Reading List: Books I Read in 2009

As is my annual tradition since 2004, I present to you the list of books I read in the previous year (in this case, 2009). They are listed by author, in decending alphabetical order. The ones that really stuck with me are highlighted.

  • House of Meetings, by Martin Amis
  • The Wasted Vigil, by Nadeem Aslam
  • Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin
  • Let it Come Down, by Paul Bowles
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain
  • That Summer in Paris, by Morely Callaghan
  • The Loved and the Lost, by Morley Callaghan
  • A Month in the Country, by J. L. Carr
  • The Favorite Game, by Leonard Cohen
  • Coffee with Hemingway, by Kirk Curnutt
  • Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle
  • Shenzhen, by Guy Delisle
  • Ministry of Fear, by Graham Greene
  • The Tenth Man, by Graham Greene
  • A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War, by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill
  • Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson
  • Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis
  • The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham
  • Breakable You, by Brian Morton
  • Coming Up for Air, by George Orwell
  • Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
  • Lush Life, by Richard Price
  • Paul in the Country, by Michel Rabagliati
  • Everyman, by Philip Roth
  • Gomorrah, by Roberto Saviano (translated by Virginia Jewiss)
  • My Dinner with Andre (screenplay), by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory
  • Chef, by Jaspreet Singh
  • Night Train to Turkistan, by Stuart Stevens
  • Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace
  • Young Hearts Crying, by Richard Yates

That’s 32 books, 23 of which are categorized as fiction, three memoirs, three “other” non-fiction, and three “graphic” novels (all of which are fiction/memoir hybrids). The alarming thing is that only one of them was written by a woman.

I don’t plan my reading with any particular agenda in mind, but I do like to keep things varied; to read authors I haven’t read before, to mix up fiction and non-fiction, and to get different perspectives. But this is my worst male to female ratio yet. I’m not alone in this; it’s been a bad decade for women writers, according to this recent editorial in the Washington Post and this follow-up analysis on

Another notable thing about my reading list — and this was not intentional — is the number of older books. It was something of a 20th century retrospective:

  • Three books from the 1920s.*
  • Four books from the 1930s.**
  • Three books from the 1940s.
  • Three books from the 1950s.
  • One book from the 1960s.*
  • Four books from the 1980s.
  • One book from the 1990s.**
  • 13 books from the 2000s.

* Morely Callaghan’s That Summer in Paris was published in 1963, but it’s a memoir of the 1920s and is entirely “of” the 1920s. The same can be said of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which was published posthumously in 1964. Interestingly, both books cover the same basic ground, with Callaghan’s memoir being, essentially, a memoir of knowing Hemingway in Paris in the 1920s.

** Hemingway’s The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War was published in 1998 but the stories were written in the 1930s and possibly the 1940s. Graham Greene’s The Tenth Man was written in 1942 and then forgotten about. It was found, and published, in 1985.

If you think that’s a lot of reading and you wish you could keep up, consider Julien Smith of In Over Your Head; he read more than a book a week in 2009, and managed to co-write and publish one too! He has thoughtfully written this blog post that explains how you too can read a book a week in 2010 (but he left out the part about writing one).

18 thoughts on “Reading List: Books I Read in 2009

  1. No rule to follow here other than my need to read (just making it a rule to read would make me vomit and then never read again until the rule was erased permanently!), and yet I reached 62 books ( read in 2009 (no writing of book this year, but a new blog with at least 5 posts every week, and a move 150 km away). Sixty-one in 2008, 73 in 2007… but who’s counting? ;-)

    What I’m not counting is magazines I read (four to five a week, easily (almost cover-to-cover minus ads), none of which are fashion-crap-style “fluff”-gazines) or make from online articles and read (hundreds of double-sided pages every year, with the tiniest legible font I can — not to worry, I pass those on to others, as I do magazines).

    So when people say they don’t read… can you understand why I make a mental note about it… before running away? ;-)

    For me, reading is a matter of sanity. If I stopped… I’m pretty sure I’d end up in the news, one way or another.

  2. Nice list, Ed!

    How’s Cohen’s writing beyond song & poetry? Still lyrical… still poetic? – I’ve got a copy of Thomas Hardy’s early works (edited by Samuel Hynes, 1984) in the downstairs crapper. Looking for lines in his work that might match up to a photo or two I’ve taken in an attempt to reverse engineer a better title for them. Been at it for many rolls to date.

