Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite Reads During 2018

I'm not sure how many years I've done this, but one nod to experience is to call it my favorite reads during rather than from the year.

My reading strayed well beyond 2018 publications, though the first five that come to mind were all worth the wait and the investment in the hardbacks. Richard Powers The Overstory was my favorite novel of the year. With each novel of his I am awed my the depth of knowledge that he brings to his work.  As I work through the craftsmanship of his sentences, I hang carefully on each turn of phrase and carefully chew it over before moving on. Further to his craftsmanship is the breathtaking authority he has in relating the science and history that he shares with his readers with each novel. Having also read Powers' 1985 debut Three Farmers On Their Way to A Dance, his method and his gifts have been apparent throughout his career and The Overstory shows him at his peak. The stories that he weaves together in his account of the timber protests in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s provides an aching description of the era and will prompt a deep reconsideration of the trees we are surrounded by. If I've piqued your interest in either book, the paperback of The Overstory will be available in April 2019. I'd be happy to lend you my copy but you would likely have me leaning over your shoulder throughout the reading. I may be keen to get it back promptly, but I'd more likely be waiting to ask you, "Right?" with each turn of the page. You cannot go wrong with Powers' novels, with the exception of Galatea 2.2, and it is unfortunate that he is not better-known.

The other visit with a familiar voice was Haruki Murakami's Killing Commendatore. I became familiar with Murakami's work about 15 years ago while I lived in Japan and this novel is an ambitious return to his more surreal or fantastical works and given the creepy presence of an idea embodied as a physical, human presence provides an interesting departure point if you are looking for some insight on the ideas that are shaping the news each day as we crawl through the post-truth 2010's as parched, bedraggled souls trying to cross a desert. It is a thought-provoking book with moments of humour, deep insights into the creative process and perhaps some revelations about Murakami, himself.

Two other 2018 books I enjoyed were the biographies of Arthur Ashe and Robin Williams. The Ashe biography, published 25 years after his death was not just a detailed reminder that we must not forget the men, but a moving account of the man's life. The description of his 1975 upset of Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon brought tears to my eyes as the account of the composed, honourable thinking man of sport found the strategy and the focus to achieve this improbable win. Tears visited again as he grappled with the stress of playing tennis, engaging with apartheid-era South Africa to advance human rights there and being one of the key figures during the tumultuous transitions during the first 5 to 8 years of the Open era. The poignant moment in the book is the beautiful account of Ashe taking his 4-year-old daughter to a gala reception just days after announcing that he had AIDS. The book is a rich, emotional reminder of the marks Ashe left throughout his life and it would be hard to read without wondering what he would be doing today if he were still with us, pursuing his passions where they lead him.

Robin, by Dave Itzkoff, gives a full account of Williams' career. From my perspective I went through the book with the realization that I was reading about a career that I had pretty much seen from start to finish, at least as far as his time in the spotlight was concerned. His talent, his compassion and the what if's that surround the last chapter of his life are all evident. Itzkoff does a thorough job, but I suspect that this will not be the last bio done on Williams.

The last of the 2018 books that stuck with me was Ryder Carroll's The Bullet Journal Method which was a deeper look at the time management system that Carroll developed for himself. Since introducing it to a wide number of users, including myself, the bullet journal has become a valuable system for much more than time management.

On that note, I acknowledge that I've spent a lot of time on just five books and risk giving short shrift to the other books that highlighted my year. So, in quick snapper style, here are the other highlights of 2018:

Books on Creativity:
Henri Cartier-Bresson - The Mind's Eye - a quick read with brilliant insights from the master photographer.
Peter Himmelman - Let Me Out - maybe the best of the 25-30 books on creativity I've read in the last 18-24 months.
Wendy Ann Greenhalgh - Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing - I'm not so hot with a pen and sketchpad, but this gave me amble fodder to contrast drawing from photography and the inspiration to dare picking up a sketchpad.
Richard Powell - Wabi Sabi Simple - Powell is, along with Leonard Koren, are to my eye the two leading authors exploring wabi sabi in the English language. This was a long overdue and valuable read.
Torsten Andreas Hoffman - Photography as Meditation - Great!!
Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander - The Art of Possibility - This will change the way you examine creativity, risk and education.

Novels:
Wally Lamb - We Are Water - the second novel of his that I've read. I shouldn't wait 20 years before reading him again.
Nayomi Munaweera - Island of a Thousand Mirrors - an account of terrorism and the Tamils in Sri Lanka in the 1980s
Banana Yoshimoto - Moshi Moshi - beautiful tale of a mother and daughter's efforts to move on with life after the death of their husband/father
Nicholson Baker - Room Temperature - He may be an acquired taste for some but his hyper-acute regard for his surroundings and experiences can be enchanting and wise. Anticipating a new NB book in 2019.

Non-fiction:
Sherman Alexie - You Don't Have to Say You Love Me - a memoir of Alexie's relationship with his mother
Ta-Nehisi Coates - We Were Eight Years in Power - Eight long essays on the years of the Obama administration and the rise of Trump.
Matthew Carl Strecher - The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami - A look at Murakami's work that definitely informed my reading of Killing Commendatore. A great reference for a careful reading of Murakami's work.
Zadie Smith - Feel Free - The second collection of essays that I've read by Smith. Her insight, perspective and depth of curiosity is illuminating to read, whether she is venting about Brexit or contrasting Michael Jackson's ostentatious dancing with Prince's almost subliminal movement.
Lewis Thomas - The Medusa and the Snail - Thomas was brought to my attention in an article about Richard Powers. I hope to read more of him in 2019.

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