Editor’s Note: I haven’t joined in the “list of books I’ve read this year” meme, maybe because my reading habits are just too erratic, unbalanced and marred with incompletes for public view. But Kevin Kizer, an old friend of LitKicks who truly hails from the legendary town of Peoria, Illinois has sent an impressive list of the 44 books he’s read this year. Here’s Kevin.
I’ve been a writer all my life and feel that to be a good writer you have to be a good reader as well. So I’ve always been a reader, going back to my childhood and my weekly visits to the public library. Anyway, about a year ago I decided to keep track of what I was reading just to, well, keep track of what I was reading. And that’s why we’re all here today.
What follows is the list of books I’ve read this year, followed by a short review. Each review is one sentence long, although I’ve certainly manipulated the concept of a sentence a bit. Actually, there is one review that is longer than a sentence, but that will be self-explanatory.
And, yes, I do have a life. I just happen to not have too many responsibilities.
(R) denotes a book that I have read previously
(AR) denotes a book that I read annually
1) “Of Mice and Men”, Steinbeck, 100pg.
Comment: A classic, must-read that, for some reason, I never had to read in school.
2) “The Sound and the Fury”, Faulkner, 200pg.
Comment: One of the great works in 20th century English lit; right up there with Joyce in terms of experimentation.
3) “Great Short Works of Herman Melville”, Herman Melville, 505pg.
Comment: Favorite by far was “Bartleby the Scrivener.”
4) “Come On In”, Bukowski, 279pg.
Comment: The only thing that bothers me more than this weak volume is how they shamelessly keep churning out anything that Bukowski ever touched; he knew some of his shit was shit, which is why it was never published when he was alive.
5) “Manhattan Transfer”, John Dos Passos, 342pg.
Comment: An incredible panorama of New York in the early 20th century; when I think of that era I think of F. Scott, Hemingway, Parker and Dos Passos.
6) “Naked Lunch” (AR), Burroughs, 232pg.
Comment: There’s nothing that can be said about this book other than it’s a monument in 20th century literature that will totally freak you out.
7) “Literature: A Pocket Anthology”, Penguin Academics/R.S. Gwynn ed.,
1378pg. (read 836pg: Short Stories and Poetry/skipped Drama)
Comment: I discovered a lot of great short stories and poems from writers I’d never heard of, as well as brushed up on some of the classics; expensive but a great book to have as a literary reference.
8) “Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72” (R), Thompson, 505pg.
Comment: This is the book that did if for Hunter, in my opinion, because he covered the campaign like no other reporter could and got insights no other reporter could get; just put it this way: it won him the respect of both George McGovern and Pat Buchanan.
9) “The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara” Ed. By Donald Allen, 514pg.
Comment: An incredible poetic talent with insane versatility who ran parallel with Ginsberg; recommended to me by Illinois poet laureate Kevin Stein.
10) “American Sphinx”, Joseph Ellis, 307pg.
Comment: In-depth bio of Thomas Jefferson; interesting facts: when he founded the U.VA. he would not allow religion to be taught at the school and he resented that he had to take his oath on the Bible; Tom was the original American Rebel.
11) “White Noise”, Don DeLillo, 326pg.
Comment: My first foray into this great contemporary writer and this was not a let down; great, weird story telling.
12) “Sailing Alone Around The Room”, Billy Collins, 172pg.
Comment: Talented poet with a sense of humor.
13) “On The Road” (AR), Kerouac, 310pg.
Comment: The first novel to blow me away.
14) “Frontier Illinois”, James E. Davis, 428pg.
Comment: For some reason I felt like reading about the history of Illinois; I discovered that our state, which has been synonymous with political corruption (“vote early, vote often”), has corruption at its core: we lied about our population in order to become a state.
15) “War and Peace in the Global Village” (R), McLuhan, 190pg.
Comment: This is the one book whose comment requires more than one sentence, and it’s simply a quote from the book. Keep in mind this was written in the late ’60s:
“All the non-industrial areas like China, India and Africa are speeding ahead by means of electric technology. This has profoundly disturbed the American image, for all these backward countries are tribal in the noblest sense of the term. That is, they have never had a nineteenth century; they have entered the twentieth century with their family kinship systems and closely integral patterns of association still intact…To be surrounded by rapidly developing countries whose patterns of culture are widely divergent from our own has certainly upset the American image, at least among the elders. Our confused efforts to reestablish goals, habits, attitudes, and the sense of security they bring have become the main order of business.”
16) “Snow”, Orhan Pamuk, 426pg.
Comment: Another first foray into a great contemporary writer; a driving story that also gives you an insight into the tensions between Western culture and the Middle East; Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Lit this year.
17) “Book of Sketches”, Kerouac, 413pg.
Comment: Just as they annually cart out a new Bukowski book, this was the latest installment in the Kerouac series; at least with Kerouac it always seems to be something new; I’m more interested in Brinkley’s upcoming bio work.
18) “Complete Stories”, Dorothy Parker, 447pg.
Comment: After reading her in the aforementioned Lit Anthology I moved on her complete stories; right there with F. Scott in chronicling their era.
