Home > Book Reviews, Writers of Interest > A Decade of Reading: 2008-2017

A Decade of Reading: 2008-2017

‘To-Read’ shelf late 2016

I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I started cataloging my reading journey. Ten years later and I’ve just ticked over 800 books read in that time, a whopping 137 of those this year. At the start of 2008 I was twenty-six years old, two years into my teaching career, with a wife and two infant children. Although I had won writing awards as a teenager, I didn’t have a single publishing credit to my name as an adult. I read 59 books that year, including a dozen or so titles by Philip K. Dick, which I was reading and reviewing at the time. To this day, my ‘Philip K. Dick – The Top Ten SF Novels’ blog post draws the most traffic hereabouts, and by a wide margin. These reviews were later collected in Bruce Gillespie’s SF Commentary 83. Another book that heavily influenced me in 2008 was Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl, which inspired me to write my dystopian novels Yellowcake Springs and Yellowcake Summer.

Cruising for Crews

In those days I was still reading a fair bit of science fiction, as I had done as a youth, but the genre’s influence on me was already waning. In 2009 I discovered two authors who would have a profound influence on my reading and writing, Raymond Chandler and Harry Crews. Not only did I read everything I could lay my hands on by those two, but I began to love crime fiction and Southern Gothic more broadly. I only read 47 books in 2009 but in doing so I discovered a number of authors I’d grow to love, not only Chandler and Crews but also Alan Warner, Ken Kalfus and Pat Barker. I continued ploughing through these authors long into 2010 and 2011, adding Irvine Welsh and J. M. Coetzee into the mix.

My daughter Ella at one of my book launches in 2011

In 2012 I suddenly had a use for audiobooks as I was commuting 90 minutes each way into Perth every day. I heard Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a book that would become very dear to me, that way, alongside titles by the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, China Mieville and Boris Pasternak. In 2012 I discovered a number of new authors I adore to this day, namely Megan Abbott, William Gay and Daniel Woodrell. I gobbled them, one and all.

Not ’till the red fog rises

In 2013 I discovered yet more crime authors I’d come to appreciate in Peter Temple, David Whish-Wilson and Derek Raymond. I also read the criminally-underappreciated Zoe Heller’s three novels and the stories of Raymond Carver. 2014 was the first year I cracked the ton and this included a bevy of authors new to me in Mikhail Bulgakov, Haruki Murakami and Larry Brown. I also re-read most of M. John Harrison and an awful lot more besides.

Big Jim

2015 was the year of Jim Thompson, an author I was wildly enthusiastic about. I also discovered Christopher Isherwood, James Sallis and I read a lot of Cormac McCarthy. In 2016 I dipped below 100 again, 77 to be precise, and this included a lot more James Sallis and Richard Flanagan. On my honeymoon in Tasmania late in the year I was determined to read titles by local authors, which I ended up very much enjoying.

Map of Tassie

Which brings us to 2017: the year my reading went into overdrive. I only know of a couple of people who are likely to read more than 137 books in a calendar year (actually, at the time of this writing, it’s only 11.5 months) and this is by far the most I’ve ever read: 33,000+ pages according to Goodreads, or nearly 100 pages per day. This colossal figure has been swelled by my reading virtually the entirety of authors such as David Goodis, James M. Cain, John Fante, his son Dan Fante and Patricia Highsmith. Add to that a truckload of other books by the likes of Charles Bukowski, Vasily Grossman, Dorothy Hughes, Gerald Kersh, Horace McCoy, Hubert Selby and Charles Willeford and you begin to get the idea. There’s a lot of Americans on this list, most of them crime authors, but I love the Russians too (not only Grossman and Bulgakov, but also Andrei Platonov).

At Dome in Hobart, not far from the outstanding Cracked and Spineless.

Looking back over these 800 titles over 10 years, my only regret is that only 21.4% (171) were by women. Partly this is because of the genres I tend to find myself in, partly it’s because female authors rarely seem to produce the sheer volume of titles their male counterparts churn out, and partly it’s simply my failure to find female authors I love in sufficient quantity. There are plenty of women writers I enjoy, especially Megan Abbott, Patricia Highsmith, Pat Barker and more recently Dorothy Hughes, but doesn’t add up to anything like 50% of my reading. Thus my pledge for the next ten years is to significantly raise this percentage, at the very least to more than 30%

In terms of what else I’ll be reading next, I’m looking forward to getting into the works of Don Carpenter and continuing my reading of Charles Willeford. I’m also looking forward to reading Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne and Jane Harper’s The Dry. Right now I have about 25 books on the To-Read shelf. As per usual, most of it is American, most of it crime fiction, and most of it by men. But I am and remain open to suggestions.

Here’s to another 800 or more books on the menu over the next decade!

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