I Read 69 Books in 2013. Wanna Fight About It?

Hard to say if it’s been a successful year. I only read 69 books. But in the midst of all of this, I read countless essays, articles, and magazines—or there were some days where I just rode my bike instead. But still, 69 is a good county with some good visual symmetry. Plus, that some of my favorite books this year were from Nicholson Baker’s ‘sex trilogy,’ the number also seems to be analogical, somehow.

The biggest trends to note are that sometime in late spring, my reading choices took a more academic direction after I learned that I had been accepted to graduate school. And now that I’m done with my first semester of graduate school (with that four-point-oh), I’m fairly decided that I’m going to be writing a thesis with full intention of applying to and subsequently entering a PhD program. Most of my reading has been very focused since that point of realization, though I’m sane enough to add some ‘for fun’ interjections in that heady mix.

What follows is the full list of the books I’ve read, and a sentence or two about each reading, explaining why I read it or what I thought about it.

The Gangs of Chicago; Herbert Asbury, 1940/1986, Thunder’s Mouth Press.
A rebranding of an old journalistic text about the City of Chicago, which had clearly entered the public domain and some dude out there was trying to capitalize on the ‘success’ of Gangs of New York. Not a great book.

The Immense Journey; Loren Eiseley, 1957, Random House.
Discovered this author by way of conversation about Cormac McCarthy. Excellent scientific naturalism, with a healthy dose of poesy.

Speak; Laurie Halse Anderson, 1999, Puffin Books.
A book I read on recommendation from a friend.

The Woes of the True Policeman; Roberto Bolano, 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Not Bolano’s best. Nothing will beat 2666.

Lionel Asbo; Martin Amis, 2012, Knopf.
My first introduction to Martin Amis. Pretty fun.

Life Sentences; William H. Gass, 2012, Knopf.
Great collection of essays from William Gass, whose headiness I can appreciate only in this non-fiction context.

Norwood; Charles Portis, 1966, The Overlook Press.
I think this book was funny, but I can’t remember.

Death Kit; Susan Sontag, 1967, Picador.
Speaking of headiness…

The Book of My Lives; Aleksandar Hemon, 2013, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Glad to have a good author who is happy to call Chicago ‘home,’ even if he’s not a native Chicagoan. Also, incredibly sad, at times.

Cosmopolis; Don DeLillo, 2003, Scribner.
Don DeLillo made a rare public appearance this year, this time at Harold Washington Library. In anticipation of the event, where I got a different book signed by DeLillo, I read this little ditty.

Cosmicomics; Italo Calvino, 1965, Harcourt.

The Medium is the Massage; Marshall McLuhan, 1967, Jerome Agel.
In anticipation of starting school in the fall, I took it upon myself to begin a venture into the domain of media theory. McLuhan is a fixture in the field, and this book was supposedly revelational when it came out, but most of the criticisms in this specific text are ‘common sense’ by now.

Beyond Habitat; Moshe Safdie, 1970, MIT Press.
A little work of self-importance from Dov Charney’s uncle.

Martin van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics; Joel H. Silbey, 2002, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
In 2012 I said I’d read a biography of each president. That didn’t happen in 2012, and in 2013, this was the only attempt I had made to continue on this promise. But, damn, some of these presidents are boring dudes.

The Book of Monelle; Marcel Schwob, 2012, Wakefield Press.
I don’t remember much of this one.

The Pale King; David Foster Wallace, 2012, Back Bay Books.
Framed by a great sadness.

Democracy in America; Alexis de Tocqueville, 2003, Penguin Classics.
Perhaps my favorite book from this year.

Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock n’ Roll Group; Ian F. Svenonius, 2012, Akashic.
I reviewed this book for Anobium because I didn’t like it.

Going Clear; Lawrence Wright, 2013, Knopf.
The ‘truth’ of Scientology. Verifiable because it’s a New Yorker author, right?

State by State; Ed. Matt Weiland & Sean Wilsey, 2009, Ecco.
Read this on recommendation from a friend. A project well conceived, but not well executed.

The Year of Dreaming Dangerously; Slavoj Zizek, 2012, Verso.
Zizek rambles.

Ways of Going Home; Alejandro Zambra, 2013, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
I don’t remember much of this one.

Little Known Facts; Christine Sneed, 2013, Bloombury.
I don’t remember much of this one, either.

The Struggle for Utopia; Victor Margolin, 1997, University of Chicago Press.
Or this one.

Postmodernism, Or, The Logic of Late Capitalism; Frederic Jameson, 1991, Duke University Press.
Another book I considered to be necessary reading for graduate school. It has come in handy, thus far.

The Crying of Lot 49; Thomas Pynchon, 2006, Harper Perennial.

Child of God; Cormac McCarthy, 1973, Vintage International.
If Blood Meridian is an unmakeable movie, Child of God is inconceivable. Necrophilia isn’t a big seller. But this might be one of my favorite McCarthy books.

In Praise of Shadows; Jun-ichiro Tanizaki, 1977, Leete’s Island Books.
An obscure little musing on light and shadow.

Society of the Spectacle; Guy Debord, 1970, Black & Red.
More grad school anticipatory reading, though I also cited this one a lot in an essay on punk/powerviolence I wrote over the summer (and which will hopefully be included in a book getting published next year.

Learning from Las Vegas; Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, 1977, The MIT Press.
A benchmark architecture text. Now I can say I’ve been there and done that. Now I want to go to Vegas and see America for itself.

