Doug Bruns

Reading list: 2012

In Books, Creativity, Memoir, Reading, The Examined Life, Writing on December 31, 2012 at 6:46 am
Not my book shelf.

Not my book shelf.

Okay, there is tradition. Who I am to swim against the current? Three years of reading lists. Let the tradition continue.

In the year 2012 I read the following: …but before I go there…my reading has slowed. Here are the stats: In 2009 I read 33 books. I was doing a lot of reviewing at the time and books were free. What would you expect? In 2010 I read 27 books. In 2011, 26. And last/this year, 2012, 20. Obviously a trend is at work here. I don’t like the look of diminishing returns and hope to rectify things going forward.

I expressed dismay over this trend to a friend recently, fewer books read every year and so on. Her respond was, “Perhaps you’re doing other things.” This is certainly true. This year has been consumed with a lot of “other things.” Perhaps that warrants further comment. Perhaps not.

Anyway, here are the twenty books I read in 2012. (Perhaps you, like me, walk into a friend’s house and move first to the bookshelf, if there is one. If there is no bookshelf it’s probably gonna be an early evening–drink deep. But a bookshelf is like peeling back the skull to the frontal lobes and seeing what a person is made of.)

So, again, here is what I was made of in 2012, first to last:

Something Urgent I Have to Say to You, , by Leibowitz, Herbert–biography of William Carlos Williams, the great American poet. Lots of potatoes, little meat.

Lines on the Water: A Fly Fisherman’s Life on the Miramichi, by David Richards Adams –beautiful account of life standing in moving water.

The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker–A heartbreaking perfect book.

Examined Lives, from Socrates to Nietzsche, by James Miller–The examined life? What can I say? A life mission.

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes–Barnes is a favorite. To my ear, so British, so proper. So much talent.

Incidents, by Roland Barthes–Observations by a master thinker.

End of the Earth, Voyaging to Antartica, by Peter Mettheissen–Perhaps my favorite living American author–after Jim Harrison, of course. Life rendered in adventure by a writer of the first order.

Why Read Moby Dick, by Nathaniel Philbrick–A good primer to a classic.

Thinking the Twentieth Century: Intellectuals and Politics in the Twentieth Century, by Tony Judt–A tough way to go, a slog, but we own the great late Judt the effort.

At Home in the World, a Memoir, by Joyce Maynard–The voice of an angel. It’s hard to blame Salinger, though one must. (See my post from May here.)

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, by Tim Bissell–An essayist to warrant jealousy.

Reading for My Life: Writings 1958-2008, by John Leonard–I grew pubic hair reading and listening to Leonard. So sad to see him gone. So grateful for his direction. It made a difference.

Canada, Richard Ford–Over-rated. I wanted to like it more, wanted to love it. But, alas, like so much we wish to love, it was effort ill spent.

Battleborn, by Watkins, Claire Vaye–Best reading of the year. A new, exciting, heavy, and worthy voice. Frankly amazing to me.

What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World, by Jon, Young–wonderful introduction to being one with nature.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard–I read this first a few years ago while traveling in India. It was lost on me–too much distraction for such a quiet book. Now it seems the perfect study in observation rendered by an artist.

Canoe Indians of Down East Maine, by William A. Haviland–A homebound study. (They came to the coast from the woods in winter and lived off clams, in case you’ve wondered.)

Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs, by Steve Hagan–“Not What You Think” is the key to this study. That is, if you can think of it, you’ve missed the point. Perfect zen, of course.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, by Timothy Egan–Egan has won the National Book Award and Curtis is the wished for life, without the pain, of course.

Stoner, by John Edward, Williams–A perfect novel. No kidding. Perfection in search of a grand(er) scheme.


Only one book was read electronically, Canada. That is not the reason it fell short; however, it did not help.

I want to apologize for that weird end-of-year summary post of yesterday. That was odd and unexpected. I don’t particularly like the look of that big ugly thing here at the …house…. It is too foreign and boisterious for our little gathering. Regardless, such are the things over which we have no control. There is a lesson in that.

Make it a good year, folks, as best you’re able. But remember a year is nothing but a collection of weeks and days and hours. I don’t want to be a minimalist (or perhaps I can’t help myself), but I think it better to make it a good hour, good minute, a good second even. When you do that the days and years follow naturally.

Best regards, friends.


  1. Even though it’s a shorter list, it’s diverse and quite impressive.

    • I’ve observed over the years that my readings are like my life, undisciplined and given to current curiosity. I will never be the master of anything, but can skim wide surfaces with the best of ’em. The big fish are deep. I must be content with the suface minnows.

      Thanks for reading and your comment. Best, D

  2. You forgot to mention the book you photographed, wrote and published. Portland at Street Level. A book produced should count for a dozen read, if one were counting, which obviously one is.