    Also currently tackling CANADA – The Foundations of it’s Future, by Stephen Leacock. Written in 1941, it’s an accounting of our substantial but short past at a time when our future was uncertain.

    Matter of fact, I’m one of those one novel a week guys, and although I try hard to get to the classics or my favorite genre, anything Montreal; my list is riddled with too many faux-Ludlums and other espionage/spy novels as seen at an airport near you. That said… my last read, Hostile Intent by Michael Walsh, 2009 was a better class of pulp. Our hero doesn’t have the killer looks of Matt Damon’s Bourne, but he’s more lethal. Still giving me great dreams!

  3. Man, you guy are reading machines!

    Harry, “The Favorite Game” is actually quite readable. It’s got some fun Montreal lore in it, and some great Cohenesque humour. I was expecting a lot of tea & oranges and all that, and it does get pretty rhapsodic in the first half, but in a nice Lenny kinda way. From what I’ve heard his second novel (“Beautiful Losers,” 1966) is like a bad acid trip. Probably McAwesome in its day, but now it’s like dude, WTF?

  4. I’ve been thinking about it: I’ve replaced the time I used to spend commuting with reading time. Mind you I read in the bus/metro, but it’s not as pleasurable as being in your living room ;-)
    Also, regarding rules (read one book per week, etc.), it’s pretty obvious to me that SO MUCH of my life is organized (office manager? that was my job description once, but it goes much deeper than the title!) that I need my release to be casual, relaxed, and more than a little chaotic.

    I also read when commercials can be muted but not skipped, when I eat by myself, etc. I’m basically unable to do “nothing”. And for me, often, nothing can mean “just one thing”. And my mood and morale take a serious plunge when I read less than I need.

    When we bought the house and moved to the country last spring, I spent weeks without reading an actual book. I got by with tons of magazines and I was… otherwise rather busy. But after a while, I really needed to get back to books.

    Question for you, Mr. Reading Man: how do you pick the next book you’ll read?

    I’ll answer for myself. I keep a separate row/pile of “books I’ll read next”, even though I know I won’t read them all in order or finish the pile before I buy more books. When I finish a book I usually don’t know where I’m going next (except if it’s a series: then I bite down and don’t let go!), but I go with my mood. These past few years, I’ve read all of Terry Pratchett’s work (love, love, love), and found I’m often in the mood for witty/funny, actual entertainment reads (though not devoid of interest — not “fluff”) — it’s more a matter of style than topic. I’ve somewhat moved away from scary/stressful/serious, probably because I have enough of that in real life! It’s also rare I’ll read two non-fiction books in a row. Sometimes I’ll be reading one non-fiction and one fiction in the same period. Non-fiction books tend to stay in the “to-read” pile longer (probably because magazines and random articles fill the “void” meanwhile). See, no rules, just following moods, yet everything follows a certain pattern.

  5. vieux bandit, I don’t have the need to read according to a schedule or according to rules either. In my case, I read a lot online, and quite a few magazines (fewer than I used to — primarily because of my online reading). My book reading is as much as it is primarily due to the two to two-and-a-half hours a day I spend commuting. I’m actually a pretty slow reader; in a one hour commute I’ll read anywhere from 12 to 30 pages, depending on how sleepy I am, the nature of the book (some are more “page-turner” than others) and how distracted I am. It’s probably about 18 pages on average.

    As to how I choose my next book, there’s no particular formula. I have three or four stacks of “to read” books in various parts of the house. When I need a book I consult those stacks and just go with my whim. It usually depends on mood. The other factor is if I buy a bunch of books I’m likely to give at least one of them a high priority for being next. In general, however, it’s not unusual for a book to kick around for a year or two before I read it. I have some that have been waiting for five or six years, and probably a few that have been waiting for ten or more.

    As I write this, I estimate my total collection of “to read” books is probably about 100 volumes, a third of which I’ll probably never read but I can’t bear to part with them just in case…

  6. I probably have 30-40 “to read” in my pile (way down, phew!), some having been there longer than others — years are not unheard of — but sometimes I’ll choose one *because* it’s been waiting so long. And I too will give a high priority to at least one of a bunch of new books. (I’ve also been known to plow through a semi-boring read in a desperate effort to “be allowed” to get to a book waiting for me! Y’see how many rules I already have, built-in? Not finishing a book for me is a personal failure! It has to be truly horrific (not just “why was this published?”, but “why was this author not put to death?”) for me to give up!)

