Dead Week

Two-thousand and eleven gives us this neatly pack­aged dead week, the last of the year, a Sun­day to Sun­day, Christ­mas to New Year’s Day, dur­ing which time it seems next to noth­ing gets done while the things you never seemed able to do are finally accom­plished: draw­ers are lined, the garage is orga­nized but still the tide’s nei­ther out nor com­ing in and the fam­ily wakes later than usual. We build a fire in the morn­ing. We read. The kids play with their new toys, qui­etly, in cor­ners, or join us under com­forters on the couch, their feet freez­ing. Sched­ules are oblit­er­ated. I call friends I haven’t spo­ken to in ages. On the radio, tele­vi­sion, and inter­net, everyone’s tal­ly­ing: Best Books, Best Movies, Biggest Gaffes, Top Sto­ries. The rabbit’s loose some­where in the house. The Christ­mas tree is so dry it might spon­ta­neously com­bust. Our dog, Henry, who we had to put down after 15 years of com­pan­ion­ship, haunts our home. In the morn­ings, all of us some­times wake to the sound of his high, dusty bark. We’ve reported this to each other indi­vid­u­ally, cor­rob­o­rated it. My wife spec­u­lates it’s because we haven’t buried him yet. We’ve put that off too.

Look­ing back, it was, more than any­thing else, a great read­ing year and, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share my list, an adden­dum to the Year in Read­ing piece I wrote for The Mil­lions (check out that series when you have the chance). I’ll begin with what will prob­a­bly be the last book I’ll have fin­ished this year, unless I’m some­how for­tu­nate enough to get Alan Heathcock’s much-acclaimed Volt under my belt. That was James Salter’s Light Years, which I can’t rec­om­mend highly enough. It aston­ished and moved me more than any book has in quite some time and is inar­guably a mas­ter­piece. If you haven’t dis­cov­ered Salter, put Light Years or A Sport and a Pas­time at the very top of your list for 2012. You won’t be disappointed.

Here goes:

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (I read this twice)

The Adven­tures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The Let­ters of Saul Bel­low edited by Ben­jamin Taylor

The Ore­gon Exper­i­ment by Keith Scribner

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

The Sto­ries of John Cheever

The Jour­nals of John Cheever

Tiger, Tiger by Mar­gaux Fragoso

Dis­grace by J.M. Coetzee

On Being Blue by William Gass (a re-reading)

Out Steal­ing Horses by Per Pettersen

Blood Merid­ian by Cor­mac McCarthy

Dusk and Other Sto­ries by James Salter

The Cur­few by Jesse Ball

Mad as Hell: The Cri­sis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Pop­ulist Right by Dominic Sandbrook

What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. Pres­i­dent? by Kevin Mattson

Live from New York: A His­tory of Sat­ur­day Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

End Zone by Don DeLillo (a re-reading)

Thir­teen Ways of Look­ing at the Novel by Jane Smiley

Project X by Jim Shepard

Like You’d Under­stand, Any­way by Jim Shepard

The Vir­gin Sui­cides by Jef­frey Eugenides

First Love by Ivan Tur­genev (I don’t know, fifth or sixth time read­ing it)

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (it’s com­ing out this year and I blurbed it—a total ball)

A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Liv­ing in Paris by Eric Blau

A Sep­a­rate Peace by John Knowles (a re-reading)

The Sense of an End­ing by Julian Barnes

Lolita by Vlad­mir Nabokov (maybe sixth time I’ve read it)

One res­o­lu­tion for 2012: Read more.

Finally, in Ladies and Gen­tle­men news, the col­lec­tion was named a top book of the year by The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle and The Book Lady.

Enjoy these last days of 2011.