  3. Last year your second annual book list inspired my first annual book list. Since you recommended a good number of books I read in 2012, I will not consider it one-upmanship to disclose my considerably longer-than-yours list (though admittedly I did not receive a Maine Guide designation, write a blog, publish a book nor have a daughter get married).

    The Road Home. Jim Harrison. Sweet, earthy dose of Native American mysticism, like when the Lakota medicine man was asked what happened when we die. He said, “Got me by the ass” and laughed, adding that it wouldn’t do any good to know and would steal life’s greatest surprise.

    All Things Shining. Dreyfus & King. Perfect introduction to the next book read…

    Moby Dick. Herman Melville. The desert-island book for sure. “See how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love comes once to bend them.”

    Psychology and Religion. C. G. Jung. “The law is lenient with unconscious sinners, but nature is not. She punishes as severely as if they committed a conscious offense. Everyone carves a shadow.”

    Sense of an Ending. Julian Barnes. “Marriage is like a long, dull meal and the pudding is at the beginning. ”

    An Everlasting Meal. Tamar Adler. Elegant writing and I always try to have fresh parsley available.

    Why Read Moby Dick. Nathaniel Philbrick. My effort to extend and expand upon the original.

    The Trial. Franz Kafka. Jung would have had a feast with Kafka’s mind.

    Man and His Symbols. C. G. Jung. An exploration of art and the unconscious. A bit rambling.

    Stoner. John Williams. A Buddha-like academic, not surprisingly reared on a farm. Would like to find more of that ilk.

    Infinite Jest. D.F. Wallace. Could only have read it as I did…on a one month retreat with little else to do. Don Gateley will always live in my mind, as well as the imaginative writing of a genius.

    Antigone. Sophocles. First selection of the Longfellow classic book group. Some things don’t change.

    Tinkers. Paul Harding. A recall liking it very much and the Dad was a tinker, but it might have had to be longer to have left more of an impression.

    Brighton Rock. Graham Green. Compelling but evil. Strong ending.

    Green Mansions. W. H. Hudson. “In those darkest days in the forest I had her as a visitor – A Rima of the mind.” A mystic experience and a book admired by Hemingway.

    Einstein: Life of a Genius. Walter Isaacson. What a guy. Here is how he closed his letter to his son on his son’s 50th birthday, “Keep up the good, work, keep your sense of humor, be kind to people, but don’t let anything they may say or do worry you.” Ahh.

    Free Will. Sam Harris. Now I understand that I have no control over writing this too-long list.

    Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Dave Eggers. Strong in the beginning but fades, just as he said it would be.

    The Family. Jeff Sharlett. Chilling report of the development of American fundamentalism.

    Human Stain. Philip Roth. For me, even better than American Pastoral.

    Phi: A Voyage from Brain to Soul. G. Tonni. An exploration of consciousness somewhat different than Sam Harris, “maximally responsible, yes, but not completely predictable not even to itself.”

    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard. “We are all in this mason jar together, snapping at anything that moves.” Yet another meditation on free will, or lack thereof. Beautiful read.

    Anthill. E. O. Wilson. The description of the anthill community by this evolutionary biologist was worth the book. The fiction part is, predictably, a bit weak.

    Jungian Dream Interpretation. James Hall. Through dreams, a muysterious but inderlying concern for our ultimate welfare.

    • “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss.

      You travel wide and far, my friend. You know few horizons, the sign of a stalwart and seasoned pilgrim, indeed.

      I have made my notes and jotted down a few observations and will share this time next year, dog willing, as the tradition continues.

      You have sent me to the stacks and reminded me of Grouch’s comment: “I find tv very educational. Every time someone turns it on I go in the other room and read.”

      Happy New Year.

  4. Not done yet. I was unable to continue navigating the above and could not even correct the “muysterious but inderlying. Think I got too wordy. Almost done.

    Canada. Richard Ford. Agree with your disappointment, but loved the ending thought. “You have a better chance in life – surviving it- if you tolerate loss well…”

    Wise Heart: Understanding Buddhist Psychology. Jack Kornfield. Wise indeed!

    Half of the Sky. Nicholas Kristoff. Amazing ways women are abused around the world and what one can do about it.

    The Paris Wife. This reminds me that I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast after Tinkers, and on a train heading too Paris. Paris Wife was more detailed account from Hadley’s viewpoint and inspired me to read the next….

    The Sun Also Rises. Ernest Hemingway. Long on characters, short on plot, but great fun to read along with the others. (The bio you recommended is next!)

    Beloved. Toni Morrison. omg! What writing; what horror! Finished it right before I saw Django (coincidentally). Both enlightened my world view.

    Travels with Epicurus. Daniel Klein. A philosopher travels to a Greek island to study the secret to meaningful old age. Not much insight until the last chapter. That made up for the rest.

    Thanks for providing this forum.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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