my anti-book list
With the end of the year comes lists. Lots of lists. Lists of lists. I’m not really a list-maker. I’m admittedly an archivist - I keep careful records and media libraries. Ranking things has never quite appealed to me. The closest I get to ranking is perusing my Spotify Wrapped, which is mostly a duplication of my running playlists.
At the end of the year, my friends and colleagues often post reading round-ups. There are discussions of number of books read, re-read, recent releases enjoyed, old classics returned to, likes, dislikes, “DNF”s (did not finish), irritations, delights. I’ve always bristled at them. My entire life is steeped in books, but I don’t like talking about what I’m reading. When it comes up in conversation, I have canned answers. Oh, I’m reading mostly nonfiction. Oh, I’m just so picky with novels. I read a lot for work, so I don’t have much time to read for pleasure. I privilege my e-reader in public not for the portability but because there’s no cover to be seen by wandering eyes.
But I love talking about movies, and I don’t keep a record of what I’ve seen. (I attempted Letterboxd - it didn’t take.) It’s almost a direct opposite of how I approach reading. Watching movies is a public, shared experience - I love to go to the theater with people, sit in the dark, grab a drink after and hash out tastes and interpretations, argue, swap recommendations.
Reading has always been an unshared experience. I do it alone. I can’t read a book alongside a friend and have a singular, encapsulated experience with a beginning and end. Reading feels like a private engagement between myself and the author, and flattening that conversation into a list of liked vs. disliked feels simultaneously superficial and revealing. I’m like an unskilled truffle pig in the stacks; I’m always looking for something specific and rare and consistently getting it wrong. So my reading lists are full of novels I put down and nonfiction from which I didn’t learn. There’s always a few stars, and I find something that moves me deeply every year. But should it come up in conversation I think have to explain why it did so, and I have to reveal what truffle I was seeking, and it feels very much like stripping off my clothes in the middle of the party.
It seems obvious now, but I only realized it this year. I just don’t read for fun. It’s pleasurable, satisfying, enriching, but very rarely pure unadulterated fun. At least, not in the same way shouting my head off in an empty showing of Evil Dead Rises is. It’s easier for me to connect with others over films, because my taste is broader.
Since identifying this quality, it’s become easier for me to talk about books. I won’t be ranking, but I read a few things I liked this year.
Concerning My Daughter by Kim Hye-jin (2022): A mother navigates her own prejudice and her relationship with her adult daughter and her daughter’s girlfriend.
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin (2008): Chewy portrayals of the odd dynamics in heterosexual relationships.
China on Strike ed. Hao Ren, Zhongjin Li, and Eli Friedman (2016): I first started reading about China’s labor movements in 2014 when I first read Xu Lizhi’s poetry. Since then I’ve been slowly read more and more. I don’t know where I’m going with the reading, but I feel it’s going somewhere.