Looking ahead to the new year, I think it's worth drafting an agenda—specific books that I want to (or just really should) read, gaps that I want to address, and a larger project to guide the year's reading.
Last year, I set as my purpose focusing on women authors and authors of color. Or, in my more combative terms, no white American men. The only breaks in this agenda were D. A. Powell's Chronic and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, both of which I had compelling reasons for which to create exceptions (Powell was giving a reading in my city, and the whole Infinite Summer thing happened). Otherwise, I think I made some headway on addressing the gaps in my reading which provided the impetus for this program: I read a fair number of classics that I had skipped over before for whatever reason (Beloved, The Left Hand of Darkness, A Passage to India, A Bend in the River, Midnight's Children, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, The Color Purple, Death Comes for the Archbishop, The House on Mango Street, The Trial, The Woman Warrior, Giovanni's Room, Passing, The Awakening, Austerlitz, Blindness, Persuasion, The Golden Notebook, Three Lives) and gave myself some depth by reading some authors that aren't quite so household names (but should be): Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, Gayl Jones, Alejo Carpentier, Tayeb Salih, Djuna Barnes, Sam Selvon, Nadine Gordimer, Tillie Olsen, Stanislaw Lem, César Aira, and others.
This year, I want to prioritize diversity along genre and national lines. Last July, I read Samuel Delany's Babel-17 and found it alright, but nothing extraordinary, and nothing that would pull me into a broader exploration of science fiction. I asked you all for some suggestions about what authors and books to read to draw me in so, and I will try to use that list more this year. In the crime genre, I'm looking forward to an introduction via George Pelecanos and Richard Price. I feel that one genre I have neglected writing about on the blog is experimental short fiction, and as such, I'm hoping both to fill in that gap and also to get in some practice on close reading, which I've also rather strangely neglected of late. Expect a spy thriller or two as well, and maybe some mysteries or detective novels.
I'm also hoping to write about drama more this year. It's something I haven't given much attention to on this blog, and I'd like to try to develop some effective habits of writing about it—probably just as literature, though, and not as performance. Unfortunately, I cannot simply command performances of the playwrights I'm interested in. I will, however, try to see a few plays (New Haven has a wonderful theater scene) and give that a try as well.
I am also strongly committed this year to tackling some of the global heavyweights I've missed: Mahfouz, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, Danticat, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Paz, Kobo Abe, Munif, Grass. I'd also like to use the New Directions back catalog to discover some writers that I am familiar with only by name.
In a project with a little more definition, I would like to read at least one novel from each Latin American country this year. I've already done some preliminary research on possible authors, and I think one of the interesting aspects of this project will be the process of finding an author from each country; while México, Argentina, Brasil, Chile, and Cuba each have a wealth of authors to choose from, Ecuador, Honduras, Bolivia, and Panamá are much thinner. If there is some real difficulty for one, I may end up reading a novel in the original Spanish, but this would take much longer and, well, there's a fair number of countries to cover.
Particularly in light of some of the debates about the "Bolaño myth" and the future of Latin American literature, I'm hoping that such a project will give me a better understanding of the context for criticisms of the spottiness of U.S. readings of the continent. Obviously, one novel per country is a small (and ultimately unrepresentative) selection, but I do imagine that I'll at the very least be better informed about a few authors and the ways they imagine their environment. And, hopefully, this project can serve as a way of organizing discussion of Latin American literature, nation by nation. I'm looking forward to your thoughts and suggestions.
I hope you all have a wonderful year.