I'm not one for making year-end lists of bests and worsts. In the first place I haven't read or seen nearly enough for the practice to be anything more than masturbatory drivel. In the second place everything I have read has been selected in a purely haphazard fashion. So what remains is like silt dredged up from the river bed and sifted through palms; I look down into my muddy hands as unsure of what I've got, of what's worth keeping and what's not, as when I started. Ultimately there is the everpresent solitude, the pool at my feet, and the mystery of life below the water's dark surface. There are many blessings to count, and if I was adequately skilled and appreciative, every breath standing on the shoreline would bring me a sense of renewal and hope. Alas, this year ends on an uncertain note, with a few disappointments that I'm taking to be opportunities - only time will tell. Looking back on my reading I do find trends. My taste has shifted away from heavily serious fiction, to serious with a light (often comedic or absurdist) touch. Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy somehow fits into this category, as do the novels of Howard Jacobson and the short fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman. After polishing off Friedman's latest collection, I have just finished his 1996 off-kilter comic novel A Father's Kisses, and enjoyed it after about 100 pages of uncertainty. It's a book that's hard to characterize, though cleverly absurd would fit, and once you get into the author's tempo (granted, not everyone will) the pleasures become apparent. In addition to discovering Friedman, I blew the dust off of the forgotten Canadian gem Shmucks by Seymour Blicker which was a revelation (okay that was summer 2008, but it lingers), and re-read Richler's Saint-Urbain's Horseman and Barney's Version for the first time, neither of which held up as well as I thought they would. Admittedly, I was never big on Richler, but there was something in his writing that called to me this year. As with reading lists of years past, mine was compiled without forethought or deliberation. Some dishes at the buffet attracted my tastes more than others. (If there was an argument to be made for the existence of the subconcious mind, the choices that constitute a reading list of fiction might provide ample proof, assuming you are not a bestseller-list automaton or Oprah drone, although that too speaks volumes.) My choices reveal that, although it's sometimes difficult to admit, I have joined the ranks of card-carrying middle-age men. Combine this with the fact that I read (and occasionally write) novels (not to mention book reviews) makes me something of an anachronism at the end of the double-naughts, a dying breed. Apparently middle-age men don't read fiction anymore (if they ever did) which is a shame. Allow me to recommend it to my confrere of expanding midriffs and receding hairlines. Novel-reading, as a means of expiating the temptations of mid-life, is a lot safer (and cost-effective) than having an affair (or two, or a dozen, wink-wink Tiger), or buying a convertible Porsche, or taking up snowboarding. And although novel-reading may not be as thrilling as the aforementioned activities, it potentially at least, offers pleasures that last longer. So, if publishers and booksellers are listening - there's a huge untapped market out there just waiting for your attention. If men at mid-life can be trained to change diapers surely they can learn to pick up a book once in a while too. I know their wives are on board with this one.