Alephs, Pumpkins and What It Was: My Year in Reading

So, what did I read in 2012 that was any good?

I started the year with What It Was by George Pelecanos. It was the first book by this DC writer that I’ve ever read. And it was also the first book I ever read on an iPad, an experience I found to be surprisingly pleasant. What it Was is a muscular, brutal novel with a strong plot that captures Washington after the 1968 riots. In my review of this crime novel, I said that:

Pelecanos has a great eye for the details of the time, from the tricked-out cars to the soul music of the 1970s.

I then devoured the first three books of A Game of Thrones. Starting off a skeptic, I was soon enraptured by the violent, amoral world of Westeros. But by the end of the third massive tome, I had fallen out of love – when is this thing going to end? Arrgh, why does George R. R. Martin keep killing off main characters? For those familiar with the endless tale, it was the traumatic events of the “Red Wedding” that made me stop reading.

The death of Harry Crews in March reminded me of what a good author he was – I reread Body, his crazy disturbing look at female bodybuilding. Crews loved Florida and freaks.

A more genteel book is The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett. This Kindle single is one of the most practical guides to writing I have ever read. And her novel State of Wonder was one of the best books I read all year. It’s a great examination of scientific ethics in the Amazonian rainforest.

Another great story about an author is Hemingway’s Boat. Filled with colorful tales of Papa in Cuba, it’s a damning portrait of a genius in decline.

In the category of “I can’t believe I’m reading this”: The Rock Star’s Daughter. It’s a young-adult page turner that was free on Kindle. This really was the year of the e-book for me.

I had plans to review each chapter of The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. He’s an ideal author for people pursuing alternative career paths. But I got stuck on chapter three – follow your passion… maybe. In this chapter, Guillebeau said to look for things that you love to do that you can also get paid for. The stories are inspiring but he understates the difficulty of discovering this sweet spot of passion and money.

This idea of discovering what you’re best at is explored in The Pumpkin Plan, a very nuts-and-bolts book for small businesses. The message: only do what you’re best at. Nothing else.

In the category of philosophical, “what should I do with my life?” books I would also place The Winner Stands Alone and Aleph, a pair of somewhat cruel novels by Paulo Coelho. They fail to capture the magic of The Alchemist, lacking the hopeful spirit of his first book. Which is disappointing, because The Alchemist is required reading for anyone who wants to be an artist.

Another disappointment was Swamplandia – it started out so strongly but then got bogged down in a literal and metaphorical swamp. Parts of the book are brilliant and hilarious. The editor in me wanted to cut a hundred pages out of this book. There so much potential in this story of Florida swamp eccentrics.

Fortunately, I have friends who write books! Angry filmmaker Kelley Baker produced a gem of a book on no-budget filmmaking while Jon Gann contributed a great guide to film festivals. Get both books for filmmakers on your Xmas list.

And of course I published my second novel, Don’t Mess Up My Block. This parody of self-help books made it to the second round of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

That’s my reading list for 2012! Hope you find something that you can enjoy!

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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