August - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
September - Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
October - A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle
November - Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
December -Howards End is On the Landing by Susan Hill
January - Walden by Henry David Thoreau
February - A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
March - The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
April - Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
May - Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
June - A Year of Paying Attention by Katherine Ellison
July - Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
By no means does this list exhaust the "Year Of" genre. There's books like A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson that cover most of a year, Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, and A Year of Reading Proust, others that edge over into the "Year Of" genre. I'm excited that there's several memoirs about reading, which isn't too surprising since reading and writing are one mobius road writers are always driving down. I picked these twelve somewhat arbitrarily from the possible books, and most have been published recently, reflecting, possibly, a trend in the publishing world.
Sandwiched in between self-help, the travelogue, food writing, and autobiography, the "Year Of" book stretches the bounds of memoir. Of course, when we live in a time when celebrities like Justin Beiber can write a memoir at sixteen, who's to say a memoir about a single year isn't just as valid? Thoreau says he went to live in the woods "to live deliberately, to front the essentials in life," and in his or her own way each "Year Of" author tries to live deliberately and define how to live, what to live for, and by implication what needs correcting, fixing, what's in need of transformation in our lives. It may just be the American Lit. teacher in me, but the "Year Of" book seems in some way tangled up in the American Dream and our need in our increasingly weird and worrysome times for some kind of transformation (insert groans of half-zoned out 5th block high school students here). And now in my best "but really, I'm serious about this guys," teacher voice I will venture to say this may even be a new sub-genre, a book for our times in the way that the instant memoir (just add one year) lets an author shape the everyday into narrative the way a novelist does for her fictional characters. Only perhaps we see ourselves in the author's lives even more since they live in our world and there is a veneer of truth about books labelled memoir, even though as James Frey's book point out, this layer of so-called truth is often cracked, peeling, and sometimes never there to begin with. The books have a self-help quality that can help them sell--Josh Foer's book can be found in the self-help section of many bookstores, but it is my hunch that it is self-help of a kind not usually peddled by experts in the Secret or 7 Habits--a kind of help in putting one's life into a more coherent narrative, reworking the messy, patchy field of everyday events into rows and flower beds. Combined with travel writing, food writing, social critique, even literary theory (Thoreau pioneered all of these combinations) the "Year Of" memoir is not just self-help, but a window into how we create stories, how we see ourselves, and how we wish to be seen.
OK students, end of lecture, you can stop pretending you're actually interested in my half-baked hypothesis. Yes, you in the back, it is mostly conjecture at this point. I'll have to prove it, just like I've told you to do over and over. It's time to hit the books.