Doug Bruns

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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.


Too much pizza. Too much beer.

In Books, Memoir, Writers, Writing on May 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

I wrote this a month ago, saved it as a draft, thinking it best not to post it, for reasons which will be soon apparent. But I’m nursing a brainwave flatline and like its shallow mellowness. So, rather than get the synaptic camshaft cranking, I’m going to swallow my pride and roll with the post. What the hell.


Carole is out of town and so tonight I eat out. BBQ chicken pizza at Portland Pie Co. Carole does not care for their pizza so this is my place when she’s gone. And beer. I drink beer here too. Copious amounts.

I divide the pizza: eat this half tonight, this half tomorrow lunch. I eat. And drink beer and eat more. The first half is gone and I peel off a piece from the second. I hate myself for doing this. I order another beer. The hate increases.

I eat and drink and read. I read when I eat alone. Often, I read with company for that matter. Once I left a party we were hosting and went upstairs to read, the party being so very something other than what I thought it’d be. I was rude, of course. Just writing that makes me feel like a jerk. But that is a different story. I eat the whole thing. Drink more beer even. I leave loathing myself. My discipline has abondanded me. I am lost.

Tonight I read Joyce Maynard‘s At Home in the World. It is one of the finest, if the finest, memoir I’ve ever read. Maynard was a child literary prodigy–she writes like an angel– and came to the attention of old man J.D. Salinger living as a recluse in Cornish, New Hampshire. She moved in with him. She was nineteen. He was thirty-five years her senior. I was reading the part where he teaches her how to induce vomiting after eating food he deems toxic. There is a reason Salinger was as he was.

Things begin to turn ugly.

I leave, paying the tab, in a state of gastro distress. As I walk home I think about Salinger, two years younger than me, puking. I think about life imitating art. I rush home, miserable more so now that it all has settled and capped off my GI tract. Into the bathroom I go, kneeling in front of the toilet. I look at my middle finger. Is the nail clipped? I think of Brando in Last Tango.

I plunge the finger down my throat, curious at what’s down there. Interesting. I wretch. But no pizza, no beer. Just a little phlegm. Lucy is sitting to my left, looking at me. I reach out and scratch her ear, tell her it’s alright, then plunge the finger down my throat again. Again, nothing. My eyes watering I give in. This is obviously not a solution. I’m not made this way. I must pay my dues, suffer for my sins. I must digest. I ask Lucy if she wants to go for a walk and she tells me that yes, indeed, let’s go for a walk. I get the impression she thinks that to be a better solution to my current trouble than whatever it is I’m doing.

After our walk I come home and recline, the only position that offers up any comfort, and continue reading how a nineteen year old woman came to live with J.D. Salinger.