Reading Plans 2013

For several years now, my reading plans have been minimal. I’ve wanted to be able to follow my instinct, without being weighed down by lists that tell me what I ‘should’ be reading. Such a strategy is doubtless very sensible, and you certainly can’t go wrong with it, but this year I feel completely different. I want to be reading as a writer, to coin Francine Prose’s term, reading for excellence and experimentation, and reading for the kind of things that I might want to write.


I’ve been creating a list of what might be called modern classics I’d like to read over the course of the year:

Karen Blixen (Isac Dinesen) – Out of Africa

L. P. Hartley – The Go-Between

Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending

Patricia Highsmith – The Talented Mr Ripley

Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin

Ian McEwan – Atonement

Wallace Stegner – Angle of Repose

Grace Metalious – Peyton Place

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

I also have a stack of contemporary novels and review copies I want to get to soon:

Liza Klaussmann – Tigers in Red Weather

Attica Locke – The Cutting Season

Michael Frayn – Skios

Jacqueline Raoul-Duval – Kafka in Love

Gabriel Josipovici – Infinity; The Story of a Moment

Beatrice Hitchman – Petite Mort

Fabrice Humbert – Sila’s Fortune

Lucy Ellmann – Mimi

Literary Non-Fiction

I refer you to this list I wrote a while back, and add to it The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock, as well as Heroines by Kate Zambreno which seems to be taking the blog world by storm.


This is the trickiest section and one I’d welcome recommendations for. I think the essay is where a lot of interesting things are beginning to happen lately, and I’m keen to read any essays that work as crossovers between personal memoir and something else, anything else. This is what I have already:

Findings – Kathleen Jamie

Artful – Ali Smith

Mama PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life – ed. Miriam B. Peskowitz, Elrena Evans and Caroline Grant

Mentors, Muses and Monsters – ed. Elizabeth Benedict

And Mr Litlove gave me these for Christmas, a gorgeous box set of novella-length essays from Notting Hill Editions who specialise in them.

Book lust!

Book lust!

I have heard that The Art of the Personal Essay edited by Philip Lopate is very good and am expecting to cave in soon and order a copy. (We all know this will happen.)

So that’s what’s on my list so far. Given I usually read 100-120 books a year, this represents a third of what I might expect to get through in 2013. Leaving two-thirds of my book choices open to the inspiration of the moment sounds about right to me.


53 thoughts on “Reading Plans 2013

  1. Atonement has been on my TBR pile for many many years. And I had Out of Africa out from the library a few months ago, but I never came to it. There are so many interesting novels on your list! You know what? I often find having no plans takes the pressure away, but I do really enjoy making lists, even if it is only for the idea of rediscovering which novels you really wish to read at that moment.

    I hope you have a wonderful 2013 🙂

    • Iris, I love the way you separate lists from plans. That is such a brilliant strategy! I shall adopt that instantly, and have lists that may or may not form subsets with my plans. And yes, I do love list-making! Have a wonderful 2013 too! 🙂

  2. Oooh, enjoy. A few particular favourites there but I’m too scared to read The Talented Mr Ripley because it is my uber fave movie of all time and I want the book to be so good.
    I’ve decided to record all books read this year in a very non academic manner – more of a what pleases/what flatters to deceive. And I’ve already read one of those since 01/01/13.

    • Then I shall womanfully read The Talented Mr Ripley and let you know what I think! The film version – is that the one with Jude Law in? Or is there an older version? I shall look forward very much to hearing how your book recording goes along. I have managed to forget already to note down what I’ve read. Sigh. I can see 2013 will find me no more organised than any other year!!

      • It’s got Jude Law, Matt Damon and out Gwynny too. Plus Phillip Hoffman who is utterly spooky in it. The plot is great, the characters/actors and the scenery – sublime.

        oops just told you about my reading list again. I need to up my mind medication.

  3. Wow! I will only be able to read far fewer. Need to finish Madame Bovary, and I received Sweet Tooth (McEwan) for Xmas. Friends are interested in a reading group, and some of us read Catch 22 (excellent) and Three Cups of Tea (subsequently to find out the scandal behind it) but, on the whole, good intentions have not converted into actual reading or discussion, which is a shame. So I bought five of them some very little books (Penguin Modern Classics: to get them going. Through this medium, I am now aware of Virginia Woolf, from her Through the Looking Glass, which I loved. As for literary criticism, have you read How Fiction Works, by James Wood – a genius explanation.

