By Seth Rogovoy
I am both blessed and cursed in that my work determines to a large extent what I read. Since my work for the most part coincides with my interests, most of my “obligatory” reading or reading for research overlaps with what I might choose to read. On the other hand, my reading list would look significantly different if it were determined merely by personal choice.
In either case, I’m glad that my work keeps me knee-deep in books both old and new. This past year I seem to have read 10 or 12 fewer books than I read the year before. I blame several factors: Peak TV just gets better and better, and I waste far too much time watching instead of reading. Also, I got married this past year, and although my wife and I share a passion for reading and jobs that require reading many books, we went on a few honeymoons this year, during which much fun was had that didn’t include much reading. (I never knew such a thing was possible.) Finally, I blame Donald Trump. Way too much reading time was spent on newspapers and magazines delivering the ever-astonishing news and commentary. And to what end I’m really not sure. For after all the hullabaloo of this past year, nothing at all seems to have changed in any big-picture way. So what did I gain from poring over reams of analysis on dozens of websites? I won’t make that mistake again in 2019 – although I hold out hope that maybe the narrative will shift, finally, and the proverbial chickens will come home to roost. Stay tuned, and don’t hold your breath in the meantime. Read more books instead.
In no particular order and with no attempt at being inclusive – and with the caveat that I may have failed to put a few books on my reading list along the way – here’s a list of the books I read in 2018, with an occasional note or two about the experience. These aren’t books that were necessarily published this past year; the only criteria for this list is that I read them in 2018.
Patti Smith, Devotion
Patti Smith’s late-in-life creative success as a memoirist and essayist – as well as an Instagram star – is just icing on the cake for those of us who have enjoyed listening to her recordings and in concert for the past 45 years or so.
Georges Perec, Ask for a Raise
Maggie Nelson, Bluets
Catherine Pikula, I’m Fine. How Are You?
1960s and ‘70s French prose experimentalist Georges Perec anticipated many of today’s innovative prose works, including Maggie Nelson’s amazing “Bluets” and Catherine Pikula’s excellent “I’m Fine. How Are You?”
Karl Ove Knaussgard, Winter
Karl Ove Knaussgard, Inadvertent
“Inadvertent” is an essay about writing and the creative process; “Winter” is an entry in his Vivaldian quartet of season-themed writings, ostensibly written for his children. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t tackle at least one volume of his masterful sextet, “My Struggle.” I’ve only read volumes one and two; there are now six in all; if I don’t pick up the pace and read at least one per year I may never get to the much-acclaimed final volume that finally appeared in English translation this past year.
Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living
Zadie Smith, Feel Free
Ilana Kurshan, If All the Seas Were Ink
A wonderful memoir of the author’s brave move to Jerusalem to start a new life with a new husband, only to have that marriage crash and burn within a year, and of her ultimately triumphant struggle to rebuild a new life, along the way recounting her accommodations to a new country and culture – one that I know from experience is not always an easy transition to make – all couched in a year of Talmud study. Ilana Kurshan effortlessly weaves it all together, in some ways recapitulating the very form of Talmudic writing and study itself.
Sigrid Nunez, The Friend
Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry
Domenico Starnone, Ties
Howard Akler, Men of Action
Ruby Namdar, The Ruined House
Edward St. Aubyn, Never Mind
Gary Shteyngart, Lake Success
Cutting, up-to-the-minute social satire with an utterly unlikable and unsympathetic antihero.
Paul Goldberg, The Yid
An overlooked blackly comic imagining from a few years ago of a ragtag bunch of Jews plotting to assassinate Stalin. Best read in tandem with a viewing of “The Death of Stalin.”
Ottesa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Oblomov meets jaded millennialism in a darkly comic satire of the pharmaceutical generation.
HISTORY and POLITICS
Victor Sebestyen, Lenin
Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism
Masha Gessen, The Future Is History
Benjamin Carter Hett, The Death of Democracy
MUSIC and POPULAR CULTURE
I’m in the early stages of writing a book on George Harrison, hence the emphasis on Beatles books.
George Harrison, I Me Mine
Rob Sheffield, Dreaming the Beatles
Leslie Cavendish, The Cutting Edge
Grame Thomson, George Harrison: Behind the Locked Door
Joshua M. Greene, Here Comes the Sun
Derek Taylor, As Time Goes By
Robert Hilburn, Paul Simon
Jeff Tweedy, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)
Roger Daltrey, Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite: My Story
Eric Clapton, Clapton: The Autobiography
Mark Griffin, All That Heaven Will Allow: Rock Hudson
Ryan Walsh, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968
Will Hermes, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever
James McBride, Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul
Conor McPherson, Girl from the North Country (play)
Patrick Kingsley, How to Be Danish
Helen Russell, The Year of Living Danishly