A Year in Reading: Adam Ross

December 8, 2011 | 7 books mentioned 13 2 min read

covercoverI kept a reading journal for the first time this year and I highly recommend it. It’s humbling for one (that’s all I read?), inspiring (read more!), and clarifying (choose well). That said, it was a pretty great year reading-wise. I read David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green twice, re-read Turgenev’s First Love, William Gass’ On Being Blue, and Don DeLillo’s End Zone, and I highly recommend them all. With everything going on with the Penn State scandal, Margaux Fragoso’s harrowing memoir of sexual abuse, Tiger, Tiger is both timely and even more devastating. I finally read Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and thought it was terrific. I took Ann Patchett’s advice at the opening of Parnassus, her independent bookstore in Nashville, and bought Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, devouring it in a single sitting. I had so much fun reading The Stories of John Cheever in conjunction with The Journals of John Cheever that I read Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March in tandem with his Letters, which includes a wonderful introduction by its editor, Benjamin Taylor. J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace — my first experience with his work — was riveting, appalling, and beautiful. Jim Shepard’s story collection Like You’d Understand, Anyway was so wide-reaching, variegated, and emotionally precise I felt like I’d read a collection of micro-novels.

coverStill, of all the books I read, only Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian took over my world, and by that I mean I had that rare experience, while immersed in it, of seeing reality through its lens whenever I put it down and in the days after I finished it. Ostensibly it’s about a band of Indian hunters run amok along the Texas-Mexico border in the mid-nineteenth century but really it’s about how man’s natural state is warfare. You can buy that bill of goods or not but like McCarthy’s greatest works (Suttree, The Crossing) it’s written in his inimitable style, that fusion of The Book of Isaiah, Herman Melville, and Faulkner (though he’s more precise than the latter, more desolate and corporeal than Moby Dick’s author; whether his prophetic powers are on par with his artistry remains to be seen), a voice which is all his own, of course, and has an amplitude I’ve encountered only in, what, DeLillo at his most ecstatic? Murakami at his most unreal? Bellow in Augie March or Herzog? Alice Munro in The Progress of Love? John Hawkes in The Lime Twig? Read it if you read anything this coming year and note: a bonus to the experience is that you’ll add at least two hundred words to your lexicon.

More from A Year in Reading 2011

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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lives in Nashville with his wife and two daughters. His debut novel, Mr. Peanut, a 2010 New York Times Notable Book, was also named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New Republic, and The Economist. Ladies and Gentlemen, his short story collection, was included in Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2011.


  1. Yes, Blood Meridian is incredible but for me, Suttree is even more accomplished. Reading Suttree was a humbling experience, as I knew I was in the presence of literary greatness. Read both, but not back to back – you will need to rest your mind for a while in between.

  2. @Jack M: Yes, I had the EXACT same experience reading Suttree. It’s certainly not as bleak as BM and like DeLillo in End Zone or The Names, really, really funny.

  3. Blood Meridian and Suttree are two of my favorite books of all time. I think that McCathy has accomplished something rare with these two books. I compare it to holding a wolf by the the ears: he has hold of something very powerful, and potentially destructive, if he lets go. Annie Dillard discussed this in Living by Fiction, with her examples being, from what I remember, Moby-Dick and King Lear: epistemological tools by which the artist explores the universe (I don’t have the book in front of me, so I don’t have the exact quote). I was still experiencing the energy for several days, maybe weeks, after finishing these books.

    I’m happy to see you mention McCarthy’s sense of humor as well. Suttree definitely has moments of great comedy. And it also on display in All the Pretty Horses, as well. He also has a great sense of compassion, displayed in All the Pretty Horses, as well as the much earlier Outer Dark.

  4. Blood Meridian stayed with me so long after I read it, that I obsessively sought out any bit of literary criticism I could find on it (Harold Bloom loves that book). And then I went back and read all of McCarthy’s dark works, skipping the trilogy. Highly recommended, and one of my favorite books of all time.

  5. I absolutely love Mcarthy. The Crossing was my first and, though many will disagree, The Road is my favorite. Of all his books, that was the one that haunted me for months after.

    I intend to take on this “reading journal” challenge for next year. Thanks for a great article and recommendations.

  6. Agreed, I was glad to see the oft-ignored Crossing paired with Suttree and Blood Meridian. The Crossing is less ambitious than the other two, but it is still one of the most powerful and effective novels I’ve ever read.

  7. McCarthy is my favourite author by a long shot. The first novel of his I read was The Road which, to this day, sends chills down my spine just thinking about some of the desolate and horrible imagery. Of the border trilogy, The Crossing is by far the strongest, beastly yet beautiful. Currently I am almost finished Blood Meridian and must say that the power of the novel nearly took me off my feet and I must add that, in my opinion, the judge is McCarthy’ s most memorable character, even more so than Anton Chigurh. Sutree is next on my list, no doubt it won’t disappoint. McCarthy is truly a literary force to be reckoned with, he has changed the way I look at novels forever and sets a very high standard.

  8. Re last comment: enjoy suttree, my favorite cm work. Only 2 i havent read r orchard keeper and outer dark. Love ncfom, the road, bm- but suttree resonates. Hilarious, tragic, gritty, psychadelic, vivid- i have read it twice and will read it again soon. To quote: ” the crimes of the moonlight melon mounter followed him, as crimes will”

  9. I began keeping a reading journal when I retired three and a half years ago (at 47) and moved to Colorado (primarily so that I would have more time to read).

    This entry of a Year in Reading by Mr. Ross caused me to go back over my journal to review the books I read in 2011 and, coincidentally, the contemporary novel I liked best in ’11 was Mr Ross’s Mr. Peanut. For those of you who haven’t read it, do yourself a BIG favor and get it. The story is fiendishly clever, the prose vivid and razor sharp, as he conjures a slightly unreal reality inhabited by his characters. After I finished the book in July, I went around recommending it to everyone I know who is a reader.

  10. I’d also recommend Jim Shepard’s more recent collection, “You Think That’s Bad” which in some ways is even richer than the collection mentioned.

    I liked all of these suggestions, having read many of them. Would probably consider the Mitchell now, though I was put off by his earlier forays. Exception: If you haven’t read “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” you might best run to your favorite brick and mortar now and pick it up.

    Also, anyone interested wouldn’t go wrong reading Adam Ross’s “Ladies and Gentlemen” which came out this year. Great stuff.

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