• Reading Resolution: January Report

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 19 comments

    Magda Szabo The DoorSo January is over and we’re now in the shortest but most brutal month of the year.

    Here in NYC we’ve had only one major snow and no serious cold snap, so I won’t be surprised if February kicks the pudding out of us. What a great time to get out in front of your 2016 reading resolution!

    It’s been two weeks since we had our rousing discussion about those. How are they going so far? Let us know below.

    During that discussion I promised to report on my reading progress once per month, in order to keep me honest in pursuit of my goals — to read at least fifty-two books in 2016, over half of which will be written by women, and over half of which will be written by minorities and/or by foreign authors in translation.

    I’m not going to write lengthy reviews of each book, because yawn, right? I’ll just give a bit of background/plot and an impression or two.

    Maybe you’ll find something new to read. Hopefully next to a roaring fire and a cup of hot cocoa.

    Many cliches are cliches for good reason.


    1) Season Of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih (translated from Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies) (NYRB Classics, and presently on sale straight from my favorite publisher!)

    Last week we discussed this one in Great Beginnings. It was also, as the first book I read in 2016, a great beginning to my reading year. (That was a strained connection, huh?)

    A Sudanese man returns to his Nile-side village after studying in Europe and becomes fascinated with a strange new villager named Mustafa. Turns out Mustafa studied in Europe, too, and was once on trial for his life.

    This short and tight novel offers some unique chronology, multiple storylines, and some interesting questions about the legacy of colonialism and post-independence struggles. It’s worth much more than the small amount of time you’ll need to devote to it.


    2) The Pumpkin Eater, Penelope Mortimer (NYRB Classics, also on sale now)

    This is an often funny story of a woman who just can’t seem to stop having children. She and her writer husband are building a giant glass tower to live in (uh huh), but, well, shit goes south. I was entertained, but it won’t stand out as a favorite. I imagine it was pretty gutsy for its time (1962).


    3) The Door, Magda Szabo (translated from Hungarian by Len Rix) (NYRB Classics. On sale. Must be a winter sale a-happenin’ over there.)

    This novel came to me last summer when I was part of NYRB Classics’ subscription book club. “A story about the relationship between some Hungarian writer and her housemaid?” I thought. “Why would I even remotely care about that?”

    Boy am I narrow-minded sometimes. Read this book. It’s so beautiful, utterly engrossing and memorable. If I read a better book this year (outside, perhaps, of No. 6 below) I’ll be surprised. I came thisclose to starting over on page 1 and doing it again.


    4) Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, Yi Shun Lai (Shade Mountain Press) (Note: this book isn’t out yet; keep an eye on the link)

    Regular WBN blog readers already know Yi Shun Lai. This is her debut novel, and I’m so happy to report that it’s super entertaining.

    Marty Wu’s life in NYC isn’t going so well to begin with — for one thing, her mother is a hyper-critical monster — but on a business trip to Vegas to close a big deal, well, some things come up. Particularly last night’s liquor, all over the potential client.

    So Marty accompanies her mother back home to Taiwan in an effort to get away, but then learns that, just maybe, she’s not so much getting away as she is moving toward.

    This doesn’t come out for a few months yet, so we’ll remind y’all when it’s available.


    5) What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell (FSG)

    This novel is about the relationship between an American in Bulgaria and the young man with whom he has an often contentious sexual relationship. There’s a fair amount of hype surrounding this debut, and one word that appears again and again is “lyrical.” For me, “overwritten” is more fitting. But that’s all a matter of taste. There are some beautiful passages, and a memorable set piece where the narrator befriends a young boy on a train, but this one’s not for me.


    6) NW, Zadie Smith (Penguin)

    There are a lot of Zadie Smith haters out there, and it just baffles me. Here’s another one that I almost restarted the moment I finished. It’s about two women who grew up friends in an economically depressed and rundown section of London (Northwest London, or NW) and how this upbringing affects them, individually and together, in adulthood.

    That description does no justice to how good this book is. Smith plays with style and form throughout, but in a way that never distracted me from the plot, and as always her character development and insight are top-notch.

    I can’t think of more than a couple of contemporary writers I admire as much as Smith.


    7) The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (Vintage, originally Arte Publico in Houston)

    Please don’t tell anyone, but this is the first time I read this classic of Chicano (and U.S. in general) lit. As a former books editor at a Texas magazine, this was a title thrown at me again and again by authors and publicists pitching their own books. And I was always like, “Well yeah, of course I know it.”

    I’m way over word count here, so all I’ll say is that I wish I’d been given the opportunity to read this in a classroom. I have no doubt I would’ve appreciated it more as a youngster. And I appreciated it plenty as an adult.


    So that was January. I’m seven books towards my reading resolution, which puts me a little ahead of pace. Which is helpful, going into this short and dark hell-month.

    What have you been reading? How is your reading resolution going so far? Better yet, how is your writing resolution going so far? Let us know in the comments below.


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. And join our mailing list, over in the right sidebar, for once-per-week writing goodies in your inbox. 

    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.


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    Yi Shun Lai

    David, I am so, so impressed. Seven books in January! And my own included. What a pleasure to know you were one of the first to read it. And what lovely company I’m in. Great suggestions for a new year of reading. Thank you!


    I love these lists, thank you. Especially because they’re not crazy typo-filled insane reviews but are just quick blurbs and quick thoughts. It’s so much easier to read and to get recs from. I find it difficult to find good books on Goodreads and Amazon.
    I will read number 3, 4 and 6. Those all sounds great. I read number 7.
    Congrats to Yi Shun Lai above me! It is my kind of book.


    Oh yes, you said to talk about our resolution. I said I would read to children at the library. I haven’t yet. But I plan to! I swear. lol

    Betty G.

    I said I would read 1 book a week in 2016 and so far I am on
    book 5. So far so good. Nothing great yet, though. The newest
    Steven King is next for me and I know you guys like them, so I’ll
    Write back and tell how it is. Seven books is a lot! Way to go.


    Good on you, man. Thanks for the writeup. I really like Garth Greenwell’s book, but I get what you’re saying. To me it’s lyrical instead of overwritten. But yeah, that scene on the train was fucking killer. That book is getting a lot of love. Two NYT reviews, for one thing.

    I’m a Zadie Smith hater. Sorry, bro. Maybe someday we can get into it. WHITE TEETH is a disaster of epic proportions and THE AUTOGRAPH MAN was impossible to get through. I won’t even try NW. I saw your tweet about the Penguin recs, lol.

    Alex Jackson

    I absolutely hated the Autograph Man. And since it was the first of hers I tried, maybe that has something to do with it. White Teeth was OK, some of her essays I like. Some are dull, some are undeveloped. I don’t know.

    Just name a time and place.

    J. Sommers

    You almost lost me at “kick the pudding.”

    I’m already derailed from my Pulitzer resolution. lol?

    So that’s how that’s all going.


    It’s a good list, diverse too. NYRB is a great publisher.

    My reading resolution was to read at a 1:1 ratio work to pleasure. Too often it’s more like 3:1, or worse. So, no numbered goal necessarily, just to read as much outside of work as inside. It’s not easy, in this business. But you know that.

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