Kinski Uncut; Klaus Kinski, 1996, Penguin.
I wrote an essay on Kinski over the summer as well, so I had to read this one. Hard to admire Kinski, though there’s something admirable about his brashness.

Twilight of the Idols; Friedrich Nietzsche, 1968, Penguin.
Also read for my Kinski essay.

Illuminations: Essays and Reflections; Walter Benjamin, 2007, Schocken Books.
More grad school anticipation, though I’m suspecting that Benjamin will end up being one of the people I well reference often as I delve deeper into media theory.

A Crackup at the Race Riots; Harmony Korine, 2013, Drag City.
Not any more or less meaningful than his movies.

Factory Towns of South China; Stefan Al, ed., 2013, Hong Kong University Press.
Not nearly as interesting as it sounds.

The Creative Mind; Henri Bergson, 2007, Dover Publications.
I think I understood about five percent of this book.

Witz; Joshua Cohen, 2011, Dalkey Archive Press.
One of the books that came out in the late 2000’s that’s one of the key ‘thick book’ works of that period. It’s difficult and Joycean, which for some is rewarding. For me, I was done after about 250 pages.

We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of LA Punk; Marc Spitz & Brendan Mullen, 2001, Three Rivers Press.
Also for my punk essay. Research.

The Green Man; Kingsley Amis, 1986, Academy Chicago Publishers.
I supposed that if I had read Martin Amis, I might as well inspect the source, too.

Tough Guys Don’t Dance; Norman Mailer, 1984, Random House.
Just fine.

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA; Tim Weiner, 2008, Anchor Books.
One of my favorite books from the year. The short of it: the CIA has just been one gigantic failure.

A Wilderness of Error; Errol Morris, 2012, The Penguin Press.
Thin Blue Line in written form, though with a different story. Hello, hippie freaks.

Vox; Nicholson Baker, 1992, Granta Books.
For Adults Only.

The President and the Provocateur: The Parallel Lives of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald; Alex Cox, 2013, Feral House.
If Alex Cox can direct Repo Man, he can write conspiracy theories.

The Third Policeman; Flann O’Brien, 1967/2002, Dalkey Archive Press.

The Fermata; Nicholson Baker, 1994, Vintage.
For Adults Only.

Cinema; Alain Badiou, 2013, Polity Press.
I don’t remember much of this one.

The Hare; Cesar Aira, 2013, New Directions.
Or this one.

The Moral Judgment of the Child; Jean Piaget, 1997, Free Press Paperbacks.
I was going to write an essay for an edited collection in ‘the child in post-apocalyptic’ cinema, and was going to use this book to talk about Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf, but the essay got to be too much work with too little time. So I just read the book.

You’re Not Doing it Right; Michael Ian Black, 2012, Gallery Books.
Stella is funnier.

Eichmann in Jerusalem; Hannah Arendt, 2006, Penguin.
Was tired of hearing the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ out of context. So I read this for context, and now I get it. Evil is ordinary and likes paperwork.

Speaking Into the Air; John Durham Peters, 1999, University of Chicago Press.
Required graduate school reading, but will be a text I continue to re-read and reference throughout life.

Bird by Bird; Anne Lamott, 1995, Anchor.
Read it first as a young creative writing student. Read it later for graduate school.

The Gay Science; Friedrich Nietzsche, 1974, Vintage.
Also called ‘the Joyful Wisdom.’ The elation is palpable.

Films and Dreams; Thorsten Botz-Bornstein, 2007, Lexington Books.
For work on an essay about Tarkovsky, which I should actually be working on at this precise moment, rather than writing this post.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Poetics of Cinema; Thomas Redwood, 2010, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
More scholarly research.

Sculpting in Time; Andrei Tarkovsky, 1989, University of Texas Press.
More scholarly research.

Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews; John Gianvito, ed., 2006, University Press of Mississippi.
More scholarly research.

The Urban Revolution; Henri Lefebvre, 2003, University of Minnesota Press.
I’m trying to figure out how to hone my thesis topic and was hoping this book, and others, would help with that. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. But at least I’ve read Lefebvre (now I just need to be sure that if I drop his name in a verbal conversation, that I pronounce it right).

The Alphabet and the Algorithm: Mario Carpo, 2011, The MIT Press.
More thesis research. Getting closer.

House of Holes; Nicholson Baker, 2012, Simon & Schuster.
A little break for more Adults Only reading. And, unfortunately, the last book in Baker’s ‘sex trilogy.’

How Proust can Change Your Life; Alain de Botton, 1998, Vintage.
de Botton has been a name I’ve been seeing more and more, and I had recently learned about his ‘School of Life.’ So I picked this up to get a better idea of de Botton. And now I have it (a better idea, that is). Smart self-help? Literary psychology? Something like that.

Urban Nightmares: The Media, The Right, and the Moral Panic over the City; Steve Macek, 2006, University of Minnesota Press.
More thesis topic research.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities; Jane Jacobs, 1989, Vintage.
And some more.

Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic; Theodor W. Adorno, 1989, University of Minnesota Press.
And some more. Not an easy book.

The Virtue of Selfishness; Ayn Rand, 1964, Signet.
School was done and there were no unread books in my apartment, except for this one, which I read in two days and then threw out because it’s total shit.

Inherent Vice; Thomas Pynchon, 2010, Penguin.
Now I’m ready for the movie.

Blue Nights; Joan Didion, 2011, Vintage.
Always a picker-upper, that Didion.

By Ben van Loon

Writer, Researcher, Chicagoan

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