I fell into a reading rut in 2017. I would read a book I saw reviewed in the New York Times, or buy a new book by a favorite author. That was about it. It’s not that the books I read weren’t good. Some of them were even great. I expect that people a hundred years from now will still be reading The Underground Railroad and Between the World and Me. I only disliked one book—and I’m not going to say what it was.
I checked off eight of the twelve categories in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading for Growth challenge, including ten books by #ownvoices or #diversebooks authors, five immigrant stories, and six books in translation (plus one in French). I didn’t particularly care about most of the other categories: a Newbery Award honoree, a book over 600 pages, or three books by the same author.
But the other category I missed…there’s where the trouble lies. I didn’t read any books published before I was born. And it’s not like I narrowly missed this goal. The oldest book I read in 2017 was Justine Lévy’s Rien de Grave, which was published in 2004. That’s right, I managed to read forty books last year without reading anything published before the millennium. The books I read in 2017 were published, on average, in 2015.
I wasn’t always that kind of reader. In 1987, the books I read were published an average of 21 years before. Henry James’s Washington Square is on that list, along with books by Philip Roth and Edith Wharton. I discovered Laurie Colwin, still one of my favorite writers, and read five of her books. I read a book on Elizabethan thought published in the 1940s and a bunch of classic mysteries. There’s junk on the list, too; Judith Krantz features prominently. But, unlike my 2017 self, I was open to anything. (Well, except when it comes to diversity. All of the books I read in 1987 were by white authors except The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, which features mostly white characters. I can blame this only partly on a less diverse publishing market.)
Well, My Year in 1918 will solve this problem. But it won’t be easy to give up contemporary books for a year. I enjoy a challenging read, but when I want to relax I default to my comfort zone, well-written novels by writers like Elinor Lipman, Meg Wolitzer, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Marisa de los Santos. Except for Lipman, they all have books coming out this year. I was having a great time reading Kevin Kwan’s Rich People Problems, but I was only halfway through on December 31, so I’ll have to wait until next January to find out who inherits Tyersall Park. I’ll have to wait for Dinner at the Center of the Earth by my wonderful NYU professor, Nathan Englander. I got Christmas presents that will have to wait for another Christmas to roll around. The current affairs books in my to-read pile won’t be so current next January.
So good-bye, crazy rich Asians and befuddled New Yorkers, painfully innocent college students and hyper-observant Londoners! Farewell, innovative economists and eccentric Japanese tidiers! See you in 2019.