2016 Reading Year in Review

January 5, 2017

I have now been doing this for eight years. That’s a long time to do something on the internet. Hooray for me. Let’s see how I did…

Goals:

I read a lot more women writers and spent a lot of time in my local bookstore. So I was good on those. Did not, however, ready much that was long and sprawling. Oh well. I’m in the middle of a giant book right now, at least.

By the Numbers:

Books Read: 72 (goal was 75)
Pages Read: 16,692 (goal was 20,000)
Average per Book: 232 Pages
Pages per Day: 46

Biggest Reading Month: March – 9 books, 1915 pages
Smallest Reading Month: August – 3 books, 872 pages

Five Longest Books:

Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel – 604 pgs.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – 521 pgs.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen – 510 pgs.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell – 478 pgs.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – 464 pgs.

Five Shortest Books:

The Deleted World by Tomas Tranströmer – 37 pgs.
No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre – 46 pgs.
Meadowlands by Louise Glück – 62 pgs.
Lampblack & Ash by Simone Muench – 65 pgs.
Shirt in Heaven by Jean Valentine – 65 pgs.

Books I Read Again:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K Rowling
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Transformations by Anne Sexton
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

These were mostly the result of teaching/Simone again. Such is always the case.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

Nicely enough, I didn’t have anything that really disappointed me this year. Which is to say the books I didn’t particular care for didn’t come with high expectations.

Best Books of the Year

As my reading has become more diverse, it’s been harder and harder for me to figure out what categories to use and rank. And, so, rather than divide things up, here are my 10 favorite books form last year that I read for the first time.

Honorable Mentions: The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (best book of poetry for children I’ve ever encountered. By far), Winter in the Blood by James Welch, Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, Meadowlands by Louise Glück, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

10. Mischling by Affinity Konar – One of two books on this list that is crushingly sad. What I loved most about this, however, was the way Konar tells a story in which the worst perpetrators of the holocaust are characters without having the story being about them (a sentiment one of the main characters even voices at one point in the novel). It’s a wonderfully told story as well as a denial of validation to horrible people.

9. Incorrect Merciful Impulses by Camille Rankine – One of four volumes of poetry on my list. I like best how it acknowledges imperfection without apologizing for humanity.

8. Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez – I just published the book log with this a few days ago. Still amazed at how she fits to much into so few pages. Like Mischling, this deals with some of the worst in humanity, but shines the light where it needs to be.

7. Fort Red Border by Kiki Peterino – Like all literature, poetry often takes itself to seriously. This volume is light in spirit while also carrying plenty of artistic weight. That’s a tough trick.

6. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey – Having seen two novels from Ivey now, I think it’s safe to call her a genius. Among authors I’ve read, I can’t think of anyone living who’s started their career this strongly. Most take a book or two to really get going. She hasn’t. As an aside, this book, does a great job of incorporating visual elements into the story. Everything is perfectly constructed and thought out.

5. The Door by Magda Szabó – This is a story about isolation and the desire for human connection. Heavily metaphorical and perfectly crafted. I’d love to teach it some day.

4. Parallax by Sinéad Morrisey – My favorite volume of poetry this year. There is something about Irish writers in general that tends to resonate with me, but this, especially is filled with the kind of careful language and inventive imagery that is present in the best poetry.

2(tie). Moonglow by Michael Chabon – I can’t pick a second place book. I finished Moonglow right at the end of the year and was bowled over. I need a little more distance from it before I can correctly place it against the next book listed here. Chabon is one of my very favorite writers and, early on, was one of the people who made me want to write. The only thing he’s written that’s better than this is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

2(tie). Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – This deep exploration of the nature of family may be Ann Patchett’s best work. I need to re-read a couple of things before I can say that for sure. But it is so radically and impressively different from everything else she’s done. I didn’t even know she had this gear and it makes me excited to see what she does next.

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery – I never know exactly what to say about what makes my favorite book of the year my favorite. This one, I suppose, knocked me over more than anything else. Perfectly formed, human characters. An honest story that manages to affirm existence in the way of Tolstoy. That’s the highest praise I can give, I think.

Goals for 2017:

I’m pretty happy with a lot of where I’ve landed reading wise. I have a suspicion that this will be a busy year, so I’m lowering my counting goals a bit to 60 books and 15,000 pages.

Other goals:

  1. More works in translation. I recently got a subscription to Deep Vellum, which should help with this. There are several works in translation on my top-10 this year, which is a good motivator.
  2. More poetry. This last year is the first time I’ve started writing poetry really seriously. I’ve been reading more as a result and enjoying it very much.
  3. Actually read more long books. Really. For real. I mean it. Nothing like finishing a book that is both wonderful and really long.
  4. Knock out the too-read shelf. Some of these have been sitting here a really long time. Gotta read ’em or get rid of ’em.
  5. A choronological Tolkien reread. A friend mentioned this to me and it sounded like fun, so I’m going to read about Middle Earth starting in the first age. Call me a nerd. I’m cool with it.

December Book Log

January 1, 2017

Five books to close out the year. As with last month, I ended December in the middle of a big book (The Magic Mountain). Big end-of-year reading post to come sometime this week.

  1. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell (4.5/5) – This had been on my shelf for quite a while and I finally got to it. I really do enjoy everything Mitchell does. I’m also starting to see the way he weaves his universe together. This was a brilliantly told bit of historical fiction that managed to connect to his other books while also remaining entirely realistic.
  2. Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Sanchez Jimenez (5/5) – Breathtaking and sad. This is one of the darkest, but also one of the most honest books I read all year. Dealing with horrible violence in Peru in the 80s and 90s, this book manages to be of short length but enormous scope. Highly recommended.
  3. Moonglow by Michael Chabon (5/5) – It’s safe to say I was entirely blown away by this. I’ve loved most of what Chabon has written, but I’d also been waiting for him to recapture some of the magic he had when he wrote Wonder Boys and Kavalier and Clay. Here, he does. This is, I think, second only Kavalier and Clay among his work. It is brilliant story telling and the character are as real as anyone you’ll find in any book. I can’t praise this enough.
  4. Folio: A Winter Anthology (4/5) – This was a giveaway compilation by The Folio Society, whose books I very much enjoy. It’s a nice little collection. Easy to read and seasonally relevant.
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (4/5) – It’s safe to say Harry Potter mania has hit Simone full on. As with the first book, this one was better when I was reading it to a child. Seeing it through her eyes, I was much less concerned about some of the little things that bothered me about it before. I’m excited to work through the series again as I recall being rather impressed by the later books.