    • Mark, I haven’t read that James Wood although I have a book of his critical essays. I tend to be horribly critical myself of other people’s analysis of how fiction works, because that used to be my day job and I am/was undoubtedly overinvested! I shall have to see how I feel about it now – hopefully more charitable. I think you should push hard for your reading group as they are such fun, and giving minis to read is an excellent idea. Will you blog about the outcome? I’d love to know how it goes.

      • A ha, I can see how that might be difficult. Not The Broken Estate by any chance – too academic for me. Will blog about reading group – should be interesting as some non-readers there!

  4. De Quincey then, especially The English Mail Coach, if you haven’t already read it, and you could argue Life of Johnson into that category too: “crossovers between personal memoir and something else.”

    • Ah, see, I step back in time so rarely that I forget other centuries have much to offer. I do think I own Life of Johnson somewhere… thank you for the suggestions!

  5. Wonderful lists! For essays of the type you mention, I’d recommend Annie Dillard. For the Time Being is my favourite, but it is all one essay. My next favourite of hers is the collection of essays Teaching a Stone to Talk.

    • That’s a great recommendation, too. I do believe the adorable Smithereens sent me one of her essay collections – I must track it down! I’d love to read her.

  6. You simply must add Thin Paths by Julia Blackburn to your list of literary non-fiction. This is the best book of its kind (British/Dutch couple move to village in Northern Italy and fall in love with its landscape, inhabitants and history) that I have ever read, and one of the best books in any genre that I’ve ever read.. Gentle, erudite, understated, deeply personal whilst dwelling very little on herself, truly transporting and beautifully written.

    • Jean, you reminded me that Julia Blackburn was high on my list of authors-I-must-read. I’ve sent for this book already because I am perfectly sure I will adore it. Thank you for the recommendation!

  7. I like your list! I’m looking forward to your thoughts on Sense of an Ending. Please do get to Kafka in Love because I think it looks yummy and want to know if it really is. And is that a new novel by Josipovici? Swoon. You can put My Poets on your essay list. it isn’t technically essays but each chapter is pretty self-contained and the books reads like linked essays as well as a whole memoir. Plus I know you’ve got the book on your shelf 🙂 You could also through in some Montaigne and even Emerson in there for some less contemporary and very different styles. And what a nice gift from Mr. Litlove! They look so pretty.

    • It’s done! My Poets is definitely on the list, and will make a fine addition (and I DO own a copy! 🙂 ) Definitely, I will get to Kafka in Love, and the Barnes, both hugely desirable books. I do believe I have an edition of Emerson somewhere – I feel I know him quite well through your posts – what a year of reading that was! I remember it so well. 🙂

  8. I can’t offer any suggestions for your list, I’m afraid, but I am going to be interested to see what suggestions you get for essays as this is an area I keep meaning to read more of myself. I actually bought a copy of the Lopate and it does look wonderful, but it is so big. I think I would do better with smaller collections to begin with. Those Notting Hill editions look interesting. I’m just off to investigate them now.

    • Oh dear, that did it. The thought that the Lopate was big just tipped me over the edge. It’s on its way over! The Notting Hill Editions are gorgeous, and it is such an interesting company. They are doing a series of essay reading evening classes, which I would love to attend if only they were not in London. Boo! There have been lots of interesting suggestions for essays, so hopefully you’ve found something to tempt your curiosity too.

    • Emma, thank you for the links – fascinating! Delighted that Guy loved the Kafka book, and Fahrenheit 451 seems to have a huge fan following. As for the Murakami, the bad review rather sparks my curiosity, to see if I agree with it or not – I may well do so! But I quite like reading the controversial books to see. I’ll certainly let you know what I think.

  9. That box-set of longer essays is gorgeous. I’ve been gathering collections of essays over the last couple of months but most of them are rather old hardback copies from secondhand shops… One, more recent collection I can recommend having dipped into it is Julian Barnes’ Through The Window which came out last year. 🙂

    (Also, I don’t want to be *that* person but L P Hartley wrote The Go-Between not J L Carr!)

    • Do you know, that is the second time I’ve made that mistake lately!! Thank you for being *that* person – very helpful. I will change it right now. And thank you also for the Barnes recommendation – I love him!

