2017 Reading Year in Review

January 6, 2018

Ah, reading friends, here we are again. This year was weird. I didn’t read nearly as much as has been normal. But I did move and buy a house and there was plenty of life interrupting along the way. Still, here’s how it all went down, book-wise, in 2017.

Books Read: 52 (goal was 60)
Pages Read: 12,948 (goal was 15,000)
Average per Book: 249 pages
Pages per Day: 35.5

Very meh right there. I need to read more on a daily basis. There were some full weeks when I barely read at all.

Biggest Reading Month: October (when all moving nonsense was complete) – 7 books, 1604 pages
Smallest Reading Month: August (maximum moving nonsense) – 3 books, 501 pages

Five Longest Books:

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 923 pages
2. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann – 712 pages
3. Collected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy – 558 pages
4. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris – 514 pages
5. The Complete Short Fiction by Herman Melville – 504 pages

I find it somewhat amusing that the two longest books I read were the first and last books I finished in 2017.

Five Shortest Books:

1. Ararat by Louise Glück – 40 pages
2. Fox by Adrienne Rich – 61 pages
3. Vita Nuova by Louise Glück – 64 pages
4. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück – 67 pages
5. Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino – 72 pages

Books I Read Again:

The City in which I Love you by Li-Young Lee
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

All the teaching books.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year:

Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien – This wasn’t bad, but I wanted it to be much less scholarly and much more a coherent and unified narrative a la Children of Hurin. 

The 2017 Top 10:

Reminder – this only counts books I read for the first time in 2017.

Okaywere, here we go, starting from the bottom:

10. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich I very much have a thing for books that live in a place more than they live with their characters. It’s something that started for me with 100 Years of Solitude. Love Medicine belongs in that category and it is probably for that reason that I find this to be much better than the other Erdrich books I’ve read (which were still very good). It’s a different feeling to finish a book and feel as though you know a place instead of a few people.

9. Little Birds by Anaïs Nin There is, of course, the sex in this book, but there is also the feeling of post-WWI rule breaking that was such an important part of literature when this was being written. I’ve read some of her journals and generally found them a bit dry. The language here is much more lively and makes me think at least a little bit of the best Hemingway.

8. Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó – I read this because her novel The Door was so brilliant. This was similarly brilliant with a central character who – as we all are at times – manages to be both completely understandable and unlikable at the same time. A good illustration of how messy it is to be human.

7. Scott’s Last Expedition by Captain R.F. Scott – If you ever wonder what endurance is like, this will show you, I think. It is nonfiction and so, of course, real in the literal sense, but it also feels as real as good fiction often does. And the foreknowledge of the ending becomes more and more intense as your attachment to the narrator and his men grows.

6. A Zero Sum Game by Eduardo Rabasa – I feel like most years, there’s a book on my list that I didn’t initially give a 5 out of 5, and  this is it. This book is hard. And I don’t mean that it’s hard to read. The prose is excellent. It’s hard to face because it is both dark and uncomfortably honest. Like Black Mirror, it’s theoretically satirical but manages to hit much too close to home.

5. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück – This is her best known work for a reason, I think. Like Shakespeare, I feel like she had a run of absurd brilliance that made her lesser, but still excellent volumes seem less good somehow. Anyway, this is the high point int he fabulous run. Her Hamlet or whatever.

4. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews – Spent forever meaning to read this book and then not reading it. It is one of the few really excellent representations I’ve read of middle age and depressing monotony that can accompany it amidst the raising of children and aging parents and all that.

3. Melville by Jean Giono – One of the oddest books I read this year and why NYRB is a good source of literature. It’s a slim novel that was supposed to be an essay but turned into a story about a fictional Herman Melville and it manages to be a lot of fun while also working on several more complex levels.  I feel like it would appeal to just about everyone who reads, which isn’t something I say, well, ever.

2. The Vegetarian by Han Kang – This book is incredible. It is one of the best uses of multiple-perspective storytelling I have ever read. It’s dark as hell, but you should read it anyway. Dark books for dark times and all that.

1. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – Upon a strong recommendation, I finally knocked Calvino off my “need to read, but haven’t yet” list. And I can tell you right now this is going to be included whenever I next update my 100 favorite books list. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read except for maybe aspects of Borges. Like Melville, I also thing it’s a book a lot of people could enjoy, however. Anyway, it changed what I thought of as possible with fiction and that hasn’t happened in a long time.

