2015 Reading Year in Review

January 2, 2016

This is apparently year seven of this post, which seem impossible. I suppose I’ll keep doing it as long as it keeps being fun and it is fun because the math and literature parts of my brain get to collide and that’s nice.

Goals:

I did pretty well with my goals this year despite some… unforeseen events. Reading can be a comfort. Anyway, I read 100 books, which was nice. I didn’t so much knock out my too-read shelf. C’est la vie. Onward.

By the Numbers:

Books Read: 100 (goal was 75)
Total Pages: 22,982 (goal was 20,000)
Average per Book: 230 pages
Pages per Day: 63

Biggest Reading Month: March – 2643 pages
Smallest Reading Month: August – 984 pages

Five Longest Books:

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – 776 pages
The Once and Future King by T.H. White – 632 pages
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – 530 pages
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – 521 pages
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wicker – 486 pages

Five Shortest Books:

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire – 34 pages
Artemis by Cate Linden – 50 pages
The Overhaul by Kathleen Jaime – 50 pages
The Triumph of Achilles by Louise Gluck – 60 pages
Crush by Richard Siken – 62 pages

Books I Read Again:

Rose by Li-Young Lee
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Jazz by Toni Morrison
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

(Interesting Note: I only re-read 2 books that weren’t re-reads for teaching or at Simone’s insistence. These books were Rose and A Farewell to Arms.)

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. This was the longest resident on my too-read shelf. It wasn’t on purpose. I figured I’d really like it, actually. But when I sat down and read it this summer, I kept waiting for him to move on to a new joke. Sadly, it was hot dogs all the way down.

Best Books of the Year

This year was interesting because I read a lot of poetry. A lot. Because of that, I feel like I need to separate things a bit and have my five favorite volumes of poetry and my five favorite works of fiction. So that is what I am doing. As is always the case, re-reads are not eligible. These are all books I read for the first time, long though they may have been published. There is no particular significance to the order this year because I do not, at the moment, have the energy to rank masterpieces.

Best Poetry:

Honorable mention to W.B. Yeats, who I read in a collected fashion for the first time and to Kate Tempest who is an utter genius, but these are the four books of poetry I most enjoyed this year…

Sailing the Forest by Robin Robertson. Most of us, I think, have the experience from time to time of encountering a writer who seems a little too much in our heads. Jarringly, Robertson was not only in my head, but seemingly in Cate’s head as well. I will revisit this collection often.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Essential reading if you are an American. Absolutely vital if you are white or espeically a white man. Understand others, friends. Understand them as best you can.

The First Four Books of Poems by Louise Glück. Only one book I read this year left me sobbing at the table from its perfect description of happiness and it was this one. Gluck’s narrator is rarely happy – I don’t want to advertise falsely – but always true.

Clasp by Doireann Ní Ghriofa. A slim volume of perfection that Cate threw at me. And I’m glad she did. This is what want looks like. Irish want. But want all the same. Jesus, I keep trying to describe this and I keep failing. Just go read it.

Best Fiction

As is always the case with fiction, there were works I was sure would be on my end-of-year list when I read them, but which didn’t quite make it. There is so much great writing in the world. Anyway, honorable mentions are due to Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann, The Once and Future King by T.H. White, and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Now, here are the five works of fiction I most enjoyed in 2015.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. This has received a mixed reception in some places, but I don’t understand why. I think it is a masterpiece. Perfectly voiced. A tender and quiet exploration of love and memory. Everyone should read it.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. I read this way back last January and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It was made into a film, but the film is reportedly terrible, so I’ll stay away from it. Much like The Buried Giant, this is a quiet book. Though differently oriented as it takes places in the real world. If you haven’t read it, I can’t think of a better winter read.

All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang. This was on Cate’s list for me this year, and I can’t describe what a perfect novel this is. I could lay out plot details and it would sound like a thousand other books, but to read it is to understand how each of those other thousand books should have been written in the first place.

The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig. A late entry that Cate handed to me and told me to read only about a month ago. The book takes place in Austria following WWI, but there is a desperation to it that should resonate with anyone struggling to come to terms with America’s new gilded age. The way the deck is so unfairly stacked for most people. What honesty means in a dishonest world.

