2012 reading wrap-up

I can’t believe that Christmas is only 3 days away. I have been on holiday (when not looking after Leah) and have done almost no writing. I know I need a break and I’ve been trying to relax but even the summer books are not quite hitting the spot at the moment. I have one book to go to reach my target of 20 books for the year but I’m not stressing about it. This was a guide more than a fixed target.

Looking over the books read this year, a few stand out. The year started with Book 3 of the Hunger Games Trilogy and that was a quick and easy read. I haven’t felt moved to watch the movie though since I think I got quite enough of the story in three book formats. The year ended with Portnoy’s Complaint which I generally didn’t like at all. I’ve been meaning to review it properly here but I also wonder if it’s worth it. If a book is that bad, does it warrant a review? But in the week or so since I finished it (and this was a skim-read for the second half since I didn’t want to spend too much time with Alex Portnoy) I’ve softened my reaction a bit and I can appreciate the significance of the book for its time (1969). I’m prepared to give Philip Roth a second chance at some point since I hope that having got this book out of his system, it freed him up to write more significant material? I’m also interested in the premise of the novel, which is that the whole book is addressed to his psychoanalyst as if he was lying on the couch telling the story of his life. The book ends with a rather telling punchline:
‘So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?’

Let me just say that my chief gripe with this book was that it was misogynistic and that Portnoy spent way too much time complaining and worrying about masturbation, his sexual relationship with his girlfriend whom he called The Monkey, as well as countless pages kvetching about his Jewish identity in a way that was very unproductive. The early chapters on Portnoy’s parents were hilarious but the rest of the book I found pretty dire.

Perhaps the most enjoyable read of the year was Sweet Talk by Stephanie Vaughn. In contrast to Roth’s vast output, Vaughn has published almost nothing but hers is the voice I would much prefer to hear telling her stories.

Also worth a mention in terms of fiction: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Silver by Andrew Motion, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Night Circus, The Gift of Rain.

Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton was very good at debunking the science around depression. What I took from this is that anti-depressants just don’t work for some people and what worked for Brampton was regular exercise (walking mostly), maintaining friendships, a bit of therapy and generally regaining a sense of balance in her life.

The Real Self by James Masterson was very insightful. Masterson is a revered figure in psychology for his work with personality disorders. I was particularly interested to read what he said about the importance of rage and disappointment in facing up to reality and to engaging our “real selves”. Quite enlightening also when dealing with a toddler. If rage and tantrums are part of the process then it’s OK to say “No”!

I also enjoyed The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.

Finally, one of the finds of the year for me was A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard. The level of detail that Knausgaard is able to access is phenomenal and I was pretty impressed with his insights and the courage that it took to write this memoir. I would be interested to read a follow-up.

Reading goals for 2013? A balance between fiction and non-fiction. More South African writing (e.g. Redi Direko from 702 has written an interesting memoir on her childhood, particularly her friendship with an older boy who turned out to be violent criminal). Perhaps a few classics. More Self Psychology. More memoirs if possible.

Have a great festive season and see in you in 2013.

xmas 2012_3


10 Responses to 2012 reading wrap-up

  1. smithereens says:

    Happy holidays to you and your family (can’t believe how big Leah is!)

  2. litlove says:

    A very happy Christmas indeed to you all, dear Pete – and I second Smithereens in noting how big Leah is getting! Some very interesting reading for you in 2012, and as you know Knausgaard is high on my list for 2013. The Masterson sounds fascinating and I am off to check it out right now! Here’s wishing you all a healthy, contented and calm 2013! xoxox

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Litlove. I hope you all have a wonderful 2013 too. I’m looking forward to another year of reading suggestions from you as well. As for Leah, she is definitely growing up quickly. We are enjoying a brief holiday at the sea and she has already told the sea to “go away” because it bumped her! She is too dear.

  3. Charlotte says:

    Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas – hope you also get some time to rest. I am working very hard on finding an English-language publisher so that I can offer you some South African writing to read!

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Charlotte. I imagine you are all enjoying a snowy Christmas and New Year. I’m looking to forward to reading your novel sometime soon. Best of luck with the publisher-search.

  4. Thanks for a really interesting wrap-up/review. I’m off to Amazon now to look up some of your recommendations! Wishing you a very happy festive season in the warm south.

  5. Pete says:

    Thanks Karen. Wishing you and yours a happy holiday too. There’s been some drama here with fires on the mountain and helicopters dousing the flames. But other than that a lovely relaxing (although brief) summer holiday.

  6. Grad says:

    Oh, heck, at first I though my response got lost…but it’s attached to your great photo! Maybe you can see it there. Anyway, hope all your 2013 dreams come true.

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