    And you’ve given me an idea… we’ll see how long The Man here will be able to handle multiple piles of books throughout the house… Heehee: when he starts to bitch, I’ll blame you! :-)

    (NOW do you see why you have to keep this blog alive?)

  7. On first read this was inspiring – I’m actually reading A Moveable Feast at the moment and have dipped into the Dubliners as well. I’m just wondering whether quantity is a good thing (i.e. a book a week)? How can you have time to digest the prose and ideas in a good book if you pick up another the minute you’ve turned the last page of the previous? I can understand if it’s Dan Brown but not if it’s something with more substance. After a good read or a good meal shouldn’t there be some digestion time?

  8. That’s an interesting point, Tom. Although for some people a book a week is not overindulgence; some folks are just fast readers and are able to find lots of time to spend with books.

    I know one guy who claims he can read two books a day — he’s a “speed reader.” Personally, I don’t buy it. Yes, he can turn that number of pages, but I’m not convinced he’s really “reading,” at least not at a level beyond taking in a bunch of factoids.

    I’m not a speed reader, so perhaps it’s unfair of me to say so, but I can’t help but feel that speed reading is to (ahem) “real” reading what bolting down a couple of energy drinks is to sitting down for slow, luscious dinner.

  9. I think I digest while I read ;-)
    (I also proof the books I read: typos and mistakes annoy me enough once–I don’t want to see them ever again!)

    Nah but seriously, that’s one beef I have with the idea of setting a quantity goal. I have no goal (not even English vs French or men authors vs women authors): I just read a lot (or so I’m told, because if I won a substantial lottery jackpot, THEN you’d see me read!), but I follow my *needs*. Sometimes they express themselves as hunches, but I find using my intuition leads me to read the “right” book at the right time. (Then, digestion is not really required: I go ah-ha throughout my read!)

    Isn’t speed reading a way to get the gist of things but not minutiae? (It’s the feeling I got when I looked into it — heck, on the surface it sounded good!) I love minutiae! I guess I looked into it before starting law school… could’ve helped, but then again, could’ve ruined my already not stellar grades.

  10. Dayam.

    You guys. I have my library and I just tend to read the same books over and over again on a rotational basis. 99% non-fiction. Biographies, history and such. I have no time for stuff that someone invented . . . I want to know that it really happened. Allegories and such don’t interest me . . . I tried to plough through Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” and it bored the PANTS off of me. I used to be into science fiction but it turned out to be just that: science fiction.

    Besides, where are you getting your books? Last time I heard, books cost money. And I just KNOW you’re not haunting your local library.

    Tolstoy? Naipaul? Okay, I understand, you’re downloading them to your Kindle.

  11. It’s not just the money, it’s the shelf space! Mine is groaning!

  12. Just re-read Hemingway’s The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War. Great book!

  13. @Nicholas Robinson: You mention the fact that you want to read non-fiction because “you need to know that it really happened.” “I have no time for stuff that someone invented”, you say.

    It’s a common attitude and it always surprises me from avid readers who I feel should know better. First of all, there’s a lot of invention in non-fiction as the retelling of stories is likely to be affected by memory, perspective and bias (yes, even in the case of historians). Fiction, on the other hand, is probably the closest thing to true human experience.

    The novelist and essayist Jonathan Franzen brings this issue up in his critique of Alice Munro’s book of short stories, Runaway. In his 2004 New York Times article, he takes eight guesses at “why Munro’s excellence so dismayingly exceeds her fame”. His guess #2 says:

    “As long as you’re reading Munro, you’re failing to multitask by absorbing civics lessons or historical data. Her subject is people. People people people. If you read fiction about some enriching subject like Renaissance art or an important chapter in our nation’s history, you can be assured of feeling productive. But if the story is set in the modern world, and if the characters’ concerns are familiar to you, and if you become so involved with a book that you can’t put it down at bedtime, there exists a risk that you’re merely being entertained.”

    He is being ironic, of course. ;-)

  14. Interesting, Martine:that “it really happened” thing stayed stuck in my brain too (not to judge, but to evaluate where I stand on it), especially since I noticed I have mostly non-fiction left in my “to read” pile, and didn’t feel like starting any of them. I need fiction, big time. I need to be taken out of myself and back into stories, which is indeed very deeply human :-)

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