Editor's Notebook: The final chapters in one man’s 12 books in 12 months reading goal

“When you come to think of it, real life largely consists of things that never make it into the papers.”

Ed McClanahan’s wry joke hits close to home in a way I like. The line comes from “The Natural Man,” a book I read in July for the third time in 30 years, as part of my attempt this year to read 12 novels in 12 months. It’s a comic novel I mixed in over the last half of the year with four deep, even dark reads, including my current, and 12th book.

The 2017 book list is what I tried to make a diverse selection of topics and authors. My plan is to read six new and re-read six others, and has serendipitously alternated between the new and the familiar, starting with 2017’s “Chicago” by the late Brian Doyle. From there it was “Cards of the Gambler” by the late Benedict Kiely, “Ordinary Grace,” by William Kent Krueger, “The Power and the Glory” by the late Graham Greene, “The King Must Die” by the late Mary Renault, “The Brothers K” by David James Duncan, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by the late Mark Twain, “If Not Now, When?” by the late Primo Levi, “The Natural Man” by Ed McClanahan, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “A Confederacy of Dunces” by the late John Kennedy Toole. My current book is “To Kill A Mockingbird” (also a re-read, thus spoiling the pattern) by the late Harper Lee.

In December I’ll try readers’ patience one more time this year with a summing up of what I have read, and the passages and ideas that stood out for me, but I promise I won’t burden you with that until the end of the year when a leisurely mid-winter bit of self-centered exposition might go over a bit better than right now.

While the goal was never about racking up a kind of literature score, but rather just to try to make it one a month, I feel a sense of pride that I am on track to make it a Baker’s Dozen. Thirteen or so books in 12 months would be well up from my usual annual total of three or four novels, hence the goal.

(I read a lot, but I tend toward periodicals and non-fiction, and in my quest I am taking a tip from my friend Sam Lowry, who suggested the Mary Renault book; a few years ago told me he has made an effort to focus his reading time on books, and I always liked the idea.)

While I say the 2017 list is a diverse group, it occurs to me as I type it up that there is something that goes against that claim, and I feel both self-conscious and a little crass in pointing it out, but here you go: eight of the 12 authors so far are dead authors. (I intentionally chose to start with “Chicago,” which turned out to be the next-to-last book by the Lake Oswego teacher and author, knowing that he had terminal brain cancer and I wanted to both read the book and write him a letter about it while he was still alive.)

That is why it feels good that I am able to stick to my announced plan to read at least one local author this year, and I am happy to announce it is “The Road to the Sea” by Tim Schell, who teaches writing at Columbia Gorge Community College. Next month’s read will take me to Africa, a first for any of the books I have read this year. Skimming through its early pages, I can see it will be a new challenge in terms of topic and vocabulary, for starters, and that is a very good thing when reading takes us to new places.

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