2018 Reading Year in Review

January 5, 2019

Welcome to the annual review of my reading experiences. Life continues to be busy. Last year, I moved. This year, I changed jobs. Who knows what will happen in the coming year. Let’s talk about books.

Books Read: 57 (goal was 70)
Pages Read: 14,134 (goal was 20,000)
Average per Book: 248 pgs.
Pages per Day: 38.8

Biggest Reading Month: February – 6 books, 1815 pages.

Smallest Reading Month: October – 4 books, 787 pages.

Five Longest Books:

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – 819 pgs.
  2. Freya by Anthony Quinn – 556 pgs.
  3. The Overstory by Richard Powers – 502 pgs.
  4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – 487 pgs.
  5. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan – 430 pgs.

I find it weird that I only read three books that topped 500 pages even though I had almost exactly the same average book length as 2017. Lots of medium-sized books, I guess.

Five Shortest Books:

  1. Best to Keep Moving by Jess Worley – 26 pgs.
  2. Andy Catlett: Early Education by Wendell Berry – 27 pgs.
  3. The Golden Cockerel by Alexander Pushkin – 42 pgs.
  4. Rumors of Light by Welsey Shane- 58 pgs.
  5. Phrasis by Wendy Xu – 60 pgs.

Books I Read Again:

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Hamlet
  • The Little Prince
  • The Things They Carried
  • The Hobbit
  • The Silmarillion
  • Jazz
  • Native Speaker
  • Anna Karenina
  • 1984

Most of these were teaching books, as is always the case.

Now, onto my favorite and least favorite books of the year.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. I generally LOVE Jennifer Egan. Her story telling is almost always inventive and intriguing. This… wasn’t. It was fine, but it didn’t take me anywhere I wasn’t expecting to go. It always hurts the most when a favorite writer lets you down.

The Top 10

  1. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino – This became one of my favorite books the moment I finished reading it. It’s top-5 for me. It’s also impossible to explain to someone in a way that doesn’t sound stupid. But if you like to read, you should read this book.
  2. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride – McBride’s first book – A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was a work of genius. So is this, but this one is much more accessible. I feel like her work will be read for decades.
  3. The Book of Communities by Maria Gabriela Llansol – My top three books this year all approached fiction in unconventional ways and this is perhaps the least conventional. I suppose there’s a story, but it’s more a novel of feeling, I suppose? I have more of her work to read (soon) and I might return to this one. I can’t get it out of my head.
  4. Other People’s Love Affairs by D. Wystan Owen – These stories are very conventional in some ways, but they also exist in a kind of timeless reality that feels reminiscent of Cheever. One of the most perfectly written story collections I’ve come across in a very long time.
  5. Craving by Esther Gerritsen – This book will catch you off guard. It will take you places you don’t expect it to go. Be prepared.
  6. Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls – I randomly grabbed this book. As soon as I started reading it, I realized it was the basis for The Shape of Water (which I have not seen). It is a quick and excellent read about the malaise of a certain kind of existence.
  7. The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli – I just posted about this book yesterday. The best nonfiction I’ve read in a couple of years, I think.
  8. Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rosetti – Easily the oldest book on this list. I hadn’t really read Rosetti before and I’m irritated that I never had. Her writing is magical and so outside the expectations for her time period that it’s easy to understand why she’s under-appreciated.
  9. Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse – A long overdue first read of a classic. In a way, this is probably a progenitor for some other books on my list. A fascinating exploration of duality.
  10. Phrasis by Wendy Xu – The last book I finished this year. As with the Rovelli, I posted about it yesterday.

Goals for Next Year

My life has changed so much in the last several years, that setting goals for reading almost seems pointless. I don’t know how much I’ll read or what is reasonable. I’d like to hit 60 books and 15,000 pages. I’d like to read a few of giant books I’ve never read before. I’d like to revisit some old favorites I haven’t picked up for a while. We’ll see what happens with regards to all that, but I’ll most likely be here writing about it next year.

December Book Log

January 4, 2019

The Year-in-Review reading post will be along in the next few days, but we’ve got a book log to do first.

  1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (4/5) – A really good book recommended by my pal Chadwick Ulysses Dotson. It is his favorite book ever, but not quite mine. It was a quick read and very enjoyable. Exactly what I needed when I was reading it. I do think it drags a bit in the second half and works too hard to tie everything up with a bow. I have a hard time imagining someone who reads and wouldn’t enjoy this book, though.
  2. The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli (5/5) – This was a wonderful exposition of the complexities of time in reality versus how we perceive it from our limit perspective. I rarely feel moved to quote a passage, but take a gander at this:

    The difference between things and events is that things persist in time; events have a limited duration. A stone is a prototypical “thing”; we can ask where it will be tomorrow. Conversely, a kiss is an “event.” It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow. The world is made up of networks of kisses, not of stones.

  3. Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen (4/5) – Enjoy Ibsen very much and read something of his every so often just because. This was probably my least favorite of what I’ve read so far, but it’s still excellent and still feels more modern in its critique of society than any 150 year old play should be.
  4. McSweeney’s 53 (5/5) – This issue was perfect all the way through. And that’s so hard for a quarterly to do. And excellent issue to start with if you’ve ever been curious about them.
  5.  Phrasis by Wendy Xu (5/5) – Sometimes, I go the book store and pull random volumes of poetry off the shelf. I read a poem or two and when I find something I like, I buy it and take it home. That’s what happened here. These poems are as close to perfect as poetry can be, I think. Xu has a linguistic playfulness that manages to supplement rather than undercut her themes, which are generally more serious (and varied, which is alway nice, plenty of poetry collections are repetitive).