I’m not going to do an exhaustive list here–If you’re interested in all of my 2018 books, you can check me out on Goodreads.
I read 22 books (over 5500 pages) this year, not counting books I read to my children (now that we’re solidly reading mostly substantial novels together, I’m going to count those in 2019), which is far less than my pre-kids norm, but a substantial improvement over some recent years…Not bad, anyway.
I read six plays this year, not counting re-reads. Of these, the surprise hits were The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski and the Tony Kushner translation/adaptation of The Illusion. The former was far better than it had any business being. Unlike many of these “what if Shakespeare wrote pop culture” projects, it was actually stageable and revealed the playwright’s knowledge of early modern theater. The Illusion was one of those plays that had me humming along, going, “Oh, this is fine,” and then in the last ten pages moved solidly onto my “I must direct this at some point” list. Not going to ruin it for you, but you should definitely try to see this one.
I didn’t read many books on directing this year–odd, for me–but one that I loved was Anne Bogart’s A Director Prepares. In my world, there are two kinds of good books on directing: Those that challenge me, and those that affirm me. This one does both. So many things, I found myself nodding along and saying, “Oh, I do that! How amazing that Anne Bogart does that, too!” and other things, I thought, “Hm…should definitely try that,” or “I hadn’t looked at it that way before.”
The book I keep recommending to people was A Gentleman in Moscow. I loved the scope of it–both a massive sweep of history and a confined space, limited by the character’s house arrest in a hotel. I loved that he was a bit of an unreliable narrator–he kept hinting about his plans to escape his current situation, but didn’t disclose them to the reader. What I loved most about it, though, was the perfection of his aesthetic. The central character has a deep love of beauty, of art, of food and wine, of music. This is not encouraged in Soviet Russia, where the story takes place. One of the most memorable scenes was his horror at an order from the government that all the wines in the hotel’s cellar should have their labels removed. People could only order red or white. This made me think about why the Soviets were so opposed to art or to beautiful objects or experiences. Their architecture was aggressively ugly. Was it because beauty is what elevates experiences and they were trying (at least in theory) to enforce sameness?
I’m always pleased to read books by people I know! This year, I read two, and they couldn’t have been more different, but both were very good. Joshua Fairfield wrote Owned, which is about digital property ownership and how our laws about it are broken and dumb. Joshua is a law professor, so the book is fairly technical about the law–but he’s a professor, so it’s explained in an accessible and reasonable way. I felt like I was in one of his classes, listening to an excellent lecture. One thing that I found frustrating about it was that there wasn’t a lot that was actionable for an ordinary citizen. Most of what he’s calling for would require laws to change. I wished that every senator would read it.
The other book by somebody I know is From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris. This novel is set in ancient Rome (more or less) but with very real magic. I loved the political twists of it, the clearly drawn characters, and the powerful women at the center of the whole thing. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel!
I’ve been reading through Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War series, in preparation for directing Richard III. I know that Gregory’s account is at least as fictional as Shakespeare’s, but it’s helping me start to get a sense of the confusing network of family, most of whom are named Henry. They are enjoyable and well-researched. Not earth-shaking, but page-turning for sure.
Here’s to some great reads in 2019!