19) “Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis”, Ian Kershaw, 841pg.
Comment: If you’re wondering, I minored in history so I have an interest in this stuff; this is the third installment in my “Ruthless Dictators” reading list (finished Mao, Lenin and Hitler; Stalin, you’re next).
20) “The Great Gatsby” (AR), F. Scott, 154pg.
21) “My Education”, Burroughs, 193pg.
Comment: I can’t believe I hadn’t read this one, but it completed my reading of everything Burroughs, who kicks ass all the time.
22) “The Jazz Age” (R), F. Scott, 83pg.
Comment: A great little book with the famous short story, “The Crack Up”.
23) “My Name Is Red”, Pamuk, 413pg.
Comment: Another great book; kind of like “The DaVinci Code” except that this is well-written and doesn’t suck; did I mention he won the Nobel Prize?
24) “Growth Beyond The Core”, Zook, 192pg.
Comment: Okay, this was for business, but it was fascinating: all about how executives can manage sustained growth through core product/service expansion and adjacency moves related to the core.
25) “The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa” (R), Edit. Hass,
Comment: A refresher of an old favorite; probably the only poets whose lives and works I truly envy.
26) “Underworld”, DeLillo, 827pg.
Comment: A great piece of 20th century lit from a master, etc, etc…but seriously I’m glad I got into DeLillo this year.
27) “Collected Poems”, Dylan Thomas, 203pg.
Comment: Jesus, what a gre
at poet; a bit arcane at times, but a master.
28) “Dylan Thomas: A New Life”, Lycett, 383pg.
Comment: On sale, with membership discount, for a total cost of $3.82 at Barnes and Noble; Thomas was a true poet in that he drank till blind and repetitively made an ass of himself.
29) “Mao II”, DeLillo, 241pg.
Comment: See previous DeLillo comments.
30) “The Town And The City” (AR), Kerouac, 499pg.
Comment: Kerouac’s first novel, reminiscent of Wolfe, is a great big early 20th century work, introducing many of the characters that would be examined in greater detail in later novels.
31) “Nausea”, Sartre, 178pg.
Comment: Reminds me of Hamsun but not Dostoevsky (a common comparison); excellent but a little too self-involved for my tastes.
32) “Mindfield” (R), Corso, 268pg.
Comment: I hadn’t read ol’ Gregory in awhile; truly an underrated poet.
33) “Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956” (R), 599pg.
Comment: Returning to an old favorite; Kerouac was a prodigious letter writer so you get a lot of insight into his life, as well as Burroughs, Cassady, Ginsberg, et al.
34) “Cosmopolis”, DeLillo, 209pg.
Comment: No joking at all: I thought this book SUCKED to the point of it angering me; I didn’t care about the rich, billionaire who goes on a rampage (nor the three hot women he had sex with along the way) and I was almost offended by the rap music angle (which to me seemed patronizing and a pathetic attempt to “ground” the character); seriously SUCKED but I’ll give DeLillo a break.
35) “The Rum Diary” (R), Thompson, 204pg.
Comment: I can’t believe he couldn’t get this published back in the day; soon to be a major motion picture.
36) “The Red And The Black”, Stendhal, 532pg.
Comment: Julian Sorel is one of the great characters in French lit; a good book but I think I would like it better if I could read it in French, which I can’t.
37) “Paul Verlaine: Selected Poems”, 199pg.
Comment: I love freaky 19th century French symbolists!
38) “William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems”, 297pg.
Comment: Another underappreciated American poet who influenced and helped Ginsberg and Corso get published.
39) “Finnegan’s Wake”, Joyce, 628pg.
Comment: Often called the greatest work in English lit that no one has ever read; once I was able to empty my mind of all conceptions of what a “novel” was, I was able to really enjoy this book and the way his words sound when you string them together; the only book that I couldn’t read and listen to music at the same time.
40) “The Sirens Of Titan”, Vonnegut, 326pg.
Comment: How could I have waited so long to read Vonnegut? I figured I would start with his first novel and that was a good choice.
41) “The Book Of Martyrdom And Artifice, First Journals And Poems 1937-1952”, Ginsberg, 515pg.
Comment: Ginsberg is truly a Great Bard and I’ve always looked at him as a great American, much like Walt Whitman; that said, after reading his early journals, I can understand why people would get sort of worn out on him; a bit long winded, but it’s GINSBERG!!
42) “Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac” (R), Nicosia, 698pg.
Comment: The first bio I ever read on Kerouac (and there are many), I love going back through this one, while skipping over the rather sophomoric literary analyses; also underscores an important fact: Kerouac was kind of miserable prick the last few years of his life, but it’s KEROUAC!
43) “Bruised Paradise” (R), Kevin Stein, 72pg.
Comment: The excellent poet laureate of Illinois whom I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with over the years, Kevin Stein impresses me over and over again; kind of a O’Hara/Ginsberg/Bukowski/Bob Marley with a unique Midwestern feel.
44) “Memoirs of an Aide-de-Camp of Napoleon, 1800-1812”, General Count Philippe de S