The books I didn’t read this year

I stole this idea (like an artist) from Austin Kleon, who lifted it from John Warner. I love filling up my holds queue at the library and anticipating the books I’ll read next (or the ones I’ll avoid because they’ve gotten too buzzy, as a true contrarian does).

The Japanese have a word for the stack of books you’ve bought but haven’t yet read: tsundoku. I like to think of these purchases as being as important as the books I’ve finished, like little companions strewn around my house (or stacked up in my Libby app) as totems of the reading life as a practice, not a pursuit.

The real exercise may be to see how many of these make it to my best-of-2024 list. Some I’ve already decided to let go, but others I’ve been sitting on until just the right time when I can savor them fully.

Here are 20 books I didn’t read this year, in no particular order:

1. Roaming by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
This graphic novel is sitting on my coffee table after I stumbled across it in the “Lucky Day!” new reads section at my library branch. The liminal time after Christmas is a perfect time to mow through books like these, so I’m not yet counting it out for 2023.

2. Sun House by David James Duncan
It’s been three decades since Duncan’s last epic novel, The Brothers K, which I devoured in my youth with utter delight. The Pacific Northwest has few writers who write as wildly and beautifully as Duncan. I’ve been waiting for a vacation or a quiet season when I can tip straight into this 700-page novel and not come up until I’m done.

3. Saving Time by Jenny Odell
No excuses, except for the impression that the library holds in my Libby app ask to be read more loudly than the books on my shelf do. I loved her debut very much, and I’ll read this one soon, too.

4. Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter
What millennial doesn’t love a takedown of late capitalism? Roxane Gay calls this one “the kind of novel that reminds us that the apocalypse is now.”

5. The Comfort of Crows by Margaret Renkl
I bought a copy of this at Unabridged Books when visiting Chicago and haven’t yet read it, although my purchase was heavily influenced by reading Renkl’s Late Migrations on the Amtrak ride in. I think I’ll wait until spring so I can track local flowers blooming as I read about Renkl’s backyard.

6. Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer
I read about this book in so many places that I can’t remember what exactly caused me to pick it up at the library. Then I brought it home, and it sat on my desk for three weeks. I’m still interested in Dederer’s experiment in grappling with whether we can love the art but hate the artist.

7. The Creative Act by Rick Rubin
Another book purchased while traveling and feeling that heady mixture of freedom and creative possibility. I will get to it. Until then, it’s a friendly bookshelf totem.

8. Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun
This appeals to me as someone who reads and feels deeply about the magnitude of suffering in this world, yet doesn’t identify as a loud, energetic activist at heart.

9. Hot Springs Drive by Lindsay Hunter
I’ve just been batting this one down the Libby list until the timing is right, but: suburban intrigue? complicated female friendship? deep character study? Yes, yes, yes.

10. The Light Room by Kate Zambreno
Despite my intentions to critically engage with any new book about millennial motherhood, I finally came to terms this year with the fact that this practice can sometimes increase my sense of suffering, not ease it.

11. The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
After being shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this book made it to many best-of lists this year. Which explains why I’m currently 472nd in line to receive access from my local library.

12. Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Another one that caught my eye after Roxane Gay chose it for her Audacity book club.

13. Contradiction Days by JoAnna Novak
See #10.

14. The Upstairs Delicatessen by Dwight Garner
Garner’s sublime Grub Street Diet drove me straight to this book, but the timing just hasn’t been right yet.

15. Rivermouth by Alejandra Oliva
It can’t be a coincidence that I had the intent to read so many justice-oriented books this year, and yet when they came available to me, I didn’t feel prepared to bear additional stories of suffering.

16. Fat Talk by Virginia Sole-Smith
I was big on this book early in the year, when I was subscribing to Sole-Smith’s Substack (and many other Substacks by white women, which are all well-written, but the pace and tone have become a little too insistent for my brain).

17. Period by Kate Clancy
I’ll always champion women knowing more about their own bodies as a source of agency and power, but for some reason, reading this particular book felt less important the moment it landed in my lap.

18. Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri
As if Lahiri’s successful career as an author of short story collections and novels weren’t enough, now she’s writing in Italian and translating her own work back to English. I’m bumping this one up the list.

19. The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay
Ryan spotted this one at Unabridged Books on our Chicago trip, and sometime in 2024, I hope we’ll pick up our practice of reading a delight “essayette” to each other before bed as we did with the original Book of Delights.

20. Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
Makes me wish I had a book club. From one blurb: “Beagin channels everything evil, hot, intimate, and funny about spying on people while secretly hoping to get caught.”

What did you mean to read this year?

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