  10. Oh God I love a box set. I barely care what it’s a box set of, as long as it comes to me in a box. Box sets of books are so beautiful and appealing.

  11. What an interesting list, My reading goal, if you can call it such, is to simply read more than I did last year and, perhaps, to blog about some of them. This shouldn’t be too difficult as I hardly read anything during the last 6 months. Soon headed to my annual beach-sitting, bird-watching, book-reading vacation and a have a Julian Barnes novel packed, though I don’t recall which one.

    I’ve read several of the books on your list and look forward to reading your critiques. Am especially looking forward to your review of Atonment. I liked the book, but like all of McEwan’s novels I’ve read, I was left disappointed at the end. I always feel as if McEwan plays with his readers too much, tricking them or leaving them without a satisfying ending. Maybe his schtick is just to convince you that it’s a novel, (maybe just a novel) and like life, even when it appears to be wrapped up nicely, it isn’t at all if you dig beneath the surface.

    • Ooh very interesting what you say about Atonement. I will bear that in mind as I’m reading. I do hope you are having a lovely vacation now, and that you have at least one book under your belt for 2013! 🙂

  12. During the last year I have discovered that to be reading as a writer is very different from reading like a scholar. I like it a lot better; more challenges, more feelings, more fun!

    Read Lopate, he is great, and I would especially recommend his own introduction to the collection.
    Annie Dillard is also very-very good; “On Writing” is spot on if you want to write, and I would also recommend her book: “Living by Fiction”

    • Sigrun – how nice that we are sharing this experience! Thank you for your vote on the Lopate (it is slowly winging its way to me across the Atlantic), and the lovely Smithereens sent me a copy of Living by Fiction last year, so I will add that to the list and look forward to it! Thank you for the recommendation.

  13. I like Barbara Kingsolver’s essays, starting with High Tide in Tucson. And I love Atonement, but would never read it at this time of the year, when dusk and dark thoughts can take over so much of the day already.

  14. Have you added your TBR list in goodreads? If not, it would be great to follow it there 🙂 Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin was an interesting read although I quit it mid-way finding it a bit difficult to follow the story within the story.

  15. Why is it that most readers are also list lovers? I know I am. I like how you have a plan but are also leaving room for whim and inspiration.

    Atonement, Fahrenheit 451, Angle of Repose and Skios are also on my to-read list for 2013. Two books on your list I have read (1) Blind Assassin, I am a great fan of Margaret Atwood and I think you will enjoy this book as much as I did and (2) Peyton Place which was deliciously
    gossipy and lurid as I recall.

    What a lovely and thoughtful gift from Mr. Litlove! I wonder, does he have it a little easier than other husbands regarding gifts? It is never too hard to find a good gift for a book lover. Although agonizing over just the right book could also be angst provoking.

    • Ruthiella, so glad the books that you’ve read from the list were pleasers – that’s great to know! And how nice that we will both discover some of those modern classics together. I am a complete sucker for a list, and think I may do more of them this year. I’ve never posted many lists on this blog, but this is the year for them, I think! Thank you also for your wonderful comment about gift giving and Mr Litlove which sparked such a fun post for me to write!!

  16. I love lists if only to think about what I want to read or how my interests might guide me for the year. I love your list and that you made it nice and open ended for lots of serendipitous reading, too. I think The Blind Assassin is my favorite Atwood book and I loved Atonement and The Go-Between (a nice reading pair actually) as well as The Talented Mr Riply (kind of weird to find a sociopath character somewhat sympathetic). I can’t wait to hear all about your reading. And that essay set is the perfect gift–good job Mr Litlove!

    • Danielle, I am so often inspired by your lists! (ahem, and often inspired to go on book buying missions….). But they are fun to put together and I think I might do more of them this year on the blog. I’m delighted that you have enjoyed the books you’ve read from this list – I think that pretty much guarantees I will enjoy them too! We have very similar tastes.

  17. I will not make any plans. I’m shaking off all my chains at the moment and a plan would feel like a chain…
    But I would like to read the Lopate this year too. I have another two collections of creative non-fiction. I plan on letting people know more abou the books on my shleves even if I haven’t read them yet. I’m tired of reviews and I know it can be great to discover new titles. Findings is on my shelves as well.
    I’m looking forward to your reviews and to discovering new titles on your blog.

