120 in 2010: Exit Interview.

Fire Trainer 5

It’s unlikely I’ll finish another book before the year’s out so I’m calling it a bit early. I didn’t come close to hitting the goal. I don’t even think I hit the halfway mark. I think it was something closer to 55 books. It’s hard as shit to read 120 books in a year. Who’s got the time for that? I read an interview with Sherman Alexie where he said he’s got a personal library of something like 5000 books. That’s roughly ten books a week for ten years. I guess it’s doable if you’re Sherman Alexie. Otherwise, I can’t recommend forcing yourself to read 120 books in a year for recreational purposes. It’s more than likely you’re going to burn yourself out.

Does it count for yearly reading that I cycled through roughly 1000 short stories this year? Even if they didn’t get published? Just because a work isn’t published does that mean you can’t learn something from it? And ultimately does that mean that you the piece is somehow validated if someone learns something from it or impacts them in some small way? That’s what you want with publishing, right? Validation? That sweet crack-like drug that makes you feel like you matter, that there’s a purpose for you here? That in the event fire were to rush across the sky and singe all life from the surface of the earth in a brutal cleansing, you’d be someone they’d make sure had a place in the bunker? That would feel good, wouldn’t it?

Once I unlocked the possibility that I could read two books in a week then I got faster, so that was cool. But the books I was reading didn’t have a natural progression, I was just picking up whatever was on the shelf, mainly whatever small press stuff I’d got in the mail. But since I had a goal to hit, since I knew I could read faster than I had months before starting, it made it a lot harder to finish a book I didn’t care about, or even start one that didn’t sound exciting. When you force yourself to do something you quickly learn what’s a priority and what’s not. If I learned anything it’s that I’m only reading stuff that interests and excites me from now on. Anything else feels like a waste of time.

I’d wished there was a natural arc to the books I’d read this year. Like I said, I was mainly picking up all the stuff on my shelf I’d been meaning to get to, or stuff put out by my small press cronies. It was a year of mainly digging into that world and seeing what it’s all about. Now that I’m familiar with it, I’m kind of done with it for a while. I want to start reading the stuff that everyone else is reading, Colum McCann, Aleksander Hemon, Deb Olin Unferth, that sort of thing. Good books make you want to talk about them with other folks. Small press books are hard because not a lot of people know about them, which makes conversation scarce at best. The very cool thing about small press books, though, is that the writers are very grateful to have their stuff read. And they’ll be happy to talk to you about their books if no one else will. Also cool: they, unlike big name authors, will return your emails and sometimes you end up meeting new friends. Which, in the end, is what reading and writing is all about: connecting.

I liked writing the reviews. I imagine I’ll keep on doing it, especially if I think it’s a good small press book that deserves more exposure. But I’m done with counting how many books I’ve read. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read. There’s no magic number that, once achieved, grants you enlightenment status. It’s a journey that only ends when your mind falls apart. What matters is that you read a lot and get a lot out of what you read.

Noteworthy books read (in chronological order):

The Crying of Lot 49

Shoplifting from American Apparel


Museum of Fucked

Await Your Reply

Burn Collector Fourteen

How to Take Yourself Apart, How to Make Yourself Anew

Fugue State

A Common Pornography

Mockery of a Cat

We Did Porn

Eat When You Feel Sad

A Jello Horse

Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever


Sword of My Mouth

Big Lonesome


Adam Robison and Other Poems by Adam Robinson

48 HR Magazine

Twelve by Twelve

Rocket’s Red Glare

Flowing in the Gossamer Fold

Hobart #11: The Great Outdoors

Aliens of Affliction

Midnight Picnic

When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother

We’re Getting On


Taste of Penny

The God of Small Things


How They Were Found

Sleepingfish 8

The Female Brain

Long View



  1. michelle says:

    Congratulations on reading the books you got your paws on!! 50-something, right? It’s more than some people will read in a year, including me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. chris says:

    Judging from your typing style you sound hot. You got a boyfriend?

  3. James says:

    Chris: Thanks for sharing. It’s funny because I just decided today to go back and try to pull out all the major things I learned from the books I’ve read this year. I’ve been moving through a process of getting stricter about how I choose to spend my time when it comes to reading as well (including articles online).

    Though I do find it quite interesting how taking on that daunting reading task has impacted your approach to reading — I’m even more curious how what you read this year impacted your day to day life.

    How do you see the world differently? How do you act differently? How is your experience of reality deepened or lessened? How do you relate to others differently? Did you read anything that didn’t have any perceivable impact whatsoever? What had the greatest impact?

    I’ll be asking myself the same kind of questions over the next month.


  4. chris says:

    Hey James,

    This is cryptic because I’m still processing a lot of the stuff I read, but here we go anyway:

    A commenter on one of the reviews I wrote this year said that each book is a rabbit hole. To start reading is to willfully throw yourself down it. You may find yourself too far down the hole so you grab onto a ledge to stop falling. But there you are on a ledge, neither up nor down. It’s better to keep falling to see where it goes.

    There are a lot of things I learned this year that I wish I didn’t know. The more you read, the more the world grows complex and frightening. But the things I learned yesterday are less frightening than the things I learned today. The unfamiliar is always frightening. But once you’re aware of something, it’s no longer unfamiliar. That’s the biggest thing I took away this year. Stephen Elliott says that the only way out of the storm is to walk into it, and I believe that.

  5. James says:

    I can definitely relate. This has been the strangest year of my life so far …. because of being forced to swallow the reality that I really don’t know as much about things or even people that I thought I did. And that’s not even including the freak me out moments where I realize that how I see myself might not actually be as accurate as I thought! It’s like this weird duality where I am definitely more learned than ever before, even as if the learning is compounding on itself … but know less. And like you said, my peripheral is expanding quicker than my sight and so it is absolutely terrifying at times.

    But what story is any good without some twists and turns? :)

    Regarding reading, some advice that has helped me is that if a book sucks and I’m pretty confident the rest of it sucks, then I just stop reading it. That used to be really hard for me to do, but its getting easier.

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