In 2010 I spent no time working in a book shop. I’m looking over the list of my favorite reads from last year and wondering how that lack might have affected my reading habits. There are no obvious personal trends, not that I can see. I’m definitely less aware of new books, the next big thing, but I find I don’t much mind being behind the times when it comes to the next big thing.
Before I get to the list, there are a couple of books that I re-read, and the fact alone that I re-read them means that they’re among my favorites, and putting them on the list proper would only knock some of the new favorites down and off the list.
Shortly after I moved back to Denver, a friend told me about an INFINITE JEST book club. It had been nearly five years since I first read Infinite Jest, and now seemed like a good time to revisit it. As much as I enjoyed the book the first time through, reading it again inspired a different sort of awe. So much of what seemed random and tossed off initially was revealed this time through to be perfectly placed. Imagine if the first time you saw the Mona Lisa, you had to reveal it by connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers. It would take work, and you’d have no idea what the finished product was going to look like. When you go back, you can appreciate the whole in a way you never could when you were distracted by all the machinations.
That’s a pretty lousy metaphor now that I look at it.
I’ll make a different observation: The first time I read Infinite Jest, I was moved by David Foster Wallace’s descriptions of mental and emotional suffering. The book itself seemed a testament to the capacity to overcome such suffering. His humanity, his understanding of the anguish of depression, could provide comfort to anybody going through it. This second time through, those same descriptions felt more desperate. Does knowing how that anguish swallowed David Foster Wallace take anything from the power of those descriptions? Or does it give it all more weight?
This is one of my absolute favorite books. I expect the second time won’t be the last time I read it.
Then too this year I decided to read THE HOBBIT again, which I read three or four times when I was younger, and haven’t re-read since I read it in Spanish (EL HOBBIT) when I was in Cordova in 1999. My brother had bought an annotated edition at a Guillermo del Toro booksigning, back when we all thought Guillermo del Toro was going to direct the adaptation, and that was the edition I read. The story was every bit as enjoyable now as it was when I was a child, and the annotations by Douglas Anderson provided a great deal of useful background. (Anderson also called the 1977 Rankin-Bass adaptation — which introduced me to Tolkien’s world and which I adored as a child — execrable. I rewatched it. It was.)
I’ll leave you with this for now. The favorite reads that were new to me will follow directly.