    • Yup, I’ve felt that way before, definitely after a couple of years of blogging. You have to feel free sometimes to appreciate the reading as it comes. I’ll look forward to comparing opinions with you over the Lopate – however your opinion makes it onto your blog! 🙂

  18. Definitely the Lopate is a must-have — it will direct you to so many other essay collections for starters, as well as having a ton of amazing essays itself. Lopate has an essay collection called Against Joie de Vivre that’s good. I just bought a copy of the Julian Barnes essay collection, so I’m looking forward to that. The three essay collections I read last year that I loved might all have some examples of what you’re looking for: Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead, and Zadie Smith’s Changing my Mind. I know we’ve discussed Saunders’s The Braindead Megaphone and Baker’s U&I, but I can’t resist mentioning them again. I haven’t read it yet, but Andre Aciman has a collection of essays out called Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere that looks good. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets might fit the bill as well. You definitely can’t go wrong with any essay by David Foster Wallace. Robert Atwan has a collection of the Best American Essays of the Century, if you want another collection like Lopate’s. Also, J.C. Hallman’s The Story about the Story and Lawrence Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia, anything by Joan Didion. Have you read Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris? Okay, I think that’s all I’ve got. I’m sure I’m repeating myself here, but I’d rather be thorough 🙂

    • Rebecca, you are an absolute star! Thank you so much for this excellent list, full of titles which I know I will love and find most interesting. You are the go-to person on the internet for essays! This is wonderful, and I’ll have a lot of fun looking the books up now. 🙂

  19. How funny – I’m in a similar place myself. Always hated planning my reading, but am thinking about doing it this year. 2012 didn’t feel like a great reading year for me, even though I did come across some good books. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have access to as many libraries and bookshops as I’m used to, and did a lot of Kindle reading, which still doesn’t feel as satisfying. In any case, your list is a great starting point. Have read a few of them and really liked them, and have been thinking of reading some of the others. Your Christmas present from Mr Litlove looks fantastic! A beautiful object as well as a good read. Enjoy!

    • Andrew – well that is exactly how I feel. Normally I’m not for planning something that’s a pleasure, but this year just feels a bit different. Will you be coming back to London this year, do you think? I can quite see how reading habits may well be highly influenced by geography. I’m very interested to hear that you don’t find your Kindle as satisfying. I have never been able to reconcile myself to reading solely from a screen. Having the object in my hands just feels a completely different experience, somehow.

  20. Those are great lists! I gave up on the McEwan, can’t remember if that’s the Stegner I read, certainly haven’t read Peyton Place or the Murakami. But I love The Go-Between, Out of Africa and found The Talented Mr Ripley so disturbing that I have never read any other Ripley novels. I look forward to any reviews.

    You are so much better at contemporary fiction than I am, I haven’t even heard of anything on your list!

    I do have Lopate’s collection, and it is excellent.

    Happy reading!

    • Yay for Lopate and for The Go-Between and Out of Africa! The Highsmith novel, I admit I approach with some trepidation! I don’t frighten easily when reading, but I can be creeped out of my mind, if you see the difference. I am tender to the repulsive and disturbing! I confess I do like contemporary fiction, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I do adore the 30s-50s too – love the elegance of the writing from that era.

  21. I like your ratio of planned to unplanned reading, Victoria, though I have to laugh at the idea that my own plans are still simmering in my head even though I only read a half to a third of what you usually do on your reading menu. What a pathetic “chef” I am! By the way, I loved the Murakami you have on your list and then absolutely loathed the next thing I read by him + I, too, hope to read a Stegner this year. Anyway, belated Happy New Year to you and happy reading throughout the year!

    • Richard – a very belated Happy New Year to you, too (it’s never too late!). I can’t wait to compare our thoughts on Stegner, even if we end up with different novels, that doesn’t matter. How interesting to hear about your experience with Murakami – I am just plain old curious now to see how this book strikes me. I’m all for quality over quantity, though, and think that getting the most out of what we read is by far and away the only thing that’s important. I think you’re a pretty excellent chef, actually!

  22. I’ve just finished Artful and loved it! Playful, wise, gripping, full of wonderful poetry, quotes and observations on life. And quite a story too. Let me know when you’ve read it.

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