Goals for 2018

I plan to get back to myself next year in terms of reading. I want to really read a lot and read some long books and also focus on works in translation more because I feel like I’ve gotten the most out of those in recent years (5 of the books on this year’s list are works in translation). My goals are as follows:

Read 70 books
Read one book longer than 400 pages every month (greater than 500 is ideal) because I like long books and there are many long things I tend to procrastinate on
Read two works in translation per month
Read 20,000 pages (this was my norm for a long time, but I drastically undershot it this year).
Tolkien re-read. This was a goal from last year that never got remotely off the ground. It’s just for fun and to be a nerd. Hopefully I manage it this time.

November/December Booklog

January 1, 2018

My giant year-in-review post will come along here in a few days, but I want to quickly touch on what I read these last couple of months.

  1. McSweeney’s #50 (5/5) – The did their 50th issue right. I’m not claiming every single element was a home run, but most of the content was. Much better than issue 49.
  2. Spring, A Folio Anthology (3.5/5) – An easy and enjoyable little giveaway from the Folio Society. Nice bits of thematically linked prose and poetry.
  3. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (5/5) – Live up to the hype. Reminded me a bit of Garcia-Marquez, which is a high compliment.
  4. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (4/5) – Good, but not as good as her best work. Another entry in the dystopian genre but, well, she really nails the ending, I think. I won’t spoil it, but it’s exactly right.
  5. Vita Nuova by Louise Gluck (3.5/5) – I’ve been slowly reading my way through Gluck. If this was the first thing of hers I’d read, I think I’d be floored, but as it wasn’t
  6. Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino (3/5) – Some excellent stuff in here, but less unified and somehow more repetitive than her last volume of poetry. I feel like this needed a bit of culling and a little extra material.
  7. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (4/5) – I mostly enjoyed this very much, like all Dickens, it got a bit wordy at times, especially during the last quarter or so. But I’d been meaning to read it for years, and I’m glad I did.

August Book Log

September 4, 2017

I generally spent August packing my entire house whilst also minding/trying to feed two kids, so not a lot of reading happened. Only three books.

  1. News of the World by Paulette Giles 3.5/5 – This was a very enjoyable book and an easy read, which I needed amidst the packing chaos. She does try to hard to wrap everything up at the end and that felt a bit cheap to me. A bit of ambiguity is okay. Still, it was a good book and a good read, compelling with well-drawn, honest characters.
  2. Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien (3/5) – I wanted this to be a a full assemblage of this narrative, which is one of my favorites from Tolkien. It was, instead, more scholarly discussion of how the narrative evolved over the years. Still interesting, but not exactly what I was after.
  3. Ararat by Louise Glück (4/5) – I’m slowly working my way through all of her poetry. This volume dealt largely with familial relationships in a way that occasionally felt repetitive, but which, in general, was as insightful and resonant as most everything she writes.

March Book Log

April 18, 2016

1. Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman (3/5) – This was, obviously, a Simone read. Fun and silly.

2. Parallax and Selected Poems by Sinead Morrissey (5/5) – One of the best books of poetry I’ve read lately. It was a bookstore find (thanks Carmichael’s). Morrissey’s work affirms for me that I prefer Irish poets whenever I can get them. I particularly enjoyed her interpretation of American culture.

3. Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon (5/5) – This was recommended by Cate. It’s a wonderful collection of poetry about trying to find a new place and what to do with it when you find it.

4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (5/5) – A re-read I taught in my AP class. This was our “big” book for the year. it’s always a great read and I continue to be impressed at the delicate construction of this book. Every piece is perfectly in place. I’ve read it four times now and I’ve yet to find a flaw.

5. The Door by Magda Szabo (5/5) – Another bookstore find – this one from a couple of months ago. The Door is a masterpiece of symbolism. It is an achingly sad book, and to talk too much about it would give it away. Let me say, rather, that no matter how much you may doubt it while reading, this work more than delivers on its promise.

6. Meadowlands by Louise Glück (5/5) – I can’t get over Louise Glück. Her work is very nearly perfect and this was no exception. This collection felt almost swampy to me. Fecund and fertile.

7. Everland by Rebecca Hunt (4.5/5) – I must have almost picked this book up four or five times. I was quite pleased with it. I’ve had a minor penchant for polar adventure stories lately and this fits the bill. The writing is also very good with two story lines woven together effectively.

8. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (2/5) – Probably my least favorite book of those I’ve read to Simone. Pointless in its silliness unlike most Roald Dahl. I wonder if this book would be forgotten had it not gotten its own movie. Even Simone was confused at it.

9. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake (5/5)  These stories are beyond fantastic. I’d never heard of Pancake before. But he truly does stand with Hemingway in many important ways. His detail is honest and his characters demand attention though they are always the kinds of people who get the least of it.

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.