Breakthrough this year: thinking of books as potential experiences, not just objects. Matching up a book with my mood, life situation, etc…
In 2013 I had a book to write and an infant to care for, both of which gave me a lot of hell, so I read a lot of novels and Nancy comics.
That said, here are my 10 favorite books I read in 2013:
Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers
This book couldn’t have been more perfectly matched to my tastes: it’s a great story, a Western, it’s funny, it’s violent, it features a digressive narrator, it has tight, short chapters, and it’s 300 pages long. I heard from at least a half a dozen people who read this book on my recommendation and loved it.
Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
When I was writing Steal Like An Artist, I wasn’t really aware that it would eventually be shelved in the self-help section. So after finding myself there, I became increasingly interested in self-help as a form. One of my favorite things about this book is that it riffs on self-help books without totally abandoning the structure of many self-help books—in each chapter, there’s usually a story, mentions of a few studies, and a lesson, or extrapolation. (The Malcolm Gladwell-ish “story-study-lesson” formula.) It’s a slick trick, and it works. Burkeman is also a good follow online: @oliverburkeman
Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945
As I mentioned before, this was not an easy year. There were many, many nights when I sighed at my Kindle, sighed at the books on my nightstand, and then picked up a Nancy book and read until I fell asleep. Go out and buy this or the second collection so that Fantagraphics will print another one!
Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Once again, a book with self-help ties: the novel’s structure “mimics that of the cheap self-help books sold at sidewalk stands all over South Asia, alongside computer manuals and test-prep textbooks. Each chapter begins with a rule—‘Work for Yourself,’ ‘Don’t Fall in Love,’ ‘Be Prepared to Use Violence’—and expertly evolves into a narrative.” The whole thing is written in second person, and none of the characters have names. It might sound gimmicky, but it doesn’t come off that way — the execution is pretty perfect, and really moving.
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
I started meditating last year, so I got interested in Zen Buddhism. I had this book on my shelf for years, but only read it recently. A lot of my favorite artists have Zen backgrounds, but it was really surprising to me how much of this book applies to creativity and art. (Of course, half of it makes no sense to me at all.) Contrast Suzuki’s line, “When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to do anything special, then you do something,” with Andy Warhol: “As soon as you stop wanting something you get it.”
And then there’s my favorite line, which I quoted in Show Your Work!: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts
Another breakthrough for me this year: realizing the value of re-reading books. So I’m doing something out of the ordinary and putting a re-read book on my list. In a way, the book was a kind of dark therapy for me—as I increasingly found my inbox stuffed full of emails from desperate aspiring artists, there was Miss Lonelyhearts to suffer a breakdown so I didn’t have to. Everyone who has ever though about dishing out advice on a mass scale (is there such a species? oh dear) should have to read this first.
Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
For some time, my motto has been “something small, every day,” so what’s more delicious than a book full of the daily routines of famous artists? Some of my favorites here.
Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures
Did I underline more sentences in a book this year? Probably not. My friend Kio wrote of the first essay, “the end of each sentence leaves me gasping the way a kiss can begin in a gasp.” What a wonderful collection of lectures.
Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices
In many ways, 2013 was my Year of Eno. Listening to Another Green World while working, Music for Airports while meditating, watching his lectures, following the Oblique Strategies — Eno had such a big influence on me that I started Show Your Work! with his concept of “Scenius.” This book is really two books: 300 or so pages are the diary Eno kept in 1995, and 100 or so pages are the “swollen appendices,” little mini-essays on various topics. Sadly, it’s out-of-print, and used copies are very expensive, but it’s worth tracking down. I downloaded a PDF online and read it on my iPad in GoodReader, which was an interesting experience in itself.
Carl Hiaasen, Tourist Season
If you ever go on vacation in Florida, this is the perfect reading material.
10 more good books I read:
- George Saunders, Tenth of December
- Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
- Max Barry, Lexicon
- Peter Straub, Ghost Story
- Ellen Ullman, Close To The Machine
- Eviatar Zerubavel, The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books
- Caroline Paul & Wendy MacNaughton, Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology
- Kio Stark, Don’t Go Back To School
- Karen Green, Bough Down
- Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
And 3 good books I started, was enjoying, but somehow didn’t finish:
- Studs Terkel, Working
- Victor Papanek, Design For The Read World
- Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces
For fuller recaps of all of the above and every book I read this year, browse the tag: my reading year 2013
See my favorite books from the past eight years of reading here.