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. Gender identity is so rarely written about. And then here is this book and it is like Nabokov was resurrected and decided to tackle the topic. There is no way this book could be better. Like the other books on my list, it is exactly how it should be. Exactly.

Bonus Nonfiction:

I read less nonfictions in 2015 than I normally do, but I still have a book I want to make note of. Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s memoir Wind, Sand, and Stars about his days as a mail pilot is so brimming with truth that it seems a necessary read for anyone trying to figure out how to live.

Looking Ahead:

I’m not particularly worried about reading 100 books again. It might happen it might not. My official goal is going to stay at 75 books and 20,000 pages. The number of books is, in the end, determined by the length of the books I choose as I’ve been reading more or less the same number of pages every year for the last several years.

There are, however, three things I specifically want to do:

  1. This year, 60 percent of the books I read will be by women authors. I’m tired, generally speaking, of male writers. I’m especially tired of white American male writers who seem to be quickly running out of substantive things to say (there is only one American male on the list above).
  2. I want to read more long books. I like big, sprawling novels. Somehow, I didn’t get to many of them this year. I want to get back to it.
  3. More trips to the bookstore. Once a month, I will go to the local indie bookstore here and browse until I find something new and wonderful. I will then read it. I’ve already started this one. One New Year’s Eve, I ventured out early in the day and came away with two volumes of poetry and a novel. I’m excited to read all of them.

Okay, that’s it. I’ll see you next year.

December Book Log

January 1, 2016

It took a fair bit of reading in December, but I did finish with 100 books for the year for the first time. That’s fun and stuff.

  1. The Summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt (5/5) – I’m going to have to read everything Hustvedt has written now. This is the second novel of hers I’ve read and while it wasn’t quite as brilliant as The Blazing World (which was a masterpiece), it was still great. She has a wonderful knack for writing about gender.
  2. Bright Scythe by Tomas Tranströmer (5/5) – I love Tranströmer, and it’s hard to find English translations of his work, so when a local press – Sarabande – put out a new volume of his poems, I was pumped. These are excellent translations of great poems. I can’t recommend them enough.
  3. The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2016 – I’m one of the editors of this book, so I don’t rate it, but if you’re a baseball nerd, it’s a great volume with lots and lots of very well done analysis.
  4. Honored Guest by Joy Williams (4/5) – I really loved each of these stories in isolation, but Williams writes in first person and all her narrators sound pretty much the same, which shouldn’t be the case, so the collections gets dinged slightly. Still, I’m glad I finally got to Williams who’s been getting a ton of press this year.
  5. God Wears Many Skins by Jabez L. Van Cleef (3/5) – This is a collection of Sami folk tales that I read as research for a novel I’m (slowly) working on. The stories are very interesting, but the guy who put them together is really not much of a writer.
  6. The BFG by Roald Dahl (4/5) – This was a re-read to Simone who is becoming quite the Roald Dahl fan. We’re now reading James and the Giant Peach.
  7. Oracle by Cate Marvin (5/5) – A very dark and sad volume of poetry. Beautiful, though, and thus highly recommended.
  8. Opened Ground by Seamus Heaney (4/5) – I generally really like Heaney and sometimes I love him. He plays it a little too safe at times, though. It can feel as though there are things he’s afraid to say. Still, he knocks it out of the park plenty.
  9. Sailing the Forest by Robin Robertson (5/5) – Cate got me this for Christmas and it is a wonderful volume of poetry. Really wonderful. His poems and voice hover somewhere between what Cate and I write. So much so that I often found myself feeling like he was in both of our heads at once.
  10. The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig (5/5) – This book really moved me. I have a hard time writing about it, frankly. It is sad but there is a tinge of hope to it. Only a tinge, though. It is a clear view of what the world is like for many people.
  11. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway (5/5) – Grabbed this at a library book sale. I hadn’t read any Hemingway short stories for a while and it seemed a good way to finish up my reading year. These are all brilliant. And really, if you don’t know about Hemingway, what are you doing? Go read.

Okay, that’s it for book logs for the year. My giant year-in-review post will be along as soon as I can get it together.