven Hyden

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Yellow House by Sarah Broom

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

To Show and to Tell by Phillip Lopate*

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

Fulfillment by Alex MacGillis

The Secret History by Donna Tartt*

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann*

Mao II by Don DeLillo*

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck*

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

Losing Earth by Nathaniel Rich

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster*

Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis*

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

American Rule by Jared Yates Sexton

Salvador by Joan Didion

Democracy by Joan Didion*

Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book by Harvey Penick

The Inner Game of Golf by Timothy Gallwey*

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Legs by William Kennedy*

Lights Out by Ted Koppel

Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game by William Kennedy

The Great Acceleration by J.R. McNeill and Peter Engelke

Being Ecological by Timothy Morton

Break Up the Anthropocene by Steve Mentz

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman*

Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn

As We Have Always Done by Leanne Simpson

Wind from an Enemy Sky by D’Arcy McNickle

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Thinking Animals by Kari Weil

Flush by Virginia Woolf

Against Football by Steve Almond

Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard*

2022

Out of Office by Charlie Warzel, Anne Helen Petersen 

Second Nature by Michael Pollan 

To the Linksland by Michael Bamberger*

Mutations by Sam McPheeters

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders*

The Best American Essays ed by Kathryn Schulz

The Vietri Project by Nicola DeRobertis-Theye

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

The Bogey Man by George Plimpton*

This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan

The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen*

Serious Face by Jon Mooallem*

The Green Road Home by Michael Bamberger

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley*

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon*

Tinkers by Paul Harding 

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan*

Let Me Finish by Roger Angell 

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

Norwood by Charles Portis 

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx*

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich 

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford*

On Writing by Stephen King 

Independence Day by Richard Ford*

Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford*

Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 

True Grit by Charles Portis 

End Zone by Don DeLillo 

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 

Essentialism by Greg McKeown 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson*

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson*

Already Dead by Denis Johnson*

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

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